Can Body Movement Offer Therapy for Mental Health Problems?

I have always been a creative person.

I have always been a mentally ill person.

Since childhood I was filled with neurosis, counting the tiles and cracks on the sidewalk, cursing myself with superstitions for stepping on the wrong ones. I subjected myself to lots of shame and self inflicted painful mental habits, and ultimately grew into what is historically and stereotypically known as the neurotic intellectual with various mental disorders.

Intellect was my curated form of self expression. I expressed myself in ideas, ideological development, and literature, to what many of historical literary figures have put their energy in. These types, these thinking types, often come with the burden of mental illness as their enemy, and sometime even inspiration.

 

I did dance for about five years in my preteen days due to the mandatory well-roundedness of my childhood childrearing style chosen by my parent(s). I did body activities like softball and soccer, too, but it was dance that is coming back in neuroscience research for brain health.

I was never really any good, honestly in dance. Or in music. Or in self expression. I was so horrible at self expression until I was about 13 that my piano teacher told me I needed more “Feeling” in my playing, and I told her, “What is Feeling?”

I faked it for a while, but I later realized a lot of my inhibitions were due to childhood traumas that I have been working now to overcome. My inhibitions were obvious in dance, as my body was incredibly stiff. I was put in the back of the row, only to watch my peers shine in confidence and fluidity in the front with the mirrors.

But as I grew older, I slowly transitioned into the front row and saw some grace. Though I do not think I really reached my full potential I could have in studio dance before dropping out of studio because of my incessant depression that occurred when I was 14 and after I moved cities at that time, so finding a studio that was not extremely focused on competitions and recitals was difficult.

I spent the next ten years in the severest bout of mental illness.

Luckily I found some people I could relate to. Family members, a few friends, an ex boyfriend, and after a meandering turn in the mental health industry, found professionals who helped me tremendously in reshaping the ideas of mental health and what it means to overcome obstacles in the mental world, a world so misunderstood and ignorantly discussed by the public that it does a huge disservice to the integrity and strength of the human brain and its resilience when mentioned on Huffington Post or even yes, the New York Times and Time magazine. I believe my family, myself, my ex boyfriend, and some from the mental health industry had insights to the brain that the traditional mental health mentality of 15 minute psychiatry appropriate pill diagnoses neglected (as many are similarly coming to see as well). And my circle consists of philosophers, neuroscientists, and psychologists who are just as qualified to make such criticisms about the industry than the traditionals. So here I am to begin to share my thoughts and theories from myself and teachers who have allowed me to brainstorm such alternative solutions to aiding with dealing with these ailments without pills and endless meandering therapy sessions.

My health clinic and my studies and involvement in neuroscience have led me to recognize the importance of the body on brain health. Not just in the gut (where most of your neurotransmitters are made), but in the body’s movement and creativity. Intellectuals are seen as stiff with little movement, but I decided to break that boundary and see if I could curate myself into becoming a fluid dancer that I knew I felt somewhere inside me but had trouble releasing.

In these videos, I start at a much more advanced level as my health clinic teaches.

The concept I display here is of my own innovation only by a few tweaks in my teachers’ ways. Neuroplasticity exercises are taught at just my health clinic as far as I am aware but the benefits are being recognized at renowned institutions like Harvard and Stanford (links dispersed throughout this article), but they have yet to combine or package it into methods accessible to different demographics, such as young millennials interested in hip hop (or if they have then where the hell are they if they are not in my face every freakin minute like the McDonald’s commercials I see??). The courses are taught by mostly affluent white individuals, and while they are very kind and creative, I find I miss my spunk and attitude in the courses and my self expression is limited in their sphere. So here is my own creation.
The two basic concepts in this video are about neuroplasticity and Listening to the Body.

Neuroplasticity 

This is the concept of isolating the body in its parts but then synchronizing them at once. In this view, it is the orchestration of the body as you would an orchestration of, well, an orchestra. The arms may have the rhythm section, the legs, the strings, and the head brass (only technically all of the movements are “rhythms”).

This concept is not necessarily new to human history as I know of African tribes who do this in their tribal music and tribal dancing, but it is new to the history of science. And you know how westerners and white people get when they “scientifically validate” something. They promote it like hell and claim the mastery of its ownership when it has been going around for centuries. The empirical evidence is helpful but the complete ownership is fraudulent, only accurate in the sense of newly compacting it in communicating with others.

When they first teach it, you are sitting down and do one simple exercise with the hands and feet to where the feet may be marching at a tempo or 1… 2… 3… 4.. 5…

The hands may clap on the odd numbers. So that while the feet march at 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… the hands clap at 1… …. 3… … 5…

And honestly, they say that many individuals cannot even get that sequence. They told me they have never seen anything like me (but let’s face it, has anybody every seen anything like me in any field I engage in???).

Listening to the Body

After they told me I was too advanced for the introductory course, I went to spend some time in the advanced class that combines an abstract concept of “listening to the body” with neuroplasticity. This is more of a dance concept that is more similar to what I do in my video and daily routines, but I really just add modern spunk and millennial personality to it.

“Listening to the Body” is annoyingly vague to me, but I can maintain the usage and leave the nonspecific term alone since I do understand what it means.

Essentially it is the concept of feeling the way your body wants to move in the space around it. How does it want to engage in the environment? Where does it want to go? How does it want to move? These questions can only be answered by spending time in a non goal-oriented state where one just explores the body and where it wants to move and go.

I have been doing that for a few months, experimenting and listening to my own body on my own and really trying to understand its style and language. I’ve been engaging with the body in other methods that complement this, too, like sex and dietary exploration and alterations. I have come to accept that my body wants to communicate with  more fluidity and wisdom than I believe my brain can, and so I let that express itself.

I appeal to the body language of modern hip hop and contemporary dance for now. As you can see, I am really into body rolls right now. I am excited because I have been watching my old videos and my flexibility and fluidity have grown a lot in these past few months.

Combining them together

So in one video, I combine these concepts, as I feel I have graduated from the concepts the way I feel I have graduated from elementary or kindergarten and can apply the concepts in creating my own. Here is the example of what I have been doing. All of it is freestyle.

Later, I may post videos of the basic process and instructional how-tos as well as simpler, broken down components of the exercises. Though I feel that may be more appropriate to learn from by the original teachers, and if you live in St. Louis, you can find them here.

If not, why not request them to speak in your city? They speak all over the nation.

Brief introductory video here (filmed this before I released my “stiffness”).

 

So ultimately, can body movements offer therapy for mental health problems? My health clinic seems to think so, they say the science seems to think so (ballet dancers have the least rate of Alzheimer’s — will cite source soon), Stanford seems to think so. And ultimately, after trying this, I seem to think so too.

There is more on my new YouTube channel if you wish to explore.

*The brief intro video was filmed before the top videos. Part of my stiffness was due to a recent car accident and I guess that has now gotten better.

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