Our Body Keeps Score with Erica Hornthal


In this episode, we explore the transformative concept of body wisdom and its critical role in enhancing personal and professional growth. I’m joined by Erica Hornthal, a board-certified dance movement therapist, who sheds light on how accessing our body’s inherent wisdom can lead to profound insights and healing. Through the lens of dance movement therapy, Erica provides a fascinating perspective on the interconnectedness of mind, body, and emotion.

Erica Hornthal

Erica Hornthal, is a licensed clinical professional counselor, board-certified dance/movement therapist, and the CEO and founder of Chicago Dance Therapy. Since graduating with her MA in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling from Columbia College Chicago, Erica has worked with thousands of patients aged 3-107. Known as “The Therapist Who Moves You,” Hornthal is changing the way people see movement with regard to mental health.


We talk about:

  • 00:00 Intro

  • 05:34 What is body wisdom

  • 07:59 What are sensations and what are some examples of them

  • 10:49 Why should we pay attention to these sensations

  • 15:35 The impact our bodies have on each other for communication and connections

  • 19:48 How do you lean into sensations and use them?

  • 22:28 How to use this practically in the work space

  • 28:22 The term mental health keeping us stuck in our head, so how to build literacy around wellness

  • 35:48 What happens when you let your body give you wisdom

  • 39:50 Why she created her product and what she hopes people use it for

  • 45:52 Is there a purpose to the color delineation with her cards

  • 50:02 Rapid fire questions

🌈 Closing Thoughts:

Our conversation with Erica Hornthal offers profound insights into the value of reconnecting with our body’s wisdom. The episode invites listeners to consider the ways in which embodied knowledge can enhance not only personal well-being but also professional efficacy and leadership. We delve into practical strategies for integrating body awareness into our lives, inviting a holistic approach to health and leadership. Share your thoughts, experiences, or questions about embracing body wisdom, and join us in redefining wellness and leadership.

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Carolyn: Well, you have heard me on the show, talk about different centers of intelligence, the mind or the head, the heart, um, or feeling. And I’ve also talked about the body and today’s guest is going to directly apply to this Notion of body wisdom or body intelligence. I’m really, really excited to bring Erica Hornthal onto the show.

Now, Erica is a licensed clinical professional counselor and a board certified dance movement therapist. She is the CEO and founder of Chicago dance therapy. And since she graduated with her M. A. in Dance Movement Therapy, Dance Movement Therapy and Counseling from Columbia College, Chicago, Erica has worked with thousands of patients aged 3 to 107.

Erica is, I think, a fantastic resource for us as leaders and people in, in, um, business spaces, how we can bring more body wisdom into our work, because let’s face it, it’s not something that we hear a lot about in our typical leadership programs. I’m really excited to have this conversation and I can’t wait to hear what she has to share with us.

Hello, Evolve listeners. Welcome back to another episode. Now today’s guest, you might be wondering why am I having a board certified dance movement therapist and clinical professional counselor on the show, Erica Hornthal. Welcome.

Erica: Hi, thanks for having me.

Carolyn: And, you know, as I said, y’all might be wondering, what does dance and movement have to do with leadership?

Well, stay tuned for this conversation because Erika has so much wisdom and insight that I wish I had. Had a sliver of, um, 10 years ago. So Erica, let’s start off. Can you just share a little bit about your, um, your background and what brought you to this work and why body wisdom is so important for us?

Erica: Well, overall, I found the work, I would say it found me, but I fell into the work, um, when I was my first year of college. So undergraduate kind of an undeclared dance major, also loving psychology and wanting to merge the two, you know, not wanting to let go of that creative, passionate side, artistic side, but also really wanting to honor that logical, reasonable scientific side as well.

Uh, and so lo and behold, a wonderful professor actually taught me, told me about dance movement therapy. And it took me a while to figure out really what it was. I think it took years into the field. I’m still figuring out what it is, but, you know, I didn’t always know how or what to do in terms of following that body.

wisdom, right? That embodiment piece. And as I’ve been doing the work for about 15 years now, post internship and schooling and all of that stuff, what I’ve come to realize and understand is that it is not something that needs to be taught. It is really just something that needs to be rediscovered because especially for us in this Western hemisphere, we’re so disconnected from our felt sensations.

We’re so disconnected from the wisdom that is inside our bodies. And so what you just said a few moments ago, where you said, I wish I had this knowledge 20 years ago, you did, it’s always been with you. We just don’t know how to access it. Right. We’ve like turned off those like antennae, right. That guide us into these, um, this embodied knowledge that we’ve really had our whole lives.

Like we were all born with it. We just learned really early on how to tune it out and how to turn it off. And so that’s what led me here and I think what really led me to this lens of focusing on the movement aspect, not so much the dance specific piece, but again, as a board certified dance movement therapist, it’s all part and parcel and the name, the field itself lends it to some curiosity.

And so I kind of love that part of it where people are like, what does this mean? So that’s, that’s how I got here.

Carolyn: I love we’re like three minutes in and you’re already, you know, dropping these great nuggets of insight. Um, let’s talk a little bit about body wisdom and what is that? What does that mean? Um, because I’m going to guess a lot of, um, my listeners and I’ll go back, you know, until I sort of discovered this area.

I didn’t like, I’m like, my body carries my head. Thank you. I keep in shape. I eat good food. Good enough.

Erica: Yeah. Um, so I think to that, I, I use this idea that body wisdom is simply that your body Well, not only carries everything, not just yourself and, and you from place to place, but it really carries the story, the narrative of your life, right? From let’s say, even before birth, right? Those generational ties, those, whether they’re traumas, whether they’re stories, whatever that is, there’s that embodiment piece, um, not just your DNA.

Not just your genetics, but those felt experiences that get birthed and passed down, um, and I think, you know, some people will call it intuition, gut instinct. It’s just a knowing. It’s a knowing that something is or is not right. And then oftentimes we don’t know to follow it because our mind is so powerful, it gaslights us, it talks us out of things, it tells us, no, that’s not really a big deal because sometimes that’s true.

Sometimes our body has created alarm where maybe there doesn’t need to be, but it’s all a safety mechanism nonetheless. And so. It’s, it’s just almost like a guiding light, a little bit of like, um, an instinct. It’s also an ability to trust, you know, and to, to be with the sensations that come up in our body that we don’t need to buy into.

