Since my first experience dancing away pain and limitations, I discovered that the experience wasn’t just a freak occurrence. Over the coming years, I consistently found that I could go from limping to leaping within the span of one of my living room dance jams.
What’s more, as I started getting my story out there, I connected with other people who had healed themselves from dance – including one woman who no longer needed a wheelchair, years after she began dancing in it. How is it possible that we all self-healed from a condition stumping our doctors?
“While acute pain appears in areas of the brain that are connected to tissue damage, chronic pain lives in other areas of the brain—the prefrontal cortex and limbic system, which the brain uses for memories, especially emotional ones,” says Martin Rossman, M.D., director of The Healing Mind and a pioneer in mind-body medicine. “In some cases, the pain lives on long past the time when the body tissues have healed.”
In other words, repeated thoughts, emotions, and experiences create nerve pathways in the brain, and chronic pain impulses travel along these well-worn pathways. To this end, Rossman explains, it is likely that through reframing and refocusing the relationship to one’s pain, dancing “activates the nervous system in new ways that alter, suppress, or potentially even replace the ‘stuck’ pain pathways.
“If the new, healthy neurological pathways are activated frequently enough, the pain pathways become deactivated. If sustained over a long enough period of time, the old pain pathways become slower and less likely to activate, then eventually disappear. “
But why was I able to heal myself through dance in particular, in a way I never could through other physical activities I was passionate about, like biking? I wondered if it had something to do with musical vibrations. I’d been a musician my entire life, singing before I began speaking, so perhaps there was something about my relationship to sound. According to leading integrated medicine specialists, it turns out, vibrations are a big part of the mix, and not just for musicians.
“Everything is ultimately vibration, so anything that’s physical is basically made up of these fundamental wave forms,” says David Simon, MD, co-founder and CEO of the Deepak Chopra Center for Wellbeing and author of numerous books on integrated medicine. “If there’s something creating distress in that form, on some level we can see it as dissonance in the vibration. So all healing is really the restoration of harmony, and there are various ways to re-establish harmony.”
Ayurvedic medicine – an ancient holistic system originating in India – teaches that if we introduce a healing vibration, it will set up a certain resonance or harmonic effect on whatever is disharmonious or dissonant. This resonance in turn provides the memory of harmony — helping the imbalanced or disharmonious state to recall its previously harmonious state. With that, ayurvedic medicine teaches, comes the restoration of wholeness and health – thus the ancient chanting traditions of many cultures around the world.
Dance is an especially powerful form of healing vibrations, Simon emphasizes, “because it’s not just sound; it’s actually rhythmic movement. So it has an effect not only on the gross level of the muscles, nerves, skeletal system, and neuromuscular system, but also at a cellular level. Dancing creates a kind of heartbeat. If it’s a resonant heartbeat, it harmonizes every cell in the body.”
If it’s a resonant heartbeat. Maybe that’s why only particular music gets me going full-throttle: My body has to relate to it vibrationally. Repeatedly, I have found that I’ll be dancing low-key for a while, to various musical styles, when one song comes on that transports me to an altered state – where the music is in the driver’s seat of my body, and I cannot help but fly around my apartment like a woman possessed, pain zones vanished.
Perhaps for that moment, with that particular vibrational frequency flowing through me, there is a bio-chemical reaction in my body that restores harmony and therefore perfect health. Regardless of why it works, I know for a fact that it does. Over the years, utilizing dance as my primary vehicle for healing, I have gone from living with pain levels generally around an 8 (on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being excruciating) to around a 2.
It took me a long time to believe myself (we’re talking years here) instead of seeing it as a freak occurrence every single time it happened. But now I trust my experience firmly, and you can catch me regularly dancing in my living room.
I’m also now teaching Dancing with Pain® classes to other people still stuck in the pit of chronic pain and despair. So far, so good! In all but one case, participants have reported that their pain was significantly lower or altogether gone by the end of each class.
Of course, holistic health is not a magic bullet. While our pain may be gone for a moment, for hours, or for several days, it very well may return. As Rossman says, natural healing is a process of “precious gains and painful losses.”
Fortunately, dance is a tool that is always at our disposal. Where there is the experience of pain, there is the tool of dance. And where there is dance, there is healing.