Dance and Ayurveda - a somatic approach to feeling the elements

As a practitioner, it is my job to take the feeling I receive from my own personal practise of Ayurveda and try and help you to feel it, in your own way. You can get an idea from an Ayurvedic book to think from the mind but you can only truly understand the philosophy on an experiential level, once it is embodied. This can happen in two ways - you've had an experience that you can match to the theory (experience to the theory), or you're in the process of experimentation through changes in your life in the present (theory to the experience). It is a living philosophy. It shifts with the wind. 

Ayurveda considers all the universe, us included, as being comprised of attributes. It invites us to pay attention to how we feel about the surroundings and it's impact on us. The more refined we become to the process of self awareness, the easier this becomes. It starts with a chilli making you feel hot and can become as subtle as wearing a red dress or smelling a sour fruit evoking a similar feeling - you are aware of a subtle shift in your relationship to the experience. An Ayurvedic journey is a process of becoming refined and more sensitive to how you effect and you become affected. It takes you closer to the "feeling" of compassion for others as you become more aware of the qualities you also send out. These ideas of attributes can then be used to describe the building blocks of nature, or the elements. You might then consider how each of the elements feels for you personally. You then start to see how you are connected to the nature around you. 

The universe as a whole is the manifestation of the two most basic opposites, male and female energy. Thus it is possible to understand the universe in terms of the interactions of opposing forces that manifest as the basic attricbutes.
— Dr Vasant Lad "Ayurveda - The Science of Self Healing"

Dance Movement Therapy is a term when using the vehicle of dance as a form of psychotherapy. Allowing the body to express non verbally can assist those that find it difficult to voice their trauma. Mary Starks Whitehouse, a psychotherapist with an interest in Jungian thought, and a student of Martha Graham and Mary Wigman, started using dance in her sessions as a way to reach the authentic expression in the individual. 

As Whitehouse explains, "When the movement was simple and inevitable, not to be changed no matter how limited or partial, it became what I called 'authentic' – it could be recognized as genuine, belonging to that person." The movement becomes 'authentic' when the individual is able to allow their intuitive impulses to freely express themselves without intellectual directive, as opposed to movement initiated by conscious decision making – a distinction which may appear clear, but practically a challenge. Individuals simply pay attention to what they feel at a sensory level, since "the core of the movement experience is the sensation of moving and being moved."

This kind of approach sets the stage for forming sincere relationships of the body with the Self, so there is a conversation in play. When I work with clients, it is part of the education for what I term "turning the spotlight" on themselves so they can look, feel, touch, smell, hear themselves and assess whether that attribute feels like it belongs to them. One of the challenges of healing is stopping yourself or self-sabotage, which is the popular vernacular these days. We consider suppression of natural urges a core reason for disease. If we could employ a technique working with the body that allowed it free expression, it might unleash the natural flow of physiology.

Conscious controlled movement invites the air in the body to move well. For some naturally bouncy Vata people, it is difficult to go from a lot of movement in their day to meditating. If might feel like a transition is needed. Vata dosha may also need help with circulation and although rest is advised when it goes out of balance, gentle conscious movement can feel more healing to the mind than complete stillness - anyone in pain can attest to this. Being a long time sciatic sufferer (comes and goes according to my balanced state), to just sit still at the height of pain was excruciating and yet the idea of gentle, slow movement felt comforting.

Allowing movement to ease itself out of movement would be my general go to - it feels like the labyrinth approach of gently coming to the centre has the least resistance of Vata dosha taking off or panicking out of fear. Dance is a wonderful way to explore all the elements as you become conscious of the space around you, following that air that moves you, the fire concentration of being present and the act of comprehension, the fluid lubrication of your joints, and the earthly matter of your body in relation to that space. 

Bodies have intrinsic intelligence formed from over three billion years of evolutionary history—since the origins of the first cell. Rather than seeking control over the body and the places we inhabit, we develop practices for deep attending.
— Andrea Olsen - Body and Earth

Andrea Olsen and her colleague Caryn Mc Hose have created a simple 7 part invitation to explore the relationship of your body and earth, a process which invites ease in the body and inherent flow. You might want to try this in place of your yoga practise in the morning. Here are Andrea's instructions on what to expect in the Introduction. I decided to journal my experience and relate them to my understanding of the Ayurvedic philosophy.


To explore these concepts experientially, we begin with our feet. In Day 1 we orient to weight and to space and practice arriving. Day 2 we refresh fluidity, followed by Day 3 investigating breath and voice. In session 4 we remap verticality, and in Day 5, we explore the process of perception remembering how orientation and perception underlie every movement we make. In Day 6 we focus on balancing the nervous system. And finally in Day 7 we apply all these resources to embracing mystery, meeting the uncertainty and challenges of our days more consciously and with more spontaneous joy.