They are always there. And um, that to me is a huge piece of being a leader.

Carolyn: Yeah. Well, and let’s talk a little bit about that because, I mean, all the leadership training that I had done through the years, which was quite vast. No one ever talked about my body as an instrument or to even like sensations. What? Like we’ve never talked about that. That was like deemed too woo woo.

And so, you know, I’m 52. Well, I’ll be 52 soon. Um, and it’s taken me like, you know, a lot of unlearning to, Real, maybe not line learning, tuning in to realize that my body does speak to me. And I just chalked that up to like, Oh, you’re kind of in my way. So could you talk us through a little bit, Erica? Like what, what are sensations?

Maybe like neurologically, what are they? And what would be some examples of them?

Erica: Sure. Um, you know, I talk about them being, and I didn’t quite use this phrase, but this is very much what we used in, in our schooling and graduate program. And which I don’t know if I said, but I specifically went to graduate school for dance movement therapy and counseling. So it is a, it’s own entity, right?

It’s own curriculum, its own field in itself. And I think what we used so often in that curriculum is this idea of a, Felt embodied sensation, or, you know, um, this, this idea of like a felt, a felt sense and that’s really anything sensory that our body experiences. So maybe it’s a twinge, a tingle, a wiggle, uh, you know, as, as, as like a, like a, Zap.

It can be, you know, a, um, uh, a breeze, you know, a sense of like cold over the body

Carolyn: Oh, like one of those like little shivers.

Erica: know, right chills. Um, and so, you know, something kind of like goosebumps, right? Like there’s a physiological response there. Um, you know, it’s, it’s. The body taking in sensory information and in a, in a way making sense of it.

And then a lot of it is how the brain is reacting to it. Um, you know, it’s coming into those emotion centers of the body, right? And so easily, so quickly, we want to make sense of it. We want to bring it into higher cognitive functioning, and that’s not always accessible. Or we can’t make sense of it. You can’t always make sense of the felt sensation.

Listening to it, right, is kind of that. Oh, something’s happening here. You know, sometimes it’s, uh, something’s telling me not to turn this way. You know, something’s telling me to, you know, stop at this green light instead of go, even though I should go at green, you know, and can we listen to those things?

The urges, the prim, primitive kind of instincts, if you will, a lot of things that we. Had to do for survival as infants as babies. And then again, as these, you know, higher cognitive structures come into place, we were really good at overriding them. You know, oh, yeah, I feel a little uncomfortable or I don’t know.

This is a little compromising, but I’ll just put through it. Push through

Carolyn: Right.

Erica: I’ll just get over it.

Carolyn: Right. Don’t be, don’t be so silly. Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Erica: Um, you know, that’s how I like to explain it just because it doesn’t have to be super scientific. It is right. There’s science behind it. But I think we just have to understand that what we feel is valid and it’s not just by it.

It doesn’t just have been right. There’s signs and signals letting us know that something’s going on.

Carolyn: And so why do we need to pay attention to it then? Um, I mean, I kind of know where that answer is going to go, but, um, cause I ignored, I ignored what was being said to me by my body for many years. But like, why do we need to pay attention to it?

Erica: Well, first and foremost, if we’re not paying attention to it or listening to it, we can’t guarantee that others will either. So how we are treated by other people is often a reflection of how we treat ourselves. And you know, I, I tread very lightly with that because that is by no means saying that, well, if others abuse us, we abuse ourself.

Right. But in terms of a boundary. Right, being good to ourselves, respecting ourselves. If we don’t have that sense somewhere in our body, we are not going to be able to enforce that or understand what’s at stake when other people aren’t honoring that as well. So, You know, embodiment, meaning like felt this felt sense, right?

Like where do I hold my confidence? Where do I feel confident? Um, I think it applies so much to leadership because a lot of it is nonverbal communication. So forget dance, forget this movement piece, which people are like, exercise. What? Just look at nonverbal communication. You know, What you say to your employees, your staff, so much more in your nonverbal communication than it is in what you are actually saying.

You know, that’s 85 percent easy is how you’re standing, what direction you’re facing, what is your affect, your face look like, what’s the tone that you’re setting in your voice as you’re speaking to your employees or to your, um, you know, board members, et cetera. We get really good at ignoring those, you know, or treating cognition like it is the king, right?

Kind of like ruling the roost. And what it really needs is a combination of the two. We need that mind body connection to help us set boundaries, um, create self care routines. You know, you said what happens if I don’t listen to my body, you know, genetics is obviously a huge factor, but I know that if you don’t listen that a lot of what you suppress right becomes the disease, right?

So the disease in the body, the tension, the burnout literally translates to disease. Um, I’d love to say that the, you know, uh, body finds the place where that holds emotions we don’t face, you know? And so, again, not to say that genetics doesn’t play a factor. But, if we’re not paying attention to those tingles, those sensations, you know, those can be the early signs of, you know, a, a stress induced, you know, I don’t know, heart activity, shall we say.

I don’t want to say full blown heart attack, but like, you know, the things that we associate stress with. It’s like, it doesn’t just happen. And it’s not because. Not just because we’re not, you know, taking care of our cholesterol or our blood pressure, like, that’s all part of it. But listening to those boundaries of the body, you know, pushing past what is really, truly capable. I noticed as a side, I had a client most recently who ended up quitting his job for good reason. And then went to a seminar and happened to sit in part of a seminar about burnout and they gave a, a test basically to see where you are in the spectrum of burnout. And it wasn’t until he took that test that he realized he was so far on the spectrum.

He was like, I don’t know how I’m still alive right now. Like I was so burnt out physically and emotionally. That we just endure things. We talk ourselves into them and we’re like, what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this?

Carolyn: Oh,

Erica: your body is like screaming for

Carolyn: exactly. And that’s like, and that’s why I wanted to have you on the podcast, Erica. I mean, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve started following you and loved all your posts. Um, and we’re going to talk a little bit more about that big, beautiful sign behind you. Um, but I want to come back to something that you said.

Um. Around, um, not being able to listen as well to, and it just made me realize that if we can’t hear ourselves, then it is going to compromise how we can hear others.

Erica: Yes. And how they hear us.

