Have you ever gone for a run feeling anxious or overwhelmed only to return feeling inspired and optimistic? Or took a break from your work to go for a walk and come back with more clarity and better ideas? How about the anger release you get from going hard at a punching bag or pillow? We’ve all experienced the emotionally transformational effects of movement. Yet it’s easy to record these experiences as mere happenstance and to forget just how much power we actually have to reliably shift our attitude simply by moving our bodies.
Mindful movement has been my go-to medicine during the most difficult times of my life. After trauma and crisis, I’ve been able to come back to the present moment while mindfully moving in ways that helped me to process and release painful emotions and even physical pain. I know from experience that our mind, body and spirit are connected. When I’m really ungrounded, overwhelmed or anxious, for example, my lower back pain flairs, signaling me to be aware of my emotional body. Our physical bodies store emotions and this stored energy can create physical pain in the body.
Feelings are what make our movement artistic. Yet we sometimes view feelings as being divorced from our movement practices. But movement can be a way of putting emotion to motion.
The word ’emotion’ comes from the latin word emovere meaning ‘to move,’ ‘move out,’ or ‘move through.’ Yes! Emotion is the essence of movement! As such, movement means expressing the emotion that sits at our very core. This is what makes our movements emotionally ‘moving;’ when we express through our bodies, the feelings held within us.
When we move with the purpose of expressing our emotions, communicating abstract emotion as physical expression, we allow feeling to move through our bodies, and even out of our bodies. Seeing this behavior in others can be a deeply moving experience for the observer. Have you ever watched a great dancer and felt some of your own emotions arise? Powerful, isn’t it? And yet, the way we typically train or exercise is normally detached from this. We separate movement from emotion, focusing almost entirely on the physical elements of strength, mobility, aesthetics, alignment and form. Too often we punish our bodies by approaching ‘fitness’ like a chore or obligation. What if we changed the meaning behind our movement? What if we moved in a more emotionally connected way? Maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult to find the motivation. Maybe our mind and body wouldn’t resist so much during our ‘workout.’
Naturally, our bodies crave movement, but the right kind of movement! The kind that enables us to feel, express, and release emotion. Emotions are actually embedded in our physical body and are a major part of what motivates us to get moving.
Emotions are embodied. They are not just abstractly floating in our heads. They’re physically in our bodies. The way we hold our bodies effects the way we feel. The inverse of this is also true. The way we feel effects the way we hold our bodies. When we’re anxious, we get tense and when we’re confident, we stand up straight with our shoulders back. The same occurs when we’re depressed and slumping.
Scientifically speaking, emotions communicate the current state of the body through interoception (input from the physiological state of the body, such as thermal, metabolic, hormonal) and proprioception (input from muscles and joints). By understanding, owning, and revealing the interaction between our emotions and our bodies in our movement, we can develop passion and meaning in our movement, in addition to other obvious health benefits. Postures like lying down, sitting, standing, or even more animated actions such as running or walking, have a constant and continuous effect on our emotional state.
In behavioral therapy, therapists help clients regulate their emotions through physical actions. Clients experience how the movement patterns they express on the outside relate to the feelings they hold on the inside. They learn how to adjust their physical bodies to reduce and avoid movements identified with undesired emotions. In this way, clients learn how to literally ‘move away’ from undesired emotions and ‘move toward’ desirable ones.
How can we learn to draw out these positive emotions in our motions? Start each movement practice with an emotional ‘check in.’ Close your eyes and observe your emotional state. Identify the location in your body where the most prominent feelings reside. Where are the outlets this feeling can be moved through in today’s movement practice? Your emotions can be channeled creatively through your body’s own creative, natural expression. Encourage your body to let go of the right’s and wrong’s, and should’s and shouldnt’s and just move how you want to move. At first it may feel awkward and contrived. Work to trust your body’s innate intelligence. Just keep listening and responding. Soon, you’ll be moving from a cue deep within you; by the brilliant, authentic choreographer that you most deeply need animating you in this life once again.
Emotions can be thought of as the body’s energetic release valve. When energy flows through your body, emotions surface. You release the old and welcome in the new. Often we think this is ‘wrong’ and we fear the energy that is flowing through our body. But change in the flow of emotion is part of life. Your body giving rise to emotions and associated sensations is a healthy, natural way to relay information to your conscious awareness which allows us to process that information. This is a large part of the healing process.
