Clinical Somatics

High Anxiety – get started with movement for more ease

In my 10 years of teaching Somatic Movement Education, I came across many people with mild to severe, medicated anxiety. The physical expressions of this range from teeth grinding, restlessness or inability to move, strong muscular tension that holds the ribcage, neck and shoulders immobile, breath holding, pins and needles, etc. With the body always on high alert, this feeds into what the brain can interpret as danger, contributing to the feedback loop of worry, stress and feeling stuck.

While movement is not the only approach to manage anxiety, it certainly can help to feel more grounded and at ease in our own body, with a sense of agency / being able to make decisions and having choices rather than feeling like a puppet.

One simple exercise I like to suggest is to pandiculate the arms and chest. Pandiculation is what you naturally do when you fully yawn – the muscles of your jaw and back contract strongly, followed by a complete release (I know this is hard when you feel your jaw is locked into place!). Thomas Hanna suggested other full body patterns, where we can use this natural movement process in a stylised way, to ease tension we accumulate through stress.

So here is what I suggest: Lie on your back with your legs bent and your arms by your side (if possible). Notice that most likely, your arms are close to your torso and your hands are turned palm down to the floor. Give yourself a moment to lightly observe how you breathe. It’s ok to feel the breathing being a bit shallow, or concentrated in one area only.
Gently but clearly, press one hand into the floor. Feel how the whole arm, side of the ribcage, chest and maybe belly and back contract in order to press the hand to the floor. Slowly back off, push less and less. Can you let all the effort you put into the push, go? Take your time to feel if your shoulder area can soften a bit more into the ground without force. This can take some time and extra attention, especially in your armpit!
Repeat this several times slowly and with attention. Pause to bring your awareness to your 2 halves of your torso. What has changed?
Try this on the other side. Expect to feel a slightly different path of contraction, because we use our two arms in different ways. Is your second arm easier to soften?

Notice if you can let your belly and chest relax a bit more each time. Feel how you can create a little more space for your lungs to expand. You can rest on the floor and imagine you allow your lungs to softly expand into your lower back when you breathe in, as if they were super stretchy. No need to work hard, instead, see how soft you can become to allow for a deep breath. Your belly can stay relaxed too.

When you have repeated the push and slow release, followed by a complete rest, take some time to observe your breathing again. Can your belly and chest softly rise as you breathe in? Can the exhalation be easy, not squeezy? How is your state of mind now?

You can use this process in many different ways: you can lie down and do this on the floor, but if you don’t feel comfortable with that position, try it sitting or even standing up leaning against a wall.

A fantastic website and resource for people with anxiety is

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.