Metaphors in movements: a case study for release of past baggage

Angira Chakravorty Dasgupta

Sia(pseudonym), aged 29, came to me as she was new to the city , didn’t have much to do and was evidently bored. It was more of curiosity rather than any interest that had drawn her to sessions which spoke about mind-body coordination, stress release and connection to one’s own self. She has a very active lifestyle and she inherently enjoyed exercising and dancing. At first, she was keen to take a demo session, where she wanted to have an experience with a group. I, thus, had invited her in a small group session where there were two other participants. After the initial ice breakers, we started with simple movements and did partnering work where each participant had to take turns in leading with their own movements and subsequently follow other’s movements. Sia was more comfortable following others than leading herself. I observed her breath becoming shallow and faster while she was asked to lead. In the feedback session she clearly shared her discomfort while leading others and voiced out her fear of going wrong or misleading others. She became thoughtful that such simple activities brought about her innate fears and was very keen to delve deep and eagerly sought to explore more through weekly sessions. My observation after the first session with Sia was that she had an Active Range of Motion(R-O-M) and she was very determined to work on herself and find herself.

Range of Motion is the measurement of movement around a specific joint or body part. There are three primary types of exercises specific to range of motion. Passive range of motion is typically practiced on a joint that is inactive. The physical therapist may use this exercise on a client who is paralysed or unable to mobilise a specific joint. This type of exercise can help prevent stiffness from occurring. During this exercise the patient does not perform any movement, while the therapist stretches the patient’s soft tissues. Active-assistive range of motion exercises are more progressive, intended for the client to perform movement around the joint, with some manual assistance from the physical therapist or from a strap or band. These exercises can often feel painful, and the muscles can feel weak. Increasing range of motion with these exercises should be a gradual advancement. Active range of motion exercises are highly independent, performed solely by the client. The physical therapist’s role may be simply to provide verbal cues.

The following are the principles that my interventions were based upon:

• Our bodies are vehicles of awareness

• There is a relationship and interplay between physical body, emotions and thinking

• Body sensations, postures and gestures reflect our histories and current states of being

• When we engage in expressive movements/dance, the ongoing themes and patterns of our lives are revealed

• When we bring sound to our movement we bring voice to our feeling

• When we work on our art (dance, drawing, poem or performance) we are also working on our lives.

When we enact positive visions through our art we create images and models that can become guiding forces in our lives “The healthiest form of projection is Art.” -Fritz Perls.  Since, the primary language of body is movement, moving brings about/back deep feelings and memories within us. Whatever resides in our body; joy, sorrow, fear, doubt, confusion, anger everything surfaces when we express ourselves through movements. Thus movements become the Metaphors for our way of life, living and being. In dance movement therapy, working with symbols and metaphors can have a two-sided appeal. An image given as a source for dance improvisation is working from outside towards the inner movement of the dancer. On the other hand, the dancer can give us a notion on how he/she is moved or what it is that is moving him/her (from inside out) by using images, symbols and metaphors. The image reveals the quality of the experience and, at the same time, it triggers a potential experience. Dancing the metaphor generates actual feelings and sensations; while dancing in the imagined context, one can experience actual.

Metaphor: A metaphor is a figure of speech that refers, for rhetorical effect, to one thing by mentioning another thing.

Improvisation: The art or act of improvising, or of composing, uttering, executing, or arranging anything without previous preparation or movement sensations.

