Effects of Music and Dance on Meditation

I went to a 5 Rhythms dance about 2 weeks after sitting a 10 day course.  The 5 rhythms is a free form dance style developed by Gabriel Roth which takes dancers through 5 distinct rhythms of flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness. These rhythms mirror the rhythms of nature and the seasons. It’s about a 2 hour dance and is likened to a meditation in motion, there is no rigid form to adhere to rather you let your body dance according to how it wants to move.  I first got introduced by some meditator friends I was serving with at the Massachusetts Center many years ago. Since, I’ve found a dance close to where I live now.

I have enjoyed these dances, they can be deep and profound in their own right. I’ve approached it from the place of being aware and equanimous as I move and allow whatever sensations, thoughts, and feelings to come and go without getting caught in them.  Our bodies need movement and this is a way to move get out of the head and synch the mind with the body. It’s also a nice way to be in community with others. Here in the US many people sit all day at work and then if you practice vipassana you also sit for 2 hours a day, some body centered movement is a good balance I think.  Also for someone who has never taken a 10 day course it can be a way inwards.

Dance and music are very stimulating to the mind and is a gross sensory input especially coming from a 10 day course, I usually wait awhile after a course before I’m ready for a dance.  It’s obvious why the 7th precept of abstaining from sensual entertainment is there for serious meditation because music and dance greatly stimulate the mind and dissipate the subtly of one pointed Samadhi needed for penetrating wisdom. But once I acclimate back to the world and am more active it’s not as big of a jump.

There’s music to fit every mood and emotion. We resonate with music which connects with our emotions. If we want to know what the conscious or unconscious mind has been generating or moods we are inclined towards music will tell us right away.  A challenge with music can be the lure to get completely into emotions without equanimity and get lost and swept away. Let’s say someone is angry and they are drawn to angry music and the music makes them angrier or can make that tendency to react with anger stronger.  The difference as a meditator is that we have learned to observe the sensations underlying emotions with equanimity and maintain wisdom about them.  Music can also be very inspiring and uplifting, it can foster our feelings of metta, generosity and good will towards others, it can help give context and meaning to our personal experiences, articulate what we may have found hard to articulate, connect us to experience we had found hard to connect to before or to something greater than ourselves.  At the same time there’s the wisdom that whatever is arising is impersonal changing phenomenon which does not belong to us but rather are conditions of mind arising and passing away.

When I meditate in the evening after a dance I feel a buzzy flow of energy in the body, there may or may not be emotions that accompany that.  The mind isn’t fixated on particular thoughts as much, thought impressions are moving more quickly, one pointedness samadhi is less. It can make meditation less subtle, less still and peaceful.  More absorption into the sensual realm and less into the sublime. It is a trade off temporally but it’s also anicca. On the other hand the body is benefited- strength, dexterity and coordination is enhanced.  The sitting posture is benefited. The body and mind feel in better communication and there can be a freeing of mental and emotional material and a clearing of the mind.

When we are back in our daily lives in the world we strive to find balance and integration with our meditation practice. For me dance has been one balancing support in this process.


6 thoughts on “Effects of Music and Dance on Meditation

  1. Anonymous

    I have been reading this site regularly awhile now. Just wanted to say Thank You all for posting. Even though I don’t contribute here as a writer I must tell you all how encouraging it is for someone like me to keep up my own practice. Your sincerity towards purifying your life is very touching. May we all grow in Dhamma.

  2. Maria D'Souza

    Thank you for your kind appreciation and encouragement. Knowing that people out there are benefiting from us sharing our experiences is a great support to my practice and Dhamma volition. May we all grow in Dhamma, indeed.

  3. Maria D'Souza

    Also, Chris, thanks for this post. I really enjoyed reading your perspectives and experiences about dance and music with respect to Vipassana practice. It’s an area that I think is confusing to many people. I had a friend a few years ago who revealed that she had attended a Vipassana course some years prior and had a truly wonderful experience, but subsequently felt discouraged from pursuing Vipassana because she felt that dance and art were viewed in a negative light by the tradition, while dance and poetry are critical elements of who she is. I may forward her your post for an additional perspective. PS- this 5Rhythms dance sounds really intriguing. Will look into it!

  4. Chris Hammond

    Thanks Maria! That’s interesting that your friend came away feeling this way and felt confused about the conditons and environment on a retreat versus living back in the world apply vipassana to their lives. I heard Goenkaji answer a question related to this and he said that vipassana will enhance your creativity and make you a better artist or musician. He said something to the effect of, there will be an enhanced expression of good qualities and metta coming through that can be used to uplift and inspire people through art and music. As I was writing this blog I was thinking about Rivers Cuomo and how he applies vipassana to his music and perforamnaces with Weezer. He’s immersed in creating music and performing on a grand scale.

    This is what he wrote on his website,

    “I meditate for two hours every day– usually on a cushion on the floor–for one hour when I wake up and one hour in the evening.

    I feel like meditation has made a big difference in my life. It makes me feel better and because I feel better, I’m more happy, calm, spontaneous, and creative and I treat people better. I think I make better decisions. For about 15 years, I pretty much was a shoe gazer on stage. I was very scared and would just look down. I wouldn’t connect with the audience at all–maybe it was a little boring for the audience. But recently I actually have been putting my guitar down, picking up a wireless microphone, running out into the crowd, looking people in the eyes, high-fiving them and really enjoying that connection. I don’t know if that would have happened if I wasn’t meditating, if I still had so much stage fright. I might still be in my shell.

    The benefits come on two levels: First, I see the fear, as it arises in my body, as a physical sensation and when I recognize fear as just a physical sensation, I am less likely to let it run my life. I can say, okay there is the fear, and here is what I am going to do. And at the same time, the more I practice this detached observation, I find that the initial physical sensation of fear subsides and goes away, and then I’m just left feeling very pure, and I can do whatever I want. It’s very cool. It’s benefiting those around me too, I think. The band’s having more fun and the crowd is definitely having a lot more fun and yeah, I enjoy what I do now.

    With this practice I now have a tool to calm myself back down and think more constructively and helpfully”.

    We live as monks and nuns during a course but when we get back to our lives it’s a process of learning how to apply it as householders.

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