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How Dance is Bringing Me Back to Life + Healing through Movement

As an adult, I’ve always found it challenging to cry. To just burst out crying spontaneously.

Without caring about what I’m doing, who’s around, or how others might react to my tears.

I’m not sure how this resistance to crying developed in the first place, but I suspect it has something to do with…

the need to look and feel like I have it “all together.”

And who didn’t grow up, especially in our culture, subconsciously internalizing the message that to survive, we must be tough, hold it together, power through, and suppress our emotions?

As highly sensitive people, so many of us also received messages like

  • don’t be so sensitive
  • don’t be so emotional
  • don’t take things personally

And, in time, we stopped trusting our own feelings and reactions to life. We stopped trusting our own tears.

*If you’d prefer to listen to this post as a podcast episode, you can click here:

Inner Work BONUS: Healing Old Grief (w/ Personal Story)

Swallowing Your Grief

We built walls around our hearts to keep them safe. And maybe we also learned to swallow our tears, which means swallowing our grief.

But, when swallowed, grief doesn’t just get digested and then disappear. It doesn’t get digested at all. It gets trapped in your heart.

And grief will try to come up for air, it will try to dislodge and express itself, in many different ways.

It often feels too scary and threatening to allow that grief to come up for air – to express it through crying, yelling, sobbing, asking for help, or telling our honest story. So instead of doing any of these things, we swallow it back down.

We might literally swallow grief back down by eating sugar or junk food or by drinking alcohol.

Or we might shove that grief back down through other forms of “swallowing”: shopping, binge watching shows, jumping from relationship to relationship, working too much, going out too much, not sitting still for even one moment.

What the Heart Needs

In a recent session with my long-time healer and mentor, she asked me to drop down into my heart and really listen.

We asked my heart what it needed. A clear message emerged:

There’s something in here that needs and wants to be felt.
Something that has been locked away for a long time.

It felt like old grief – maybe grief from childhood, or from a past life, or from the trauma of my entry into the world (my birth trauma is another story I will soon tell on my podcast!).

And I could also sense, immediately, a wall or dam stuck in my throat.

The wall that I’d used to hold the grief down for so long. The wall that wouldn’t allow the tears to move up from my heart into my eyes and out of my tear ducts.

And with that wall, the fear. The fear of falling apart. Of crying so much I’d never be able to stop. The fear of feeling the grief and having to sit with it. The fear that the grief would tear me apart.

So, together with my healer, we witnessed the wall in my throat gently. We didn’t try to change it or remove it (that would’ve been too fast, too soon). We just became aware of it.

Later in that session, as we were wrapping up, my healer made a suggestion she hadn’t made in over 10 years of working together: start dancing.

She shared a story of how in her early 20s, a dancer friend recommended the practice of moving differently throughout her house. For example, doing a twirl or moving the body in a different way while cooking. Or while doing dishes. Or while stepping from one room into another.

Immediately, a controlling part of me chimed in with, “I’m not doing a twirl. That’s ridiculous.” (I didn’t say this out loud, but I felt it.)

Of course. This part of me feared doing things differently and being fully present in my body. What if being in my body, unconditionally, resulted in me bursting through that wall in my throat? And not being able to hold down the grief anymore? A scary prospect.

But I knew my heart wanted me to move in this direction, and make room for whatever needed to come to the surface.

So I agreed to try my healer’s suggestion for a week. Just to see what might happen.

Backstory: How I was losing my life force

To provide a bit more context, by the time I scheduled that session with my healer, I had been losing my life force for a while. This had been happening slowly for about 2 years, and then things became more unbearable as I navigated two major challenges:

Health Stuff

A collection of symptoms – brain fog, dizziness, fatigue, lethargy, weird rashes, extreme (and sudden) food sensitivities, dehydration, hypoglycemia – intensified for me earlier this year, 2021.

I’d been dealing with those symptoms since 2016/2017, but they got much worse over the years.

