I write this guest blog for She Recovers with a great deal of gratitude in my heart. I’ve followed Dawn and Taryn’s work for quite some type and I am beyond impressed by what they have done as ambassadors of recovery. When I met them online three years ago I immediately connected with joy (and I am still hoping I’ll be able to take in a retreat with them someday). We are all on the same essential mission of sharing the variety of healing practices beyond just working steps—practices like yoga, meditation, making retreats and creative expression—that can help us thrive as women in recovery.
It’s my pleasure to share with you an excerpt from my newly released book Dancing Mindfulness: A Creative Path to Healing and Transformation (Skylight Paths Publishing, 2015). Reclaiming my birthright to dance has proven to be a major part in my journey of both recovery and discovery of the larger truths that life (and my Higher Power) call me to embrace. In this excerpt I talk about some of the ways that meditative dance, a practice that I’ve come to call Dancing Mindfulness, has helped me to find joy in my body and ultimately thrive as a woman in recovery:
When I began yoga and then conscious dance practice, all the bells and whistles began ringing in my head. First, I realized that dynamic, bilateral movement—that is, taking a walk, getting up and dancing, drumming, swimming—is an inherently powerful mechanism that we as human beings have to address stress and trauma stored at the body level. Second, the more aware I became of my own body responses, the more comfortable I became addressing body-level responses with patients and students.
There is a classic book in trauma studies called The Body Never Lies, by German psychologist Alice Miller. While I do not agree with everything she says in the book, the title of the book and much of the material in it continue to resonate with me strongly. Miller writes extensively about how unresolved traumatic responses manifest most significantly at the body level. So why isn’t the body used more in the treatment of mental and emotional distress, at least in Western societies? As an example, traditional addiction treatment, a field in which I worked for many years, does a wonderful job of addressing the mental and spiritual components of addiction, but it overlooks the body. Through years of practice, I arrived at the clinical opinion that the reason addiction relapse rates are so high is that the body is not sufficiently incorporated into treatment. Other scholars who deal with trauma, namely Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of the aptly titled The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, and Dr. Gabor Mate, make similar contentions based on their analysis of research and practice.
I’ve distilled my studies in the areas of trauma, addiction, and mind-body medicine into this simple teaching: the body will signal what’s going on within a person—emotionally, mentally, physically—ten steps before the rational mind will. Thus, learning to listen to the body’s messages is a vital part of healing. A mindful dancing practice offers a powerful outlet for listening to the body’s wisdom.
When you trust that dancing mindfulness is not a contest but rather a time and place of nonjudgmental support, you will be amazed by what your body can do. When I took my first conscious dance classes, movements I thought were long lost in my overweight body came back, like riding a bicycle. I continue to amaze myself as I practice dancing mindfulness. I shed inhibitions and realize there is beauty in modification. Sure, the moves don’t look the same or come as easily as they did when I was thirteen, but the way I dance today feels wonderful in my late-thirties body. I generally have positive regard for my body and the process of mindful modification, but I’m not going to lie—sometimes I struggle to respect my body and its limitations. When this happens, I try to address those struggles in the context of mindful self-compassion that dancing mindfulness practice promotes. One day during the process of writing this book, I had a massive “I hate my body because it doesn’t work the way I want it to” moment during a yoga class. I reached out to other Dancing Mindfulness facilitators in our online forum—my tribe of support—and disclosed what I was experiencing. The validation, the sharing of similar experiences, helped me to move through the issue with a greater sense of compassion. I realized that while body hatred may be normal, entertaining it certainly does not serve me. It doesn’t serve you, either.
A vital part of my own process as a woman in recovery is learning to love my body. I can show my body more love today than I did yesterday, and for this I am grateful. Yet the work is still in progress. In my own experience, mindful dance was the primary practice that led me to this place of greater body acceptance, although yoga also played, and continues to play, a major role in this reconciliation. Whether or not you see dance working as part of your ongoing recovery program, I at very least ask you to consider: What am I doing today to move my body with joy?
During the grueling process of writing the book, I was forced to take pause and evaluate my self-care priorities. Among other important component of my self-care and recovery enhancement (e.g., drinking plenty of water, eating plenty of green vegetables, praying, reaching out to others for support), moving the body with joy surfaced as a daily must-do on my list of recovery priorities. Not moving the body out of a sense of obligation or believing that I have to in order to look a certain way. Rather, regarding my body as a sacred of vessel that deserves to move in a way that makes her feel good on a daily basis. When I am not smiling during my movement practice, whether that be dance, swimming, or the fusion of water aerobics and swimming that I often to when I’m near a body of water, I know that something is amiss.
Where is your source of joy in movement? Does it come from practicing yoga? Taking a walk around the block or through the country? Dancing salsa? Swimming laps? If you’ve identified where your movement finds that place of joy, it is my earnest prayer and wish that you continue to revel in this practice as a vital part of your recovery program. If you’ve not yet discovered it, continue to experiment. Try a bunch of movement practices, knowing that you don’t ever have to commit to just one. If you’re not sure where to start, consider just putting on some music that resonates with you and let it inspire your movements around the house. My husband and kids always tease me from dancing like a fool from room to room yet they know it’s a vital part of what I need to do to stay sane so I know they’re secretly glad for it. A few members of our Dancing Mindfulness community talk about the joy they derive from “grocery story dancing,” using the cart as a partner as they saunter down the aisles to whatever plays overhead! There is a movement practice out there for you somewhere; may you find the joy it desires to offer you as you continue your recovery journey!
Author Bio: Jamie Marich, Ph.D., LPCC-S, LICDC-CS, RMT is a woman in long-term recovery. A clinician, educator, and recovery ambassador, Jamie is the creator of the Dancing Mindfulness Community and Facilitator Training Program, the author of Dancing Mindfulness: A Creative Path to Healing and Transformation (2015), Trauma and the Twelve Steps (2012) and two other books on trauma recovery. She is also an EMDRIA Certified Therapist/Approved Consultant and serves as an approved provider of basic trainings in EMDR Therapy.