Stress and movement

Stress can be indicated when a person becomes stuck/frozen or stopped in a bodily movement that can be described as either gestural, ( movements isolated to parts or part of the body) or postural ( movements carried constantly through the whole body). When  there is a continuous flow of movement from gesture to posture and vice versa than the person is considered moving in balance and not not indicated to be in stress. one example of this is something that has come up in the last 20 years of leading stress reduction exercises with groups. I ask the participants how they know they are stressed out and the top answers are:

I notice I am gripping the steering wheel- I notice I am making a fist- I am clenching my teeth-I am clenching my butt.

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Each one of these actions is a frozen gesture and they generally use the most “force”, muscle, blood flow of any other component of the body while they are active.  Think about it, if you clench your fist the blood flow increases due to the sudden contraction of the muscles, a part of your attention is brought to the area because its being engaged, the rest of the body begins to respond to the clenched fist starting with the arm, shoulders, spine, abdominal muscles and so on ad so on. Suddenly your attention increases to the area dramatically and you realize; “oh I’m clenching my fist….”

The first step to releasing this body stress is the breath. When stressed we tend to hold our breath and/or it becomes shallow breathing. Taking a big breath in and a big breath out begins to increase the oxygen to the brain (and the rest if the body). That big breath also automatically signals to the body on a primal level that the stressor is less and the body begins to relax its muscular contractions. Also when we consciously are taking in a big breath we are exerting voluntary control over our bodies which is the opposite of the stress response which is a involuntary response. This voluntary and controlled breath also signals to the brain on a primal level that the stressor is lessen, resulting in the muscles lessening their contradiction.

Of course simply breathing does not seem like much of an answer for someone who experiences chronic stress/anxiety. But it is one more tool that one can use. Like mindfulness, visualizations, and other techniques, breathing is something that needs to be practiced and the more you practice the more affective it becomes.

Movement with Preschoolers

There have been more than a few times in workshops when I have jumped between being a participant and some level of facilitator. I have been involved with preschoolers through senior citizens in groups that featured some aspect of the Halprin Method/Motional Processing/Life Art Process. I get invited to lead/teach in a variety of settings that always requires sensitivity to how people react/respond to direction given. Here is an example (out of possible hundreds) that demonstrate how I have applied some aspects of the life art process in group of kids.

In 1997 I decided to change pace from only working with adults to working with children at the local YMCA in their after-school and preschool programs. I applied, and they were quite happy to hire me being a man, and having group experience (abet with adults). I would show up twice a week, and the teachers would bring a group of kids down to the gym, and I would do my thing while one or two teachers watched and the others took a break. I brought a hand drum, some percussion instruments, a bamboo flute, and some tapes for musical support. I also brought a bag of scarves that I used as props for the kids to move withJ0235853.JPG

The kids really loved this class, they were told at the beginning by their teachers that it was a special treat/class and I was often used as a tool for discipline. In other words, if you did not listen or obey, then no class with “Mr. Richard!” So, for eight dollars an hour, I put my decade and a half of experience working with adults to the test by doing more or less the same thing with kids.

The two-year-old group averaged nine kids in a class, and occurred once a week for about thirty minutes. I decided to use the name game to meet the three basic intentions I had developed for the two-year-olds. The intentions were, to get the kids to sit still in a circle, listen and follow directions, and increase the possibilities of play/movement.

In the name game, a person says his or her name, and uses movement to express something in relation to his/her name. In most circumstances, the group mirrors back the person’s name and the movement. This is a very simple exercise, and an easy way to begin movement in a group, and to have participants express with their bodies in front of others. It’s also, the beginning of making a connection between what you are thinking and feeling, your body, and how you are expressing yourself through your body.

The two simple directions, say your name and do a movement, can be opened and expanded in a variety of ways. For instance, you could direct the person to create a movement based on a theme, such as what they are feeling. You can expand further by having the group echo back the name and/or the movement of the person with the same qualities, or with the qualities that are experienced when the name and movement is mirrored back. You could also have the name expanded by using a nick-name or a name that each person wants to use for that moment. There are many ways to expand dependent on the dynamic of the group and/or the intention/theme of the class.

The first obstacle I faced with meeting the intentions was the location. My classes took place in the gym where the teachers would get to the door of the room and literally unleash the kids. All the children, with a great amount of glee, would run forth and play with some abandon as soon as they stepped into the room.

In order to create a smoother transition and to maintain some control, I asked the teachers to bring the kids into the gym in a line (which they used to get them from their class room to the gym). From there they proceeded to chairs which were in a row placed against the wall of the gym. It only took a few times for this new way of entering the room to become the standard.

Having two-year-olds sit for fifteen minutes in a circle on the ground seemed to be something that all of the teachers thought of as a bit daft. As one later confided in me, they thought of me as some hapless expert who had no real life experience in the field. I knew that I had some distinct advantages: I was a man in a facility of all women, and I had a never-ending bag of group process experiences. Granted, these process experiences were designed for adults but I figured I could follow Anna Halprin’s words of advice from years earlier; “….with the life art process you can take any theme and expand or contract it at a moment’s notice to an hour, day or week-long experience.”. Using that bit of advice, I simplified the name game and other process experiences and kept them to their core themes.

