The Surprising Connection between Posture and Resilience

When patients can’t find words to describe their experience, we can often find clues . . .

. . . in their posture, in the ways they move, and even in the limitations to their movement.

According to Pat Ogden, PhD, when a client has a greater range of movement options – or “movement vocabulary” – they’ll have more options for responding to life’s stresses.

And that can increase their resilience.

In the video below, Pat describes how she helped a client who had suffered years of abuse begin to expand her movement vocabulary.

Take a look – it’s about 5 minutes.

How have you used body language and movement in your work with clients? Please leave a comment below?

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70 Comments

  1. great insight, having started out as RMT I am very aware of the connections and have incorporated it through all our client care.

  2. Bev Ross says:

    What an amazing insight into the deepest places in a wounded person. Using the hand that tentatively goes up while the survivor is telling how impossible it is to defend herself is so moving. The hope that is generated by taking that movement a step further is wonderful. I love this.

  3. Having trained in BodyMind Psychotherapy, the developmental movements she is talking about inform me with every client, every moment! I am always, even in online sessions, open to how someone might expand their movement repertoire and how that affects them.
    Thanks for sharing this. It is such important information.

  4. Teresa says:

    I suggest movement and posture in my work as a counsellor in the UK. Sometimes when the client feels stuck, asking them to take a posture to represent that part of them that is stuck helps them to move and gives a different perspective.

  5. R Longworth says:

    Thank you Ruth,
    Movement of the body is language that can release & heal things that haven’t had a voice.
    I am very interested in becoming more familiar with somatic resilience

  6. Janet E Graysen says:

    I liked her perspective. It was very similar to the work of Marion Rosen and to some extent the Alexander work.

  7. Lynette Elliott says:

    This is absolutely fascinating–not only the video, but all the comments. I’m not a counselor or therapy professional. I’m an actor who has been in therapy for many years trying to work through childhood traumas and my own insecurities. What I suddenly realized is that I give my characters the kinds of physicality everyone is mentioning…like giving a powerful female character a wide, upright stance with strong arms and a sure expression, or giving a quirky, unsure character a more protective posture and nervous gestures like foot shuffling or hand-wringing. It never, ever occurred to me to give myself these same postures and movements as a vocabulary to change my own human experiences. What a great idea! I’m going to look up the resources all of you have mentioned so I can learn more and get as good at being myself as I am being other characters. Thank you all for your input! This is GOOD STUFF!

    • Karen Alen says:

      As trauma is stored in the body, it is always the first place to start. Giving the client safety and tools to self-regulate effectively. It is incredible how we can carry a certain posture without even realising.

    • Janet E Graysen says:

      cool

  8. Mary Bean says:

    As a wellness coach, and not a licensed psychologist,who wants to work with children with special needs I can use this in the music fitness class I want to have to improve children’s self esteem using movements which improve self esteem.

  9. Janeil Smith says:

    I used to run art therapy groups in a room that had a labryinth outside and found the clients received a lot of insight while walking the labryinth.

  10. A says:

    She doesn’t say what to do in session to expand vocabulary.

  11. Lynette Toms says:

    At Equine Time people learn the importance of their own body movement through the responsiveness of horses.

  12. Lynette Toms says:

    Through equine assisted therapy

  13. corito reyes says:

    Thank you for this realization! I see meaningful body movements but fail to let the client use this as a tool for recovery.

  14. Hannah Sherebrin says:

    It is always great to hear Pat Ogden. I had the privilege of spending 2 days with her, and have adopted many of her ways of looking at posture and movement. One of the ways I use sometimes is changing seats with clients and letting them feel how it is to sit in my seat. They often mimic my posture !

  15. R.L.P.W. EdM says:

    thiss was very good.
    I am an art teacher and very physically active, swimming, yoga-ish fitness, etc. I demonstrated throwing on a pottery wheel to a group of 8 year old campers. They applauded when I was done! t was so much fun! They are building their movement vocabulary and now I know why actors love the audience’s approval so much, besides keeping a job or furthering their careers.
    Using your brains and body to get ideas across to us is really nice of you.
    Thank you.

