The Medicine of Salsa
Psychiatric rehabilitation aims to promote health recovery from significant losses, both physical and psychological, that have derailed the lives of adults and young adults so that they can actively participate in rebuilding and recreating themselves. The population faces premature morbidity and experiences higher than average rates of chronic and life-threatening disorders, including diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety, autism, ADHD, trauma- and stressor related disorders, and schizophrenia. When participants join any of the BU Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation programs, they take on the role of student, increasing their knowledge, skills, and supports to further their personal goals and recovery journeys.
Several of the mind-body, rehabilitation interventions I design and teach utilize music, singing, and dance to boost mood and motivation, facilitate social connection, increase concentration, improve memory, create new positive memories, deepen respiration, promote movement, and elicit the relaxation response. In addition, I use seated and walking meditation (often combined with nature sounds, music, chanting, and/or singing) to cultivate attention, curiosity, awareness, acceptance, an expanded perspective, accurate perceptions, compassion, and optimism.
The poem The Medicine of Salsa was inspired primarily by my 13-week intervention entitled Mindful Music, Dance, and Meditation that I have been teaching and developing since 2014. The students learned to dance a variety of upbeat West Indian and Latin dances, starting with the English language lyrics of reggae, calypso, soca and advancing into the unfamiliar rhythms of cumbia, merengue, cha-cha-cha, and salsa, all sung in Spanish lyrics. My intention was to introduce new songs with wholesome and optimistic lyrics so that they would not trigger negative or distressing memories.
Each 90 minute class was structured by a check-in, listening to and singing new music, a review of dance steps from the previous class, learning and practicing a new dance with recorded music (in the large group and then in small groups, and/or with partners), a seated meditation, and a short feedback session. At the end of each class, students reported feeling energized yet calm, present, hopeful, and more positive, confident, connected to each other, happy, and focused.