Movement Medicine and Integrative Palliative Care

– Zuleikha, USA

“Offering hope to those suffering from terminal illness or battling challenging life circumstances isn’t easy… for American dancer and healer Zuleikha.” —Words from my late dear friend, Ms Ritu Bhatia, a Delhi journalist.

I am Zuleikha, a performing artist, an educator in transformative self-care, and the founder/director of The Storydancer Project (TSP), an international non-profit organization.

My background is in western classical music and avant-garde movement in the San Francisco California Bay Area, and it was there that I encountered North Indian classical music and dance, and studied at the first college outside of India, started by the Maestro, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. I call myself a “Storydancer” because I perform wisdom stories through movement, music, feeling, with spoken word in my own work and in collaboration with world musicians and the poetry of Rumi.

Zuleikha with a cancer patient with back pain

As an educator, my early days began as Artist-in-Residence and then on to teaching thousands of students world-wide. All that while, I noticed a need for self-care everywhere. I began to creatively develop and teach movement exercises to mobilize energy, relieve stress, and promote resiliency. These short physical and effective practices and a way for teaching them became the TAKE A MINUTE® Transformative Self-care method. Over years, using this modality in teaching and performing, I have personally seen it foster much joy.

I came to the work of palliative care in the most unexpected way. I was using the transformative self-care practices in some of the bastis in India, while working with marginalized women and girls around Delhi, when someone brought me to meet Ms Harmala Gupta, the founder of CanSupport, India’s largest free home-care based palliative care organization. 

Upon CanSupport’s request I began training self-care resilience for nurses on the teams, and then they asked me to join the the teams for home visits. During those early years, we went into the home of a palliative cancer patient, who was bedridden. Dr. Mohan, a senior palliative doctor at CanSupport, turned to me and asked, “Isn’t there something you can do with this patient?” I was taken aback as I am not medically trained, and up until this point I had been working primarily with the caregivers, those in remission, and the many parents of children living with cancer.

Zuleikha – Home Care Team

I sat down next to the patient on her bed, and found myself trying part of one of the practices we now call Loving Touch, or the Shanti, peaceful exercise, as it is lovingly referred to by those who share it on the teams.  The woman had only the use of one arm, as she was bedridden from a stroke, and living with cancer. I had a feeling as to how to adapt the exercise for her. Showing her to put one hand on her heart center, in the middle of the chest, we closed our eyes and breathed gently – another way of doing this exercise. A few seconds later, a smile broke out across her face. The family gathered around, surprised to see her smiling, and I invited them to join us. Some joined standing, and some sat on the bed. There we were, all together, in a moment of peace.

This began my evolutionary journey, for over 15 years, in the development of palliative modes of relaxation therapy as an adaptive holistic approach to palliative care for cancer patients and families, now called TAKE A MINUTE® for Palliative Care. To this day, through my NGO in partnership with CanSupport, I continue to train and work with their Home Care Teams of doctors, nurses and counselors, and their staff.

TAKE A MINUTE® for Palliative Care is based on simple movements for bringing calmness, relaxation, and some relief to those living with longterm illness. The beauty is that these exercises can be adaptable for those trained in how to use them.

I have learned that moments of joy and moments of peace are like pearls, creating an invisible thread of calmness and relaxation.  These practices are not a cure. They are ways to take the moment, or as I like to say, TAKE A MINUTE® for the patient and those around them to feel relaxed, feel a moment of hope, of kindess, everyone, together.  This is like a dance…a dance with the patient, the family, the team, in the atmosphere of love, a love which can be present in all of our lives.

© 2024 Zuleikha/Swan Lake Publishing LLC

About the Author:

International Storydancer and educator, Zuleikha, inspires dynamic creativity through the art of movement. Renowned for her global humanitarian work, Rumi collaborations, “storydance” performances, and innovative classes, Zuleikha is the founder/director of the NGO, The Storydancer Project, serving girls, women, children and families facing challenging life circumstance. She has the unique distinction of being the winner of the International Conference of the Indian Association of Palliative Care, first place award for her abstract presentation on her Relaxation Therapeutic Health Exercise Program (now called TAKE A MINUTE® for Palliative Care). The success of this program has led to the present research project under the auspices of CanSupport in conjunction with Princeton University on her adaptive holistic palliative relaxation modality being facilitated by the CanSupport home care teams. She is the recipient of a number of humanitarian awards for her outstanding work in the world promoting positive personal and social change.

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