By Roohi Saluja
Belly dance as therapy restores a woman’s connection with her essential femininity, integrates her body, mind and spirit, and heals her of emotional and physical malaise.
It appears like a quintessential New Age fad. Belly dance therapy! One’s hazy impressions of this exotic Middle Eastern import revolve around dancing houries and seven veils. That it can actually be a therapy boggles the mind. And yet, Mandira S. Chowdhry, a belly dance therapist, who is also a reiki teacher and crystal healer, is very serious about its merit.
Everything about this lady dances- her dark, playful eyes tell a tale; her unruly ringlets flop over her shoulders, her hoop earrings bounce as she makes a point, and her eyebrows arch as she nods to the photographer to take the shot. Meanwhile, the pahari topi rests undisturbed on her head.
Explains Mandira, ‘Belly dance therapy has evolved from the West Asian belly dance form. But what makes it therapeutic is a conscious connection with the experience of what dance does to your body, mind and soul.’
Belly dancing is a celebration of female power. Mandira recalls, ‘In my own experience, the smooth sensuous movements of the torso, alternated with shakes and shimmies of the belly, have enabled me to release and yet stay grounded.’ She continues pensively, ‘It’s like throwing yourself into an expanse, learning to be at ease with your body, and accepting a deep connection with the feminine in you. With this acknowledgment comes high-voltage energy that activates your higher self -you begin to celebrate the balance, the liberation, and the flow…’
Belly dancing is holistic healing. As opposed to European step dance, belly dance is muscle dance. Uniquely designed for the female body, it lays emphasis on abdominal muscles, hips and chest moves. Belly dance involves natural body movements and does not require acrobatic feats like leaping or hyperextension of the joints.
In that sense, belly dance works ‘with’ your body, not against it. The rolling and surging moves gently work the muscles, and massage away the tensions. Mandira explains, ‘Our body is a roomful of energies. Lack of physical exercise clog the energy passage, thus often causing a disease. Belly dance helps to push open these clogs, thus refining and re-energizing the body.’ She explains the mechanism thus: ‘Belly dance stimulates the hara or the second chakra, located in the womb (in women) about two inches below the navel. This chakra governs the functioning of the sex glands, kidneys, bladder, circulatory system and the flow of fluids (that includes saliva, sweat, urine and menstrual flow). The hara is associated with the sense of taste and its vibrations correspond to the orange color. A balanced and well-energized hara contributes to a sense of well-being and increases self-confidence. It helps to strike a deep resonance with the universe, incapacitating a relish of the various facets of life.’
Belly dancing primarily works the belly. According to Mandira, our belly is the center of our being-physically, spiritually and gravitationally. Both science and mythology identify the belly or the womb as the chalice of life. However, the tummy-tuck-in formula pioneered by modern fashion divas has led to a gradual freezing of the abdomen. Mandira asserts, ‘Our bellies have grown inert. We don’t even breathe down to our center. This reflects our detachment from life itself-from our natural, genuine, authentic selves.’
Karlfried Durckheim in his book, Hara: The Vital Center of Man, writes that people who demonstrate hara know themselves to be infused by the Greater Life, which permeates nature as a whole. He asserts that the various qualities of hara like discernment, creativity, generosity, serenity, patience and security spring from a steady source, the universal life force. There is then no separation, only a deep intimate connection.
Belly dance helps to maintain this deep connection. It celebrates the body as the temple of the soul. Synchronizing movement with music, the dancer becomes the medium through which divine light illuminates physical reality. In other words, as the dancer moves to the music, improvising and expressing inner emotions, the mind quietens, making way for inspiration to flow from the higher self.
The idea is certainly not new. Yogis and spiritual masters have often explained the body as a storehouse of infinite mysteries-the hiding place of the Buddha that needs to be discovered. Belly dance serves like a launch pad that facilitates this advancement from the form to the formless. And then, the genre’s scope for improvisation, to simply flow with the music, flexible and adapting, aligns you with your spirit.
When creativity blossoms and proliferates, healing happens almost unconsciously. Mandira explains, ‘During the session, emphasis is laid on the experience of dancing, not on the presentation. So my first instruction to all my clients is to close their eyes, be aware of their breathing, and let the music penetrate their bodies and their being. The mind then gets centered and elevates to a heightened level of awareness, the body aligns the energies within (at an optimum level), and the soul experiences supreme oneness.’
Saadiya Kochar (25), who has been attending belly dance therapy sessions with Mandira, has often got in touch with her deep psyche through them. ‘There have been days when I’ve felt extremely low after a session,’ she recounts, ‘When you move your belly, the hara activates, and a lot of suppressed emotions come to the surface. But when the slump lifts you feel relaxed, stimulated and free.’
