this is your brain on dance
June 2, 2012 by Jodi Rubin
Filed under Anxiety, Dance, Dance Movement Therapy, Exercise, Expressive Arts, Expressive Arts Therapies, Featured, Loving Your Body, Mental Health, Movement, PTSD, Self-Care, Wellness
Scientific American’s 2008 article explains that “unconscious entrainment – the process that causes us to absent-mindedly tap our feet to a beat – reflects our instinct for dance.” It would seem that our brains have evolved around rhythm!
Throughout all of the movement tasks in their study, there was activation in areas of the brain that correlate with Broca’s area, the area of the brain associated with speech production. These findings offer further support that dance began as a form of representational communication. Movement is a powerful impulse and a powerful form of expression.
Martha Graham said it best, “The body says what words cannot.”
What happened to dance? Unfortunately, society has taught many of us to become bashful, introverted and inhibited in using our bodies as a means of expression. Unfortunate, since we hold some of our most powerful and traumatic emotions and experiences on a cellular level. Without moving our bodies, it becomes very difficult to discharge what we need to in order to fully process our experiences.
When animals are faced with potential danger, they have a stress response of fight-or-flight-or-freeze. After freezing, and all danger is gone, these animals shiver in order to “shake off” the freeze response, to release the trauma and reset their bodies.
When humans are faced with potential danger, sympathetic nervous system arousal suppresses parasympathetic nervous system processes and trauma and experiences become stuck in our bodies. In extreme cases, this can lead to things like post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder.
Rooted in the idea that the mind and body are inseparable, dance movement therapy has been used as a way to treat trauma by allowing the processing of experiences to occur with visual and sensory memories. Sometimes there are no words. And sometimes the words feel unspeakable. Movement allows for this critical processing to occur in a safe space with some distance from intense emotions.
Not everything is trauma. Sometimes our bodies just feel tight and the more we stress, we begin to notice things like our shoulders creeping up to our ears (I call this New York City shoulders). Think about shaking it off, moving your body, stretching your body and releasing whatever emotions are stored up.
So, the next time you hit the dance floor, shake it in your bedroom, or simply find your foot tapping to the rhythm in the air, notice how you feel. Notice which emotions arise and how it feels in your body. Notice the energy that you release in your movements and how you feel when you’re done. Connect to yourself, mind and body, and shake it like you mean it! Move as if no one is watching!
Jodi Rubin, ACSW, LCSW