Blog Post

Exercise as Therapy Session

Catherine Liska
Jul 25, 2017

Originally appeared in Minnesota Monthly March 2015.

Cold weather and lack of daylight can lead to a mild case of the winter blues or more serious seasonal depression. And while it’s common knowledge that exercise boosts mood, movement routines specifically designed to release negative energy and emotions may do even more to foster emotional well-being.

One of these is Yoga Meets Dance at Girasole Studios in Northeast Minneapolis, a trademarked program that fuses gentle yoga, dance, and guided relaxation and is specifically designed to facilitate emotional release. “The way we move is an expression of our emotional field,” says instructor Catherine Liska. “When we change the way we move, we shift the emotions we’re able to allow and express.”

On a recent evening at Girasole, students stretch arms toward the ceiling as the winter moon shines weakly through the window. Liska is accustomed to witnessing moments of release and breakthrough in her classes. She finds that participants are often in tears by the end of a session, having wordlessly experienced and expressed a slew of feelings, facilitated by uninhibited movement, music, and healing meditation. “It’s designed to help people drop into their bodies and play—to be fully vibrant and alive and then completely let go and relax," she says.

Barbara Nordstrom-Loeb, a local marriage and family therapist and dance/movement therapist says, “There’s a lot of talk about the connection between mind and body, but from my perspective, it’s an artificial distinction. Our minds, bodies, psychology, emotions, and spirituality are one unified system, and changing one component changes the whole.” Emotions are a physical experience, she explains: “We know we have emotions because our bodies tell us. The neurophysiological truth is that we are moving, feeling beings first and thinking beings second.” You don’t conjure the conscious thought I’m in love until your physical responses to a person’s presence (or absence) have let you know.

Many academics are looking into this idea. A recent Finnish study found evidence that emotions are linked to sets of physical sensations, the mind’s recognition of which tells it what it’s feeling. Subjects were presented with the outline of a human body and asked to paint it to represent how their bodies felt when they conjured feelings such as happiness, fear, sadness, and anger. Subjects across a wide range of cultures reported remarkably similar sensations associated with each emotion (sadness felt like warmth in the throat and coolness in the limbs, for instance). The theory is that the physical experience of an emotion precedes the mind’s recognition and labeling of it.

Bodies don’t simply transmit emotion, however. They hold it, too. A study at the Harvard School of Public Health found that chronic negative emotions, such as anxiety, anger, and depression, may lead to the development of coronary heart disease. “There’s nothing wrong with anger,” says Nordstrom-Loeb. “Anger is just energy; what matters is what you do with it. Gandhi was an angry man who transformed the world. Someone else might put a fist through a wall.”

Anger is just energy; what matters is what you do with it.

Liska says that movement has the power to transform emotional states of being. She describes chest-expanding movement exercises in one dance class that caused some participants to experience such strong feelings of vulnerability that they essentially crumbled in on themselves. Liska works with such individuals to gently guide them into developing trust in their emotional safety and confidence in their resiliency. “When we try on new movements, we try on new emotions and new ways of being in the world,” she explains.

Transition, Integration and The Importance of Mindful Movement

Catherine Liska
Oct 26, 2018

4 Keys to Moving With More Ease Each Day

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STRETCH, WIGGLE & BREATHE for Health and Well-Being

Catherine Liska
Jul 24, 2018

In my 7 Daily Movement Tips for a Healthy Happy Body I share easy ways to incorporate actions you can take throughout each day to feel more energized, calm and comfortable in your body without using any fancy equipment or spending lots of time. This tip is all about getting your energy flowing from your core to your limbs and opening up to deeper, fuller breathing. Just imagine a cat or dog - they always take a long stretch when they stand up. And doggies often wgiggle from head to tail when they are happy... they just cannot stop the happiness from flowing into their whole body! Just lilke cats and dogs, when we stretch our limbs and our spine we are gently vitalizing our muscles and fascia. And isn't it such a satifying sensation when we allow ourselves to stretch? When we wiggle and gently shake our body we lubricate our joints through the movement of the synovial fluid. The older we get, the more important it is to keep our joints supple and fluid. And when we stretch and wiggle our body becomes able to expand and breathe more fully to oxygenate our blood and move chi (vital life force energy) throughout every cell in our body. The more our chi is flowing the greater our capacity for physical health, mental focus and overall agility. I INVITE YOU TO TAKE 3 MINUTES WITH ME TO WATCH THIS VIDEO AND TRY THIS OUT paying attention to how you feel when you finish compared to when you started. Are you more calm? More energized? Better able to focus? What if you took a few minutes at least once during each day to give this gift of health and well-being to yoursef? Better yet - what if you invited someone to take a break with you and join in doing this each day? My invitation to you is to take this loving action for self-care right now and every single day!

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Catherine Liska
Jul 31, 2018

If you sit for hours on end this short and simple movement and breath series will energize and revitalize you.The movement sequence will release tension and stiffness in your shoulders and hips by bringing energy into the entire torso using gentle contralateral (moving opposite arm and leg simultaneously) movement. Not only does it release tension but it also bridges the right and left hemispheres of your brain to increase mental clarity and focus. Your ribs gently open allowing deeper breathing which makes it easier to sit tall with a sense of energy. Plus- it you feel fantastic when you've finished! Give it a try and let me know what you think

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