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The next time you look in the mirror, just look at the way the ears rest next to the head; look at the way the hairline grows; think of all the little bones in your wrist. It is a miracle. And the dance is a celebration of that miracle.
--MARTHA GRAHAM, MODERN DANCE PIONEER AND CHOREOGRAPHER (1894-1991)
The body is a miracle. It expresses our personal spark from the Spirit within us and surrounding us. It is our vehicle of communication with each other, with our past, our present, and--if we pay attention to it and listen to the body's messages--our future. Our body tells us who we are as no mirror can. And it can lead us into feelings of ecstasy and unity, of union with other people and with a greater Spirit.
In Western religions communicating with Spirit usually entails a mental attitude or activity. Aside from clasping our hands in prayer or genuflecting or bowing our heads in humility, we don't typically use the body in spiritual practice. Many in our culture view the body as a mere container for thought and soul and, as such, regard it as something to be maintained out of necessity. Thomas Alva Edison, for instance, said that the body was just a vehicle for the brain. These views of the body as separate from mind and spirit have produced deep emotional wounds and left many feeling alienated, ill at ease with their bodies and within themselves.
Most of us take our minds to work, our bodies to the gym, and the spirit to its own workout, for an hour or two, on the weekend. This inconsistency is symptomatic of beings that are out of balance. Mind, body, and spirit are connected; yet we have few actual practices in which all three work together tocelebrate that connection. Through conscious, physical movement, however, we can learn to unite body, mind, and spirit and, further, to develop the spiritual principles of grace, endurance, and strength that can help us move forward in our life's journey. Moving our bodies provides Spirit with an important avenue into our hearts.
The form of "spirit in action" taught in this book is physical movement combined with a mindful prayer. These spiritual, physical routines will help heal any mind-body split, help you discover the innate grace and power of your own body, and give you peace of mind.
MOVING TO REUNITE BODY AND SELF
Human beings were made to move and grow. Spirit is always present. I believe that when we keep our energy bottled up inside, or don't act in our own best interests or don't express our creative imaginings, it is Spirit's promptings that make us feel vaguely uncomfortable. Some of us are tied up in emotional and physical knots, while others are constrained by "nots," whether from our upbringing or our cultural conditioning. When our bones and joints become stiff and frozen, so, often, do our attitudes and perceptions. Using movement as part of spiritual practice opens up and stretches our body-mind so that new energy, vitality, and spirit can enter and dwell in and animate us. Mind-body prayer encourages you to breathe in the gift of life, expand your connections, and grow in personal power.
We in the West are now beginning to accept that the body can be a vehicle for spiritual expression and attainment. The practices of yoga, tai chi, martial arts, and qi gong have helped us experience the reality of the mind-body-spirit connection, as has the study of bodily energy systems such as the chakras and energy meridians in the health disciplines of Reiki, acupressure and acupuncture, reflexology, and others. Along with these practices has flourished a renaissance in spiritual rituals, tribal dance arts, and traditional church service dance. My own experiences with spirit in action in these old and new practices led me to develop the mind-body prayers, or embodied prayers, in this book.
Spirit in Action is a call to experience prayer as more than just an intellectual activity. It is a contemporary program that has its roots in ancient, traditional rituals. I've based the movements you'll learn in this book on those I have found in sacred dances as well as on common physical expressions of inner emotions culled from different world cultures. These prayers are acted out through a sequence of motions, just as the sentences of literal prayers are constructed from a series of words. Bodily gestures are infused with spiritual significance, creating a meaningful moving practice. When we pray with our bodies as well as our minds, we are manifesting the energy of a greater Spirit in our material plane. We invite the presence of the Creator into our everyday lives so that Its energy animates all that we do and think.
Even though our spiritual teachers have been telling us for years to recognize the interconnectedness of body, mind, and spirit, most practices actually subjugate or restrict the body. The relatively new consciousness of the past twenty years of the need for physical fitness may be just what our culture needed to nudge us into a true integration of body, mind, and spirit. Dance is one practice that can help us achieve this unity, especially dances that have been practiced for hundreds of years. Our ancestors understood the importance of facilitating the communication between the mind-body and spirit.
It dawned on me several years ago that these moving prayers were actually a very good aerobic workout. What a bonus! After that, I concentrated on developing movements that are natural for the body and not demanding on the joints, using my twenty years of experience as a practicing chiropractor, with a specialty in rehabilitative exercise.
When I began to teach and share my moving prayers with other people, even those who claimed to hate exercise told me that they loved this activity, saying, "It doesn't feel like exercise." These Aerobic Prayers hold enormous appeal to a wide variety of people who do not think of themselves as dancers and who may not be interested in participating in formal exercise programs. These movements allow you to explore the body as prayer in the privacy of your home or personal space. They are safe and simplified versions of complex, traditional dances from all over the world.
The beauty of these movements is that you can make friends with your body in your own way and at your own pace. You can discover which gestures feel right and give you the sense of connection with your inner self that you're seeking. You can follow the movements and images in this book as I lay them out, but I hope that you will also be inspired to experiment with creating your own dances, motions, and prayers that express your own inner spirit, celebrate your blessings, and enhance your life.
In my and my students' experiences, these Aerobic Prayers can help you communicate with your own soul and discover your deepest feelings, longings, aspirations, and joy. Just as the practice of yoga or meditation enhances every moment of your day, I have found that the practice of prayerful dance extends into all my daily activities and infuses them with a heightened awareness. Everything I do becomes a moving meditation.