Let’s take sadness for example. In order to release it, sadness first must be detected in the system. It needs to be experienced in it’s physicalized form; it needs to be embodied. So, in order to ‘move’ it, you first have to feel sadness; you have to give it it’s place within you. The same is true with other emotions. Allow the emotions you are feeling to be recognized as energy that wants to flow through your body; as E MOTION: energy in motion. Honor this message by getting into the state of release, whether active (ex: movement, dance) or passive (ex: massage, meditation). This is an essential part of the resolution of any emotion.
Without consciously allowing the release, you can internalize and become attached to feelings you haven’t resolved. But if you recognize the high costs of not acknowledging and working through these feelings, you may become aware that unconsciously clinging to them isn’t likely to contribute to your wellbeing. Quite the opposite. Psychologist Carl Jung once said “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” When you accept your reality, or rather your subjective (and possibly faulty) sense of that reality, you can put yourself in the best position to change it, or gain freedom to move past it. When you don’t ‘self-realize’, your energy cannot be focussed on moving beyond what opposes you because you haven’t yet come to terms with it (It often being the hurtful aspects of the experience you are resisting, involving feelings like fear, shame, pain, or just completely losing control). When you’re bypassing what’s inside you, you’re consistently expending energy to hold it back. Unfortunate as it may be, emotions don’t typically resolve themselves by disintegrating into thin air. Locked deep within you, they can stagnate. This is because, like water, emotions need to flow. If they don’t, they can tend to get mucky. Like ignoring a mortgage payment and then being slapped with a penalty next month, when they’re are put off, emotions eventually require us to reconcile.
What we repress zaps our vitality and thus our ability to feel alive in the present. To heal those parts damaged by suppressed emotions, simply let them flow. Maybe you don’t have to yell and scream at your partner. Maybe you just need to move! When you move as an open embrace of all the parts of yourself; your emotions, your deepest desires, your needs, and you attempt to live in alignment with these aspects of yourself, there will be movement and your life will change!
Explore as many of the movement possibilities as you can. Mindfulness is at it’s highest when your body-mind connection is challenged to adapt and coordinate movement complexity and diversity. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to move.
When I feel stuck, I can get a huge release of emotions and energy if I simply get moving. It doesn’t have to be anything specific. I just try to let it come from my intuitive center. Last week I went on a run and I had to stop to cry. Afterwards, it felt like bricks had been lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t know why I was crying. I just knew I needed the release. The movement allowed my body to let go of stuck emotions. If I feel down, the thought of moving my body can overwhelm me, but if I find that tiny bit of motivation to just get up and get going… I always feel better afterwards. Emotional regulation can be defined as a person’s active attempt to manage their emotional state by enhancing or decreasing specific feelings.
Emotional regulation is essential for healthy psychological functioning. In a recent study in neuropsychology, it was observed how the origins of emotions stem from bodily responses. Through deliberate control of motor behavior (movement) and its consequent proprioception and interoception, a person can regulate their feelings. This concept is used in dance/movement psychotherapy where the therapist guides the client to move in a certain way, to help the client’s emotions to rise, process and be released. Discovery and practice of new movement patterns has been shown to help the client experience new and unfamiliar feelings. We can do the same in our own, self-guided movement practices. Practices like Primal Vinyasa, which incorporate natural movement, are wonderfully beneficial for the limitless diversity and complexity of options for self-observation and self-expression they provide. They can be perfect tools for helping us release stuck emotion while moving our body in ways we’re become less accustomed to moving.
The more you move, the more you feel. The less you move, the less you feel. To slow to a stop is to become dull and lackluster; to be less alive! If you are rigid, MOVE. If you have pain, MOVE. If you are emotionally stuck, MOVE. Every day, JUST MOVE. Emotion needs a vehicle.
Next time you’re feeling down, stressed, anxious, angry, or inadequate, change your physical position. Go for a walk, dance, take a Primal Vinyasa class… move your body and your mood will will move too. A well-guided movement practice can take you from depression to feeling great in just a few moments. Releasing trapped emotions is the best way I know to enable our self-healing bodies of to do their job!