  16. Christina Newton says:

    I was trained in bioenergetics and this is right on the money as far as my practice goes. I love a “movement vocabulary” as a way to talk about it. We all get stuck in our movements and this translates into possibilities we can imagine. It is freeing to learn and practice new movements with breath and experience in our cognition as to how it shifts our choices in the future. ” it recites history” as Dr. Ogden states. I have used this work with my trauma clients specifically, and find it powerful.

  17. Annette says:

    I love this idea. Thanks for your wisdom.

  18. Janet Sternat says:

    The idea of options and movement control makes me think of the Feldenkrais Method. Is there a way to do a video interview with someone like Larry Goldfarb to share with this community?

  19. Dave Kent says:

    As an 80 year old individual who has experienced some difficult trauma but no therapy I found this presentation right on target with my own experience and therefore reinforcing. Thanks, Dave.

  20. Suradevi- healing - Pa. says:

    “I am God ” is great vocabulary since God has no problems. In Sanscrit it is hamsa meditation.

  21. Carmela Wenger says:

    I hav found it very helpful 2 use it. There r some clients who found safety in freezing and for them movement feels dangerous. I would b interested in what Pat Ogden would recommend 4 them

  22. Donna Conwell says:

    Thank you Pat and Ruth,

    I was trained as a dance movement therapist at Hahnemann University in Philadelphia and recently completed a doctoral degree in Psychology. The dance movement training was some of the most powerful work I have ever experienced. You can visit the ADTA website which provides additional information and resources.

    If interested, look into the work of Dr. Marion Chase in Washington DC. She worked with Veterans from WWII using Dance and Movement to assist the Vets in expressing the inexpressible trauma they experienced. She was able to reach them although many could not speak nor respond to verbal therapy alone.

    Thank you for your contribution. “The ego is first and foremost, a body ego” S. Freud

    Best,

    ~Donna

    • Theresa says:

      Thanks for highlighting Dance Movement Therapy Donna – I too am a Dance Movement Therapist and recognise the important contribution DMT has made to working with a body in trauma.

  23. Thank you, as a PT and Feldenkrais practitioner, I find this essential and have many psychotherapists in my Feldenkrais classes to improve their movement awareness and vocabulary.

    • Janet Sternat says:

      I would hope more psychotherapists would refer clients to Feldenkrais Practioners. The team work would likely speed up recovery of self and self control.

  24. Gillian Stevens says:

    I’m a music therapist and body movement is integral to the way people express themselves on instruments. In the active clinical improvisation which is the usual approach of U.K. Music therapists

  25. Pamela says:

    Thank you for both the video and everyone for their comments. My own personal experience is what I offer. I had an experience of sexual abuse as a two year old followed by a 10 day hospitalization. My mom had mentioned the hospitalization but I had no recollection of the abuse event and my parents didn’t know that it had happened. As a teen I felt my awkwardness as I watched other friends develop socially and sexually. I had the great benefit of taking a drama class in school. The warmup activity was to find our own space in a large room and close our eyes. The teacher put on some classical music and explored moving our bodies to the music. Eyes closed reduced self consciousness. That was the first experience I had of tuning into my body and helped begin my break though to healing. I later took another class in improvisatory dance- movement exploration that brought connection with others in. The second vital movement practice was tai chi. The teacher at some point began showing us the defensive functions of the moves which was also a real eye opener.

  26. Theresa says:

    I have used Virginia Satir’s ‘sculpting’ in both my own personal work and in working with my clients. By engaging the body to explore feelings, much understanding can be evoked when there are yet no words. Then, with a guide, the words can be discovered…

  27. Karen Macke says:

    Sometimes I ask what a client is feeling in their body and what that part of the body needs in movement to be comfortable. I liked Pat Ogden’s ideas and will explore the above more with my trauma clients. Thank-you!

