Movement in the Wild: Nature as Dance Partner
By Ariana Candell, MFT, R-DMT
Published in Common Ground Magazine April 2013
...Let your senses and body stretch out like a welcomed season onto the meadows and shores and hills...Greet yourself in your thousand other forms...Hafiz
Have you ever felt the urge to dash across a wide, sunny meadow, arms outspread, heart wide open? Do your senses come alive with the effervescent energy of springís blooming fragrance? When standing near ancient oaks and redwoods, do you feel a calm and quiet within you? Your body is responding to its innate connection to the natural world! These impulses and sensory awakenings are a call to connect to the other-than-human life forms around you and to remember your natural self. When you feel moved by the strength of sheer cliffs, a sunsetís dynamic vibrancy, or gentle lapping waves, you are being invited to feel your embodied humanness.
A willow treeís beckoning sway and the trickling motion of a stream can inspire our bodyís capacity to move. These entities are also sentient presences ready to share a relationship with us. The natural world offers a level of generosity and replenishment that most of us forget is possible in our overstretched lives. How can we develop this connection and join in the natural movement around us? You can start by feeling your sensory connection to a natural element and allowing that to expand into movement. Itís surprisingly easy and immediately gratifying.
Moving in the wild is in our bones. Our indigenous ancestors danced in rituals to celebrate all aspects of life: birth, death, harvest and rites of passage. They communicated with the spirits of the land and moved with these spirits in ceremony. Dancing in the wild is making a comeback with a modern twist. People are exploring this at nature and yoga festivals, weekend workshops and in university classes. Yet, how do you begin or experiment without feeling awkward or uncomfortable? An easy entree is joining a day workshop which can introduce you to simple practices for your daily life. Itís fun and inspiring to explore new edges with a skilled guide and groupís enthusiasm.
Our bodies and nervous systems thrive in connecting with the infinite diversity of plants, rocks and water. Environmental novelty wakes up our senses and inspires us to get out of our mental cages to see life beyond our screens. How do we make the transition to moving with nature?
Hereís a simple, widely enjoyed exercise to open your senses, come into the present moment and build intimacy with a partner, friend or family member. Itís also great for slowing down and relaxing.
Sense walk: Find an outdoor area preferably with a variety of plants, rocks, and natural elements.The person to go first closes their eyes, and partner holds their hand or shoulder for safety and guidance. With minimal words, guide your partner to touch, smell and listen to specific elements around you. You can bring their hand to touch the texture of tree bark, or place a rock on their palm, and include other parts of the body as well. Have fun and be creative. Tune in to your partnerís pacing, allowing them time to investigate each experience. Allow 5-10 minutes for each personís turn. Before you talk about your experiences, switch roles. Share about what you enjoyed and felt.
If youíre on a walk, in a garden or anywhere in nature, alone or with others, try:
Dancing with nature: Look around and choose a natural element that draws you.
Visually notice everything about it: size, texture, patterns, solidness, fragility, expansiveness...
Become conscious of the presence of this life form and acknowledge it.
Like a dancing partner, feel your energetic relationship with this partner.
Notice the sensations waking up in your body as you connect to this being: a heart softening, weightiness or arms wanting to stretch.
Let subtle or expansive movements evolve naturally in response to these sensations.
When you feel satisfied with your dance, make sure to thank your partner, knowing you can come back to this partner or carry this experience within you.
The tree remains motionless until a breath of wind greets her and sings her leaves to flutter their stillness. I too sit and breathe until...a deeper breath sings me to dance...my fingers flutter and my limbs sway. Nina Wyte
Many Bay Area outdoor movement events are coming up soon. Earth Ecstatics and Back to Earth Outdoors offer a nature connection series in spring and summer. Bay Area Dance Week in April has hundreds of free dance opportunities, including "Dancing with the Earth" in the Oakland hills. Body Tales offers seasonal retreats weaving together body, earth and inner world explorations. Anna Halprinís Planetary Dance for peace on Mt.Tamalpais happens yearly in June.
If youíre more comfortable with an individualized approach, there are a growing number of ecotherapists, dancers and healers who offer personalized and group opportunities:
Ariana Candell, LMFT, R-DMT loves to guide people to connect to their body and the Earth with ease and joy. She is a Registered Dance/Movement Therapist, Ecotherapist and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the East Bay. Learn more at Arianacandell.com
* * *
Walking the Path to Spirit
By Gail Koffman
On a sparkly spring day, I had the pleasure of taking an ecotherapy walk with Ariana Candell in an Oakland Hills park.
At the start of the trail, Ariana asks about my intention for the walk. “I want to feel more grounded and at peace since I’m feeling anxious and unsteady,” I answer. She instructs me to mindfully notice my feet on the ground, observe the sights and smells around me, and express anything I feel like, in any manner. She then shared this poem:
To Look at Any Thing
To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say,
’I have seen spring in these
Woods,’ will not do – you must
Be the thing you see:
You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.
