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Monday, October 01, 2012

Stretching Our Arms Upwards - How This Impacts Our Dance and Our Bodies

Stretching Our Arms Upwards - Surprising Health Benefits (Along with a Beautiful Dancer's Pose!)

For the longest time, I've had this "gut feeling" that Oriental dance (belly dance) was for women the corollary to what the martial arts have traditionally been for men - a pathway for body/mind/psyche/energy integration. And just as T'ai Ch'i Chuan ("Grand Ultimate Fist") is the premiere "internal" martial art, there is an analogue within Oriental dance.

One of the most important things about an "internal" art is that instead of superimposing the movements on ourselves, we generate them from inside. That means (despite the practice and study involved) that essentially the movements sort of "do themselves." Minimal effort.

Of course, it takes years of practice so that we can do any moves with "minimal effort." That, in fact, is one of the characteristics of a real master. But that's also a subject for a different day.

Today's subject is one that I've never heard addressed - in either martial arts or dance circles. (Doesn't mean that someone hasn't discussed this, just that I haven't come across the discussion yet.)

The particular topic is: What happens when we raise our arms over our heads? What's the psychological significance, or emotional meaning of this gesture? And how does it fit in with a "minimal effort" approach?

By way of comparison, when we do the opening moves in T'ai Ch'i, we drop our weight and let our arms rise up. This is natural and gentle. But our arms only raise up to about waist-level. So what goes on when we raise our arms over our heads? This is more than "minimal effort"!

Let's look at the emotional language first. In the classic "belly dance pose," the dancer has her arms raised over her head, wrists crossed, and palms flat against each other. This is, without question, one of most sensual poses in the dance. And it makes the dancer look gorgeous!

At an emotional-meaning level, though, what does this pose say? Is it just suggesting a little B&D? (For those who've been reading Fifty Shades, that might in itself prove exciting.) But really, when do we ever - in our normal lives - raise our arms over our heads?

Often, this is a moment of exultation. Think of the pose with the arms open and hands outstretched to the skies. It's a "calling down the forces of nature" type of pose; a classic "strength" pose. It's also a "hallelujah" pose - a moment of ecstasy.

This is a pose that is very exposed and vulnerable. Opening up our armpits and the tender flesh on the inside of our upper arms is not something we'd do if we were feeling threatened or insecure. Much as a cat or dog only rolls on its back and splays its paws (note the paw-splaying, this is more than just rolling on the back as a submissive gesture), this is only something done when the animal feels relaxed and safe, and actually rather joyful and happy.

When we dance, we connect with the Divine. This is a significant "connect with the Divine" gesture, and thus, we use it carefully and sparingly in our choreographies. This is the kind of move that we'd work towards in our dance, as a climax for a certain section of music.

How does this impact our bodies, though? This is really an important question, because when we are very "connected" during our dance - and our energy is really moving - then our audiences desire to experience what we're experiencing; they want to map themselves onto us. So what we do in our bodies affects not only us, but our audience as well.

Many of us already know that certain leg stretches help stretch out the meridians in our legs, and are restful - this is why these "leg stretch" poses are good yoga moves to relax us before bed.

The "arms overhead" similarly stretches the meridians that go from the tips of our fingers to the core of our bodies, particularly those that go through our underarms.

From a description on the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach to understanding energy (ch'i) meridians:

The Small Intestine Meridian begins on the pinky, moves to the underside of the arm, up to the top of the shoulder blade, the neck, and ends on the front of the ear.

The Triple Heater Meridian begins on the ring finger, moves up the back of the arm to the side of the neck, goes around the ear and ends of the eyebrow.

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