IN GOOD HEALTH: Movement Therapy – Good for Anxiety?


By Linda Tate, Communications Director, Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation
This week, we are covering Movement Therapy, sometimes called Dance Therapy. Many believe that anxiety and panic attacks can be treated using movement therapy.
An expert in the field explains this style of treatment: “Anxiety is a body/mind split that is constructed in the mind but felt in the body. Dance/movement therapy is a psychotherapeutic process that creates balance in the nervous system, ownership of one’s own body, and agency through movement by turning anxiety into excitement…and giving it someplace to go.” – Jennifer Frank Tantia, PhD, MS, BC-DMT, LCAT

Have you ever been in a crowd of people, and suddenly you feel as if you have to get away from the situation? It becomes an overwhelming urge to run and hide; to find peace and quiet. Or maybe you are a nail biter and nothing you’ve done to stop biting your nails has worked? Anxiety can be low level, “I’m anxious about giving my oral presentation” to downright life-altering, “I can’t leave my house…it’s too scary out there.” Have you ever wondered how that anxiety manifests itself in your mind and ultimately your body?
According to Medical News Today, uncertainty of outcomes can trigger an anxious response. Not knowing when something will happen, or even if something will happen, can create anxiety.
People who tend to worry will have a higher incidence of anxiety as opposed to those who stay in the moment and can ground themselves when those negative thoughts pop up.
This is where dance therapy comes in. Rewiring our brains to stay in the moment, and to focus on one’s body instead of one’s thoughts. Reconnecting with your physical body is key.

Iris Bräuninger, Ph.D. states, “The body has a deep influence on the mind and vice-versa. Just like running a mile can distract you from the pressures of your to-do list, dance uses expressive movement and breathing to deflate hyper-aroused thoughts. In other words, if you’re concentrating on perfecting a plié, you’re most likely not thinking about the outrageous bank statement you just got in the mail. Dancing brings us back to a more primitive, and consequently, more liberated state of mind. It causes our thoughts to simplify, to focus on our bodies and our movements instead of the more complicated stressors of life.”

There’s currently a movement group on the scene called “Nia”. Nia (pronounced nee-ah), short for neuromuscular integrative action or nonimpact aerobics, is a workout trend that combines the best of modern dance, martial arts, yoga, and tai chi. A sort of East meets West workout, with elements to enhance the body as well as the mind and spirit.
I wanted to learn more about this therapy and turned to a woman I’ve known since kindergarten, Kellie Chambers, to get the information on how these classes work and what they can do to aide someone in healing from anxiety.
Kellie, a Nia instructor herself, tells us about Nia and why she feels it’s beneficial to anyone looking for healing.
“Nia is a sensory-based movement and lifestyle practice that conditions the whole body, mind, spirit, and emotion.
“One of Nia’s specialized offerings is Nia Moving to Heal. In class we move to feel better, or rather feel to heal. Guided by gentle instruction and creative imagery, Moving to Heal offers a way to move to music with an awareness of your unique body’s way for stress reduction, increased relaxation, improved energy, breathing, stronger heart, brain function, more balance and stability, increased flexibility just to name a few…“

Kellie Chambers teaching a Nia class
“Whether you are looking for a more high energy Nia class or a more relaxed and soothing Nia Moving to Heal class, both offer movement as medicine for change. We learn to dance through life in a way that brings pleasure to the body and life and to use the body as a guide to discover its own inherent wisdom to heal (to feel better). We become sensation scientists on the dance floor.
“I have taught Nia for 6 years and am a 1st Degree Black Belt Instructor who owns a studio in Pleasant Hill Oregon called Just Move. I teach 10 classes a week. I feel utterly transformed by this practice. I am stronger, more grounded and joyful, feel younger and can move like I did in my 20’s, and I love how much I have changed inside out by learning to listen, trust and move my body my body’s way.
I encourage everybody to give it a try!“
To Find a Nia class near you, click HERE.
This video runs for 7 minutes and 52 seconds. It’s a good video to watch to understand the connection between Movement Therapy and Anxiety.

The Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation is a public charity committed to Advancing Wellness through the Osteopathic Approach. As a charity, we do not represent any medical school, medical association, medical practice, or individual physician.
This blog should not be considered to be medical advice. Your personal health is best discussed one-on-one with your personal physician. Rather, this blog is intended to highlight the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine as expressed by the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation, or other Osteopathic physicians. The information and opinions are solely those of the author. For more information, go to www.nwosteo.org.