A few days ago, as I lay on the couch watching a movie, I suddenly realized that I was not at all engaged in the viewing: My mind had drifted to daydreams and checklists. I got up, not exactly sure what I felt like doing; so, I started to shake and move—no intention, no thought whatsoever. Then, my movements became more expansive and flowing, and as I began to move around the room, speed and quality varied: soft, sharp, mellifluous, staccato. I smiled inwardly as I recognized a visit from an old friend: Authentic Movement (AM).
Decades ago, I attended graduate school as a student of Dance/Movement Therapy. Part of my coursework entailed an internship as a therapist—in my case, at a local residential treatment center for teens. The focus of my overall study was a therapeutic movement modality called Authentic Movement.
Before I went to grad school to focus on the method, I had participated in many group sessions of AM. I also incorporated the technique as a start-off point in the improvisational dance classes that I taught to adults. What I discovered in the experimental, creative atmosphere of classes—both as student and as facilitator—was that although our bodies are built to move, we all often move through very limited patterns and directions; we rarely move “outside of the box.”
The technique of Authentic Movement frees us from habitual or restricted movement. And AM can be applied to other movement and healing modalities. For example, I often say to anyone who bemoans the discipline required for a regular yoga (or any!) practice, “Just get on the floor.” Quite literally, if you can lie or sit on the ground, not only will you likely feel compelled to move or find a posture, you are already in the practice: Easy cross-legged pose and svasana (corpse posture) are traditional meditative and restorative asanas, respectively.
Authentic Movement reflects the notion that if you give yourself space and permission, the practice will reveal itself. The method is born from impulse, from the innate spark that knows better than we do what it is that we need. So, although the basic technique is simple, the unfolding, release, and results of AM can be profound.
Special note: Authentic Movement is an excellent precursor to other expressions of creativity. If you want to write, paint, play music, sew, or even start a work project, try a session of AM as the first step: Often, with the expulsion of “should” or “have to” that results from AM, one finds new “inventory” in the creative stores.
At the outset, you may feel that you need music to spur your movement: Ultimately, however, AM thrives without music; part of the beauty of the method is that your own inner rhythms motivate the movement. If, however, you need a little help to begin, I do suggest that you try music without lyrics: classical, world beats, jazz, etc., are good candidates.
Although the process requires no complex instruction, there is inherent challenge in your ability to tune out environmental distraction, and tune in to your body and mind. At its core, AM develops self-awareness and confidence: By allowing your body’s intelligence to override mental control, you learn that wisdom is multifaceted; you have untapped, unexpected sources of strength and knowing.
Think of AM as exploration: You are not searching for, nor awaiting any particular result; rather, you are liberating yourself from goals and expectations. The one and only edict is to begin. In that instant, you may observe something surprising. If you feel that you can’t or don’t want to move, that is where you are. Focus on your breath, or on any physical sensation; or perhaps your thoughts are racing, or atypically still. At some point, even if it is the simple act of readjusting your position for comfort, you will move. Another wonderful option for your first foray (or anytime thereafter) is to observe if any one body part feels stiff or, alternatively, eager to move: Isolate that part, and give it full reign; let its energy guide you.
Whatever the first movement is, grant that impulse the leadership role. Follow whatever comes next, then commit to and inhabit the movement patterns as they arise. You may stay in a particular mode for a while, until something within compels you to shift; or you may hopscotch rapidly from one movement to another. Regardless, as with any movement or healing art, stay present enough to check in on your breathing; breathe deeply, as the breath itself is part of the intuitive impetus to move.
Authentic Movement is the antithesis of choreography; the art is in the moment. Further, AM is not a timed practice. Some days you may unleash yourself into movement flows that last for a mere minute; other sessions may trigger a movement marathon. Whatever happens, happens.
Finally, because AM is meant to be self-revelatory, trust yourself to move in unfamiliar ways. I have had AM practices wherein I never stood up; the entire session consisted of rolling, folding, lengthening, curling, and twisting on the floor. In such a scenario, I likely needed to ground myself, to stabilize and instill a sense of security.
Alternatively, you may find yourself in a highly varied movement progression: level changes, full-body, expansive moves, followed by tiny hand movements, etc. I think of that kind of evolution as a type of sorting; it is almost as if the body and mind are revealing possibilities, and trying to prioritize on your behalf.
This modality is the epitome of creative freedom: Your own being establishes the “rules,” and then can—will—change without notice. For that reason, AM also fortifies your ability to adapt efficiently and without second-guessing yourself or the circumstances. Authentic Movement teaches us that there is power in surrender, and that to relinquish control can lead to strength.