Chakra Energy in Bellydance, Part 1(ZAGHAREET! "For Beginners" July/Aug 2006)
by Anthea (Kawakib)
In the last issue we acknowledged the “Call of The Stage” and the allure of troupes. Let’s continue looking at the impact of performing and the changes it brings to–or signals in--the dancer. This phase is a stage of growth akin to a “second puberty”, especially to the new dancer or performer.
The Path to MaturityWe dance because it brings us joy, and makes us feel good. We also know our health improves from the exercise of dancing--as a society we're hyper-conscious of our physical state: our blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, muscle tone, flexibility, etc.--but we're less aware of the dance's impact on our psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
- We understand bellydance is "empowering" because it encourages individual growth.
- Many dancers affirm that they and their lives have changed--for the positive--after taking up bellydancing.
In fact, sometimes it appears that students start studying bellydance at the same time they're beginning to go through momentous life changes - of job, marital status, or just personal approach to life.
Although it’s not so clear to students themselves, many experienced teachers notice that after practising bellydance a year or so, some students show marked emotional and/or mental changes.
These students have unwittingly entered a transitional phase in their life, and now their usual patterns of behaviour or problem-solving may not serve them well anymore. But these difficult experiences are often signposts on the path to a deeper maturity.
An AwakeningBellydance movements seem to involuntarily increase latent energies in the mind/body/spirit system much like hormones stimulate the onset of physical puberty.
Or it could be the other way around: perhaps the awakening maturity of our inner self causes us to seek reasons to move like this. It’s believed that Yoga originally developed this way.
Typical bellydance movements--twisting, contracting/expanding and undulating the torso;
shoulder rolls; arm undulations; hip circles and figure-eight designs--are similar to movements
and poses from kundalini yoga and chakra-energizing exercises.
In fact, the emotional/psychological effects experienced after a year or two of bellydance practise sound much like the description of kundalini awakening, though at a slower pace. Perhaps, if used appropriately and with conscious intent, bellydancing could become an effective part of integrative therapy - not just "body work", but energy work.
Many religious rituals, including the temple-dance derived bellydance, energize the spinal area, causing an awakening or strengthening of inner forces. (This seems evident in the Guedra, in particular. It's interesting to note that the Guedra and Zar are usually done in a kneeling position, effectively "silencing" the lower body so the movements perforce take origin in the upper body and arms; and--in the Guedra--flow out through the fingers. Perhaps these upper-body dance-like rituals are a natural or instinctive counterbalance to the hip-centeredness of bellydancing.)
Chakras and KundaliniEastern religious traditions and Yoga describe the kundalini as another form of physical energy located near the base of the spine; the image most often used is that of a coil of energy, that (once "awakened") begins to uncoil and rise up the spine through the chakras. Philip St. Romain states that chakras "are energy centers...roughly corresponding to the spinal plexuses"(1). According to Stuart Sovatsky,
"kundalini (pranic awakening) is a maturing force, like teenaged puberty; it purifies the body-mind
and the emotions and causes 'upgrades' in behavior and thinking/feeling"
(from private correspondence).
Sovatsky(2,3) describes bellydance as 'spontaneous yoga'. He theorizes that the movements stimulate the onset of a "post-genital" puberty, perhaps by increasing output from the pineal and/or pituitary glands. As I said earlier, it may also work the other way around, as the maturing intellect/spirit inspires the body to move in new ways to develop itself...rather like a chick struggling out of its shell.
One of the earliest Western explorations of these psychophysiological effects remains among the best and most interesting: Lee Sannella’s “Kundalini Experience” contains research, case histories, charts, diagrams & illustrations; after reading this you’ll appreciate the interplay of bellydance and music in a whole new way.
Whatever the true nature of this energy phenomenon, it resembles processes that have been described in various ways in almost all religions. Since Western science hasn't yet sufficiently explored this field of bio-energies, we lack scientifically-neutral descriptive terms and so fall back on using terminology from other cultures. Theories about kundalini and chakra energies serve as a descriptive way to envision these processes, but the downside of this is not only do the Eastern religionists have many more terms for the various stages and complex effects of spirituality than we do, but we lack a refined understanding of the concepts behind these foreign terms.(4)
(Continued in Part 2)
1. St. Romain, Philip; Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality. New York, USA: Crossroads, (1991?) p. 11.
2. www.cit-sakti.com/kundalini/sahaja-spontaneous-yoga.htm; (cit-sakti.com: About Kundalini; Signs and Symptoms: Spontaneous Yoga. “A Next Step for Yoga in the West” by Stuart Sovatsky)
3. www.cit-sakti.com/kundalini/kundalini-stirrings.htm: (cit-sakti.com: About Kundalini; Signs and Symptoms: Stirrings. “Postgenital Stirrings: A Spiritual Prepubescence” by Stuart Sovatsky)
4. Greenwell, Bonnie; Energies of Transformation, California, USA: Shakti River Press, 1990, p. 75: "'prana' is used by some scholars interchangeably with 'Kundalini' but this is correct only in the most general sense....'(P)rana' is the creative and active energy that flows in the body and operates it functionally and directionally. It links consciousness with the entire operating system. 'Kundalini' is the dormant residual of this energy that lies coiled in the muladhara. Descriptions of 'chi' or 'ki' in Oriental medicine are more akin to the concept of 'prana' in the yogic tradition than to Kundalini."
op. cit p. 77: "A stronger & more conscious flow of pranic energy or "chi" is commonly felt by many who practise yoga, acupressure, Tai Chi, Aikido, meditation, and other processes in which there is focus on the breath and concentration."