Spontaneous Movement


Most bodywork and movement therapy instructed the  client to perform movement which can  facilitate simple patterns of activation and release. However,  there are various bodywork and movement therapy that utilise the body’s own inherent movement for therapy and relieving pain. Usually, these therapies initiate unconscious or automatic movements in the client’s body. Here we listed several bodywork and movement works that used these approaches. And we try to explain rationally how these spontaneous movements can occur.

We can classify them broadly as bodywork, movement therapy, and spiritual movements.


Fascial Unwinding

Fascial or myofascial unwinding is a specific technique of bodywork that is used to release fascial restriction by encouraging the body or parts of the body to move into areas of ease. It involves constant feedback to the practitioner who is passively moving a portion of the patient’s body in response to the sensation of movement. The unwinding process usually involves a therapist inducing the movement to a client, and is followed by a spontaneous reaction: parts of the body bend, rotate, twitch or twist, sometimes in a rhythmic or chaotic pattern. It is taught and used in myofascial release and craniosacral therapy. Although unwinding is usually induced by a therapist, the client can also experience self unwinding.

Simple Contact

Created by Barrett Dorko, a physical therapist from the USA in the early 2000s. The basis is that the body naturally and perpetually moves in a way that promotes health and optimal function (called inherent movement).  The practitioners use their hands, not in an effort to impose forces, but to listen and follow this inherent movement, and encourage its greater expression. This technique explicitly uses ideomotor action (ideomotion) as a form of therapy.

Non-Directed Body Movements http://marvinsolit.site.aplus.net/pgs/health/ndbm_mb.htm

Non-Directed Body Movement (NDBM) is a method developed by Dr. Marvin Solit for unwinding defense and control patterns that have accumulated in the body’s tissues. Dr. Solit was one of the earliest Rolfers trained by Dr. Rolf. NDBM is based on an idea that is diametrically opposed to the common sense dictates of our culture – that pain, illness, negative emotions and injury are not bad things to be avoided or fixed.

NDBM started by asking the client to stand and focus on what you feel in your body without any intention to understand, change or fix anything. When these feelings, emotions and thoughts arise, it is important not to act on them, but just to continue to pay attention to them, most particularly attending to what they feel like as a physical sensation. Then, just track the sensations, where they go, how they change, how your body responds. They are usually slow and subtle, taking a part or the whole of the body into a rotation, a bend, lifting up or pulling down. By staying with it long enough, it eventually releases and the pattern that was under it, which I was defending myself against, comes to consciousness in some way.

Muscle repositioning (http://musclerepositioning.blogspot.com/)

A contemporary technique created by Luiz Fernando Bertolucci, a physician and Rolfer from San Paolo, Brazil. It is a type of myofascial release characterized by integrating body segments during touch, condition associated with the occurrence of various sorts of motor reflexes. Luiz explained this spontaneous movement as a form of pandiculation, the involuntary stretching of the soft tissues, which occurs in most animals and is associated with transitions between cyclic biological behaviours, especially the sleep-wake rhythm.

Movement Therapy

Movement therapy refers to a broad range of movement approaches used to promote physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. There are various approaches to movement therapy, and there are some approaches encourage spontaneous movement. Some approaches emphasize alignment with gravity and specific movement sequences, some approaches are primarily concerned with increasing the ease and efficiency of bodily movement. Some approaches emphasize awareness and attention to inner sensations. Other approaches use movement as a form of psychotherapy, expressing and working through deep emotional issues.

The following are some movement works that encourage spontaneous movements.

Hanna Somatic Education (http://www.somatics.com)

also known as Hanna Somatics, founded by Thomas Hanna in the 1970s. Hanna Somatics is a system of neuromuscular education which helps one to enjoy freedom from pain and more comfortable movement. It teaches one to recognize, release, and reverse chronic pain patterns resulting from injury, stress, repetitive motion strain, or habituated postures. The experience of “conscious embodiment” can be developed through a process of movement exercises, direct touch from a skilled teacher or therapist, and the study of the body itself through the life cycle.