    Karen Macke MA, LPC-S

  28. Karina says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your practice and knowledgement.
    Helping clients to experience the relationship between body, mind and breath, recognizing what it is, exploring the opposites as complimentaries, feeling the differences before and after working with mindful movements. They are keys to opening a never ending dialogue that improves a healthy life.

  29. jay says:

    Time for a joke.
    I am a very fat and round person.
    And I apply this generosity of my gross body to literally PUSH people out
    of the side walk!
    Now, I have expanded their vocabulary!

    Enjoy your day.

  30. Mary Jo Terrill, MSW, BSN says:

    Very good, Ruth. I studied and spent a little time
    with Alex Lowen many years ago. Much of what
    he taught made sense and has stayed with me.
    Here in Rwanda where I work I am literally
    surrounded by trauma survivors. I observe many
    things and give support and love where I can.
    It can be exhausting. But I pace myself. And most
    of my work is done in medical facilities so there
    are limits on my time and energy. I think the
    education that you offer here is extremely helpful
    for practicing therapists. It’s good of you to provide
    this outreach.

  31. Terry says:

    Inspirational. I will definitely more noticing of these movements with clients. I often see changes of colour in the skin during conversations-blushing/paler/change to a younger state that allows a glimpse of what might be going on for the person and also to help them to be in an ok state when the conversation ends.

  32. Dana Storey says:

    With 38 years experience as a yoga, fitness instructor and holistic health coach and a BA in Exercise Science, I recognize the connection between mind/body health. As an MA, NCC, & LPCC, I incorporate somatic feedback into solution-focused community mental health sessions.

    I see remarkable results with clients when they connect with the body in the fitness, or yoga or mental health environment; providing clients insight into monitoring and modifying habitual patterns can be life-changing and is certainly health-promoting.

    Trauma leaves a somatic imprint in the body and we have tools and skills to heal clients facilitate healing. Keep up the good work!

  33. Louise says:

    I offer equine assisted Counselling sessions where the clients explore movement in different ways with the horses. They learn the pushing movement in response to the horse moving too close to their boundaries. As the client explores their original pattern, what they have always done, and then explore other options with this large gentle animal, they are transformed! They suddenly have choice as well as awareness of existing patterns, that they can experiment with in the session and then take home to their life. To see them become more assertive, more choice full, more resilient, always warms my heart.

  34. Rene Broussard says:

    I see movement and body language expression as a form of a sort of mini role play, between the client’s perceived internal and external self. In session, I will note a movement instinctively incorporated by the client, which seems to be related to an internalized conflict, and in the way that I first understood from Somatic Experiencing (S.E.), ask the client to repeat the movement, “as-if.”

  35. Kirsten Welge says:

    Addendum: I absolutely concur with what Dr. Ogden describes, and my personal experience supports it. Now, I am doing my best to teach others who come into the dojo now about posture, openness of movement, and demonstrate the resiliency that is possible in life. When our minds are at ease and free to move, so too are our bodies free to move!

  36. Kirsten Welge says:

    I’m not a psychiatrist, but after talk therapy & CBT didn’t touch a lot of the depression and anxiety I felt, I happened to walk into an aikido dojo.

    Over the last 5 years, I found that the combination of movement on my own, movement with others attacking me (from holding the wrist, to grabbing the lapel, to strikes, punches, and grabbing my shoulders or wrists from behind), and meditation was incredibly potent in shifting my mind and bringing ingrained habits, patterns, and fears to the surface. Not only was I working through these issues, but I had a supportive community of friends who were also committed to self-development, listening, and being there for each other as we learned these arts and progressed in rank. Looking back, I think this saved my life. It has certainly opened many doors, and helped me envision and create a strong, happy, vibrant life that I am living into today.

    I’m also surprised therapists don’t suggest ki aikido and meditation to clients more often… no therapist ever suggested I try a martial art!

  37. There are many non verbal, moving behaviors. Is that a supra cultural phenomena? Is it a supra animal behavior -e.g. the same for a crow and a human?

