My journey in dance and movement started at the age of four when I began training in Indian classical dance at the prestigious Nateshwar Nritya Kala in Mumbai, India. Movement is how I express myself, how I communicate, and how I can affect and improve the lives of others. It is what makes me thrive.

For many years, I was lost and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t have any guidance or direction towards pursuing the right career path. I dropped out of college and found myself at a crossroads. Not once did it occur to me, or my parents, that dance and movement would eventually have such a positive impact on my life.

At the age of 18, I became an instructor and member of the dance company at Shiamak Davar’s Institute for the Performing Arts (SDIPA), one of India’s foremost Bollywood and Indo-fusion dance institutes. For eight years, I travelled and performed all over the world. This is when I found my true calling. I was getting into shape, making new friends, experiencing a healthy level of competition, and most importantly—getting true encouragement from my peers and mentors. It was dance that taught me patience, resilience, and discipline.

Teaching dance made me realise that I wanted to do more with exercise and movement. At SDIPA, I had the opportunity to teach people from underprivileged backgrounds and people with physical disabilities, which motivated me to pursue an education in dance/movement therapy. I realised that having an interest in dance/movement therapy wasn’t enough. I wanted to get formally trained so that I could carry out my work efficiently.

At the time that I started my career, there was no standardised programme that offered training in Dance/Movement Therapy in India. So, I left the SDIPA Institute in 2005, went back to school and completed my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Philosophy. I then went on to pursue graduate level education in dance/movement therapy via an alternate route, coursework approved by the American Dance Therapy Association at the 92nd Street Y, Harkness Dance Center, in New York.

While pursuing this alternate course over an intensive three-year summer programme, I was able to carry out my work in India, under the guidance of supervisors. This is when I started conducting sessions for various demographics including corporations, patient population, athletes, and prisoners. In 2010; I founded an organisation that pioneered the use of movement therapy for professional athletes as well as patient population in India.

DMT or Dance Movement Therapy is effective in treating individuals and groups and is commonly practised in hospitals, rehab centres, mental health clinics, prisons, nursing homes.

However, there is not much literature that supports DMT for sportspersons. Although there are articles that talk about strength and conditioning, dance, yoga, tai chi, movement culture by IDO portal, LMA-Laban movement analyses, and sports psychology as interventions that are being adopted for athletes as a common practice, movement therapy has not fully been explored with the athletic population which is why I aspire for Movement Therapy for Sports (MTS) to be considered as a ‘Best Practice’ in sports training.

Movement as a therapeutic intervention in sports

Movement Therapy for Sports proponent Dilshad Patel with the Rajasthan Royals team she worked with.

What appears to be a physical problem at first often turns out in reality to be an emotional or psychological one. An athlete who is underperforming or worrying about his performance may be holding negative energy inside. He may be experiencing traumas or injuries long forgotten.

Movement therapy is a unique way to work with athletes to help them unearth these psychological problems by using movement as a tool to assess issues that are buried deep in the subconscious mind. The uniqueness of the programme lies in observing and analysing authentic and organic movements of an athlete, while providing movement responses and supporting emotional resiliency as a fresh concept in sports training. This is where I began to innovate. I stumbled upon a new way to incorporate movement therapy into my work and developed this formalised training system I called MTS™.

How MTS™ works

It all began with one young cricketer. At 16, he was having trouble progressing with his physical skill sets. He was focussing too much on his performance. He had blocked energy and issues from his younger days.

MTS™ combines different aspects, science, art and various disciplines of movement and helps in bridging the gap between the movement sciences, art, and other accepted physical and psychological interventions for athletic training. This method has been greatly influenced by movement therapy as an intervention for knowing oneself and therefore allowing an athlete to be able to face external stress whilst staying intact from the inside.

The MTS™ training method is unique and enhances the player’s mental, physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual and social well-being. It is based on the premise that physical well-being and ability is intrinsically linked with mental and psychological health.

MTS™ is a motivational tool and a training method that uses movement to tap into the psyche, empowering individual athletes, as well as sports teams, to find inner peace, release stress, gain strength and stability, improve energy levels and create new internal pathways to achieve mind-body synchrony.

During a session, there is a process of empathic reflection where the therapist mirrors the physical posturing of the client and uses his or her own body to change the client’s own posture. When a person is depressed, for example, he slouches forward, his shoulders slope inwardly, and his lungs essentially become compressed making it more difficult for him to breathe deeply. As we all know, without oxygen, there is no life. Without deep cleansing breath, there is no health. The depressed individual holds tension in his upper shoulders. His head and gaze is downward. It is almost physically impossible to feel happy in such a posture.

The movement therapist’s job is to help the client change this posture, without their awareness at times, to change their inner feelings. This is only the beginning. Just as in any therapy, MTS™ takes time and repetition. If it is working, after several sessions, a client begins to feel better, develops rapport with the therapist, and may or may not decide to share personal information with the therapist.

Even if there is never any verbal interaction, there is always the physical interaction, and for an athlete, who often communicates best non-verbally, this can be enough.

How movement therapy helped sportspersons excel

The young cricket player who doubted his ability gained confidence and went on to excel and qualify for the Mumbai Ranji Trophy Team. After working with this young player, I realised that MTS™ had much wider application possibilities. I continued my work with a mixed group of kids, teens and adult cricketers at Venus Sports Academy in Mumbai. Most of these players were from not-so-wealthy backgrounds and different cities in India. As a result of our sessions, the coach noticed positive changes in his athletes including improvements in self-confidence, bowling attacks and batting skills. Not only that, our sessions led to a more cohesive team unit.

I was even more convinced about the effectiveness of MTS™ after working with this population. With sufficient research and backing from various coaches, physiotherapists, trainers and doctors, I went on to work with the Rajasthan Royals, a team of elite cricketers from many different nations, in the Indian Premier League, a national 20-over cricket tournament held annually in the month of April.

I have worked with many other athletes ever since. Teaching this process has become my calling. It has enabled me to become the best possible version of myself and to help others thrive while discovering their true potential.

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  • Dilshad has intensively worked as a Movement Therapist, both in India and in the U.S. She trained at the Harkness Dance Center, New York. Some of her noted work includes “Movement Therapy for Sports” with the Indian IPL Team Rajasthan Royals (Seasons 3 and 5) and the Canadian Cricket team (during the ICC World Cup 2011).  MTS™ has also been adopted by professional golfer Sharmila Nicollet. She was appointed by the ‘GoSports Foundation’ to train India’s current no. 1 Rhythmic Gymnast-Meghana Gundlapally for the World Cup preparation in 2018. She has introduced Movement Therapy to hospitals in India with a view to enhance the psychological and physical well-being of patient populations through her program, Movement for Healthcare (MFH™). She is currently pursuing her Masters in Exercise Physiology from the University of Houston-Clear Lake and has collaborated with a well-renowned company called Rhythm-India, through which she runs both her training programs. Her life's purpose is to positively impact the health related quality of life by spreading the joy of movement, exercise and dance.