Carolyn: Exactly. And so, you know, that was a big eye opener for me, um, because I thought I was very clear. And so we might have this perception about our clarity and how we communicate, and we might have the best of intentions.

However, to your point, there’s all of this other communication going on under our consciousness and without getting all sciencey about it, our nervous systems talk to each other below the radar. And so it’s not necessarily just a checklist of, okay, here’s the body position that’s going to say openness or, you know, like there’s, I guess what I, what I just wanted to make sure the listeners understand is that this stuff happens out of our consciousness.

This, that impacts our ability to communicate. And so when we choose to suppress communication from our own body, we are going to be impacted in how we lead and how we’re able to communicate with other others. It’s not an, if it’s not a, maybe it’s, it will.

Erica: Yes. And, um, you know, I think all it takes is someone to witness the connection between an infant and its caregiver to recognize how much our nervous systems impact one another, you know? And so I recognize that not everybody listening is going to be a parent. But just, you know, go to the mall, go to a restaurant, just open your eyes to what’s already out there and just see the dynamic between how two nervous systems coexist.

And I say infant because it’s kind of in its most pure form, you know, before it’s been too compromised. So, but you can see it in anything, you know, two partners working together, you know, a CEO and the president of the company, like, yeah, it’s just. I think it’s a fascinating team building exercise to try to have nonverbal conversations, you know, and see how far we get, how, how collaborative we are or how resistant or hesitant we are.

It’s just I find it so fascinating. So, yeah, well, it might not seem like a dance movement therapist is going to offer, you know, wise words in terms of leadership. I think. I’m so fortunate for this opportunity because I think that’s exactly where it begins. You know, sturdy leadership begins with connection to your body.

Carolyn: absolutely. And you know, all those things that you were just talking about, um, you know, co regulation, we know that this is where strong teams are able to co regulate. And, and they’re able to have those different Discover uncomfortable or, or, um, hard conversations without allowing previous memories stored in their body to come and take over the situation.

Um, and, you know, either avoid or read like lash out. So we really need to bring this into our workplaces this, this body wisdom. I keep saying it’s the, it’s the golden key that people have been looking for, for decades in leadership. And as you said, it’s been around for like, for a long time. I mean, lots of other traditions have valued this type of knowledge, correct?

Erica: Yeah. And I mean, to just go back to the origins of just, I don’t know, human existence, right? Like this is, this is something that we’ve always had in us, um, probably before we had these higher cognitive functionings, you know, like, I mean, none of us were around at the beginning, but talk about evolve, you know, that this is part of the evolutionary process, but it’s almost as, as like, as we’ve evolved as humans and become so cerebral and intellectual, which is one of the things that makes our species so great.

We’ve also really undermined and ignored the power and use for the body for more than just physicality, right? It’s not just to run away from the tiger. It’s also to manage my presence in front of the tiger or ease the anxiety that I’m feeling for a presentation, um, command a room so that people listen to me.

Feel like I have value and worth so that I can ask for more, you know, in my job, ask for that raise, or take feedback, take criticism without, you know, really losing it, so to speak, which that’s not, that’s not a scientific term, but.

Carolyn: Yeah. Or, or like, uh, or being mean to yourself and saying, I deserve this or, or

Erica: Self sabotage, negative self talk. Yeah. Um, so no, it’s not new at all. Um, maybe the conversations within the workplace are newer, but just talking about mental health in general in the workplace is sadly a newer concept as well. So is mental health new? No, not at all. But where we’re having these conversations is certainly evolving.

So. Um, yeah, I was, you know, think about the ways that your body’s already sending you signals. It does all the time. Hunger, thirst, um, hunger, frustration, um, and just lean into those. You know, you don’t have to buy into anything. You don’t have to start from scratch. It’s all

Carolyn: you mean? What do you mean lean into those? Let’s get a little bit specific. So I just, I’m feeling a little pain in my back right now. When you say lean into it, what, what could I do with it?

Erica: The first thing I think of is curiosity, you know, so it usually, I don’t know, I don’t want to speak to your experience, but like with clients, let’s say, or even myself, I’ve had this tendency of to feel pain as bad,

Carolyn: Great.

Erica: Oh, it’s inconvenient to say the least, right? And then either we, we ignore it right until the call is over or until this meeting is done or the workday is over, or we, you know.

Myself included from time to time, reach for the pills, right? Reach for the Tylenol, the Advil. Um, the leaning in is, is being curious, right? What is this pain about? First of all, where am I feeling it? What can I do to meet it? Right? Because I think the fear is that if I listen to it or I pay too much attention to it, it’s going to be overwhelming.

And so if I ignore it, I’ll keep it at bay, right? I’ll kind of keep it in my awareness. So when I’m experiencing pain, like lower back pain, which I usually do sitting at this desk, I become aware of it. I noticed where I’m feeling it and leaning into it is actually intuitively doing what my body wants to do to alleviate the pain.

So as I sit here, my go to is usually the lean forward and drop my head down and kind of reach towards my toes, right? Can’t really do that in the way I’m sitting right now. At the very least, changing your position, you know, maybe you don’t even realize how contorted we are to, you know, face the right lighting, to get the good shot, to make ourself look more presentable.

Like these are a lot of the things that we’re concerned with when we’re on zoom, when we’re virtual. Um, that’s what I mean by leaning in, you know, so quite literally addressing it and with curiosity so that it’s not bad for being there. It is. teaching us something. It is a tool. It’s a signal saying, I, I need some support, you know, maybe literally we just need a little more support in our

Carolyn: yeah, and, and I, I mean, again, I just think back to even just 10, 5 to 10 years ago, it’d be like, ah, my back, why is it like, and getting all mad at the fact that, you know, there was this little pain and as you said, treat it with curiosity, like, oh, thank you. There’s something there. Um, now what about. Uh, let’s go with another type of sensation.

I want to kind of stick with this. I really am hoping, um, those who are watching or listening, we can get really kind of practical with it. Cause it might seem a little bit like, well, what do you mean listen to my body? So let’s say I’m at work and maybe I don’t have a pain per se that is like showing up in my back or my shoulder.

