Dancing Mindfulness: A Creative Path to Healing and Transformation

Download a printable PDF of the class planning worksheets included in the book.

This lively, passionate approach to moving meditation offers a fresh way to embrace mindfulness. It weaves together personal stories, therapeutic insights, practical skills and opportunities for reflection and practice to provide a gateway to spiritual growth, a path to more balanced living, a healing experience and ignition for your creativity.

Jamie Marich, PhD, LPCC-S
Foreword by Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, Obl. OSB, REACE

Quality Paperback
6 x 9, 224 pp | 978-1-59473-601-8

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Experiment. Explore. Awaken your potential for wellness through meditative movement.

“This ... is an invitation and a portal into the practice of dance and movement as meditation. All bodies are welcome and all abilities. Anyone can dance, although many of us hold back because we don’t look like dancers or because we have physical limitations. But I am willing to bet that most of you holding this book have touched a moment of transcendence or freedom in an experience of dance that leads you to explore deeper. You have a worthy guide in your hands.”

—from the Foreword

Using theory and step-by-step exercises, dancer and clinical counselor Dr. Jamie Marich expertly guides you through seven primary elements of mindfulness in motion: breath, sound, body, story, mind, spirit and fusion. By dancing through these seven elements, either in personal practice or in a group, you will be better able to:

  • Access your body’s own healing resources through informal dance
  • Realize the transformative power of your personal creativity
  • Strengthen your abilities to exercise non-judgment, patience, a sense of play, trust, acceptance and letting go
  • Practice mindfulness even if you have struggled with traditional sitting meditation
  • Share healing dances with others to build on your own strengths, resources and experiences

“[R]estore[s] us to the mindfulness that offers calming perspective and renewed, non-judgmental excitement about our relationships with ourselves, our multi-layered communities and our environment. This book offers a chance to make lives better, and that is a real contribution.”

Congressman Tim Ryan, OH-13; author, A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit

“An indispensable tool for anyone who would like to move, breathe and live with more consciousness.... Has the power to revolutionize the way we move our bodies and minds [and] is foundational for the theory and practice of conscious dance.”

Sarah Hentges, PhD, assistant professor of American studies, University of Maine at Augusta; author, Women and Fitness in American Culture

“Heartfelt, embodied and spirited.... Abundant with accessible resources for not only personal practice and conscious dance communities but also for educational settings and ministry contexts. Both emerging leaders and seasoned professionals in ministry will [find] wisdom and inspiration that will support healing and wholeness in our communities.”

Rev. Elizabeth D. Barnum, Fountain Street Church (United Church of Christ), Grand Rapids, Michigan

“Applies mindfulness in a sophisticated way to help the reader bridge theory and practice. [A] personal and engaging style will help you learn to dance through more of the moments of your daily life, with all its ups and downs.”

Richard Sears, PsyD, PhD, psychologist; author, Mindfulness: Living through Challenges and Enriching Your Life in This Moment

“Skillfully integrat[es] mindfulness, psychological insights and creative play to show you how to move to music in ways that are good for your soul. Personable and gentle, it illuminates the importance of honoring your body as a vessel of meaning, healing and love.... An original contribution in the mindfulness field.”

Mary NurrieStearns, RYT, LCSW, author, Yoga Mind, Peaceful Mind

“Rare ... simultaneously cutting edge and accessible as well as practical and enlightening.... A must-read for any person who practices, teaches or researches mindfulness or embodiment.... I am so impressed with Dancing Mindfulness that I have developed an undergraduate psychology course centered around this book!”

Shannon Len Deets, PhD, licensed professional counselor; assistant professor psychology, Thiel College

“A wonderful invitation into one’s body, into one’s creative spirit.... A comprehensive book [and] a wonderful tool for both the private dancer and for one who would like, with training, to offer space to explore this integrating modality to others.”

Kyczy Hawk, author, Yoga and The Twelve Step Path and Life in Bite—Sized Morsels; founder, S.O.A.R.: Success Over Addiction and Relapse

“Jamie’s work ... strike[s] a chord. She has unique appeal among the very people who need her work most.... A welcome force among the members of Dance First, supporting the mission of ‘movement before medication.’”

Mark Metz, founder, Dance First Association; publisher, Conscious Dancer Magazine

“Makes a special contribution to the world of mindfulness by inviting all of us to get off the cushion and explore moving our miraculous bodies.... I encourage anyone interested in mindfulness to let go of old inhibitions and follow Jamie’s wonderful guidance to experience the full body/mind joy of mindful dancing.”

Terry Fralich, cofounder, Mindfulness Retreat Center of Maine; author, The Five Core Skills of Mindfulness: A Direct Path to More Confidence, Joy and Love

“Offers a pathway to spirit through the body. Each chapter offers a doorway to dancing mindfulness as a personal practice and as an opportunity to facilitate others.... A must-read for anyone interested in developing a mindfulness practice through dance.”