One of the forms of somatic education used in Hanna somatics is pandiculation. Pandiculation is the act of yawning and stretching simultaneously, it is an instinctual behaviour that cleanses residual tension from the neuromuscular system and arouses the sensory-motor nervous system. Pandiculation is found among all vertebrates, the action commonly precedes moving from rest into activity, commonly manifested as stretching. The practitioner helps the beginner through a process called assisted pandiculation, which involves the client contracting the affected area while the therapist provides resistance. This teaches the body how to correctly perform the action. Afterward, the therapist instructs the client on self-pandiculation to obtain relief from pain and stress. See also an article on Pandiculation from Issue 8 of this e-magazine.

Continuum (http://www.continuummovement.com)

Founded by Emily Conrad, a dancer who studied Afro-Haitian dance and ballet, in the late 1960s. After witnessing and experiencing undulating wave movements prayer rituals in Haiti, she found that fluid undulating movements are the essentials for a human being. Emily developed Continuum Movement as a form of movement education that is based in the concept of the body being made up of mostly fluids. This gentle therapy includes breathing techniques, sound, and imagery to create subtle (micro) and dynamic movements. The emphasis is upon unpredictable, spontaneous or spiral movements rather than a linear movement pattern.

Authentic movement (AM) http://www.authenticmovementcommunity.org/

Started in 1950s by Mary Starks Whitehouse as “movement in depth”.  AM is based on her understanding of dance, movement, and depth psychology. There is no movement instruction in AM, simply a mover and a witness. The mover waits and listens for an impulse to move and then follows or “moves with” the spontaneous movements that arise. These movements may or may not be visible to the witness. The movements may be in response to an emotion, a dream, a thought, pain, joy, or whatever is being experienced in the moment. The witness serves as a compassionate, non-judgmental mirror and brings a “special quality of attention or presence.” At the end of the session the mover and witness speak about their experiences together.

Subud (http://www.subud.org/)

A spiritual movement developed in Java, Indonesia in the 1920s founded by Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo. The basis of Subud is a spiritual exercise called “latihan kejiwaan” or simply “latihan”  which was said to represent guidance from “the Power of God” or “the Great Life Force”. This exercise is not thought about, learned or trained for; it is totally unique for each person and the ability to ‘receive’ it is passed on by formal contact with another practicing member at the ‘opening’. The experience takes place in a room or a hall with open space, after a period of sitting quietly, the members are typically asked to stand and relax. Members are advised to surrender to the Divine and follow what arises from within, not expecting anything in advance. They will find themselves making involuntarily movement, walking around, dancing, jumping, laughing, crying or whatever. The experience varies for different people, but the practitioner is wholly conscious throughout and frees to stop the exercise at any time.

Taiji wuxi gong (http://www.taijiwuxigong.com/)

Is a type of Tai Chi movement which has a goal to achieve self-healing and self-regulation using spontaneous movement. Spontaneous movement can be induced using a special body posture. The practitioners stand in a certain position so that the centre of gravity becomes more central in the body, in the “Dantian”, the energy centre in the lower abdomen. After a while practitioners start moving by themselves in standing position. It is about letting the body decide itself what movement it needs to restore inner movement in an area that is blocked. It is believed that this posture allows the practitioner to connect to a vibrational force from the earth, and this force is used to activate the Dantian, and the activated Dantian creates spontaneous movements.

There are also other more rigorous spontaneous QiGong exercise of Five Animal System   (http://dangerofchi.org/videos/videos.html)

Trance dance (http://www.trancedance.com/)

is a contemporary blend of body movement, healing sounds, dynamic percussive rhythms, transformational breathing technique stimulating a ‘trance’ state that promotes spiritual awakenings, mental clarity, physical stamina and emotional well-being.

Spiritual Spontaneous Body Movements

Spontaneous body movements can also occur in many forms with spiritual connotation. In meditation, spontaneous movement can occur as shaking, the head moving, twitches and all sorts of other body movements.