Um, What might be another sensation? Maybe I just have like a little twinge that goes off here in my head. How, how do, how would you tell us to get curious about that? Like, okay, I’ve got a twinge in my head. Okay, great. What do I do now? I’m kind of being a bit of a pessimist on this right now

Erica: Yeah. Well, no, that’s okay. I mean, I think a lot of us are right. We’re like, Oh, this is inconvenient, right? Is this pain that I’m experiencing is, is diverting my attention from maybe what I really want to be focusing on, which might be this presentation, this business meeting, this really important lunch, whatever that is.

Right. So. You know, you’re going to spend a lot more time and energy ignoring it and then having to deal with it later than if you just addressed it in the moment, you

Carolyn: it. Love

Erica: like conserve your energy, right? Manage the focus that you really want to tend to by focusing on what something, what you’re feeling in the

Carolyn: Right.

Erica: And so, you know, maybe, yeah, it’s a, a twinge, right? Like here, I often start with touch if that feels appropriate, you know, self touch, if that feels appropriate. Touch where you’re feeling whatever it is. You know, if it’s here and it’s a little bit of a pressure, meet the pressure. You know, if it’s a twinge and it’s like right here above your eyebrow, like touch it.

I’m already doing something with, and I don’t even realize, like I’m kind of, I don’t really feel a twinge right now, but I’m like massaging my eye, you know, sometimes that is enough. And all of a sudden, because we’ve kind of You know, increase some, some like lymphatic drainage, right? Or we’re just easing the tension in the muscle.

Our body’s like, thank you. Thank you for recognizing that something was feeling tense. Thank you for addressing that in the moment. Um, I’ll give an example of myself. So I can easily get tension headaches. Um, and, and I, And if I’m aware of it, it actually starts in between my shoulder blades, but if I’m not aware of it by the end of the day, I am like, really tight at the back of my neck.

And then it starts pulling on my scalp and it’s just. Tense. It’s just a tight ball. I know exactly where to alleviate it, but I’ve kind of ignored it until the end of the day when I’m like, I need some Tylenol, need some Advil, need a painkiller to take the edge off to then address it. If I have the resource, the capacity to pay attention to it in the moment, I actually one alleviate the need at the end of the day for whatever it is to take the pain away.

Whether it’s, you know, medicine, alcohol, you know, binge watching TV, whatever it is. And I’m actually working on alleviating the tension as it arises instead of allowing it to build and build and build.

Carolyn: Right,

Erica: Because then when we have a lot of tension, we can’t get stuff done. There’s no attention span for what we really want to work on.

So for me, that might be like, you know, remembering to roll my shoulders throughout the day, you know, taking my arms and just. You know, stretching them in front of me, um, it’s, you know, and like I said, sometimes it’s just if I just stop, it’s stuff that my body will automatically do. I really don’t have to think about it.

I just have to create the space and time to let it exist.

Carolyn: And I think that’s the key thing is just to create that little space in time and, you know, that action of, of diverting your attention from whatever cognitive task you might be trying to push through. And just, you know, I’ll come back to that eye example. Just like rub your body, like, or rub, rub your eye.

It’s pulling your body in, like integrating, and it gives you a bit of space out of your head for a minute or two or three or four. Um,

Erica: because we feel the pain and we’re like, what is this?

Carolyn: right. Get out of my, get out of my way. Yeah.

Erica: from? Right? And that’s the mind. The mind is like, we must take care of this. This is a problem to be solved. And I love to say, like, the body is not a problem to be solved. It is the solution. Like if you just go to it, just meet it, it will tell you exactly what it means.

And while that’s not always something we can offer in the moment, right, if it really is, we’re talking about disease. And there’s something medicinal that we need or an intervention that we can’t do for ourselves in the moment. That’s 1 thing, but that’s usually way down the line. There are a lot of things that we could be doing in the moment to ease and kind of.

Um, uh, you know. Uh, not, I don’t want to say avoid, but, um, maybe even prolong, right? Some of those like really big, like, Oh my gosh, now I need six weeks off of work type stuff. Um, just because I listened, you know, just because I was like, Oh God, this is really killing me. You know what? I need some fresh air.

I’m dehydrated. I need some water. You know, sometimes the answer is simpler than we think it is.

Carolyn: Yeah. And taking that moment or two to, to acknowledge that need is well worth the one or two minutes.

Erica: Right, right. You know, what’s the saying? It’s like, you know, um, a minute to focus on your wellness, you know, uh, I’m going to butcher it, but basically, like, if you don’t focus on your wellness, you’ll be forced to focus on your illness,

Carolyn: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Um, no, you had mentioned, uh, a little bit ago, um, something about mental health and I know you put up a post on the weekend and I’m just going to read it out cause I loved it. I sent you a quick note. I’m like, well, you have to talk about this. So, um, and it’s funny cause I thought this a few years ago, but I, I just didn’t know how to put the right words around it.

Anyway, I thought you captured it brilliantly. So what you wrote was as long as we keep. calling it mental health. We will always see it as separate from the body. Emotional health brings the body into the conversation because that’s where the thoughts and feelings originate. So I just, I, I find that so powerful because mental health, as you said, just, it keeps us stuck in our head.

So like, how can we continue to build our literacy around? Wellness with what you’ve said there? Mm-Hmm.

Erica: I think one thing we can ask ourselves. Is actually where do I think this is? I feel like kind of crazy asking the question, but I ask this all the time. It’s like, where is my mind? Right, because, like, we can lose it, right? We’re like, oh, I lost my mind. You know, I know that’s a metaphor, but. Think about like where you connect to your mind when you’re thinking really hard or you’re trying to problem solve.

Like where do you feel it? Oftentimes people will say it’s up here. You know, it’s like I can feel my brain working. Um, but not for everybody. Sometimes there is more of a felt sense in the body, in the core, in the shoulders. I always get the sense my mind is kind around my head. It’s like this cloud,

Carolyn: Yeah.

Erica: Um, so you can Ask yourself that, because what starts to happen is we recognize that it’s not just here, right? It’s not just, there’s no part of our brain that is the mind, you know, um, there’s parts of the brain that affect the mind, but What’s really happening is these movement, um, patterns, these developmental movement patterns that have started from, you know, probably before birth, but like, certainly before the age of 3, that’s, what’s helping us develop our sense of self, our identity, our belief system, what we think about ourselves, what we don’t think about ourselves.