Theresa Benson, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist; expressive arts facilitator, University of Illinois

“Meditation is more than sitting on your butt. Mindfulness is more than obsessively chewing a raisin. Both are about being so physically present to the environment that you can no longer maintain the delusion that you are other than the environment. [This book and practice] will take you to that place of acute presentness, and awaken you to the dance of life within and without.”

Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent: Sacred Teachings—Annotated & Explained

“Will help you dance your story in your space with mindfulness—a journey home to the present moment and ultimately to your authentic self ... greatly aided by the richness of intentional movement.”

Durga Leela, RYT-500, founder, Yoga of Recovery

“Helps us step away from the idea that in order to practice living mindfully or to ‘figure things out’ we should sit cross-legged, empty our minds and wait for answers. Our true ability to be mindful can come through dance and movement whenever we let it ... the possibilities are endless and so is your capacity for love, strength and acceptance. To quote Jamie, ‘get up and dance!’”

Rev. Donald McCasland, LMSW-CCTP, clinical trauma professional; blogger, “The Functional Veteran”

“An exciting new way to becoming fully present [and] a powerful introduction to a sense of total wellness.... I recommend this book most highly. This is mindfulness in spades—five stars.”

Rev. Paschal Baute, EdD, author, Resilience of a Dream Catcher, Secrets of Intimacy and Lottie Mae, The Turkey Who Could Not Stop Dreaming

“The modern gateway to the mind/body consciousness.... Reminds us to get up and feel our lives as they were meant to be alive in mind, body and spirit. Of course, the real gem ... is that it’s even deeper than being alive—it’s being down right joyful about it.”

Leisa T. Mills, Buddhist teacher and mind/body activist

“Most interesting ... for those looking for a more physical and creative way to practice mindfulness.... Includes discussion of the historical significance of dance as a healing arts form that involves attention to the physical and emotional self and, when practiced in a group, to growth in community and community building. The book also provides guidance in workshop development and leadership in this method, and has a DVD to illustrate the method.”

Christine A. Courtois, PhD, ABPP, psychologist, Washington, DC; author, It’s Not You, It’s What Happened to You; Healing the Incest Wound and Treating Complex Trauma: A Sequenced, Relationship-based Approach (with Julian Ford, PhD)



How does dancing lead us to transformation?
Transformation does not have to be a big scary process; it can occur in different intervals. You can have a huge transformation in your life that occurs over a series of months or years, or you can have a small transformation that happens within an hour. That’s really what I encourage here—these micro-moments, these micro-movements of wonder. You don’t have to tackle the whole thing at once.

What is the aim for the book?
I hope to encourage people to explore what it means to move mindfully—not just as a separate practice, but as part of their life. One of the things that those of us who practice Dancing Mindfulness regularly have come to believe is that it is a way of life, a way of being in the world. The book is geared toward general readers; whether or not they have come to a Dancing Mindfulness class or plan to adopt this particular practice, they can benefit from the contents.

How do you explain Dancing Mindfulness in light of the more traditional forms of mindfulness and meditation?
Dancing Mindfulness fits into the larger genre of conscious dance, or the idea of using your dance to reach a place of greater awareness. A lot of conscious dance forms do not rely on prescribed steps but encourage following intuitive movement. This freedom is something that is very vital and important in Dancing Mindfulness classes and that encouragement appears in the book. A lot of traditionalists may look at what we do as weird and I invite you to come with that kind of criticism and skepticism—a lot of members in our community started from that mindset. Dancing Mindfulness may not be a fit for you or complement your existing practice, but I encourage you to give it a try by coming to a class or reading the book. In my own spiritual journey, the practice of looking for similarities instead of differences has benefited me. Even if you think that Dancing Mindfulness really isn’t meditation because it features movement or because there is music, perhaps it can serve as a good complement to what you already do because the spiritual intent is the same. There are so many different paths home.

What would you like to express to those reading the book who have limited mobility?
There is a section of the book entitled “You Can Dance Mindfully While Seated.” From the beginning, one of the big teaching foundations I have built upon is to do what you can do and not judge yourself if you cannot go further. Don’t push your limits or push your expectations. I also talk in the book about being with your breath in a mindful way and how your breath is your life dancing through you. You are dancing, even if breath is the only element you can bring to a practice on a given day.

How does this book resonate with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer and questioning community?

