LOVE CONNECTORS: Attunement Through Movement

A Crafting Series

By: Jill Stockburger

As of late, a certain fatigue has set in, a fatigue that is a unique side effect to this pandemic and the requirements of social distancing. We miss touch, really miss it!

Yes, there are amazing creative collaborations abounding around us. Yes, we are thankful for how technology is creating pathways to loved ones’ faces and voices. But, as Dr. Curt Thompson recently reminded us in his blog, “Human beings use our bodies, a vis-à-vis our actual words, to communicate upwards to 85-90% of everything we “say.”

The nonverbal cues like eye contact, tone of voice, facial expression, body language, gestures, timing, and intensity of responses are the body’s portion of what it means to “be” with others and ourselves. They help us communicate what we are experiencing. We send and we receive vital, live-giving exchanges to each other and this does not require conscious intention to do so. Our bodies are working independently of our conscious, thinking brain, which enables us to love and be loved, to know and be known, even without the use of words.

Our eyes are overworked, and our bodies are lonely. We miss the connection of touch. However, this new awareness can reawaken us to the gift we might have been taking for granted. We were simply over-looking it in our cognitively over-charged culture, the healing power of touch. And, now that it has our attention, let’s greet our old friend with a playful cognizance that welcomes it for future, quality vs. quantity, simple connection.

Enter movement and dance.

Movement and dance open up playful opportunities for safe touch and help connect us more deeply to our own bodies. Simply breathing in a rhythm and paying attention to those rhythms can change how we move and feel. Doing so reduces stress, eases anxiety, and enhances memory. It also, helps strengthen our fear discrimination which informs our ability to respond appropriately to stress or fear thereby allowing us to respond adaptively and draw on our resources for self-regulation.

Movement and dance increase body awareness and social competence, as well as closeness to others. Moving with others can build empathy, attunement, and connection on a neurobiological level.

In parent-child relationships, breathing, moving, and dancing together encourages attention to self and others. Through these kinds of positive engagements, we can experience both similarity through imitation and difference through individuality, thereby opening new ways of moving and being in the relationship.

Ok, now that we further understand the superpowers of touch, let’s get back to the quality vs. quantity bit. When we discuss the importance of nurture especially during a period of high transition, I often listen to parents or caregivers (myself included) feel overwhelmed at creating a space for nurture, feeling like it has to be a ‘big’ event or questioning how do I ‘fit it in’ getting lost in some perfect, warm fuzzy picture in our minds. Well, touch packs a punch (figuratively, not literally 😉) facilitating loads of connection with simple actions. It flips the perfection image of nurture on its head bringing it into present moments and daily routines, helping open our hearts to a place of delight, a place of love, a place of being known.

Here are a few options to try:

Mirroring
Tell your child that you are going to play a game of Follow the Leader in a different way, with no words and only movements. Allow your child to begin moving and simply mirror their movements. This child-centered play goes a long way in a short amount of time.

For additional fun try different speeds (regular, super duper slow, and super sonic speed) or play with sizing (regular movements, teeny tiny movements, and over-sized-grandiose movements).

Gait Change

Next time you are on a walk or outdoors, play with your different gaits, try a slow feet in cement walk, a speed walk swishing those arms, skipping, hopping, jumping, a tree walk, a bear crawl. Be creative with what you see around you and create a new gait. You will be amazed with both the attunement, fun, and exercise that occurs together and is
great practice for co-regulation.
Fun fact: Skipping gives you that same cardiovascular effects of running but with more fun.

Story Time with a Physical Twist

Next time you are reading that bedtime story, incorporate movement. It will most certainly make the story come alive in a new way.
For example:

  • Physically go on the Bear Hunt by making the noise of different pace footsteps and the bear movements.
  • Imitate all the animal movements in Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
  • Take on the superhero movements in Even Superheroes Have a Bad Day, a fun way to move through those images of re-dos.
  • Older ones, might cast Harry Potter spells. Someone might even end up in a game of Quidditch or throwing up slugs (thankfully, imaginary 😉).
  • Or, a good old-fashioned air guitar challenge with your favorite lyrical story line.

Additional Thought: Next time your child’s “lid is flipped” and yours might be about to flip as well, why not start with movement? Find a position lower than your child with your body open and with small gestures begin mirroring their movements. This will allow for gentle entry into the alignment of mirror neurons and slowly create an emotionally safe holding space to co-regulate.

About the author: Jill Stockburger is a counseling intern with Memphis Family Connection Center as she obtains her Masters Degree in Mental Health Counseling and Expressive Arts Therapy through Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass.
Jill loves to see all the arts modalities of visual art, music, drama, dance, and creative writing integrated with TBRI principles.