Many of us are turning to yoga to help with how we move through our lives today.
As yoga helps us find more peace, we become interested in the deeper philosophies that support these practices.
The yoga teachings called the yamas and niyamas offer an ethical code. They include important moral principles like not killing, not stealing, and not coveting. Yamas tend to translate into concepts of non-doing because yamas teach control—drawing back from action.
I’m a Dance/Movement Therapist, a counselor, and long-time yoga practitioner. I write about and present new scientific understandings of autonomic nervous system functioning to help us appreciate the energetic dance of embodiment.
The non-action messages from the yamas and niyamas are not unique to yoga. They are similar to some of the Ten Commandments from the Bible such as: thou shalt not kill. The difference is that the Ten Commandments are not followed by an invitation into structured movement and breath patterns: asanas and pranayama. Those ancient practices that people found helpful as they tried to live by yoga’s ethical and moral codes.
As a way to practice movement and breath patterns, yoga offers some help toward non-killing, non-stealing, non-coveting. However, in our world of high stimulation, non-doing often means doing things virtually. We “relax” by binge-watching and gaming.
As a counselor, I appreciate the value of moving our violent urges into a virtual realm as a way of not acting out those violent urges. Sigmund Freud called that type of control “sublimation.” Carl Jung on the other hand, warned that if we push our violent urges too deeply down into what he called our “shadow selves,” we actually set ourselves up for outbursts of unrecognized violent tendencies.
How Dance/Movement Therapy Can Help
Dance/Movement Therapy (DMT) began in mental hospitals before there were medications to treat psychosis. Dance/movement therapists mirrored movements of patients and they responded to the connection.
In DMT sessions, patients were invited to connect with one another by moving the same body part—perhaps to move that body part in a similar manner as another group member—creating what dance/movement therapists call kinesthetic empathy. The dance/movement therapist might note, “Fran is swaying a hand from side to side, might we all sway a hand side to side?”
David Emerson, who teaches yoga teachers how to create trauma-sensitive yoga classes, names the importance of inviting movement, rather than directing movement. For instance, a teacher who understands and is sensitive to trauma reactions in the body would say, “You might want to inhale on your cow pose and exhale on your cat,” rather than commanding, “Inhale on cat; exhale on cow.”
Dance/movement therapists have appreciated the value of inviting people into movement for more than 50 years. Additionally, we help people discover safe and sane ways to express all types of movement.
When ethical codes encourage nonaction, people need help exploring the type of movement that child psychologist Judith Kestenberg and her colleagues called “fighting rhythms.” Through observation of children, they identified important early childhood fighting rhythms.
These rhythms play an important role in how children establish themselves as independent beings.
Parents can better make space for their children’s fighting rhythms when they see these moves as part of their child’s budding self-awareness.
Dance/movement therapists can help yoga teachers and yoga therapists have the same informed appreciation for movements—ones that help us feel a sense of personal power, and even include movements that have sharper, staccato rhythms.
Because of the way our high-tech world invites disembodiment, all helping professionals benefit from a better understanding of the dance of embodiment.
When dance/movement therapists teach yoga therapists, thereby bringing movement to the field of mental health, yoga leaders can make more conscious choices when they focus on core power. Likewise, leaders who have urges to bring staccato movement into practices can better understand that impulse.
When we feel ownership of all types of movement within our energy sphere, we can play with the size of our moves and the speed of our rhythm. Ultimately, exploring staccato moves helps us gain a greater physical sense of control over aggression than sitting and meditating on non-aggression.
Having personal control over all types of movement dynamics creates a greater possibility that we will feel loving-kindness toward ourselves and others. As we playfully bring our fighting rhythms to our mats, we may feel less of an urge to be virtually violent.
Maybe we will feel satiated by one episode of a show, rather than binge-watching the entire season—and get back to those real life experiences in which we are more likely to remain embodied.