Embodied Movement In Managing Stress and Anxiety

Updated: Nov 28, 2020

What is Embodied Movement?

Embodied Movement is a form of Mindful Movement, which is a holistic movement practice that facilitates a deeper awareness of your body. Movement goes way beyond the thing that you need to do to keep yourself looking physically healthy, or to promote your cardiovascular health and to keep your mental health in check. Mindful movement is a time when you can check in with your body and mind.

There are some valuable messages going on in your body (Mate, 2003). If you create enough space through interoception you are much more likely to be able to hear, sense and express what’s going on in there. Mindful movement includes a range of practices ranging from embodied movement, martial arts, somatic movement, mindful walking or running, yoga, pilates and dance. It’s when a movement modality works for the individual to access their own internal sense of strength, creating internal awareness, space for expression, being kind to the body and creating a dialogue between body-mind (Eddy, 2017).

How is Embodied Movement Helpful in Managing Stress and Anxiety?

Mindful movement is an effective resource for managing your stress and anxiety, as it focuses on being aware in the present moment, it’s like a meditation for the body without the practise of staying still. Drawing attention to the present moment without being swallowed by the past or living in fear of the future. Your body has a natural ability to complete it’s stress cycles, from flight, fright and freeze. Even with short movement bursts (5-10 minutes) you allow the stress curve to be completed effectively, giving your central nervous system (CNS) the space to shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic naturally as you complete a stress cycle. Perhaps you have noticed the unconscious leg shaking, the flutter within your gut or the surge of adrenaline to complete ‘all the tasks’ - now!? It’s adrenaline and cortisol - movement can allow these stress cycles to be completed naturally but if we don’t engage in movement our body mobilises to fight or fright (Clapp, 2018). However, it is important that movement is not too lengthy as the CNS could be placed under further stress for someone who is affected by anxiety or overburdened by stress.

Perhaps you have noticed the unconscious leg shaking, the flutter within your gut surging you with adrenaline to complete ‘all the tasks’.

One of the fundamental aspects of mindful movement is creating space for interoception to create a dialogue with the body and mind - with the body in the driving seat. When someone is affected by anxiety, the mind can all too often be in the driving seat. Mindfulness techniques such as meditation can be incredibly resourceful and insightful for some individuals, but they can also be very difficult to access for someone who is stressed and anxious (Clapp, 2018). When one can’t quieten their mind the internal battle of achievement is lost, once again something you haven’t achieved at and the battle with the busy mind is lost! In supporting positive mental health, Van Der Kolk (2014), advises of the important of a mindful movement practice where you can be fully present in the moment; noticing the space you occupy, the rhythm of the music and the sensations from a variety of your senses and where connection with others is facilitated.

Levine (2008) recommends a run or brisk walk to complete stress cycles, stating it doesn’t have to be too long and over taxing on your entire system but enough to get rid of the stress being held within the body to complete the stress cycle. Shaking both voluntarily and involuntarily can be a useful tool to loosening the fascia - the weblike connective tissue which holds together our muscular and skeletal structure, and is direct feedback loop with your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). We create mobility in our body and in the same sense we create mobility in our mind, to shift from one state to another. We learn to self-regulate; both our body and our mind.

So here’s an open invitation:

Next time you feel anxious or stressed out spare a few minutes 3-5 to shake it out, put on some music that makes you want to jiggle, focus on your body in space in that moment, observe the sensations that arise and how it makes you feel when you allow the dust to settle.

Are there corners, edges or caves in your body which you didn’t feel before?

What can you sense into in the body?


Clapp, J. (2018) Movement for Trauma Training Manual. Jane Clapp c/o Body Intelligence.

Eddy, M. (2017) Mindful Movement: The Evolution of the Somatic Arts and Conscious Action.

UK: Intellect, The Mill.

Mate, G. (2003) When the body says no: the cost of hidden stress. Toronto: A.A. Knopf Canada.

Levine, P. (2008) Healing Trauma: A pioneering program of restoring the wisdom of your body. Boulder Colorado: Sounds True

Van Der Kolk. B. (2014) The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. UK: Penguin Random House

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