School of Movement Medicine - Mindfulness in Motion

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Issue: April 2010
Shamanism and Movement Medicine

By Ya'Acov and Susannah

Shaman |ˈ sh ämən; ˈ sh ā-|

a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of good and evil spirits, esp. among some peoples of northern Asia and North America. Typically such people enter a trance state during a ritual, and practice divination and healing…………..

With the Summer Long Dance ceremony coming up in the summer, Ya’Acov and Susannah reflect on the relationship between Shamanism and Movement Medicine.

We are opening the Summer Long Dance to the wider public for the first time this year. Led by us and hosted by our crew of Movement Medicine apprentices, it’s a deep and magical 48-hour ceremony that has grown out of nearly 20 years of explorations into how to bring such a ceremony into our community of dancers in a grounded, safe and beneficial way. It’s an opportunity for any one who wishes to dedicate 48 hours of precious life units to dancing their prayers and dreams for self and the community of life on earth. It’s a chance to embody a sense of deep gratitude to the Great Mystery for all that life brings. And what’s more, it’s a great adventure to offer your body, heart and mind to the Great Choreographer and see what needs to come through you as the drums play and play.


The Long Dance is a deeply healing shamanic journey through the 21 stations of the Movement Medicine Mandala. We reckon it’s about time that we talked about the shamanism thing. It’s a subject that has come to the fore particularly at this time in several conversations with our apprentices. And in a recent 2-day meeting with three of them who have taken on the role of Pathfinders to help us develop our training for Movement Medicine teachers, the subject arose again.


A Movement Medicine dance floor is a place of healing, a place for consciousness and free expression, a down-to-earth temple where we can sort out the wheat from the chaff, remember what matters to us, embody it and channel the life of the dance into the dance of our lives. It’s a place of remembrance and prayer, a place of practice in becoming a whole human being: body, heart, mind, and soul - a place to remember that we are unique and incredibly creative individuals, each one of us a thread in the complex and magnificent interconnected web of life. And according to our brochure, the dance is a place where devotional, therapeutic, artistic and…..what is that word?.....ah yes, shamanic, strands meet.


For many years, we have chosen not to highlight the word shamanic in describing our work because we wanted it to be accessible to as wide a range of people as possible. But maybe the times are changing. Subjects that would have been thought of as witchcraft and worthy of death by burning at the stake for practitioners are now available in the mainstream and considered to be ‘complimentary’ health practices.


Shamanism, as Gabrielle Roth so rightly taught us, is indigenous to its own culture and is specific to healing the wounds of its own culture. Whilst we can all learn a great deal by immersing ourselves in work from the massive variety of traditions that have come to European shores in recent times, these offerings are supposed to help us to return to our connection to our own bodies, lands and traditions.


In Europe, the church systematically and devastatingly attacked our indigenous shamanic traditions and its practitioners. As the power of the church has waned, it has been replaced by the ‘religion’ of consumption. In place of a sacred connection to land, spirit, ancestors and the web of life, we have become a disempowered, lonely and hungry group animal that tries to fill its inner longing with a voracious appetite for things. We used to be citizens. Now we are called consumers. But as our awareness of the dangers of separation from nature has increased, the spirit and practice of shamanism has returned.


We thought it may be illuminating to attempt to define what we do and don’t mean by ‘shamanic’ in relation to Movement Medicine. So here’s our up-to-date hot-of-the-press guide to Movement Medicine as a shamanic practice.


We don’t mean:


·         A bunch of spaced-out wannabes leaping from one fantastical “other worldly” adventure to another, never taking the time to integrate, ground or find the courage to bring what their visions to earth and into manifest, day to day reality

·         An unquestioned and religious belief in the existence of spirits, power animals, spirit guides and helpers that ‘tell us’ how to behave

·         Giving our power away to a man or woman of knowledge who tells us how things are and who we assume, because of their great power, also has great personal awareness and is therefore free to do as they please (i.e. ‘if you sleep with me, you’ll get closer to the source of power and become as powerful as I am’)

·         A search for power for personal gain that gets used to manipulate, distort and impress, and which invariably leads to power battles of all kinds

·         That feathers, drums, rattles and a whole host of power objects = shamanic

·         That working ‘with spirit’ is an alternative to (a) the need to do one’s own biographical, therapeutic work and taking responsibility for one’s own wounds and shadows and (b) the need to take responsibility for our actions and choices

as global citizens

·         That out of body = spiritual


There are many different paradigms and many different traditions. We don’t need to fake our connection with nature and with life. We are connected. For a culture that is already super disembodied, further out of body experience is not likely to create the healing we need. A shaman maps the wounds of their own culture and creates pathways back to the embodied soul for themselves and for their community. The Movement Medicine mandala is one of many such maps.


This is what we do we mean by shamanic in relation to Movement Medicine.


We mean:


·         In a held and protected space (or mesa), people finding access through the effort and creativity of their own dance to states of consciousness where they find healing and inspiration and through direct experience, discover their place in the interconnected web of life

·         Through a caring and responsible relationship with our own bodies (our own “land”), and the elements of which they are made, we rediscover the beauty and force of nature within us, between us and beyond us and through our love for it, rediscover the responsibility we have to act as guardians for it and pass it on to the next generations

·         A deep love based in action and respect for the earth, the fire, the waters and the air as manifestations of the divine

·         A respect for our ancestors and descendants

·         Putting our left-brained ability to take care of details and live in this world in service of our right-brained ability to dream and create a better, more just, peaceful world for all beings

·         Deep and ongoing work with the heart to learn to live in humility and responsibility as our ability to create with life grows

·         A healing paradigm which tunes us into the energetic, vibrational and resonant field that connects all life and which we can sense through being awake, conscious and connected in our own bodies, hearts and minds

·         Bringing our dreams into physical form here in this world and co-creating communities and circles that bring heaven to earth


Ya’Acov: “For me, Shamanism isn’t about belief. It’s about direct experience. Allies or guardians, such as the work to find them we describe in the elemental chapters in our book, create a personal face through which we can relate to the vastness of nature, the vastness of the universe and the vastness of the unknown. It is easier to relate to the ‘spirit of a mountain’ than to something as huge as the mountain itself. At the same time, to get distracted by this search is to miss the magnificence of the mountain. To me, it doesn’t matter whether we ‘believe’ in spirits or not. The most important things are our direct experience and, as Albrecht Mahr, one of Susannah’s constellation teachers, so beautifully puts it, that the meaning we choose to give to our experiences dignifies life. And in the end, any spiritual practice is about love, our ability to give it, receive it, and most importantly of all, act from it.”


Susannah: “I am poignantly aware, as a woman, of the painful history of what was done and is still being done to the indigenous earth based wisdom traditions, both here in Europe and all over the globe. I celebrate the rediscovery of the vibration of spirit and consciousness infused in everything, in the material, in the landscapes of the earth of our bodies, the body of the earth and all its beings, the vibration of life and the great mystery everywhere and in everything. Tuning into the living, vibrating matrix of which all life is a part is the key essence for me of what “shamanic” means.” 


We are passionate about honouring and upholding a down-to-earth sense of what shamanism means and offers in the 21st century and hope this article helps to communicate that.


There are still places on this year’s Summer Long Dance. It’s a not-for-profit event with the costs shared by all participants. Each participant is asked to raise a minimum of £200-00 for the central charity (which this year is Survival International) or for any other project they wish to dance for. Please contact for more details.


Ya’Acov & Susannah. April 2010.



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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the School of Movement Medicine. Roland Wilkinson, Nappers Crossing, Staverton, Devon TQ9 6PD, UK Tel & Fax +44 (0)1803 762255 http://www.