And then that shapes. The conscious mind, right? The things that we interact with, the things we tell ourselves, that, that, that dialogue, right? That internal monologue that many of us have, um, so often we’re trying to change that and not looking at, like, the origin of it, you know, so there’s this brilliant book was written a while back called the molecules of emotion.

Dr. Candice pert identified molecules all over the body that are responsible for emotions that also show up in the brain, you know, so they’re on our liver, they’re on our kidneys and our spine. They’re just everywhere, um, suggesting that it is not just a brain thing. It’s not just a cognitive from the neck up thing.

And so, you know, movement for me is about accessing, moving through those emotions. So we continue to call something mental and we’re only identifying with the brain. The, the upper part, right brain is still body, but if we’re not bringing it down into the depths of our body, we’re just perpetuating this disconnect.

You know, that it’s, oh, it’s the neck up. Oh, it’s cognitive. Oh, it’s cerebral. Um, I’d like the emotional part because emotions originate in the body. They’re dispersed everywhere. They’re coming in through sensory. Um, experiences, and then. Those become our feelings, which are interpreted by the mind, right? I feel something.

The mind says, Oh, this is anger. I feel something in the mind’s like, this is jealousy, you know? And then it places judgments on it instead of just being curious about. Where is this coming from? What am I feeling? How do I move through this? We just get stuck. So opening a conversation, you know, behavioral health, I think has changed that that’s a step in the right direction, but then we’re focusing on behavior.

Carolyn: Right. Right.

Erica: Why does it have to be behavior? It could be emotional health, right? Where are the emotions? How did they lead to the behaviors? Which I think is quite different,

Carolyn: It really is. And, um, you know, even understanding, I know when I first started, uh, dissecting the difference and understanding the difference between emotion and feeling. And I remember reading, I don’t know who to attribute this to, but emotion, energy in motion. I was like, well, that made it really easy to understand that this is something in my, in my body that needs to move right.

And that energy and motion, um, can you just repeat for us again? Cause I want to make sure that the listeners really can capture and what’s the difference between an emotion and a feeling. Could you say that again?

Erica: So emotions are basically sensory input. You know, what the energy and motion that you just spoke about, right? So it’s energy moving through or sometimes getting stuck in the body. The feeling is the construct that the mind creates, right? So. I’m feeling, um, I’m just going to go with, uh, like butterflies in the stomach, right?

And my mind might say, Oh, this is familiar. This is my anxiety, you know, or, Oh, this is my excitement. The body’s not qualifying it. My body’s not like, Ooh, we’re excited. It’s just, Ooh, it’s like, Oh, there’s a slight, there’s a, there’s a jitteriness here. What is that about? Um, But we so folks fixate or focus on that feeling state that’s naming it, that’s using the language that we were just saying, you know, it’s just a small percentage of our experience.

So it’s not always about naming what we feel in terms of identifying a feeling state. Sometimes it’s just recognizing the sensation around it. Um. And we just don’t have all the words to describe what we’re feeling. We’re really good at identifying it. I mean, we’ve got these emotion wheels and

Carolyn: Yep.

Erica: all these ways of qualifying it, but sometimes there are no words to describe exactly what we’re feeling.

And I think we’ve all felt that, uh, something goes beyond words. I’m too sad to explain it. I’m brought to tears. Um, you know, I, I like stomp, we’ve seen, you know, I’d say just kids, but adults do it to throw tantrums, right? There’s just, there’s no word to describe what I’m feeling sometimes. Um, and just to go along with what you just said, because you get one step further that so energy, right?

Uh, emotions, energy in motion. We can also see the way we operate as either going through the motion, right, or going through the emotion. So sometimes when we’re just going through the motion of something, that’s actually when the emotions are getting stuck, because we’re just on autopilot, we’re just, we’re just going through to kind of get the job done, right?

But if we’re actually going through the emotion. We’re bringing that holistic approach with us, right? And then I can actually be more efficient because I’m not ignoring the anger, I’m, I’m acknowledging it. You know, this is really frustrating. Let’s address that. Do something with it. And then I can do my work because it’s really hard to get work done when you’re frustrated or angry or,

Carolyn: Yeah.

Erica: you know, feeling inadequate.

Carolyn: I’ve spent a lot of years going through the motion, not realizing it.

Erica: Yeah. Me too. I think it’s a very normal thing for, for humans to do.

Carolyn: well, and I think this is where, you know, as my listeners will know, I, I will talk about trauma informed leadership. And this

Erica: Thank you.

Carolyn: to me why body work has unlocked so many things for me. Um, because, um, Emotion was trapped in my body and, you know, we just know developmentally, sometimes we can’t access that.

Um, and we need to learn how to release that through other somatic approaches. So I’ve been seeing a somatic experiencing practitioner and, and that has really given me, given my body an opportunity to unlock some things.

Erica: Yeah.

Carolyn: Um, so I guess my, my question, what is my question exactly for you? Um, do you find in your practice, like what can happen when people start to let their body give them wisdom?

What happens?

Erica: a couple things. I think sometimes there’s the recognition of, oh, I’m already doing it. Right. Like just tell me what to do. Right. How, how do I do this? And I think the, that. first time where I’ll just say, did you notice you said this? Did you notice you did this? Right? That, that it’s already there. It’s already there.

We just need to be more aware of how it shows up at times. Um, I’ll give you an example. This morning I was working with a client and, um, this happens a lot, right? Where someone will say, they say something that clearly is on their mind because it’s not okay, but then they qualify it with, or they follow it with, but it’s fine.

Carolyn: Hmm.

Erica: and, and so I stopped and I’m like, is it, is it really fine? Well, um, uh, no, you know, I’m like, see, you know, you know, because something non verbally said to me as I was witnessing you that it really wasn’t fine.

Carolyn: Right.

Erica: a, it’s a little shrug sometimes, like that’s doubt usually that’s kind of like, Hmm, it’s fine.

No, it’s not.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Erica: so that’s the first thing is like, notice what’s there, right, or work with someone that can help you notice what’s already there. Um, you know, also practice taking your own feeling because if I keep saying it’s fine, everybody’s going to assume it’s fine. And then they’re going to give me more crap to do, you know, I’ll give it to Erica.

She does everything,

Carolyn: Right.

Erica: you know?

Carolyn: Yeah, and she’s good at it, so let’s just get her to do it.

