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Dancing is an exchange between the body and the soul, expressing what is too deep for words, too fragile for logic and reason. 

Cultures all over the world drum, dance, and sing to heal traumatic experiences. My Ukrainian heritage is colored with dance and music. To this day, though Ukraine has been ravaged by war, people are found using art to heal themselves.  Refugees crossing seas for a place to call home, find comfort in singing together. African slaves used songs to communicate their struggle for freedom. During the Cuban Revolution, natives would dance the streets of Havana, giving expression to their plight. A favorite biography of mine, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a troubled boy who seemed destined to fail, but who gained a resilience through competitive running that moved history. There is healing in rhythm. It helps us communicate emotions and feelings that, at times, have no words.

The Brain, Rhythm, and Sleep

Our brain is amazing and works in ways that make us more resilient! We have always heard that sleep is very important. Science shows that when you are sleeping,  through the rhythmic movements of the eyes, in REM sleep, your brain processes information from the day, cleaning out any residue from emotions and experiences. Its job is to create positive cognitions and resilient perspectives from your experiences. Dr. Parnell, an international EMDR expert, explains that the dreams you have are an attempt of the brain to heal any  past traumas. Just imagine a beautiful dance between your right and left hemispheres, creating movement and integration to mold a better you. When the dreams are too disturbing, we tend to wake up and stop the eye movement processing, not allowing REM sleep to complete its work (Parnell, 2007). This is where living a healthy lifestyle, filled with positive relationships and activities, helps us walk in constant emotional well-being, allowing your brain to heal and grow.

The Rhythm in EMDR therapy

In EMDR therapy, we use rhythmic movements through auditory, textile, and visual aids to create bilateral stimulation to help reprocess trauma. One of the foremost leaders in the world of traumatic stress, Dr. Bruce Perry, presented a theory stating that “it is the rhythm used in EMDR that causes the observed effects” of  EMDR processing (Parnell, 2007). He postulated that hardwired into the human nervous system is the calming affect rhythm has on us. We start life in the womb listening to the beat of the mothers heart, and continue to heal through life as we dance, play sports, listen to music, and create movement. The thing is, calm and stress cannot coexist in the human body. SO if you are stressed, you’re not calm, and if your body is calm, it cannot hold stress. Therefore when you learn to calm your body using rhythmic movement, you allow it to dissolve stress.  Dr. Perry explains, the sound of the heartbeat is linked to a calm sense in the developing nervous system. Since we have been in the mother’s womb, our brains have made this early association between rhythm and the heartbeat, and therefore, throughout life, that same rhythmic movement gives us a calm sense in our bodies and minds. So the next time you feel weighed down with stress, increase rhythmic movement into your daily regime. I give some suggestions below.

Time to Dance and Sing

How can we apply this to our daily lives? Well for starters, turn on some salsa and move those feet as you make dinner. Incorporate more instrumental music into your day, when you work, run, clean, etc. Rhythm is a strong repeated pattern of sound or movement; its breathing, running, walking, dancing, listening to music, playing an instrument, or singing melodies.

Some considerations are:

  • Join a dance class or a team sport in your local community
  • Listen to music throughout the day, add soft instrumental music when trying to focus
  • Increase your movement through walking, running, swimming, and spending more time outside
  • Incorporate breathing and meditating exercises in the morning
  • Sing to your favorite songs while driving

Thanks for reading and let me know what you think! Some resources you can explore for more information are The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD, A Therapists Guide to EMDR by Laurel Parnell, and pretty much anything by Dr. Bruce Perry. 🙂

Happy Dancing,



Photo by pavan gupta on Unsplash

Tulsa Trauma Counselor

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