Exploring Theater as a Tool for Stress Management
Many neurodivergent individuals and their parents face significant amounts of stress. This stress arises not only because of challenges that an individual has in areas such as motor functioning, executive functioning, and communication but also due to the environment. Finding the right environments for neurodivergent individuals to thrive is not easy.
Can Theater Arts for Holistic Development be used to teach stress management?
This is the question that I have been mulling since Ananth started his Bharatanatyam lessons with Shri Ujwal Jagadeesh, a senior faculty and artist at Ramana Maharshi Center for Learning (RMCL), Bengaluru.
Ananth has been learning Bharatanatyam for more than 10 years. Even during the first lesson with Ujwal, I felt a striking difference in his approach from Ananth’s past experiences. I had connected with him through the Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) program by RASA India. So I already knew that his approach was shaped by TAHD. As lessons continued, I realized that his approach represents an integration of The Ramana Way and The TAHD Way! Ramana Maharshi is one among the great spiritual masters of India who has guided the world to get back to their own nature which is divine and blissful. Thank you Morpheus for your amazing artwork for our blog posts! Ananth and I are happy you shared your portrait of Ramana Maharshi with us for our blog.
The question below and the response (emphasis added) is from Ananth’s blog post yesterday that included an interview with Shri Ujwal Jagadeesh.
4. Did you start incorporating Ramana Maharshi’s life and teachings in dance before integrating TAHD?
Yes, Ramana came first and with it came the understanding of the true purpose of dance which is to realize our true nature. I loved listening to stories always. After the training of TAHD the primary goal of all the lesson plans was to understand that our true nature is happiness. These lesson plans includes song, dance and stories.
The first time I observed Bharatanatyam lessons at RMCL, I was struck by the opening lines:
Omkaranai idhayathil ninainde
Mahizhudun Punnagai Purinthen
Thai ya thai ennum spurana thudane
Thataduvai nam saidiuvum
Lyrics by Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh Tamil Translation: Dr. Sarada
These lines invite the student to think of God’s power within themselves and smiling before starting dance. We did four lessons during our first visit. Somehow, these opening lines caught my attention each time. Later I realized that these opening lines shifted aduvu (small patterns of movement and expression that are the building blocks for Bharatanatyam) practice in a subtle but important way. I continued to observe aduvu teaching during online sessions. The theme of being attentive to God’s power within you and smiling brightly were a part of every lesson!
Smile Brightly and Dance – A 100-Day Project is Born
Over the last month, I have been considering the possibility of TAHD as a tool for practicing emotional regulation and stress management. The Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration (MNRI) video on Strengthening Stress Resilience and Immunity is a useful resource to think about aduvus as a stress management practice.
Stress is an internal state of the organism and mental processes. A need or demand that is perceived to exceed the resources available to effectively deal with it at a certain time or disease can cause stress. The description of the video notes that MNRI® offers new approaches to enhance stress resilience and immunity, as we contend with the neurodevelopmental impact, the emotional/physical trauma, and the panic from the coronavirus pandemic. The uncertainty and challenges during the pandemic and other situational factors have resulted in a period of stress for Ananth.
So I was intrigued by the possibility of Smile Brightly and Dance as an approach for teaching stress management while teaching dance. Since MNRI is not easily available in India, TAHD and especially the aduvu practice as a way of affect regulation and stress management is a possibility worth exploring. Even if MNRI were readily available, dance brings the practice into a fun and engaging activity for the learner to take ownership of this practice rather than a therapy organized by others.
Our 100-Day TAHD Project Begins
Once I saw the possibility of using aduvus as a tool for practicing emotional regulation, I started thinking about a 100-Day project. Aduvus struck me as a powerful tool for creating opportunities for learners to practice facial expression. Facial expression is also practiced in storytelling and drama but aduvus provide a systematic, incremental, and consistent way of practicing affect regulation daily.
Hence, the 100-Days of Smile Brightly and Dance project was born.
Day 1: 12-15-2022
Pay attention to God’s power within you.
Ananth is beginning to internalize this message. Today, he told me that he had a hard time with fast transitions because he was not paying attention to God’s power within him!
Building Positive Thinking Trails
Today, I had an aha moment. Ananth has a tendency to get stuck on negative thoughts/experiences. So I suggested that the next time he has a negative thought, tell himself that God’s power is within him. Since Ujwal brings this message daily in one or more ways, this thought (and related thoughts) can provide an alternate path for thoughts.
What we did
Ananth and I did the following together
- Tattaduvu (We tried the Aduvu Adaivu video in the morning but for our purpose, the one Ujwal and Ananth did at RMCL works better. It is slower and repeats Omkarane twice.
I have decided to practice the exercises and aduvus with him. While he is doing fine with a teacher or in a group, his attention and concentration have been significantly affected during the last year. In the early days of learning dance, I used to practice parts of the lesson with him. For this 100-Day project, I will be doing exercises and some aduvus with him as I think it will help get the most benefit out of this practice.
Day 2: 12-16-2022
Ananth learned one more aduvu in a slower format in his class. We will add that to our daily practice for the 100 days.
Day 3: 12-17-2022
We practiced the mettaduvu. We are seeing a goal for skills practice. Side bending while doing mettaduvu is our goal for the coming week!
The poster below shows our project timeline.
We invite you to create your own Smile Brightly and Dance 100-Day project or some other 100-Day Theater Arts project and share your journey with us in our LIFESMART groups!