Erica: right. Then we get resentful. We’re like, God, everybody’s always giving me their stuff. Well, did you ever say no, did you ever say, I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed. I need help, you know, so practice saying these things if only to yourself, at least you’re saying it, you know, feel it, think it, say it out loud, if that helps, um, and, um, you know, the sensation overall, while usually early on, isn’t as intense.

relaxing as it is intense. I don’t want to say it’s overwhelming, but it’s intense because we’re feeling things that we purposely numbed over for a long time. So you’re feeling everything, but that means you’re feeling joy, you’re feeling excitement, you’re feeling disappointment, resentment, sadness, like everything. Um, so that can feel really overwhelming and just, like I said, really intense, but that’s usually how you know it’s working because you’re like, Oh, I’m feeling I’m feeling again.

Carolyn: Right.

Erica: And it’s okay to feel, and you don’t have to feel everything all the time. Um, you know, feel a little bit, identify it, and then go back to the motions.

Go back to your autopilot. When it feels safe and secure to feel again, recognize what it is you’re feeling. You know, and that body piece can be super powerful because you’re not just saying, I feel angry, but you’re noticing how it shows up. Right. My fists are clenched. I’m so angry. Right. Now what do I do with it?

You know, I can open my fists. I can, you know, punch a pillow. I can, you know, so it’s we’re, we’re teaching ourselves to acknowledge it, to validate it. That it’s, it’s okay to feel this, titrate it, right, the somatic experiencing, and then express it, you know, expressing it in a healthy, productive way so that it doesn’t impact my work, quite literally, right?

Um, we get, you know, written up or demoted or worse comes to worse, fired,

Carolyn: Yep. Yep.

Erica: which sometimes is a blessing in disguise, but you know, for all intents and purposes, that means we’re without pay, which is usually detrimental for many of us. So.

Carolyn: not usually good. Um, now you’ve got this a beautiful sign behind you and I know just recently your, uh, it’s not a book, but it’s got a little book inside. Um, but your product here, the movement therapy deck, I want to, I want to, uh, first of all, encourage listeners to consider getting one. Um, I know for me, I thought, Oh, whatever.

I know how to move. I can get up and walk and get a glass of water or, you know, I can go up the stairs. Um, can you tell us a little bit about why you created this and what you hope can happen with it for people?

Erica: Yeah, so it quite literally came out of a need from myself and actually the community that I live in to process a traumatic situation event. So I live just outside of the proper city limits of Chicago. I live in the north. Um, I live about three miles away from Highland Park, Illinois, which, um, some people listening might remember there was a July 4th, um, active shooting situation just a few years ago.

Um, so being a therapist, a counselor, kind of sitting with like, can I help? Am I too, you know, close to this? I felt that I was able to support the community through crisis counseling. And when I showed up to the local high school. Just the recognition that everybody was carrying their story and that most people were starting with, tell me how do you feel?

What’s going on? What happened? Were you there? You know, it’s like, wow, those questions are so overwhelming. Not to mention that many of the therapists were traumatized, you know, and so their trauma response was to help people through their trauma.

Carolyn: Right.

Erica: Um, and that’s hard for some of us to hear like, wait, my therapist can be traumatized while they’re helping me.

But I just so badly in that moment wanted a resource to share with people. They were giving out crayons and coloring books and markers and squish mallows and basically all these things to help people express non verbally what they couldn’t put to words. And I was like, where’s the somatic piece?

Where’s the movement? And it’s not just like, go jump on the treadmill because if we’re in that flight response, Running on a treadmill is just going to encourage that flight response. So I had already been working with a publisher, um, previously, and I approached them with this idea and I was like, this is what I’m thinking.

What do you think about, you know, putting together a deck that. Is is a lifeline, right? For people who can’t talk about it can’t afford to talk about it. Don’t have the resources to talk about it that there’s, you know, a hopefully financially accessible option for people to go to their bookstore or Amazon, pick up something and start moving their emotions, right?

Processing. Um, And, and shifting their nervous system to help ease a lot of the discomfort, the disease, the overwhelm that they’re experiencing from whatever, whether it’s these continued, you know, active shooting situations, maybe it’s an upcoming election, maybe it’s a pandemic, like,

Carolyn: Yeah,

Erica: we’re not immune.

Carolyn: right?

Erica: There’s no shortage,

Carolyn: horrible,

Erica: right? And so that’s quite literally. Yeah, where it came from was like a real need from my own community. Um, yeah, and it’s, it’s very different because it’s, it doesn’t need to be facilitated. You can quite literally pick up any card. Um, and try the experience for yourself. There’s no, there’s no wrong way to do any of it.


Carolyn: and what I loved, so I was going through all of them and I was very proud of myself. I thought, Oh my gosh, I do some of these things and I do them now with intention. I think that was, that was the difference. Um, That was a big difference for me. Um, was like, Oh, okay. So like last night, for example, I was feeling really sluggish, not feeling myself and you know, some of the, the ones in the, in the orange, the orange category, I did a bunch of those before I went to bed and I had the best sleep last night.

Are they related? Who’s to say? I, I think there very well could be a connection in any. Yeah.

Erica: I can’t put that on the back. Guaranteed better sleep.

Carolyn: Exactly. so if I, so just to, for anybody who, um, is considering, um, purchasing this, there’s this great little book, which was a nice, very accessible, um, informational. There’s like a lot of great little information, uh, information pieces in here.

And then you’ve got these 52 cards, right? So, um, and it was the idea like one a week type thing, or was it just 52 is just a good number.

Erica: Oh, well, I guess all of the above, you know, cause cause at first I was definitely like, how many, how many cards? I mean, it wasn’t, wasn’t just me. It was also, you know, collaborating with a publisher of like, this is what we felt, but I was researching it and I saw a lot of things were 52, some things were 64.

Um, You know, 52 is, is the number of a, of a typical card deck, so that felt appropriate, but yeah, when you think, which actually I think goes hand in hand with 52 weeks, uh, 52 weeks in the year, I think it could be mistaken, but I think that that’s, has something to do with where that 52 came from or they’re

Carolyn: That’s what, that was my guess is that you sort of would pick one and try it for the week.

Erica: Right. I think it also, Takes away the feeling that, oh, my God, I have to do every, I have to do one a day. Um, you know, pick 1 and try it for the whole week, you know, or just, or just sit with it for 1 week until you pick another 1. Um, you know, you could just pick them as needed. You can, you know, shuffle them up.