Eventually, I realized that all of these health issues started after two rounds of strong antibiotics for a strep throat infection. So the true cause is very likely a candida/SIBO infection. I’ve been addressing the symptoms with a nutritionist since then, which is helping a LOT.

Ultimately, though, these health challenges drained my life force and energy for quite a few years. I’m still recovering from that.

I’m also recovering from my inability to say, “ok, I don’t feel well today. My body and my needs matter. ALL I’m going to do is take care of myself today.”

More than once, I’ve put business, clients, students, family, keeping the house clean and organized, and being available 24/7 ahead of my personal health and sanity.

This dynamic is now shifting as I remember at a much deeper – and truer – level that my needs matter. That I matter. My tears matter. My grief matters. It matters that I create a safe space for myself to move through that grief.

If you’ve been putting other people and demands and deadlines and obligations ahead of your basic needs, please place a hand on your heart and repeat with me:

I matter.

Repeat those two words – I matter – until you believe them so much that tears of recognition rise up from your heart.

Business Dead End – or, rather, a radical turning point

While dealing with these health challenges, something has become starkly clear to me:

There’s only one of me, there are limited hours in the day, and I only have a certain amount of energy to do one-on-one work.

I’d been realizing this for a long time, but I love doing one-on-one work so I kept doing it. And kept doing it. Kept adding more individual clients and students to my calendar.

All the while, I was ignoring and resisting and fighting against my Soul’s call to go bigger. To serve people in a bigger way. To create larger containers for my work.

To shift from a primarily 1:1 service model to a 1:many model of group experiences, workshops, programs, courses. Maybe a membership program at some point.

(All of this is in the works now. If you’re on my mailing list, you’ll be the first to hear.)

So what felt like a dead end in my business – as I hit up against the physical limits of what we can do one-on-one – has actually become a major turning point. And it feels exciting to slowly allow myself to step into something bigger.

Dance as Energetic and Emotional Resuscitation

So, facing these major challenges on top of my inability to just cry and truly feel my decades-old grief, I decided to try dancing.

I also realized that so many of my practices over the years have been stationary, without movement: journaling, pulling cards, creating spreads, sitting in stillness, meditation, deep breathing, even Epsom salt baths. For all of these, I’m sitting down and not really moving.

So I figured my body needed something different.

The first day, I incorporated dance into my morning alignment (this is what I call my morning practices to center and ground myself). I danced for 8-10 minutes, with the curtains drawn and eyes mostly closed, allowing my body to do whatever it wanted to do.

It felt good! Energizing and fun, something out of the ordinary. It breathed new life into me.

The second day was similar. I still felt self-conscious and kept my eyes closed for most of the dance, but it was invigorating and healing to my body.

The third day, something happened.

About 5 minutes into the dance, I opened my eyes and looked up at the ceiling. I felt something unlock in my throat. My throat wanted to be stretched, so I moved my head and neck to allow it to open. Then, a surge, a flood of emotions moved up into my face. And the tears came. Spontaneously.

I heard from within myself: This works.

I didn’t cry for very long that time, but I was astounded that dancing worked so well. That I didn’t force the feelings to come up, and they didn’t drown or overwhelm me. They burst through the wall in my throat just to make themselves known again. To remind me that they’re there, and that I can work with them gradually and gently.

That third time dancing was a powerful release, and a powerful testament to the healing potential of movement and of getting back in touch with the body. I’ve been dancing every morning since then (over two months now).

Healing through Movement

I want to suggest some different ways to heal yourself through movement.

Incorporating movement into your daily routine will be especially important if:

  • your spiritual practices are mostly stationary (where you’re not moving)
  • you find it challenging to be in the body (or easy to dissociate due to past trauma or repressed grief)
  • you’re trying to reconnect to your purpose and create more meaning and expansion in your life

Dance in whatever way it makes sense to you.