  38. Thank you very much! Working with clients at the body level, picking up gestures, and then following these, at the organic level, promotes changes at the core level. These steps, therefore builds the person up with no return to previous patterns, because we are meant to be whole and the whole systems knows that.
    Body language can really be a door to core problems.

  39. Thank you. Lovely to hear Pat speak. As a certified Sensorimotor Psychotherapist, I have used this approach with clients. And it really works.

  40. Elaine Dolan says:

    Love this, Pat Ogden! Boundary-setting of BB Cohen can be expanded exponentially, I think just by
    getting people to step out of their habit set by COPYING others they admire…maybe one small movement
    at a time. But mirroring or matching a movement you like or admire provides more options, in and of itself.

    The challenge in any *treatment* is getting the new behavior to turn into a habit…not only something you practice for a session, or for a week….I wonder how you gracefully get your clients to try that *something* new without it being sort-of forced as homework.

    I’ve been watching (especially men, I’ve noticed) in free-form dance venues, appear unable or ashamed to copy-mirror-match, perhaps because they wish to appear in control, or independent…but thereby showcasing the LEAST flexible and MOST rigid routines. There seems to be very little appreciation of the ATTACHMENT phenomenon modelmatch. Perhaps they wish to appear perfect, or having mastered movements immediately- again, which is off-putting, discouraging and counter-productive. I wonder how you broach that discussion?

  41. Hans Samson says:

    In Somatic Experiencing as I learned strive to finish the unfinished movement as a tool asking what movement the body would like to make at this very moment. It helps to release the old trauma energy to leave the body as well as the realization to the cliënt that he/she can finish unsolved issues. As my original profession as a bodyworker(PT) I am convinced that movement.of the body also moves our neurophysiological system and change can be realised.

  42. Marcia Harms says:

    Always love to hear ideas from you and the comments below. Phrases that can linger in our vocabulary with clients help revitalize the work we do. I like the “unfinished gesture.” which is a common way I notice clients reactions to their Narrative. Also, lately have been noticing a foot scurrying or shuffling. Noticed when pointed out they seem delighted at the wonder of their own body response and you can almost see the little wounded child within realizing how they have allowed their movements to be stiffled.

  43. Kathleen M. Gill, Ph.D. says:

    As a psychologist and a student and teacher of taiji quan and qigong for over 30 years, I introduced veterans to those practices, and we are celebrating almost 15 years of this group with some of the original members and others who have joined since bringing it free to the community through our Center. As well as being a traditional procedure connected to Chinese medicine, it is now supported by research showing significant health and wellness effects, and it is the practice I do daily for my own well-being.

  44. Barbara David, EdS, LMSW says:

    An important item of movement learned from Dr. Ogden is the “unfinished gesture”. When teaching an emotional release class, I noticed a woman moving her arm and hand as if hitting a nail with a hammer…however, she moved it only part way down. When asked about it, what it wanted to do, she replied”It wants to beat or hit something!!” So that is what I had her do on a large pillow…..and she did for over 20 minutes and then felt relief., cried while someone held her for a few minutes and was amazingly clearer in body posture and energy.

  45. Sami Pajunen says:

    Thank you for sharing the wisdom, Pat and Ruth! I have taught my clients Movement Meditation, Reiki and Qigong. Depending on what suits their world-view the best. I like the phrase “movement vocabulary”. And i believe those subtle movements are the key for recovery also from severe traumas. So much to learn here!

  46. Thank you for an interesting video.I explain sometimes to patients that we can like enlarge movement or make IT slow or make the movement very big gradually .for ex a depressed lady sits very still and like “closed” we open gradually the arms stretch them outwards.She told me later on that the movement helped her to connect reach out for support/other people.It reminded her of something she had forgotten /to take place /It was so simpel but made a strong change.Thank you bringing up body language this way.//Mirja

  47. Victoria Mihich says:

    The Body does bare the burden as well as the HOPE when there is good co-regulation.
    I am an SEP and have used Peter’s work for years.
    There is NOTHING more satisfying to me than watching the tiny
    gestures of self-protection appear-slowing it down and helping someone
    to feel the completion of self protective responses. The hints of internal sense of
    safety and resilience get more apparent. That we, as therapists can be the guardians of overwhelm and
    allow ourselves to find the coherence amidst the disorganization is an honor!!

