Here, Nataliya Braun, psychological consultant and MSc Psychology graduate from the University of Derby Online Learning and Yasuhiro Kotera, Academic Lead in Counselling, Psychotherapy and Psychology explore the influence of dance on embodied self-awareness and wellbeing.
Embodied approaches to wellbeing have been receiving increased attention. For a long time, cognitive mind has been seen as more important and separate to physical body. Recent neuroscience research reports that mind and body are interlinked and offers evidence that the mind is embodied: what we feel at the physical level is conveyed to our mind. Our body plays a central role in our cognitive and emotional processes.
Self-awareness of movements, sensations and emotions is crucial to health and wellbeing. Suppression of this self-awareness (e.g. due to distress, trauma or threat) can result in conditions such as depression, anxiety, impairment of the immune and endocrine systems, sexual disorders as well as problems with relationships. Embodiment practices such as dance, which is one of the ancient ways of healing, can help restore embodied self-awareness.
Let’s take stress. Stress can lead to cardiovascular conditions and mental illness such as burnout. 81.1% of the studies reviewed in the systematic review of creative arts interventions for stress management and prevention reported a significant reduction of stress in the participants due to interventions of art, music, dance/movement or drama therapy. Also the recent and most comprehensive WHO Health Evidence Network report provided evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and wellbeing. Dance, especially is used to counter and decrease stress in many areas of life, and there is much evidence provided by multiple research findings on dance with regards to physical exercise and dance/movement therapy.
Using dance as coping mechanism
One of the findings of our research project, which included insights from neuroscience, Gestalt therapy and anthropology, supported the evidence of dance being an effective stress coping mechanism:
- Dance was deemed to lead to higher awareness of body and self-expression influenced by different parts of life and inducing life-changing transformations
- Dance was perceived to improve health and wellbeing
- Dance impacts expression and perception of sexuality and flow
- Dance contributes to the increased ability to collaborate
- Perception of music and rhythm impacts the way we dance and boosts our wellbeing
In the current age of loneliness and the effects of loneliness on the body as much as the mind, dance provides a natural way of building social relationships. Especially for those living alone and experiencing the lack of social interaction.
This research provides multiple practical implications relating to dance as a clinical and wellbeing approach. Dance can be used as a stress coping intervention and can help to counter depression and loneliness, while reducing stigma and external critical views on the body in today’s society.
An abstract of the research was accepted for presentation at the upcoming world conference Movement: Brain, Body, Cognition, which will take place at the beginning of September 2020 at La Sorbonne University in Paris, France. Based on our findings, we plan on larger-scale research and intervention research.