I prefer the purely intuitive approach, where my body just does whatever it wants to do after I turn on the music. But you might be a trained dancer, or an interpretive dancer, or have a preferred way of dancing. Go with that.

You might also want to sing while you dance, which will further ground you in your body.

I don’t sing but I do yell out certain words while dancing, most often things like:

I matter.

My needs matter.

I can say no! / It’s easy to say no.

I belong.

I’m safe. / It’s safe to be here. / It’s safe to be in my body.

Draw figure 8’s

My healer also taught me to draw inverted figure 8’s – in other words, the infinity symbol.

You use your arms to do this, almost like you’re conducting an orchestra but using your arms to draw the infinity sign. I like to do this in front of my heart and solar plexus and sacral chakra (or any other place that needs it) while dancing or right after.

If you ever feel the need to ground yourself or clear some energy in your body throughout the day, drawing figure 8’s is perfect for that too.

Yoga (but mindfully)

Of course, yoga. Any kind. Vigorous, slow, gentle, whatever works for you. Just make sure you’re moving through the poses intentionally and not just to get a workout in.

To get healing from physical movement, you must do that movement while fully engaged in it with all of your senses. Really being in and feeling your body. Feeling your heart and spirit as well.

So it’s important not to rush through the poses or do a yoga sequence absentmindedly.

Outdoor movement

This could include hiking, biking, swimming, walking, gardening, rock climbing, jogging, or any other form of movement that you can do out in nature.

I think an important reminder about grief is that it doesn’t have to be confined to your bedroom, or a bathroom, or your car. Grief doesn’t have to be hidden away. (Grief and shame are often connected.)

You can touch into some of your grief while in motion, and if tears come up, so be it. Any kind of natural space where you feel safe is a powerful setting to feel and express your grief.

Where I am today

Fortunately, with the kind and generous support of my healer and compassionate friends, I’m doing much better today.

My health is improving and, most importantly, I’m heeding my Soul’s call to go bigger. To transform my business and work so that it will support me at deeper levels, while also making it possible for me to serve people in an expanded, powerful, and transformative way. More transformative than ever before.

Oh! I have to add an important note on taking breaks. I can’t leave that out because it has been an integral part of reclaiming my life as I want to live it.

It’s ok to take breaks – sometimes breaks that are much longer and much deeper than we ever anticipated. Things will not fall apart.

For me, I’m gradually slowing down my one-on-one work over the next few months and creating the space to nurture new endeavors. MORE importantly, creating the space to nurture myself. Creating the space to heal and to not be on a hamster wheel 24/7.

And creating the space of deep silence that my Soul needs to show up more fully and serve others in 2022 and beyond.

Thank you for reading this, and I’m sending you so much love. Please let me know in the comments below, or through a personal note to, if this spoke to you.

From my heart to yours,

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6 thoughts on “How Dance is Bringing Me Back to Life + Healing through Movement”

  1. Healer Josephine! I listened to this podcast with some glee today. For the last 5 plus years, I have been dancewalking. I dance, while walking, publicly. I use headphones. I have some rules! Make eye contact, continue dancing no matter if you come upon an unexpected person, collect interactions in sets and reps, spread joy. It works so well! I have bullet point memories, like coming upon a group of monks, who laughed with joy to experience me, college students who helped pump up the volume from across the street, an elder person with walker who made some of their own moves. Today, a person joined in, I mirrored them and they made a heart symbol with their hands as we passed. I sometimes sing out loud too. These are my prayers. They help heal me, while affecting change around me too. I am glad you have added movement to your healing endeavors. So much love. And thank you, for your great offerings.

    1. Hi Melanie! Thank you for taking the time to listen to this as a podcast episode. I so appreciate your feedback! Your stories of using dance to connect with others and create more joy in the world (and in your local community) are really inspiring. I hope that one day I’ll be able to dance with other people watching! That’s the next step of healing for me.
      With lots of love, Josephine

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