  48. Pat Kapphahn says:

    Yes, I have seen those strange links between posture, movement and behavior change. I particularly like the analogy of using the strength of the lion. This open stance was particularly helpful to a client who recently was to testify in a court before a jury. Thank you, Ruth, for continuing to share this important information with us.
    Pat Kapphahn, Atlanta.

  49. Yes, I have witnessed the same. In fact, there are movement activities included in my new book “Goodbye Hurt & Pain, 7 Simple Steps to Health, Love and Success.” The mind-body is so much more interwoven than we’ve ever imagined as Pat Ogden shows. Thank you Ruth for spreading the word.

    • Steven Hobbs says:

      Hi Deb,

      You write, “The mind-body is so much more interwoven than we’ve ever imagined,” I wonder who you are referring to as “we”. Perhaps “interstitched”, “infused”, or “commingled”. Just teasing. Problems may result from fragmented specialization of educational silos, while creative discovery and open inquiry is undersupplied. Where are our renaissance people?

      Thanks for the tip on your book.

  50. ROB TWO-HAWKS says:

    Beautiful! So sad that many of us in rural areas have no real access to much in the way of trauma & body therapies.I personally can speak for my own movement limitations(…upon many levels)while experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul here in almost invisible Appalachia.
    Thanks for this good work and I’ll continue learning all I can on my own meanwhile.

    • Julie Burns says:

      I am very rural too and this site has helped me and my husband so much. We both are healing from narcissist abuse from our families. When I first met my husband his body language was very stiff. Five years ago he went no contact with his family. He used Pete Walker’s PTSD workbook to help guide him. One day I noticed his body movements were no long stiff and rigid. In private he is also able to be very silly and has very fluid body movements.

      I went no contact with my family 15 months ago and sure understand about the dark night of the soul. My body posture can become collapsed at times. I have asked my husband to let me know when he observes me collapsing. Spartan life coach recommends walking around the house as if you are wearing a cape and stand tall with your shoulders back. Anyway, I wanted to let you know Rob, you are not alone…there are others traveling this journey with only the help of what we can find online and through books.

      • Dori says:

        Thank you Rob and Julie for what you’ve written. I too have been living the dark night of the soul. I live in a big city but was only able to find competent help from a therapist who lives in a different country. Thank goodness cor Skype!

  51. Larry Levin says:

    I have been working with a patient who has had serious loss over the last few years – one death after another in addition to other stressful situations. He also works as a medical technician which is also quite stressful. He had to take time off and claim disabilty because the job was triggering his personal issues. I noticed that he frequently lifted his arms up over his head and craddles the back of his head. I asked him to do that but in slow motion, paying attention to the mechanical movements of his arms and hands. As he did that he explained that he felt flashes of warmth running through his arms and flashes of lightening bolts through his fingers. He was letting out some of that trapped energy in his body.

  52. Jenny Bullen says:

    My daughter facilitates dance mandala and biodanza… great workj!

