Cultivating Resilience through Movement


By Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT

Resilience is often seen as the capability to ‘bounce back’ or overcome difficult circumstances -it is essentially elasticity of the mind. Beginning with the mind can be challenging for many, so taking a bottom-up approach using movement can make all the difference. Starting with the body essentially allows us to literally move through challenges. 

When you expand your movement and the aesthetics of that movement, you create more elasticity in the body. The mind and body are connected, so elasticity in the body leads to elasticity of the mind. The more movement you have at your disposal, the greater your ability to move through stressors in your life, or at the very least, just keep moving even in the face of adversity.

When we expand our movement vocabulary—all the movement at our disposal—we increase our emotional resilience. I like to call this diversi­fication of movement. When you diversify your movement, you broaden your body’s ability to access a range of emotions, as well as your ability to manage them. Emilie Conrad, founder of the Continuum Movement, said, “The more capable a system [body] is, the more it’s able to manage whatever comes its way.” We want the body to be able to move safely in as many ways as possible to access a sense of safety in as many ways as possible.

Three steps you can take to change your relationship to movement to support resilience are:

Bring awareness to our movement. 

We are always moving, but so much of it is unconscious; becoming more aware of our body requires us to pay attention. We are already using our phones right?  We can make it work for us! Set a reminder or alarm on your mobile device to check-in with your body. How does it feel? What sensations do you notice? How are you currently moving?

Challenge our movement.

Engaging in the same movement pattern or habits doesn’t do anything for our body or mind. It can reinforce the “stuck” feeling we may already be experiencing. Challenging our movement is not about making it more difficult. Instead it is about making it uncomfortable. It is in the discomfort where we grow and change. Try a new way of moving, switch positions, and “shake” it up! Notice what movement is safe and comfortable and invite in the possibility or potential for something out of your comfort zone. Sometimes just the thought of this can bring on anxiety. It is important not to push yourself but again challenge even the idea of new and different movements.

Write it down.

Keeping a journal may not be one’s cup of tea, but it can be a great way to create awareness and support our mental health. We can participate in the Body Awareness for Mental Health Journal by asking ourselves these three questions:

  1. What is one sensation I feel in my body right now?
  2. How does or will this (sensation) impact my mental health?
  3. How can I manage or address this (sensation) to support positive mental health?

*** Here is my example: 

  1. I am feeling tension in my shoulders.
  2. Tension in my shoulders usually means I am overwhelmed and taking on too much.
  3. I will be careful not to add any more tasks to my schedule and set aside time to connect with myself through a self-care practice (ex: hot bath, quiet time, dance, or yoga).

Try this in the morning to start your day; setting an intention and paying attention to your movement and body will help hold you accountable before the business of the day sets in. You can also use a journal to keep track of how you are challenging your movement and how your body awareness changes.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. Here are 5 movement interventions to help get you started in building a more robust movement vocabulary. 


Breath is a an autonomic movement that everyone engages in every day. Breath awareness is such a simple way to tap into the present moment and reconnect to the self. Breath awareness enhances resilience because it teaches us that we can move through any situation- the rise and fall of the chest and the expansion of the rib cage- each reinforce that the body is capable of moving through and beyond. Not to mention that a deep belly breath signals the rest and digest reflex, allowing us to find calm and peace.


Exploring the space that we take up and the space around us allows us to move through constriction where we often embody fear and anxiety.  When the body expands, so does the mind, paving the way for new perspectives.

Diversify movement.

The more we move and challenge our movements, the more elastic and flexible our minds become. Our minds and bodies are connected, yet it can be difficult to change our minds.  We can start in the body by increasing our movement vocabulary- the movements we have at our disposal- which supports new perspectives and helps us to recognize others’ points of view. Trying a new form of exercise, changing the speed of our movements, and engaging in improvisational movement are just some ways to encourage new movement patterns in our bodies.

Find quiet time for reflection.

There is movement in stillness – our breath, our heartbeat are examples.  It is imperative that we are still and give space to the voices and thoughts that get suppressed when going about our day-to-day routine. Doing so supports resilience because it allows hardship and gratitude to be acknowledged and expressed. 

These are just small ways to increase our awareness through movement. And remember that small changes have a big impact over time. Movement, no matter how small, can significantly influence our overall well-being, specifically our mental health.

Photo by Mor Shani on Unsplash

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