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The Impulse to Heal—Movement, Dance, and the Ancient Art of Qigong

December 17, 2003 09:20 AM

Our natural healing impulse

Everything carries a purpose, including the impulse to heal. The healing purpose is intimately related to our life purpose. We live to grow. We live to correct ourselves, to move to wholeness. We start dying when we give up, when we refuse to change, refuse to make adjustments, refuse to learn from our mistakes. Healing is our birthright, but it's a birthright we need to claim anew every day. Stop staking claim and watch your health deteriorate, sooner or later.

Nature is unforgiving. Fail to stay fluid and you start to stagnate. Whenever you feel stuck, or low, or overly serious, realize you are receiving a signal to change your ways.

The impulse to heal is the impulse to dance life?and keep dancing. We dance inside the music of our unfolding lives.

Spontaneous movement as the basis of healing.

Surprise is the key element in adapting the body for radiant health. Fresh movement and sudden jolts provide an excitement and stimulus that the organism naturally craves. All newborns respond to this as part of their natural growth. Play is absolutely essential to healthy growth. Fun is play's engine and surprise is fun's ignition.

Watch babies react and respond to the adult's instinctive desire to surprise them?with peek-a-boo and games to startle and excite in a safe way. This instinctive play sparks spontaneous movement and therefore healing in the child. You cannot overestimate the importance of spontaneous movement for our ongoing health.

As we age, we can get stuck in patterns and grooves that limit the full range of our potential for expression and creativity. We shortchange ourselves and begin to live vicariously, living a secondhand life as voyeurs of experience.

Reserve time to simply move around in an unguarded, free and fresh manner, even if it's just a few minutes a day. Make it a rule to vibrate?and have fun doing it.

How communal dance expresses the healing impulse

Movement creates vibration and vibration expresses itself as rhythm. Rhythm is at the heart of dance. Rhythm transmits feeling physically. Rhythm moves us to share and bond. Communal shaking leverages our love by emanating vibrations across otherwise blocked passages.

When we dance together in spontaneous movement we indulge in play at its most elemental level?happily opening to each other in ways we might normally find hard to stomach.

Rhythm is the trigger, the prompt that ignites us into sharing our love and pleasure. We want to respond, we want to touch each other. Only when we are guarded or out of sorts do we resist touch and set up barriers. In dance we can openly invite our guests to share our energy?and accept their energy into our own selves.

Dancing takes us out of our heads and into our full beings?works of art in fluid, spontaneous motion. Our cells get the message and lighten up in response to the waves of rhythmic "feel-its". This is healing at its most juicy and alive.

Mimicking animal movement to spark play

Dance provokes laughter and smiling. Laughter vibrates us to heal on a cellular level. So too, when we smile, every cell smiles with us?and everyone around responds naturally with a smile. Shared laughter encourages us to be warm, gentle, and responsive with each other.

Animals naturally play, to protect their young ones and maintain their health. Watch small cubs with their parents and each other, gamboling around, practicing their survival skills, cuffing each other, jumping, pulling and tugging.

One way to escape from our self-imposed straight jacket of rigid movement patterns, is to consciously invoke the spirit of another creature?and play with it, dance it.

We give the concept of "unity" a certain lip service, but we tend to experience ourselves as islands, separate, not really connected. We don't feel truly connected. When we let ourselves move like a different animal, we break the bonds, the plaster cast of our protected selves. We jump out of our skins.

This jumping out of our skins is an essential practice if we are not to close off to the flows of the world and decline into sluggish self-centeredness. These improvised dances feed our souls?and help us connect experientially with the world.

In ancient China, such communal animal dances were at the root of healing practice?and contributed to the birth of Qigong ("working with life energy.") Over millennia, the animal dances were refined as astute practitioners noted particular healing benefits from certain movements.

While spontaneous movement justly held pride of place for its liberating impact on health, Qigong systems like The Five Animal Frolics and Wild Goose were introduced as powerful daily practices for self-development and health maintenance.

Turning full circle, the deeper practice of The Five Animal Frolics is to use an individual form and take it back into a spontaneous dance.

After over 1,800 years these same systems remain a major force in Chinese health culture?and have met increasing acclaim in the West for their therapeutic benefits.

John Du Cane is author of a workbook on The Five Animal Frolics and of four videos: Bliss Qigong, Serenity Qigong, Power Qigong, and Vitality Qigong available from Dragon Door Publications at 1-800-899-511 or at To sign up for John's free Qigong newsletter visit John teaches qigong on a weekly basis in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. For a class brochure call him at 651-487-3828 or email him at