  53. Ruth M Burton says:

    I appreciate this video teaching as it puts words to what I have felt as a counselor. I have used the “I am a LION” and had fun with this as my clients show me their fierce assertive LION face, with the growl and big arms out wide. I think it has stuck with them and as Pat says, it has expanded their vocabulary and that capacity is now theirs. Thank you Ruth for sharing so much wisdom with us. Ruth Burton

  54. Ruth M Burton says:

    I appreciate this video teaching as it puts words to what I have felt as a counselor. I have used the “I am a LION” and had fun with this as my clients show me their fierce assertive LION face, with the growl and big arms out wide. I think it has stuck with them and as Pat says, it has expanded their vocabulary and that capacity is now theirs. Thank you Ruth for sharing so much wisdom with us. Ruth Burton

  55. K. says:

    Wonderful commentary by Pat Ogden. Thoroughly agree. Some of the best client work i did was with art therapists and dance therapists. A good friend in Barcelona does amazing work with kids – fully utilizing her background in theatre and clown school. I taught childrens’ dance classes for years when my kids were small … teaching them to shake out their sillies when they were upset … was a good influence for many; little bit of art and music appreciation to fuel the cart as well … life skills; we all need them. The ability to open & receive is our natural state of motion with a universe ‘teeming with life forms’ to quote Dr Amit Goswani …as is the ability to retract when needed, for protection Look at American Dance great Martha Graham, you will see it there.

  56. Dee says:

    I find this very interesting. I have been using yoga asanas, such as mountain pose & warrior pose. These poses have helped feel as though I was in control of myself, when situations were questionable. I have offered these poses to children in events where they had to leave their homes because of flooding, and indeed, the children felt more secure although nothing in the situation had changed.

  57. Sarah Gregory says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Body posture and the way it is used tell us so much without the need for words. I encourage clients to notice how they experience different postures and how changing posture can change that experience.

  58. Tamara says:

    Thanks for sharing this, it is so important to have the body on your side, to let go of blocks that keep us from naturally resisting to our help-mechanisms in the moment of threat. I have worked with clients who were stuck in a particular way of overcoming stressful moments and having them see how this being stuck was expressed within their bodies as well as in their emotions and in their cognition often helped the next step, to realize how it was keeping them from doing the right thing to help themselves. For me this is a vital step in my practice, to have people see, feel, perceive and give their posture a name, and to then little by little do small changes in order to loosen up and change their automatic reaction. A feedback mechanism which naturally helps the client how she can function in a different way from now on.

    A great contribution, thank you very much!

  59. Caro irving says:

    I would be interested to know exactly what she taught her client that made such a change.

  60. I am an Ontological Coach, rather than a therapist, and I regularly use posture, movement and breath work in my coaching. I recall a time when I requested coaching to improve my confidence in speaking to a group. My coach suggested I drop my chin about half an inch when I was speaking. My audience perceived me as more authoritative, my voice pitch dropped half an octave, I felt more “grounded” and my speech came more easily. Now anytime I am speaking to an individual or a group I am mindful of dropping my chin whenever I notice feeling anxious. When coaching, I find that quite subtle changes in posture and breathing seem to have a major impact on my clients’ mood and actions. CFor example clients can often shift from a mood of anxiety to one of curiosity by moving their shoulders to open their chest, softening their gaze and breathing more slowly.

    • Jenny Berry says:

      I am so interested in the connection between posture, movement ,body language and the way that we think and act. I did a course in physical theatre many years ago. What I found to be really interesting were some exercises in which we would walk in a certain way e.g leading with the chin or forehead for example and whilst walking in this way would talk …..it was amazing how the way that we walked changed the way that we talked and what we said.

      The other interesting thing was the release of emotion that occurred sometimes for some people when tension was released from a particular muscle as if all the emotional tension had been stored in that muscle.

  61. Jena Frederick says:

    I have aligned yoga postures, mudras, and pranayama with the schemes from schema therapy. For example hear openers for people with mistrust abuse. Or hip openers. For same schema. Also happy baby pose for people with emotional inhibition or negativity pessimism schema. Certain breathing techniques work well to clear out cobwebs of our past negative belief systems which essentially are schemas. So we can weaken the maladaptive belief systems.

  62. Sandy Burkart PhD, PT, GCFP says:

    As a physical therapist and Feldenkrais practitioner there is a strong interrelationship berween posture, balance, movement and behavior. Changing movement patterns associated with a given behavior is an effective way of chainging a behavior without ever using words. I have done this many many times in clinical practice.

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