One of the values of the Dancing Mindfulness community is embracing all paths and creating a safe space for people to be who they are. As a bisexual woman, I did not set out to make this an LGBTQ practice, although because of who we are—“we” meaning myself and a lot of the early contributors to the practice—we just naturally and organically created a community of acceptance. It has warmed my heart that a lot of people within the LGBTQ community have resonated with Dancing Mindfulness as a practice, as a way of life. I look forward to continuing to explore ways to bring this practice to people who really need and want that place where they feel embraced for who they truly are.
    The summer I was getting the book ready I had a conversation with my ten-year-old stepson. We were in the pool and I was wearing a rainbow-colored pride bracelet. He asked, “Is that a Dancing Mindfulness bracelet?” We do use a lot of color in our promotional material, but I told him, “No, honey, it’s a bracelet for gay pride.” He asked me “Well, what’s gay pride?” I gave him a little bit of insight on my working definition of it: a movement that claims your right to be who you are, to marry who you love, to be who you want and deserve to be in the world. I went on this great explanatory rant to him, but he simply asked, “How is that different from Dancing Mindfulness?” I just smiled, thinking, Wow, if he can get this, it’s something the larger community might too.

How does this book relate to the addiction community, and the recovery community as a whole?
In my own recovery journey and in working with others on theirs, I encountered the theme of being cut off from the body, and not being able to listen to the body’s internal, sacred wisdom. My hope is that I can teach people how to listen to their own body’s sacred wisdom. I have a lot of respect for traditional recovery paths, and they certainly helped me to get sober and sane in my early journey. Yet I discovered that I really needed outside help to be able to listen to my body, notice those messages and work with them in order to grow in my recovery, as opposed to just “staying sober.”

What is the link between movement and trauma?
Unhealed trauma can cause such a stagnation of energy in our bodies. It can either sit there or be moved—and movement is a solution. That’s not to say that movement can’t be triggering for people—one thing we discuss in Dancing Mindfulness, especially in trainings, is how to work with people when it’s all too much.

What if a particular practice feels overwhelming, or just too weird?
The phrase “opting out is always an option” is one I learned many years ago from a drum circle facilitator and it has always resonated with me. You can keep yourself physically safe as you journey through the book by paying attention to your surroundings, footwear and physical ability while trying Dancing Mindfulness practice. In a class, opting out means you don’t have to experience every part of the class in a moving way—you can sit out or even step out if it is becoming too overwhelming. In the book, opting out means you can bookmark your place and take a break if you need to. I also encourage a slow read through the pages. Don’t feel it’s necessary to rush through and try all the practices at once. Taking your time while reading new ideas and trying new exercises is an important way to keep yourself safe.
    I also encourage people to seek support. Certain practices can be very emotionally evocative, so I ask you to please have support in place if you want to try them. For example, in the addiction community support could come from your sponsor and support group. If you have a therapist, it could mean following up with her as you read through the book. It could mean reaching out to friends or other people who are reading through the book with you and are willing to talk about what is striking a chord with you.

Could a clinician recommend this book to their clients?
I see Dancing Mindfulness fitting into the canon of literature on yoga and meditation presented for the general reader. You do not have to have clinical, religious or meditative training to benefit from this book. My hope is that a clinician would be able to read it first and even work through some of the practices himself to know if Dancing Mindfulness may resonate with a certain client.

Did writing Dancing Mindfulness change your view of your own personal practice?
The short answer to that is yes. In writing the book, I felt even more deeply connected with the seven elements of Dancing Mindfulness: breath, sound, mind, body, spirit, story, and the fusion of these elements. These elements are something I brought into the practice from its beginning, but writing the book took me on a whole new journey with them. It also helped me to understand the interfaith aspect of Dancing Mindfulness. So many of the great global traditions of faith and spiritual practice have already written on and drawn on these seven elements as a way of spiritual practice. Stepping back and writing everything down gave me a new appreciation for this practice that has transformed so many lives.

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Introduction: The Art of Dancing Mindfully
Prior to reading this book, did you have any experiences with dance? Mindfulness? Meditation? What were they? If you had no experiences, what pictures or ideas did you associate with mindfulness and dancing?

Consider these words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (p. xx): “Don’t become a Buddhist. The world doesn’t need more Buddhists. Do practice compassion. The world needs more compassion.” How does this famous teaching of his relate to your life?

In what ways has “living on autopilot” impacted your health and wellness?

What are your hopes for how this book might relate to you? What are you curious about? Is there anything you’re hesitant about?

Chapter 1—Breath: Life Dancing Through Us
The book poses the question, What if we could learn to cherish our breath as life itself dancing through our being? Consider bringing this forward for discussion, keeping these questions in mind:

  • How do you interpret the teaching of Kabir (p. 3), which proclaims that God is the breath inside the breath?
  • What does it mean for you to breathe something into existence?
  • What does it mean for you to allow your breath to be your guide throughout life?

How does changing your breath impact your thoughts and your behaviors?

How can you dance using only the breath as a spiritual practice?

