How to use authentic movement to relieve anxiety and stress

An unwelcome friend has returned to my life. Anxiety.  


I went a few years without much of it, but lately it has been providing a bitter hum to my days.  I hoped giving up caffeine would solve it. It did not. Anxiety. My dear friend.

It started up a couple of weeks ago, in response to a stressful situation involving my children.  When I had the house to myself for a few hours, I decided to try an expressive arts experiment. What would happen if I danced and made art? Will I feel better?  And if I do, why?  Does it matter that I am doing art?  Or would an hour of any activity have worked just as well?

How Expressive Movement Affected the Stressful Moment

I really wanted to move and dance.  Not only did I close the blinds but I moved a room divider in front of the window to ensure I had total privacy. I wanted to drop down deep and see what would happen. How would I move? In response to what? 

I put on some music by Gabrielle Roth and the Mirrors. This is music meant for spiritual movement; Gabrielle Roth developed a method of spiritual movement called the 5Rhythms. And I then moved, trying to go deeper and deeper, and releasing any self consciousness as much as I could.

And now, as I attempt to write this, I find it difficult to describe the experience.  It was cathartic and emotional.  My movements were related to motherhood and my connection to my children.  My movements became symbols and repeating those symbols was at first painful, and then soothing.  Being alone and free, able to push myself past embarrassment felt really good.  

Why is it so hard to move this way, even when alone?  When did it get drilled into me (us?) that moving expressively is silly, ridiculous, embarrassing, stupid-looking?  

Expressive Movement is Different than Other Types of Physical Activity

I definitely felt better. But was it only the endorphin rush of exercise? While going for a walk or working out does tend to help me feel better, being able to move through my specific emotional pain with kinesthetic symbols was healing.  Focusing on and embracing the emotional pain I was feeling, rather than trying to only find relief and escape, relieved the anxiety on a deeper level. It gave me clarity about possible solutions, and also acceptance of the situation that was upsetting me, which allowed me to step out of denial and anxiety.  

A 3-D form spontaneously created after a session of authentic, expressive movement. 

A 3-D form spontaneously created after a session of authentic, expressive movement. 

Connecting the Movement Modality to the Visual Modality

I am primarily a visual artist, so I am also interested in how other art modalities inform my visual art practice. In the midst of the movement, I was organically inspired to make a small clay figurative sculpture.  There was no direct connection between my emotional state, the movement and the sculpture.  It was a spontaneous urge that I followed, a vision delivered from my cells and embodied knowledge. 

You Should Try It, Especially If You Think It's Not For You

If you would like to experiment with authentic, expressive movement, I recommend looking into Gabrielle Roth's 5Rhythms process as a first step. Her approach is based on shamanism and ecstatic dance. The title of one of her books, Sweat Your Prayers, is a good summation of her approach. This is an energetic and meditative approach.

Anna Halprin's book Returning To Health With Dance Movement And Imagery  presents an approach to movement and art that she developed for those challenged by a health crisis.  However her method can be used by anyone. 

But really, you don't need anything but your own curiosity and little bravery.  Discover for yourself by trying authentic movement, more than once.  Push gently against your own resistance and keep moving, laughing if necessary. And then pay attention to what comes up in your life and in your art.

The next time you are feeling anxious or stressed, try moving through it expressively, even if it is only a hand gesture.  Movement is different way of knowing.  Our bodies are an extension of our consciousness that we usually completely oblivious too. Movement accesses energy, memory, and intuitive wisdom that our normal way of seeing and thinking just don't have access too. 

If you are looking for an introduction on how to combine your visual art practice with movement (or your movement practice with visual art!), my totally free eBook is a wonderful place to start. Download it for free here. And let me know how it goes!  I'd love to hear from you. 

How about you? Share your comments what it would take to get you moving, and what holds you back.