In using the name game with the two-year-olds, I decided to keep the options for expression fairly closed. For the beginning of each class, I would have the kids enter the room and sit on the chairs. I would sit on the floor and when everyone was present and focused, I would have them come to me and sit in a circle around me. For the first few months or so, I had the teachers join in the circle.

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For the first month, I talked about voices and sound and level of sound, what a whisper is, what being really loud is, and what using your voice in-between is. I asked the kids, one at a time, to say their name in a normal/regular voice. I repeated their name and mimicked their movements/mannerisms that were expressed.

For instance, one child was very shy and cocked her head to the right side when she said her name. I echoed her immediately after by saying her name (with the same voice quality) and cocking my head to the right.

After everyone had a chance to go, I repeated the exercise, but this time I had them whisper their names. The last round was shouting their name and raising their arms up. A few kids chose to stand when they did this and I did not discourage it. I repeated this exercise (amongst others) every week, sometimes expanding it to include the group echoing back, sometimes having them create their own movement.

As the weeks went on, I expanded it further, by including holidays and how that might be reflected in voice and movement quality. From that point I expanded to feelings, staying with happy and tired. Not being a therapist and this not being therapy, I did not want to go too deeply.

The first time in September when I worked with the two-year-olds I had three teachers helping me, sitting on the floor and corralling the kids from running away. By December I had just one teacher helping when needed, but who basically sat on the side and watched. I met my intentions with just the name game. The kids learned about following directions and appropriate behavior with voice and movement modulation requests. I engage them in such a manner that they did not feel a need to jump up and run around (or away from the circle). I helped them to noticed and create connections between voice, movement and feelings. I even had one child, who the teachers had literally never heard talk, one day suddenly stand up and say her name when it was her turn.

Reprinted from my unpublished manuscript: Renewal and Rediscovery of the Self in the Life Art Process: 20 years as participant, assistant and facilitator. By Richard Brunner MA, R-DMT. Copy write 2006.

*Note Photos in this post are generic royalty free stock images.

Tips to Help You Exercise

It’s easy to talk yourself out of exercising. Even when you have the best intentions to work out, excuses are so easy to find — “I’m too tired,” or “I’m busy,” or “The weather is bad.”

The right attitude and a few tricks can keep your fitness routine on track. Use these tips to stay in the game:

1. Do it for yourself. Studies show that people who are “externally motivated” — that is, they hit the gym just to look good at your class reunion — don’t stick with it. Those who are “internally motivated” — meaning they exercise because they love it — are the ones who stay in it for the long run.Tricep Stretch.jpg

2. Take baby steps. You would never try to run 10 miles on day one, right? When you do too much too soon, you’ll end up sore, injured, and discouraged. Take it easy as you get started. Maybe you only run a quarter of a mile your first week. When that becomes easy, you can make it more challenging.

3. Hang tough. No one has perfect form the first day of strength training. Every workout takes practice. You’ll get the hang of it if you keep making an effort.

4. Mix it up. Do different types of workouts to keep things interesting and to exercise different muscle groups. If the elliptical machine is usually your thing, hop on the stair climber for some cardio instead. Also, switch between machines and free weights when you strength-train. You don’t have to reinvent your entire routine every week, but you do want to shift it around a little.

5. Don’t be your own drill sergeant. Half of all people who start a new exercise program ditch it within the first year. It often happens because they can’t keep up the boot-camp pace they’ve forced on themselves. It’s better to work within your limits, and gradually get stronger.

6. Bring a friend. When your inner demons order you to hit the couch instead of the treadmill, a workout partner can steer you back in the right direction. It’s easier to bail out on the gym than on the friend who waits for you there. Studies show you’ll also work out longer when you have a pal along.

7. Show the clock who’s boss. Health experts say you should aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise a week (30 minutes a day, five times a week, for example), plus weight training at least twice a week. Can’t find room in your crazy schedule? Take a closer look. If you work too late to get to a gym, keep a set of weights at home. If you can’t do 30 minutes at once, break exercise sessions up into 10- or 15-minute bursts.

8. Get used to it. Your workout should be just as much a habit as brushing your teeth or eating breakfast. When it’s part of your routine, you won’t even have to think about it. In a few months, fitness can be a regular feature in your day.

9. Live in the present. So what if you missed a week at the gym and polished off a pint of ice cream over the weekend? Leave the guilt in the past. You have a chance to get back into your routine today.

10. Keep it real. You’re not going to skim off 30 pounds in a week. Aim for something that’s realistic as a first step. For instance, increase your workout schedule from 2 to 3 days a week, or exercise for 15 more minutes each time.

11. Track it. Keep a fitness journal or use an app to record your progress — for example, how much you run, walk, or lift and the calories you burn.

12. Celebrate! It takes weeks to see real changes. Even a pound of weight loss or a pound of muscle gain is reason to reward yourself. Go out with friends, or spring for a new pair of jean