Sixth International Conference on Conflict Resolution

in St.Petersburg, May 7-14,1998.

A peaceful dimension of mind-body through Butoh dance method

Toshiharu Kasai

Hokkaido Institute of Technology, Sapporo,Japan

Backgrounds of this workshop.


There have been various ideas and methods for trying to recover mind-body integration: Alexander technique, Sensory awareness, Gestalt therapy, Bioenergetics, Feldencrais method, etc., in the West, and so in Japan. Noguchi taiso (physical exercise) and T.Takeuchi Lesson have been pioneered by each person in 1970-80 and reported being effective for exploring and recovering the relationship between mind and body. One of the basic exercises by Takeuchi, called "ude no burasage"- the arm relaxation task, has been studied experimentally because most people fail to release the tension from their arms and shoulders in this exercise although it is a simple arm lifting and releasing by another person.

One of the recent studies (Kasai & Zaluchyonova, 1996a) reported that 1)about 45% of 97 Japanese subjects could not release tension from their arms, and 2) 87.6 % of them unconsciously raised their arms when his/her arm was lifted by the partner. Even when their arms were released after being lifted, 3) their arms did not fall in 90.7 % of the subject: they unintentionally suspended their arms in the air. This task was also carried out in Russia with 62 Russian subjects and yielded almost same results: 1) 48.4%, 2)79.0%, 3)67.7%, respectively. (The same tendencies were obtained in Kasai, 1996b).

As known well among professionals such as Alexander Technique teachers, for example, relaxation is not an intentional "doing," but "undoing". Although doing something seriously for relaxation is not relaxation itself, we tend to attempt doing something intentionally for the resultant state of relaxation. A factor analysis based on the Japanese subjects who experienced the exercise showed that there are four dimensions in the subject attitude toward the task; I)transcending , II)conscious concentration, III)intentional abandonment of control, and IV)neglect of the purpose, with 87.1% of accumulated factor contribution. While the second dimension shows that the subjects tried to concentrate on relaxing muscle tension intentionally, the first, third and 4th dimensions clearly show the subjects' difficult attempts to do "intentional undoing" for relaxation, as has been already pointed out by analysis of "Psychological strategies in arm relaxation"(Kasai, 1994).

These experimental results mean that psychological methods for relaxation need to contain factors to transcend "doing-undoing" issue. One of the key ideas in various methods for relaxation would be "actually experiencing something here and now" to skip this puzzling situation or avoid the infinite loop of thinking of this issue.

*The Zen dialogue takes the opposite way: "if you clap your hands, it makes a sound of clap. And, what kind of sound does it make if you clap with your one hand?" The attempt to overcome this type of nonsense by serious deep thought eventually leads people to nonverbal field, via deconstruction of intellectual comprehension of the task, and therefore to the way for the spiritual enlightenment... It would be called "the unspeakable level" in General Semantics, and the person must come out of the word-matching process and face the unsegmented genuine reality.

Noguchi Taiso asks people to feel gravity and to move with minimum muscle contraction. Concentration or mindfulness in its practicing invites calmness into mind-body. His system has been used by many Butoh dancers because it gives them the way of exploring mind-body relationship through its "introspective" approach. Takeuchi uses various exercises that can be recognized as play therapy for children or psychodrama, and they also yield relaxation through unintentional laughter or other emotional release.

Butoh dance

Butoh dance - an avant-garde dance originated by Tatsumi Hijikata in 1960s in Japan - is sometimes understood as an underground, antisocial, grotesque dance because of its eccentric dance performances by the white painted naked dancers. Therefore, Butoh dance is also called "Ankoku Butoh", black dance.

Body movements of Butoh dancers are utterly different from ballet, modern dance, as may be understood by a fact that Butoh dancers basically never use mirrors in practice: They fundamentally rely on internal bodily perception (proprioception), not on the visual perception. and tries to explore her/his own mind-body entity through feeling inside.