These seven movement explorations can be done individually, part-by-part, or linked for an hour-long practice. The verbal cues are meant as invitations, not commands. Follow what captures your imagination, finding your own inroad to embodied awareness.

Day 1 - Orientation and Arriving

"Let the earth touch you" sent a shiver down my spine and I felt somewhat emotional. Having "arrived" in Melbourne 3 months ago, it was true, I feel like I am still arriving and not allowing myself to be present. The difference in having the earth hold me to directing myself in action were two different parts of me. I saw the anxiety that propelled myself into action, a lack of trust of being held, I moved from the balls of my feet rather than the heels. Relating my hands, feet, eyes and an imagined tail (spine) as "placing" me in space was a tangible experience of looking around and acknowledging that I am indeed here. Vata dosha benefits from grounding. Creating a dance that encompasses a focus on the support around you is an excellent way to begin any adventure. I love the idea of first "arriving" whenever you transition from one space to another.

Day 2 - Refreshing Fluidity

This exercise made me crave swimming. I realised how much I enjoy being in water for the softness and fluid smoothness of the experiences - the weightlessness of no cracking joints or tight piriformas muscle. The connection to feeling the fluidity in the body and connecting to another person, in your imagination, created a feeling of deep communication. Water feels heavy and smooth and as I cruise through my 40's I feel a lack of it, especially living in a dry climate. There is a clinging to a sense of grace I knew before. I feel it is the lack of water as the sex hormones slowly finish their function. In it's stead is flow. Why do relationships break? I wonder whether a connection of both parties to their flow would assist the process - to be able to "move through" issues? 

Day 3 - Breath and Voice

"Breathing is our hearts love affair with plants" I had a strong visual between my inhale and plants exhale and how we dance together and how connected we are in order to survive. Breath felt like the pure interconnectedness of things, that my breath wasn't mine alone. I also noticed how easy it was to voice certain tones over others. There are some notes that wavered - I would be curious to learn more about that. I have encountered sound with sun salutations from the yoga therapy lineage which felt like the same experience as this.  Dancing and breathing is tricky which made me realise how I probably hold my breath when I wave my arms about in excited expression. I so love that the breath work succeeded the first two exercises - it felt contained within walls and had a wave to ride on. Sometimes I feel like doing breath work dries me out but today I didn't feel that at all.

Day 4 - Remapping Verticality

"To move in any direction with ease." This was a new experience in the sense of alignment. I have learned to view alignment in a rigid form, however we are fluid beings. This exercise taught me about being in the experience of my spine, observing one action to another, and being conscious that it is given a RANGE of movement. In my dance I have 4 angles to work with - back/forth/side/side. And within that I gave myself freedom to interpret those angles as they came to me organically. I have thought of alignment as rigid but this dance gave me the feeling that it was fluid - to move in any direction with ease.

Day 5 - Perception

"Can you remain aware of sensation as you include vision?" This was quite a profound experience for me. I struggle with balancing poses in yoga classes - they feel intense and there is a part of me loathe to hold poses on one leg for many minutes for that reason. After this exercise I changed my "lens" or perception of feeling to my whole body. When asked to dance out the feelings of perception, I could feel each part of my body in movement - meaning I could feel the skin on my back leg extended as well as the leg holding fort. Instead of working with the muscle intensity, it felt like there was a balanced "feeling" with both sides, like it was pure sensation rather than willpower. Also in the practise they encourage you in the perception of"seeing" and attaching it to the other senses gave me the feeling that all parts were co-operating. 

Day 6 - Rebalancing the Nervous System

"To be fluid enough, to care".  Do we have a connection as to what each part of our nervous system does for us and why we react the way we do? I found the idea of moving from these different perspectives broke down the connection of my brain to how the wind moves through me. I enjoyed the many aspects of nerves, some reactive in an unproductive way, but some reactive in a productive way, such as the enteric nervous system, which is in our gut. As they mentioned, the connection between the sympathetic and parasympathetic is alertness. It's not about removing the Vata dosha but knowing how to make the most of her "good" reactions vs her "depleting" reactions. Rather than be afraid to move too quickly or too much, you are invited to counter the movement through pause and stillness. It gave me the feeling of total freedom - to never stop the flow but build in awareness of counter pose to give a full expression. 

Day7- Embracing Mystery

"Embracing mystery." I never thought about the space element as mystery before! That beautiful element that can become loneliness orthe feeling of a void, for some,  has the potential to mystery, for creative expression. The connection of walking to movement to meditation seems such a naturally organic connection to the natural movement of the world, to move alongside it at your personal rhythm. He mentions the idea of thresholds bringing us full circle to arriving, to observe your transitions of each moving quality and observing how they lead each other to come full circle. In a way, this whole experience created a feeling of trust in the circle of things. The worst anxiety people can feel is that there current situation is forever, but the practise of embodying a circular reference, although contained, can be immensely freeing.

"Humans don't create movement, we participate in a moving universe."

The Body and Earth website again to try for yourself.