The last few posts, I’ve been talking about midlife and the fact that it doesn’t have to be an embarrassingly abrupt bolt from your life or a slow steady coast to retirement, unless that’s what you want. If you’re up for it, it can be an amazing time of profound self discovery and deep growth.

We also looked at how we can work with our brains to change, grow and heal, including creative and mindful activities such as expressive movement. This post is about how I stumbled into being able to move and express myself without the debilitating self-consciousness I’ve always felt, and what I’ve learned that can help you start moving.

Join me for an expressive art and movement workshop in Santa Cruz on Nov 30, from 2 – 5pm!


My path to moving freely

As part of my midlife journey, I’ve recently gone through a dramatic shift. I left my corporate job to step fully in to what I believe was always meant to do: becoming a holistic therapist, writer and facilitator. I got over the self consciousness of being in my body and moving in front of and with other people rather unexpectedly.

I showed up to a required class last quarter which I vaguely knew was a seminar focused on movement. It turned out that the topic was dance therapy, which is often referred to as movement therapy and we were going to be moving, rather than talking about it, the entire class.

I barely had time to freak out (which I realize now was part of the instructor’s method), before we were moving around the room with various feeling prompts such as moving ‘as if we owned the space,’ saying “this ismyspace!”

We continued with other feeling prompts focusing simply – first on arm movement, then gradually including the legs, moving our spines, working up to our whole bodies.

We all know how to move

Soon after, we enacted work rituals from various countries such as Africa and South America, where the instructor had spent time learning with indigenous tribes, such as bringing in a fishing line together, using a piece of rope as a prop. There were no steps to learn, except for – let’s say – stomping at the same time. So I could actually do this. These simple exercises were a way to become comfortable and connect with a group so I could eventually focus on what my body wanted to say.

For indigenous people, movement was a part of their everyday lives, expressing and connecting them to everyday life experiences. Expressing ourselves physically and connecting through movement with others is natural for to us as humans

This class that prompted me to want to run out of the room, resulted in profound personal change that I didn’t expect. I literally never would have signed up for it had I known what it was. I am – or was – extremely physically self conscious. I hate ‘dancing.’ I’d love to be able to do it and have tried to learn, but it’s not my best or most natural strength.

Focusing inward

Each week we focused on playing with different elements and expression such as fast and slow, big and small movement and rhythm and images and textures and impressions, eventually working up to expressing our own emotions and stories.

And each week, I became less and less self conscious and more and more able to forget ‘my body’ or ‘someone looking at me’.

No one was – they were moving around the room experiencing what it felt like to move like a jelly fish or be the paintbrush of a certain Monet painting.

Moving together

A central reason I was able to move from painful self consciousness to this newfound freedom to express myself in a roomful of people was the safe ‘container’ we created as a group – which is an important element of expressive movement. The six of us came together as a group a lot of the time, but also spent time doing our own thing.

We also moved a lot with our eyes closed or had someone follow our movement or their impression of our movement (e.g. mirroring), so we gradually got used to being together in this way, and I was able to let go of caring if someone what looking at me, and therefore judging me. They were mostly focused on their own thing and not running into someone else, which is pretty much a metaphor for life in general, is it not?

The body doesn’t lie

One of the weirdest things about my experience is that expressive movement became fun and I looked forward to it every week.

I am obviously a convert and fan of body focused therapy – and physical expression in general – as a playful and fun way to access past experiences, emotions and expression stored in the right side of the brain.

I’ve found myself moving expressively to music as I fold the laundry. Next I’ll share what I’ve learned as well as some ways you can start to move.

7 things I’ve learned about expressive movement

  1. Everyone can move: If you can move your arms, legs and the rest of your body, you can do expressive movement. People even do expressive movement sitting down so my last statement isn’t even true! There are no steps or pre-planned performances to learn or remember. Keep in mind, it’s not ‘dance’, it’s expression!
  2. Starting out: As I mentioned in the last post, you can start in your bedroom with the door closed. Find music you like, preferably without words. World, tribal or mellow electronic music (e.g. check out the Hammock station on Pandora) are good choices. Play with moving to different rhythms, moods and types of music.
  3. Building from there: Focus on expressing the emotions you’re feeling in your body. If you tend to find yourself moving in similar ways, challenge yourself to find new ways of moving. If you find yourself moving your arms a lot, bring in your legs. Don’t forget your spine. Practice let it be loose and free.
  4. Expression: Try some of the ideas that I mentioned from my class such as moving to express various feelings, moods, pictures, photos or images. Express your mood at the moment, how your day is going, anger you want to get out, sadness, the feeling of the ocean or the wind or the color orange. There is so much to play with here.

Moving authentically (and mindfully): Ask your verbal self (left brain) to take a break or short vacation. Focus on what your body is doing, from the inside out. Be in and with the movement, music and rhythm. Let your body move you rather than you moving your body.

  1. Aspects to consider: Play with different aspects such as fast and slow, hard and soft, long and short movements. Try stomping, reaching as high as you can, flailing your arms out, moving gently. Use a scarf or the wall or the floor for additional expression or other objects such that inspire you. Always come back to the rhythm.
  2. Connecting with others: As I mentioned, being in a group is a powerful experience and can add greatly to your experience. Our instructor suggested finding an African or Haitian dance class or group, or an ecstatic dance group, which is basically free form expressive movement (note: many people who attend want to dance with each other, e.g. with contact, but there are plenty of people doing their own thing). If you can’t find a group, share what you’re doing with some trusted friends and form your own. Also take a look at 5 rhythms which offers group classes and free-form dance.
  3. Dance, or movement therapy – We were lucky to have an instructor who trained with one of the founders of movement therapy. There are practicing movement therapists and I’m sure instructors out there if you’d like to find one, but not necessarily in every location. You can look here to find out more.

Happy moving!

Join me for an expressive art and movement workshop in Santa Cruz.