Category Archives: Dance Movement Therapy

Stress and movement

Stress can be indicated when a person becomes stuck/frozen or stopped in a bodily movement that can be described as either gestural, ( movements isolated to parts or part of the body) or postural ( movements carried constantly through the whole body). When  there is a continuous flow of movement from gesture to posture and vice versa than the person is considered moving in balance and not not indicated to be in stress. one example of this is something that has come up in the last 20 years of leading stress reduction exercises with groups. I ask the participants how they know they are stressed out and the top answers are:

I notice I am gripping the steering wheel- I notice I am making a fist- I am clenching my teeth-I am clenching my butt.

Each one of these actions is a frozen gesture and they generally use the most “force”, muscle, blood flow of any other component of the body while they are active.  Think about it, if you clench your fist the blood flow increases due to the sudden contraction of the muscles, a part of your attention is brought to the area because its being engaged, the rest of the body begins to respond to the clenched fist starting with the arm, shoulders, spine, abdominal muscles and so on ad so on. Suddenly your attention increases to the area dramatically and you realize; “oh I’m clenching my fist….”

The first step to releasing this body stress is the breath. When stressed we tend to hold our breath and/or it becomes shallow breathing. Taking a big breath in and a big breath out begins to increase the oxygen to the brain (and the rest if the body). That big breath also automatically signals to the body on a primal level that the stressor is less and the body begins to relax its muscular contractions. Also when we consciously are taking in a big breath we are exerting voluntary control over our bodies which is the opposite of the stress response which is a involuntary response. This voluntary and controlled breath also signals to the brain on a primal level that the stressor is lessen, resulting in the muscles lessening their contradiction.

Of course simply breathing does not seem like much of an answer for someone who experiences chronic stress/anxiety. But it is one more tool that one can use. Like mindfulness, visualizations, and other techniques, breathing is something that needs to be practiced and the more you practice the more effective it becomes.

Dance Movement Therapy and Children

Dance Movement Therapist (DMT) practice in a wide variety of settings. One example is DMT’s who work with children and their care givers (such as parents) in a safe, structured and creative environment. In this type of setting DMT’s observe interactions such as how and when a child moves toward and away from their care giver. A DMT might use the Kestenberg Movement Profile (KMP) to observe the natural developmental based rhythms, attunements and clashes of the child and care giver as they play and interact. For instance, a child may have a gradual rhythm and moves slowly into activities and the care giver may have a more aggressive/biting rhythm. A cash of rhythms occurs when the care giver pushes the child into activities at the care giver’s rhythm and not the child’s. The result is the child will often resist the care giver and the more the care giver pushes the more the child resists.
One successful outcome of this situation is to teach the care giver how to attune to the natural physical, mental and emotional rhythms of the child. When the care giver attunes to the child, the child begins to attune to the care giver and instead if resisting each other’s rhythms they begin to “move” together.