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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Balabon

Joyful Movement

One day I started asking myself how my body wants to move. I started going for walks after my workday was done. I would put in my headphones and just go. Sometimes I would stop the music and take in the sound of the birds, the wind in the trees, I would observe people going about their days, or I’d stop to take pictures of trees and flowers, anything that gave me a sense of appreciation and connection to nature. On occasion if the song hit just right and my body just needed to express itself, I would break out into a dance and let the music rush over me. Every once in a while, I would run, because it seemed like what my body wanted to do. I also enjoy a good run because when the wind is not too intense, but enough so you can feel it on your skin running, can seem like flying. Little did I know that my playful walks, dancing, running, and noticing were actually defined as joyful movement.


I stumbled upon the idea of joyful movement, in preparing to run a movement group. Often, movement groups are for the benefit of individuals who are in some sort of inpatient setting and need to move their bodies. There are various definitions of Joyful Movement, the general definition is, being attuned with your body, its needs, and what will bring it pleasure in that moment. I introduced joyful movement in a variety of ways to the group. There were times that I suggested movement through scribbling to music and moving the crayon on the paper in whatever way the individual felt compelled to move. I’d offer other options such as larger markers, finger paints, or whatever they wanted to use.


I personally really enjoy dancing, I would also invite patients to just move their bodies in whatever way their bodies wanted to move. Other times, we would play silly card games that usually resulted in outbursts of laughter and people moving and shifting their bodies in ways that were open and relaxed.


Over time I realized that joyful movement encourages community connection, and we cannot experience connection without a felt sense of safety. Safety, as taught in somatic experiencing and Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory, occurs when humans see others experiencing joy. It activates our ventral vagal, the part of our autonomic nervous system that increases a felt sense of safety. In a group experience, this can occur when we see others smiling or observe other people in a relaxed state. It can help our own muscles become less tense, our body posture can open, our breathing becomes more natural and less restricted. Allowing us to become curious, less judgmental and can foster social connectedness. Safety and connectedness increase our willingness to try. For example, I watched a depressed patient, who was still actively depressed, have a micro-shift in their presentation. I’ve seen a patient who was insecure about moving, start to move. I’ve even witnessed folks who have had a negative relationship with exercise, find their way back to a healthy connection through joyful movement.


What I’ve come to appreciate about joyful movement, is that it encourages us to slow down. To take our time, to listen and truly reflect on the needs of our bodies. So often when we move it is in absence of connection with the body. When we move joyfully, we are listening intently to our body’s need to experience pleasure through movement. For example, while I have described activities such as walking, scribbling, dancing and running, I’ve also found pleasure in activities such as writing, water coloring, or watching a funny series or movie.

I’ve used joyful movement to engage with my inner child through play. And I’ve also used joyful movement to process grief and release tears that would not come otherwise. Finally, joyful movement has become a revolutionary way for me to practice freedom in and with my own body. I deeply appreciate that joyful movement is for all bodies because it is about addressing the needs specific to your own body. It is about meeting your body where it is at, not about where you think it wants to be or should be or maybe has been. It is about meeting your body’s needs in the present moment.


Something helpful for beginning a joyful movement practice would be to consider the following questions. How does my body want to move today? How will my body feel cared for and supported? After finishing a joyful movement practice, ask yourself these questions. What did I feel in my body before? What did I feel in my body after? Did I experience anything surprising? What noticing can I take with me and what, if any, lessons did I learn? These reflective questions can help with the centering and bring awareness to your body and your body’s needs.


I encourage you to take some time today, this week, or this month to engage in joyful movement and see what you notice.


If you are someone who has struggled with a healthy relationship with your body and movement to the point it interferes with day to day living, professional help is available to you. Please reach out to a mental health provider or look into these additional resources for support:


-       National Association of Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders (ANAD) Helpline at 888-375-7767

-       Body Neutrality and Health at Every Size at the National Eating Disorder Associate website https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.



By: Amanda Balabon LMSW


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Unknown member
Mar 22

I’m so often feeling stuck in thought loops with my brain. Finding a practice of being more present in my body with movement has been huge for my mental health. Now I’ll be mindful about how that movement is bringing me joy and emotional expression thanks to your beautiful words, Amanda!

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