Mindfulness is a way of paying attention, meaning intentionally being aware of the present moment and accepting things just as they are without judgement. Thoughts, feelings and sensations are in constant movement, and when able to watch such experiences come and go, rather than latch on to and over-identify them, a person has more opportunity to take in the fullness of any given moment. Such awareness of ‘what is’ ultimately allows for greater responsiveness to the self and the environment.
A lot of interest in mindfulness has spread throughout the field of psychology, including in the domain sport, exercise and performance psychology. In their seminal book on consulting for peak performance, Hays and Brown (2004) focused on factors common to any performance, such as
-Facing consequences for poor performance
-Needing strong coping skills for excellence
-Bringing out skill and expertise at specific moments.
Regardless of the performance area, performers of all types possess an array of specific skills and personal abilities, and these skills and abilities are likely to differ based on age, competitive/work level and type of activity (Gardner/Moore 2007).
Performance Psychology often focuses on high-end performers, who strive to be the best they can be, often under intense circumstances and conditions, such as auditioning for career-defining roles, competing with the game on the line or acting to save lives. A growing number of performance psychologists are introducing mindfulness. Nordic-Bates (2012) argued that approaches from sport psychology can transfer successfully to dance, music and theatre.
Despite the parallels between mindfulness for athletes and dancers, whose bodies are their instruments, a lot less has been mentioned and written about mindfulness for dancers than for musicians for example. Mindfulness is compatible with somatic (bodily) movement practices that involve heightened sensory and motor awareness, so that movement can change in response to one’s observed sensations. When used with dancers, somatic movement practices can reduce the occurrence of injuries, strengthen technique, enhance performance and raise the likelihood of attaining a ‘flow state’.
For any mindfulness practices to have maximum benefit, it is crucial to incorporate it into a daily routine ideally (Kabat-Zinn, 1990), whether it feels necessary at a given time or not. Just as when building and training the body, having the discipline to persevere in the process is essential to developing mindfulness.
This is an exciting time to focus on the mindfulness movement. An increasing number of athletes, as well as musicians, dancers, actors and those in high-stress or high-stakes work environments, are now benefitting from mindfulness practices.
So where do we go from here? There are, without a doubt, a number of very promising developments in applying mindfulness with performers other than athletes. One may predict that mindfulness interventions for dancers and other performing artists will continue to increase over the coming years. However, much more empirical evidence in support of the effectiveness of these approaches and on how to customize practices to the demands of each performance area, is necessary.
Another important point concerns openness to seeking out supervision and consultation, this could include discussing your ideas and concerns with coaches, peers or a mindfulness mentor. Having good support can help the development, improve the ability to foster mindfulness practices and maintaining a holistic focus regarding both dancing and daily life.
My hope is, that you are getting excited about how mindfulness could enhance experiences in and outside of dancing, sport and the performing arts, and you have maybe even started thinking about ways of how to incorporate mindfulness practices into your training, competitions, as well as everyday life.
If you have any questions or need help to stay on track and ‘in the moment’, please contact me and I would be happy to help.
About Martina Kornett-Burton
Martina Kornett-Burton MSc is a Sports and Educational Scientist, certified Counsellor and a Professional Dancer, Choreographer and Coach.