We are at the same time dancing in the metaphor (expressing the image given in the movement) and dancing from the metaphor (using it as a source to develop movement improvisation). In doing so, we ‘enliven’ the metaphor, we bring it to life and live in it, thus enhancing a strong experiential quality. As our sessions continued, Sia gradually realised about the baggage that she has been carrying for a very long time. She started facing the negative experiences of her past symbolically and started playing creatively with them, expressing them through movements and releasing them. As she started unloading her baggage she realised that there is a lot of fear within, mostly the fear of the unknown and that of the future which was one of the major contributing factors adding stress when leading a task. Initially, as a therapist, I would use metaphors for Sia and she improvised on them connecting her physical body to her emotions and thoughts. Gradually, I urged Sia to express herself through metaphors. When a client/therapist has consciously made use of a self-generated metaphor then it is merely not a descriptive tool anymore; rather by using metaphors one can very safely access or go deep within the physical body, emotional body and the thinking body and then one can slowly start releasing oneself from the conditioning that had taken place sometime prior in their life. In one such session she expressed a situation which has been bogging her down for years. Sia started improvising and using metaphors to illustrate the situation. She expressed how with time she has gained resilience and had learned to pick herself up each time she fell down. She expressed (verbally), while moving, that she would take two hours(metaphor) to rise up earlier, now she takes only 5 mins(metaphor) to again come back to her feet. I planned a session where a ‘Pause’ was introduced. 4 Symbolism: In this process, one uses imaginary, fantasy, enactment with visualisation, verbalisation, and body action. According to Chace, patients can work on a problem through symbolic expression, without having to analyse and interpret it. The symbolic stage emphasises communication and the release of unconscious emotions, after which a sense of trust and acceptance is established. 5 The three levels of awareness and responses are: Physical Body: Sensory sensations, breath, body posture, body parts; Emotional body: feelings such as anxiety, joy, calm, excitement, anger, sorrow; Thinking body: thinking process such as planning, remembering, worrying, imagining, fantasising. In the Warm up segment Sia and I, improvised on pausing using mirroring, shadowing using shaking, pushing, swinging movements. We took turns in leading and following each other, using ‘pauses’ randomly. As a result, trust and rapport was reinforced between the client and the therapist (Sia and myself). In the Theme development phase Sia started improvising with Pausing. In dance movement therapy improvisation bridges the gap between experience and imagination. As a creative and mindful mover Sia was being able to explore whatever was rising to the surface, investigate it, experiment with it and open up to newer experiences. She paused every time the external stimulus was about to bog her down. She slowly started playing with it, tweaking it and finding creative ways to protect herself from being affected by the stimulus. Although it looked like a staged act, an act which lacked reality or practicality, but repeating the same act and pausing at different intervals and being able to tweak it instilled in Sia an enormous amount of confidence, a sense of empowerment, and creative idea where she could pause just before the stimulus took place. By repeating this act, she was creating new neural pathways in her brain. This act gave Sia the sense of being more “awake.” This has translated to real her life. Ever since Sia has been able to pause and take a step back and has not got bogged down in that particular type of stimulus. Today after 30 hours of sessions Sia feels very light and baggage free and she has noticed that she talks more about the present and has started taking small steps 6 Warm up: The purpose of this stage was to connect and communicate during initial contact. different techniques were incorporated by Chase such as mirroring or empathetic reflection, which are ways of kinesthetically and visually experiencing patients’ emotions by mirroring their movement. The technique of clarifying and expanding the movement, evolves the movement/gesture initially presented by the patient. “The emphasis at this stage is on building group rapport, building trust and openness”. As a part of rhythmic expression/physical warm-up, Chace initiated certain simple rhythmic movements with the intention of developing trust and encouraging patients to engage in total body activity with simple rhythmic movements like swinging, pushing, and shaking. 7 Theme development: This phase bases on thoughts, feelings and ideas, both verbal and non-verbal. With increased focus and clarity on patients’ nonverbal expression, she used movement, verbalization, imagination, and theme -oriented actions for deeper exploration of feelings and thoughts 8 A neural pathway is a path along which information travels through the neurons of the brain. Every time we experience something new and different we create a new neural pathway 5 towards her future rather than revisiting her past. Sia feels that the baggage is at last gone, but it has left a scar, which, once in a while, does bother her. Our work continues as we are now looking at minimizing the scar and the pain the baggage has left. There is an amazing learning that I have taken back from my sessions with Sia– most often we become so comfortable and complacent with certain problems in our lives that we start enjoying staying with them. We do lament about them but still feel hesitant and shaky in letting them go off. My therapeutic goals of unburdening her and making her feel empowered to lead with confidence and pause whenever necessary has been met.


• Daria Halprin- Working with movement Metaphor and Meaning.

• Sheets-Johnstone, 1999; Ohno & Ohno, 2004; Olsen, 1991; Pallaro, 2000

• Dance Movement Therapy, A Healing Art by Fran j.Levy

• Metaphors in Movements by Barry Eidlin

• A New Movement Developed by Andrew T. Austin in Metaphors for Movement

• Body , Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy by Rosemarie Samaritter

• Marian Chace biography retrieved from


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