-- John Moffitt
And so my journey begins…
I am immediately drawn to a redwood tree with its branches stretched out wide and leaves blowing softly in the breeze. I’m struck by how it is anchored into the ground, despite being situated on a slanted hill. “What are you noticing or feeling?” Ariana asks. “I’m in awe of how this tree is steadfast and strong and so graceful.”
Ariana asks, “Would you like to express this somehow?” Without hesitation, I stretch my arms to the sky and wave them gently. I dig my feet into the ground. I delight in the feeling of being rooted and resolute. Ariana mirrors my movement, which makes me feel appreciated and seen.
Not far down the path, we stop in a protected redwood grove. I close my eyes and delight in the lush smell, the warm breeze against my face and the singing birds. “What do you feel now?” Ariana asks. “I’m in heaven. I’m loving this.”
She invites me to look around and find something else which represents grounding. I notice a cascade of ancient roots pouring over the path. I appreciate how the roots have withstood so much and weathered so many challenges. I notice how the tree stands alone, yet is supported. I close my eyes and visualize these roots as part of me, growing under my feet…Aaah, more groundedness. I sink deeper into myself.
We walk silently down a path caressed by trees. Ariana watches me intently. I spontaneously say: “I have the roots of an ancient tree. I am protected. I am at peace.” Now, away from this enchanted walk, whenever I feel anxious and ungrounded, I recall these tree roots and relax.
I feel grateful for this walk which reawakened my senses and connection with nature, and for the supportive guide who encouraged me along the way.
“I have gone every day to the same woods,
Not waiting, exactly, just lingering.
Such gifts, bestowed,
can’t be repeated.
It you want to talk about this
Come to visit. I live in the house
Near the corner, which I have named
-- Mary Oliver, “The Place I Want To Get Back To”
* * *
Dancing with Nature
by Ariana Candell, MFT, DTR
Published in Conscious Dancer Magazine, April 2008
Native Americans danced under the stars in all night ceremonies. Celts practiced their rituals in the
forests and meadows on the high holy days. In China, many visit parks every morning to do Chi Kung
or T'ai Chi. But where do most of us in the United States do ritual, meditation, and dance? With the
exception of dancing at festivals and concerts, we are usually inside a home, club or studio. Most of
our movement practices take place within four walls, cut off from sky, earth and natural surroundings.
What if we took our meditation and movement outdoors to the sounds, smells and visual beauty of
the Earth? What if we radically shifted our view of movement practices to include connecting to
nature as an essential healing ingredient?
Imagine feeling free enough to go out to your yard or neighborhood park every morning for
movement meditation. Envision the gentle touch of the sun softening your heart and lifting your arms
in joy. By stepping outside, consciously breathing in the fresh morning air, or drinking in the crimson
petals of a rose, you inform your body of its connection with the Earth. By bringing your movement
meditation outdoors, you receive the energy and inspiration of your new dancing partner, you dance
Even in busy and exhausting times, (I'm recalling my twins as toddlers), my five minutes outside each
morning offered a life-saving, day-centering relief. I remember gulping in the whole garden through my
breath, my eyes, my pores. Gathering energy through my T’ai Chi movements. Saluting the sun or
stretching out a few of the aches. Opening my heart and spirit to the nourishment around me and sending out my intentions for the day.
Nature offers infinite ways to experience movement and meditation. You can start by shifting your regular practice outdoors and consciously allowing your surroundings to influence you. If you don't have a particular movement practice, you might begin with the simple intention of connecting with the Earth. Open your heart, spirit and mind. Let your body and intuition lead your movements, and follow your impulses and creativity. Sit in stillness and meditate on loving-kindness or on peace. Jump, dance or swirl. Read a poem, or feel inspired to write one. This time could be a simple waking up and centering for the day or a deeply healing experience.
When I enter my outside space, I often begin asking myself what I want or need physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. If I am tired or emotionally spent, I choose a grounding, breathing, imagery meditation or chakra breath meditation. If my body feels stiff I start with yoga or improvised stretches. Often, I get my energy flowing with T'ai Chi or do a variation of Authentic Movement.
For most of my adult life, I have retreated to the outdoors to reflect, meditate, and perform movement practices on my own. Last year, I felt a strong calling to invite others to share my practices in nature. At the first gathering of my “Meditation and Movement in Nature” group, I was astonished to learn that moving with others enhanced the spiritual force of nature around me and within me. During one session, we danced the qualities of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, exploring their presence in the world and the role of these gifts in our daily life. We drew, wrote and shared about our experiences together.
The shift from indoor to natural settings can be easy if you invite your established groups, classes or friends to join you. What you do can be simple. Someone in my group said “You could have led anything and it would have been fine!” Being in a beautiful setting with the intention of connecting to yourself, the earth, your spirit and others is a profound experience in itself.
I imagine a world in which people frequently move, meditate, and dance in parks and gardens and on beaches and mountains. In this world, our relationship with nature would be an integral part of ourselves and our bodies. A Native American saying “Mitakuye Oyasin” or “all my relations” speaks to our essential connection to all parts of the natural world and to each other. In these pivotal times, may our commitment to caring for the Earth spring forth from these interconnected relationships.