Permission Slips for Pleasure: Working with Embodiment & Trauma


Last weekend, we participated in The American History Theatre’s Shout and Stomp: Healing Through Movement and Theatre. We left feeling inspired by Amber Robinson and The American History Theatre for creating an event to support veterans using arts based interventions. Collaborating on events like this is one of the exciting things we get to do at Yellowbird and one we don’t always share about. I am excited to break that trend! One of the ways we helped support this event was through Erika’s movement workshop. I am going to take a moment and brag a bit about Erika and the powerful work she does through movement and dance. She is a master artist and holds the ability to bring movement to all bodies. She is fluent in the “language of dance” and is adept at finding ways for each individual to discover their unique way of “speaking dance”. I feel lucky every day to partner with her in this work.

I love the expressive arts because it can be a subtle way of approaching healing work. We had the opportunity to experience this in Erika’s movement workshop with those impacted by various forms of trauma. When an individual has experienced physical trauma and they have ensuing pain, the idea of dancing can seem challenging to say the least. However, in working through the expressive arts, we are taught to create space to work with what you have available in the moment. This means that whatever willingness, energy, curiosity, etc you have in that moment is ENOUGH. If the idea of dancing sounds impossible, what might be a pleasurable way to move? I can hear you asking, what if it’s just a pinky finger? Well, perfect!

Playful Movement with Chairs

Playful Movement with Chairs

Trauma is often something inflicted upon a person without their consent. For those healing from this type of trauma, to force or pressure oneself to do something can trigger a sense of disempowerment and lack of self-agency. Trauma can make it feel unsafe to be “present in the body” and movement and dance have a way of turning up that presence. This can feel scary. However, when we step out of that paradigm we create new possibilities.

I like to play with the idea of permission slips in healing work. If I give myself a permission slip to just move in ways that feel good, I often find myself doing far more than I initially thought possible. Sometimes, I do far less than I imagine and savor all the subtle movements. In moving towards pleasure, we skip over forcing the body to do something because we “should” or “everyone else is” or whatever reason the mind wants to impose. It’s so powerful to step out of the paradigm of forcing or convincing the self or body to do something. It can create new pathways within the brain connecting embodiment to pleasure, delight, fun, curiosity, safety….you name it!

One of our participants shared that she had been having a bad pain day, but was surprised to discover the more she moved, the less pain she felt. Another woman was exhausted from the heat and shared she had originally thought she wouldn’t be able to move at all. However, she slowed herself down, tuned into following her pleasure and found energy she didn’t know she had. In retrospect, that kind of shift is hardly subtle. On the outside it may look like someone is simply walking across the floor, however on the inside powerful healing work could be rippling out with each step.

Permission slips can be a great way to try something out with less pressure for it to look a specific way. What if you only explored movement in ways that felt good? How might that possibly free you to move in ways you didn’t expect? Regardless of how big or small your movement ends up being, you will have found a way to partner with yourself in a nourishing and loving way.