(The explanation here does not include the show dance or performing arts aspects of Butoh.

The BUTOH VIDEO shows Tatsumi Hijikata- the originator of Butoh, collaboration of Akiko Motofuji ,Hijikata's wife, with a Polish sculptor, Butoh performances of Sankaijuku,Arutai,Goosayten,etc. )

In order to recover or create mind-body congruence, we often need to face to our so-called suppressed dark emotions that are usually thought to be socially unwelcome behavior, and may have not been given opportunities of their coming out. Butoh enables people to live their own naturally arising emotions such as anger, depression, sorrow, fear, etc. if they arise, through actually happening bodily reactions of spasm, unintentional jerks, tremor, facial or bodily distortion, falling down, stamping, rolling on the floor, and so on. Butoh also gives an opportunity to our aesthetic or holy sentiments to come out from the forgotten layer of our mind, and it often becomes a soul purifying experience.

*Unintentional reactions after Autogenic Training are called autogenic release. They have the counterbalancing effect toward suppressed reactions or emotions. Unintentional authentic movements are derived from this layer. In Butoh, the word "expression" must be used as an intransitive verb. Something buried deep in our mind-body expresses itself is the point of Butoh.

The Butoh lesson of this workshop consists of two stages: 1)the relaxation stage, 2) the movement stage.

As in Takeuchi Lesson, first come fun-things in order to make participants to leave from daily nuisances and restore some mental and physical energy by occasional laughter or other emotional release. This experience itself sometimes induces natural relaxation. After this exercise, massage-like tension reduction methods called "karada hogushi", body-untying, follow. The third factor, confrontation, is a real encounter with him/herself or with other people through bodily movements or touching.

The second stage of the Butoh lesson is a physical exploration by moving and sensing internal perceptions of our own body. It appears that it consists of a series of physical exercises accompanied with curious movements and looks like a preparation exercise for dancing, but each small exercise itself is Butoh dance to deepen our senses and to try to recover mind-body congruence.

Butoh is a field of experiencing emotions or sentiments from the physical and spiritual side of our existence. It is the opportunity to live that suppressed dimension. This type of experience often liberates people from a mentally, physically, socially and spiritually confined tiny territory into a much broader world. It can be a step forward to the wholistic self realization and to a peaceful dimension of existence.

  • Kasai,T. & Zaluchyonova,E.A. "An Experimental Study of the Difficulty in the Arm Relaxation Task" The Japanese Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 195-202, Vol.14, No.2, 1996a

  • Kasai,T. "The reconfirmed difficulty of the arm relaxation task" Japanese Journal of Hypnosis, 34-40, Vol.41, No.1-2, 1996b

  • Kasai,T. "The Psychological Strategies in Arm Relaxation" The Japanese Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 212-219, Vol.12, No.2, 1994

Content of Workshop

Phase1) Play

The content is dependent on the situation, the number or age of participants,etc. Enjoyable exercises will be introduced for relaxation.

Phase 2) "Karada-Hogushi" (body-untying)

This exercise looks like massage when you see people do this with one person lying on the floor and his/her arm being shaken by the other. But, this is not a massage. Because, such shaking does not aim to massage or lengthen the arm's muscles or tendons, but to give the person the sensation of passively moved movements and the opportunity to entrust his/her body to the helping person.
Although the effect may be the same with a massage, the targets are different: While massage aims at muscles and tendons, Hogushi attempts to unfasten the defensive mind-set.

Phase 3) Butoh dance exercise
  • Body archaeology -
  • Doing and undoing -
  • Authentic movements -
  • A spiritual experience -

*The facilitator, T.kasai is a butoh dancer -psychologist, having been studying and performning Butoh.
The Butoh website, kasait/butoh/butoh-e.htm is also run by him.

This handout was delivered at the workshop. (C)Toshiahru Kasai,1998 (made by ITTO )