You can, you know, it’s like endless options, but that’s kind of how we settled on 52. Made it easily could have been 352 because

Carolyn: Right.

Erica: there’s just a plethora of movement interventions that we could be doing ourselves. Uh, but these were also the ones that I kept seeing the most, the ones that I resonated with, the ones that I share with my clients.

And I make it very, um, apparent that they were not created by me. You know, they all have an origin somewhere. Um, and so as you’re reading through them, you’re like, wait a minute, I’ve heard this before. You know, that’s why, because it was just. It was like, uh, you know, systemic analysis, like a meta analysis of all the ones I scoured around on the Internet.

And I thought this is accessible. A lot of these are

Carolyn: It really is.

Erica: to do.

Carolyn: It really is. And so, um, you know, there’s orange, there’s green, there’s blue and there’s red. Um, was, there was a, a color delineation on purpose?

Erica: Uh, yeah, well, yes and no, the colors themselves, not so much. It was just the design team that came up with the beautiful colors and designs. Um, but the 4 categories, right? So they’re broken into dance and movement. Uh, they’re broken into sensory, they’re broken into floor work, which is the ones that you did.

Um, and then breath,

Carolyn: Yeah.

Erica: And so, yeah, it wasn’t like, oh, breath has to be blue, or, you know, dance has to be purple. Um, but, but you’ll see them delineated and they’re pretty easy to figure out, right?

Carolyn: They are very

Erica: breath

Carolyn: Yeah.

Erica: ones will all say, get on the floor. Sit on the floor, lay down. Um, but they’re all adaptable too, you know?

So if you can’t get on the floor, you can still do most, if not all of these, in an adapted way.

Carolyn: Like I was looking at. So this one, can I show them? Is that okay if I show one? Okay. So, um, this one giant X. So I did this one last night too. And I love underneath. Like there’s a description about what it’s doing. And, and again, really simple forms. Um, so yeah, I love this. Um,

Erica: and some of the descriptions are, are overlapping, you know, I mean, none of them are exactly the same, but after a while you read them and you’re like, okay, I got it. Cortisol levels lowered. Okay. Got it. Heart, you know, heart rate lowered. Why are these all doing the same thing?

Carolyn: Yeah. Yeah.

Erica: Well, that’s, that’s the point.

Like a lot of these are to regulate your nervous system. And so also trying to word them differently, but you’ll notice there is a common theme, you know, that, uh, and I didn’t want to be too scientific because I just didn’t want people to get overwhelmed, you know, or feel like, Oh God, I don’t understand this.

We want to make it accessible. We’re not dumbing it down. Everybody’s very intelligent. We just want to make it memorable. Like how can I. How can I remember what this is doing? And then, like you said, what, what’s another reason these were created? What’s my hope? What’s my intention? Um, I think quite literally it’s to heal the world one nervous system at a time.

That’s a big goal, but to just feel more secure in a world that is so insecure, whether it’s food insecurity, you know, war, um, you know, these, these just crimes beyond. Thought, you know, um, the uncertainty in terms of, you know, uh, where things are going to be accessed, climate change. Like I live in Chicago.

It’s 30 today. It was like 70 the other day. It’s just, there’s so much uncertainty. It is long. It’s just been too long since we’ve learned to find security in our own bodies because that is kind of the one thing that’s guaranteed.

Carolyn: Uh, you know, I think that’s, that is a great way to close off our conversation. Um, Erica, where could people find out more about your work, what’s your handle on Instagram? We’ll make sure we include it in the notes, but just in case somebody is like really inspired, where can they find you

Erica: I must go find her right now. Um, well, like, like we, um, met, you can follow me at at the therapist who moves you. So just periods between each word, the period, et cetera, at the therapist who moves you on Instagram. Um, my website is just my name, ericahornthal. com. Um, email, my phone number is pretty accessible.

So I, I don’t know the people call anymore, but I always love to get a voicemail, you know, or get a call from someone says, I listened to you and I was so inspired or would love to work with you in some way. Um, and then as far as my resources, whether it’s the deck, I wrote a book a couple of years ago called body aware, um, wherever books are sold, you know, so if it, if you’ve got a great little indie shop that you love to give business to go there.

A lot of us are looking to support certain, you know, um. Certain owned businesses like black owned business, like go where you want to put your resources. But of course, Amazon is a big 1 Barnes and Noble, et cetera. So, um, and I have some free resources just simply by, like, signing up for my mailing list.


Carolyn: Wonderful. Well, we’ll make sure that those links are included in the show notes. Now, before we press the end button, um, I always like to ask guests, uh, a few questions, three questions in particular. Does that sound good?

Erica: Yeah, I’m ready.

Carolyn: All right. So the first question is around self awareness and wonder if there is a moment of reflection sort of, um, An anecdote that you could share with us that you’re comfortable sharing that really brought a whole new level of                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Erica: Yeah. Um, well, the first time I read that and then we talked about the question again was really, I think, with this latest pandemic, you know, I say latest because we weren’t around for the previous ones, although it wasn’t the first, but, um, And I don’t think it was so much the pandemic itself, like the COVID situation, although that was like, Whoa, you know, where is this coming from?

And like, I’ve seen this in movies, but I think it was watching the world react, you know, seeing, um, the, the empathy that was there, the hope, but also just how, um, harmful we can be to each other, you know, and that I don’t want to dwell on that, but. Um, you know, when we were quite literally locked down in many ways, not just because of, you know, literally being in our homes, but, um, the way we communicate changed our access to arts and creativity changed for a lot of people.

It’s like we were deprived so much oxygen, not just because of coven literally, but deprived so much creativity of so much creativity that, um. I see this very lightly and with so much compassion, we all went a little crazy and I don’t usually use that word, but we literally lost our minds, you know, and tried to find it through really the body.

So I think I was a little hopeful, like, Oh, I hate to say, you know, we needed the pandemic, but it’s certainly turned people’s heads. And so many people are paying attention to this embodiment piece now and the somatic. Because it was collective trauma. We just, we all went through it. We’re still going through it.

Carolyn: Yep.

Erica: Um, so that changed my perspective in many, many ways.

Carolyn: Hmm. Wow.