How can mindful breathing assist in helping you to silence the inner critic?

Chapter 2—Sound: Attunement to the Process of Living
What are some ways (other than music) that you experience or work with the element of sound in your spiritual practice?

Consider your relationship to sound and music, with a few questions to keep in mind:

  • Is there a song that, no matter when or in what form you hear it, you have a deep emotional response to? If so, share a little bit about that song and the effect it has on your body-mind-spirit.
  • Consider this proverb (and its variations), shared in the chapter: “When the music changes, so does the dance.” How have you experienced this phenomenon in your life?
  • What do you tend to experience when you listen to music that is outside of your comfort zone?
  • Share a special theme that you’ve made a playlist about or would like to create a playlist for.

Chapter 3—Body: A Vessel for Authenticity
Consider these beautiful words from Swami Vivekananda (p. 43): “The moment I have realized God sitting in the temple of every human body, the moment I stand in reverence before every human being and see God in him—that moment I am free from bondage, everything that binds vanishes, and I am free.” Discuss how the tensions between others and your body have affected you, considering the following questions:

  • What factors make accepting this wisdom a challenge for you?
  • How has competing with or comparing yourself to others, especially about issues connected to the body, affected you over the years?
  • In what ways did societal rules about gender impact your own development?

What does it mean to listen to your body? What can your body teach you about yourself?

What has been your experience with tapping into the sense of dance, play or creativity that is within you? If you haven’t been able to do that yet, what do you think is stopping you?

Chapter 4—Mind: Bringing Us Home to the Present Moment
Consider this popular phrase, often attributed to Lao Tzu (p. 65): “When you are depressed, you are living in the past. When you are anxious, you are living in the future.” What has been your experience with the truth in this saying? What connections do you see between mindful practice and healing past wounds?

Pages 68–71 discuss the triune brain and the notion of the mind being more than just thoughts. What does the mind mean to you? What do you see as the difference between the mind and the brain?

What does the stillness teach about movement, and what does movement teach about stillness?

Chapter 5—Spirit: The Greatness Guiding Our Dance
What is your personal working definition of spirit?

Consider the many elements there are when navigating the intersection between personal spirituality and communal practices. A few questions to keep in mind:

  • What is the difference between spirituality and religion?
  • What can happen when a community is created around spirituality and spiritual practice? In what ways can it be a positive experience? In what ways can it be a negative one?
  • In what ways have experiences of spiritual abuse impacted you?

How can dancing (or other creative practices) be used as a way to pray? A way to express gratitude?

Chapter 6—Story: Embracing Our Journey
Consider how sharing and exchanging stories with others has helped you in your spiritual journey. Keep the following questions in mind:

  • What methods do you prefer to use to share your story (or the parts of it that you are ready to share)? Why?
  • Which phrase do you prefer, owning your story or embracing your story? Why?
  • What can taking on a different character and enrolling in their story teach you about yourself?
  • How do you benefit from witnessing someone else’s story?

What kind of props (scarves, fans, etc.) or other media or creative art might you bring into your dance to help deepen your engagement with the story? Why did you choose these props?

Chapter 7—Fusion: Resting in Wholeness
What does the word fusion mean to you in the context of the spiritual life?

What has been your experience with the saying “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”?

In what areas do you hope dance will allow you to become whole with yourself? (Consider Melita’s story, pp. 135–137.)

What role do you see dance playing in healing the horrible things that we hear about in today’s world?

How does your dance allow you to bring together the various pieces of your life experience?

Chapter 8—Leading by Example: Fostering Healing Experiences and Creating Community
Consider your previous experiences with the leadership of one of your communities or groups. How was your experience of the group positively or negatively affected by the actions of the leadership? Some additional questions to consider:

  • What do you see as attributes of a healthy leader in creating and fostering community?
  • What happened when the leadership was committed (or not committed) to your personal health and safety?
  • Have you been affected by figures in leadership forcing intimacy on you or other members of your group in the past?
  • What differences do you see between the role of teacher and the role of facilitator?

What does it mean for you for any community (educational, spiritual/religious, etc.) to promote a culture of choice?

Consider discussing any new ideas you might have discovered about leadership, and how you might incorporate them into your own leadership roles. Some questions to keep in mind:

  • As a leader, how can you optimally hold space for individuals who are coming forward and taking a risk?
  • What role does flexibility play in leadership? What interplay do you see between flexibility and structure?
  • How can each of the seven Dancing Mindfulness elements covered in this book help you as you grow as a leader or facilitator?

Conclusion: Redefining Therapy
What does redefining therapy mean to you?

What is the link that you see between creativity and healing? What role have creative or expressive arts (dance, music, art, writing, etc.) played in your personal health process?

What role do you hope community can play in enhancing the impact of creativity on the healing process?