October 8, 2018

Dancing to Healing: Movement & Trauma

Abuse & Trauma
Anxiety & Depression
Mental Health & Wellbeing

Ever hear a song and it instantly makes you want to break out into dance like nobody’s watching? How does it feel afterward? A former client of mine has always enjoyed coming into our sessions together with a song and dance. She would sing traditional Burmese songs and smile broadly as she moved her arms and legs into a dance that was ingrained into her very being. Despite her trauma and grief, she was able to access moments of stability, rehabilitation, and reconnection with her emotions by dancing.

How Does Movement Help?

Trauma can affect us physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually. It can be the result of an assault on our very being and the consequences are complex and far-reaching. They include isolation, anxiety, depression, dissociation and other symptoms that are also explained here. In surviving trauma at any age, the challenge is not only to heal the body, but also the mind and soul. Experiencing safety and pleasure in the body can be impaired and even long after the body has healed, survivors continue to cope with emotional regulation and re-negotiation of their identities in bodies that have suffered significant changes and impact.

Healing from trauma is possible, and this healing can be fostered by bringing the body into the therapeutic process.  Memories that are too difficult to express verbally, can be expressed through movement. Dissociated feelings can also be identified and pointed out as they arise in the body. Through movement or dance, survivors can regain a sense of control over confusing thoughts and feelings as they navigate their own physically felt experience. It helps us activate parts of our brain that are otherwise shut-off or injured as a result of trauma. In many other countries, healing has been in an embodied form where our bodies seem as intricately connected with the state of our minds and hearts. Western culture, our culture here, is uniquely disembodied where learning to know our bodies and incorporating body-work and felt experiences into treatments is not as common and only becoming a bit more common now.

Why focus on body and movement?

Benefits of focusing on body and movement can include the following:

  • Encourages feeling safe again
  • Increasing self-awareness as well as focusing on the present moment experience
  • Integrating verbal and non-verbal experiences
  • Working with sensation and movement to affect symptoms and promote change
  • Learning to identify triggers (physical, emotional, environmental) that may cause dysregulation
  • Learning how to slow things down in the body to maintain balance

Some practical ways to incorporate movement into your daily practices can include attending fitness classes, dance classes, yoga, daily stretching, and meditations, or participating in sports teams or leagues. As the band The Strike sings and writes,

Moving is the only way to heal your heartbreak
Moving is the only way to heal your soul”.

There’s truth in an embodied approach to healing and understanding ourselves more fully. So, if you are alone in your room and come across a song that strangely moves your feet, get up and dance like nobody’s watching!

Practice, Persistence, & Support

For some, this can be difficult to get started and find a rhythm that works for you, That’s perfectly normal! It takes courage, practice, persistence, and support in crafting a space to feel safe, move and eventually begin healing. Feel free to call me today and we can practice together in learning and exploring what can work best for you!


Written by therapist Tina Choi

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