Processing Grief through Movement

I didn’t exactly know what I was feeling that morning, but saying I felt “off” or anxious might have been the closest words I could find to describe it. This wasn’t my standard type of anxious state where my thoughts rapidly cycle and permutate in an endless, futile quest of being solved; rather it was a wordless association of chaotic busyness with no known purpose.

I spent an hour roaming around the kitchen, getting nothing done due to my inability to focus in this mental state. Unlike the energy in my head, I could hardly get my body to move to accomplish anything.

As usual, I was lacking awareness of any physical indicators of anxiety, such as rapid heart rate or tension in my muscles.

Though my thoughts were wordless on this morning, over the past few weeks I had been having increasing times and intensity of clearly anxious thoughts. I live in an area that was one of the first in the United States to have confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and I was concerned about the deaths that had occured overseas and what was to come locally and globally.

My anxiety built as national, state, and local governments were slow to act and there weren’t enough tests. President Trump had removed the pandemic team with no replacement. The necessary collaboration between the president, Center for Disease Control (CDC), and other parts of the Department of Health and Human services for a swift response was lacking evidenced by the coronavirus test shortage, which involved several additional factors.

Trump was proclaiming the coronavirus was the Democrat Party’s “new hoax,” but I was convinced people were going to die from the repercussions of not taking this threat seriously.  Since I was able to articulate these concerns with my therapist and husband, I thought I had sufficiently processed it.

But clearly, I’d not processed it thoroughly. I couldn’t make my usual techniques work. I couldn’t manage the emotion by force, which never really worked anyway. Even varying my sensory input by jumping alone on the trampoline wasn’t helping enough this morning.

I sneaked off alone to my darkened laundry room with headphones on and listened to the song I’d been listening to repeatedly for the last few weeks. I allowed my body to move with the wordless synthesized sounds of EDM, Electronic Dance Music, by Acidic Base.

Serendipitously, I remembered a move from my modern dance class I took over 20 years ago. My dance instructor was a student of Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance who believed dancers should “strive to cultivate a sensory awareness so intense it ‘animates’ their ‘whole being.’” The movements of contraction and release were at the core of her revolutionary methods.

In “Lamentations,” Martha Graham is clad in a tube of cloth that stretches as her body makes sharp rocking movements while she’s seated on a bench. According to Duarte, “She did not dance about grief, but sought to be the very embodiment of grief.” I remembered the move we learned in class that was associated with grief – a doubling over, pelvis and chest tucking inward, body sinking down into a deep squat, while the hands pulled in toward the chest.

Coming out of my squatted, wrenched position, my arms ascended synchronously up and out, and with the movement, I felt a release of grief. I replicated this pattern of contraction and release repeatedly in sync with the music. Through movement, I experienced and processed my visceral grief for the world, for the wrongs, for the deaths and the coming deaths.

It’s interesting to me that just a week before this experience, I had also allowed myself to improv dance to the same song, and that time, as I listened and moved, the visual imagery that came to me was first a green snake head faintly appearing, then ribbon like bands of blue and green moving with the song. 

I could spin around, reach my hand out and touch the bands and they would glide along with me for a moment.  To have the mental imagery of the snake emerging was unsettling, but now I believe that was an indicator of the sense of impending threat from the coronavirus I was unknowingly experiencing even then.

I have returned to that song repeatedly since these times, but never with the same intensity of grief I had that morning I danced in my laundry room. Through the movement of dance, I processed my grief and was then able to function and even move forward.  I now know that my body moving to music can enable me to experience and process emotions and this brings comfort.

 

 

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