Erica: and forced me to adopt more embodiment practices because I was like, I’m losing my mind. I must find, you know, I must find respite in my body.

Carolyn: Yeah, yeah, I hear you. Um, yeah, I certainly dance in my kitchen a lot more. That’s for sure. Um, so now my second question, I mean, literally the whole answer to that question is in this deck. Um, but the question is, um, what is something that you do to, um, Maybe it’s regulate your nervous system. Maybe it’s to settle yourself down, but to bring yourself into more of a presence.

Um, so, you know, I don’t know, maybe do you have a favorite card in this deck? Is there something that’s not in this deck that you use? What’s your go to?

Erica: Um, well, uh, actually this is one of the cards. Um, I’m just going to go with the cliche, dance it out. That’s one of the cards quite literally, because Um, well, I’m not personally much of like an impromptu dancer. Like I have to say my family and I don’t typically have like little impromptu dance parties, although as a dance therapist, we probably should.

It’s probably

Carolyn: What do you have? Like choreographed routines or like, right. Yeah.

Erica: and for me, it’s not, although it’s exercise, it is so much more that emotional piece where like I lose my creativity and my connection to my passion and my meaning. If I’m not regularly dancing for enjoyment and pleasure, I’m not learning a new skill.

I don’t care how high my legs are at this point. I just want to dance for me. And so that’s not the card specifically, but that is my favorite movement practice. And it’s evolved so much and it’s, um, yeah, it connects me to myself, you know, and, and if I’m not paying attention, I really try hard to refocus it, you know, I’m like, am I too much in my head?

Do I care too much what other people are thinking while I’m dancing? Stop, stop. And I’m like, just feel the music, feel the moves. do it for you. Um, I do it several times a week and when I don’t, I feel a huge difference.

Carolyn: Wow. So I

Erica: I

Carolyn: the third, the third question will tie in really nicely to that. Um, or, or maybe not. Cause when I think of dancing, I think of music. And so when you dance, do you have like certain types of music that you put on or do you just follow your body without music?

Erica: Uh, well, the dance I’m speaking to is a structured dance class or activity. And so I’m not really choosing the music, but it is definitely music that gets me going, which is anywhere from like rock and roll, top 40, um, disco, you know, dance tunes

Carolyn: Gotcha.

Erica: But, um, yeah, I, I think. If, for those of us listening, right, if you need help with movement, right, or you want to get more into improvisational movement for yourself, start with music, because music just, you know, it’s processed universally in the brain.

It provides a rhythm. Um, just. As long as you’re not, um, coming down too hard on yourself if you can’t, quote, keep the beat, right? It’s not about keeping a beat or a rhythm, it’s finding your own rhythm, you know? And so whether it’s like, what, like the Seinfeld Elaine dance,

Carolyn: Yep.

Erica: know? Or, you know, choreographing something for a Tik Tok challenge.

Um, just find access to it. And sometimes music is the way to do that. We have our own internal rhythms. You can follow your heartbeat, your breath, but yeah, put on a good song that you connect to and just notice what movement comes up and start there. So I love music.

Carolyn: well, and that sort of takes us to the last question, um, which is what is a song or genre of music that helps you feel connected to something bigger than yourself or in your case that helps you connect well, I guess you’re it to your body.

Erica: Yeah, um, gosh, it’s always hard to pick like one song, but, um, I always, I always feel like I’m hearing it for the first time. And so I have to say something like, like the singer songwriters from like the sixties and seventies. There’s just something like, for me, that really pure about the words, the universality of the situation, the melody, you know, there’s not a lot of production, you know, like we get now where there’s a lot of like synthesizing

Carolyn: Yep.

Erica: you know, it wasn’t even an intro.

Right, right. Um, not to say that they’re not both great, but that’s kind of what moves me. It’s the melody, it’s the words, it’s, it’s the feeling that comes from that song for me personally. So, um,

Carolyn: of what that song might be? Maybe some of our listeners weren’t around like I was in the six, seven.

Erica: Yeah. Sure. Um, you know, I felt like, again, I love all kinds of music, but there’s something about kind of like James Taylor, Carole King,

Carolyn: to mind.

Erica: Jim Croce, um, yeah, um, I don’t know. Those are the ones that kind of come to mind, like

Carolyn: That, that was

Erica: kind of like the Taylor Swift’s before there was Taylor Swift.

Carolyn: right. Well, it’s, it, they were the, they were the storytellers back

Erica: Yeah. Yes. That’s a beautiful way to put it. It

Carolyn: was exactly who I was thinking of when you said that, like James Taylor, Carole King, um,

Erica: I think it’s, I’ve always been a very like a mover from my, my chest, um, from like that heart center. Um, that’s kind of where my stage presence always came from. And it’s just always more drawn to like, kind of lyrical movement. So without going into detail, you can look it up, Google it. And so I think like those facilitate those movements for me.

It’s very much connecting to spine and core. And that’s a lot of where our self awareness is. So when I quite literally want to connect to myself, I need movement that is going to access that part of my body. And that for me does it right. Where, um, depending on your culture, your background, like, you know, you could listen to dance hall music, you could listen to, um, polka, you could like something that connects to your culture, your sense of self.

That’s the most important, I think for me, kind of rhythm or kind of music. So ask yourself those, right? Not what’s trendy, not what gets you to twerk, but like what moves me internally. Those are the songs and the melodies and the rhythms we should be listening to more often.

Carolyn: Wow. Well, Erica, um, thank you for all the work that you are doing, um, and putting out into the world to help us get more connected to our body wisdom. Um, I hope that your movement deck continues to, you know, enrich many other people beyond just me. Um, and yeah, good luck with everything, uh, in that work.

And thanks again for coming on the show.

Erica: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.

Carolyn: So what did you learn about your body wisdom in this conversation? I know that this notion of intelligence in our body was groundbreaking for me. And it was through my understanding that the body was a system of intelligence that I had completely ignored. It was through that lens that. My current work in trauma informed leadership really came to be.

And so I hope that you were inspired, maybe learned something, or maybe it stimulated a bit of curiosity to help you on your path of learning more, unlocking more, um, getting more connected to your own body wisdom. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode and it would be fantastic if you could leave a rating and subscribe to the podcast on whatever platform you are listening to.

Thanks so much for tuning in and we’ll see you next week.

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