Kundalini yoga, an active form of yoga designed to awaken the kundalini (spiritual energy located at the base of the spine). The main work is called a kriya, which is a prescribed sequence of poses that focuses on a specific area of the body. Kriya may consist of rapid, repetitive movements done with breath or holding a pose while breathing in a particular way. It can involve intense involuntary, jerking movements of the body, including shaking, vibrations, spasm and contraction. It is believed that this happened when an intense energy moves through the body and clears out physiological blocks. As deeply held armouring and blockages to the smooth flow of energy are released, the person may re-access memories and emotions associated with past trauma and injury. (From: http://www.life-enthusiast.com/ormus/orm_kundalini.htm)

See examples video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2NifkVq5RE, or  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCQFSwkvwUc

Spontaneous movement or Ideomotor action is also part of some spiritual practices, which is called a class of innate bodily manifestations of spirit: (after Stuart Sovatsky http://www.cit-sakti.com/kundalini/sahaja-spontaneous-yoga.htm). The examples are:

  • Spontaneous spinal rockings prayer in Judaism as davening and Islam as zikr
  • Autonomic quaking and shaking or ‘Quaker” and “Shaker” or the “taken-over” gyrations of gospel “holy ghost” shaking and dancing and charismatic/pentacostal “mani-festations”
  • Dionysian “revel”
  • Shamanic trance-dance
  • Raja-Yoga’s effortless “straight back” (uju-kaya) meditation
  • Tibetan yoga’s Tumo heat
  • Reichian full-bodied, spontaneous “orgasm reflex”
  • Yoga kriyas
  • Spontaneous QiGong

No doubt there are other bodywork and movement works that share similar characteristics. To understand how spontaneous movement occurs, first we need to understand about movement. According to André Bernard in Ideokinesis, a movement may be defined as a neuromusculoskeletal event. This means that in order for a movement to take place, all three of the systems alluded to in this definition—nervous, muscular, and skeletal—must be involved. Each system has its own specific role to play; the nervous system is the messenger, that is, it transmits impulses or messages to the muscles to contract or release; the muscle system is the workhorse or the motor system; the skeletal system is the support system that is moved by the work of the muscles.

The nervous system is more than just a simple messenger. It also organizes the muscle pattern, and it does this on a level below consciousness. It is the complex of muscles that perform a desired movement: organizing the muscle pattern is a highly complex and sophisticated task.  Our conscious role in movement is to focus on the movement, because the nervous system, in organizing the muscle pattern, is responding to the clarity of one’s concept of what the movement is. If the movement is not done well, it means the muscle pattern is poor, and the muscle pattern is poor because the “wrong” message (a faulty concept of the movement) has been sent to the muscles. This wrong message is the result of either a lack of clarity about what the movement is or a previously established poor muscle pattern associated with the movement.

The objective of movement work is to change the message—that is, to rethink the movement in order to change the poor muscle pattern. This rethinking the movement can be  formed into an image and used as a means to change the muscle pattern.

However  in spontaneous movement,  the  inherent subconscious  movement is used to correct  the  muscle pattern. The whole class of involuntary and automatic movement can be considered as ideomotor action or ideomotion. Ideomotion is a movement that occurs as a result of mental activity, but independently of conscious volition.  These involuntary movements can happen spontaneously or can be stimulated by various ways. The stimulus can be tactile and proprioceptive stimuli, or simply by thought, emotion, verbal suggestion. Barrett Dorko argued that ideomotor movements that accompany pain  can be corrective.  When pain of mechanical origin occurs,  our brain automatically produce motor commands to reduce pain. However,  the corrective movements produced by pain are often inhibited by other mental activity.  Thus ideomotion can be used as corrective movements that have become inhibited. (See also http://www.bettermovement.org/2011/ideomotion-part-three-how-to-elicit-corrective-movement/)

This is a work in progress. Feel free to provide comments  by emailing terrarosa@gmail.com