Working intimately and mindfully with the body dissolves the separation between the body and the mind. The more we are willing to go through this evolution, the more capable we become at expressing, and authentically channeling, our essential selves. A one-and-a-half-year period of belly dance sessions with Mandira has helped Deepti Alexander to concentrate better. ‘When I close my eyes and shift my focus to the center of the belly, my mind automatically gets centered. I feel aligned with my body, my soul and my environment. Very recently, belly dancing has given me brief glimpses of spiritual ecstasy too,’ she confides.
In their book At the Speed of Life-A New Approach to Personal Change Through Body Centered Therapy, transpersonal psychotherapists Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks have explained the healing strategy as ‘presencing’. They write, ‘The act that initiates healing is a moment of non judgmental attention… When we can simply be with an issue (rather than judging it or trying to change it), the issue has room to transform in the desired direction.’ Thus when we dance into all the moments of our lives, witnessing the process as a spectator, rather than a participant, we learn to effectively heal our relationships with our body and emotions.
For 49-year-old Jyoti, belly dance was a body opener. She recalls, ‘As a young child I had experienced several abuses that led to a gradual numbness in certain parts of my body. As the years passed, I suffered from abdominal infections and abnormal growths like endometriosis. Further, at the onset of menopause, the problems recurred. The doctors advised a removal of the uterus. But I gathered courage and decided to look for ways to heal myself.’ She continues, ‘Through guided meditation and gentle belly dance movements, I was able to access my own body wisdom and go beyond pain. It helped me to establish contact with my own blockages and traumas, to perceive them deeply and to release them – to let go. Today, I find more space in my body. I love myself for what I am doing, living that which still wants to be lived.’
In her insightful article on belly dancing at www.magicalmotion.com, Christina Sophia echoes a similar feeling: ‘As we dance, we learn to love our bodies and are thus brought into intimate contact with a sense of oneness in ourselves, and the life that flows through us. We begin to understand that the Supreme Power is not only with us, but also within us. Dance, used as a spiritual discipline, becomes a meditation upon the present and can teach us much about how we, as a being (spirit) live inside, interact with and grow through our body.
Alexandra Reelick (50), whose association with belly dancing goes back to as late as 30 years, agrees, ‘In a neurotic concern with our outer beauty, we seem to have lost touch with the essence. Belly dance helps you to go inside and connect with your pure and unvarnished womanhood.’ She adds dramatically, ‘It’s like coming home!’ Kaumudi Naithani (29) echoes, ‘Belly dance trains you to control your body. You learn to respect your very existence.’ Now, after practising belly dance for almost one year, Kaumudi admits to having fallen in love with herself!
The origins of belly dancing go as far back as 2000 years ago, or perhaps even more. A selective body of historians trace its genesis to the Neolithic and the Palaeolithic period of human evolution. They argue that in the Palaeolithic period a complex matriarchal (feminine-honoring), non-hierarchical social structure had evolved in which spiritual/religious orientation was centered on the earth, its life forms and the feminine power of creation – namely the Great Cosmic Mother. Belly dancing was fascinatingly a sacred part of the goddess rituals, spiritual practices, childbirth preparations and personal power in Neolithic Europe, Africa, India and the Middle East. Since their most revered painted and sculptured art works featured symbols of spirals, waves, circles, and other patterns found in belly dance, there seems to be a logical connection to modern belly dance.
Belly dance helps you to heal, befriend and re-own your femininity. In truly and proudly revealing our bellies as the cradle of human life, and respecting the female body’s natural creative capacity, belly dance goes against the negative current that paints the belly with derogatory connotations. In doing so, belly dance restores a ‘right relationship’ with the body that was disturbed by centuries of patriarchal conditioning. Says Mandira, ‘It’s not about being better, lesser or equal to men, it’s simply about being a complete woman. Till a woman learns to love herself, and take care of herself, she cannot do justice to any other role she wishes to fulfill. Belly dance is in essence a practice for women, by women, and in women’s sacred space.’
To me, a firsthand, personal experience of a belly dance therapy session with Mandira was at once exhilarating and divine. As the music seeped within me (my eyes closed and my torso rolling gently to the beats), I felt my entire being floating like a careless leaf in a heavy gust of wind. The mind awakened to an awareness of an expansion in which the body, the music, energy, and darkness fused into oneness. Whether the body dissolved in the mind or the mind in the spirit was difficult to tell. But I felt complete, whole and unfragmented. Moving with grace, feeling each and every part of my body coming alive, the woman in me danced like a queen-a dancing goddess personified!
Contact: Mandira S. Chowdhry
Ph: 011-51640493 (by appointment, for ladies only)
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