woman dancing

Get a move on

There are many reasons why moving your body during withdrawal can be beneficial, from getting the blood pumping to helping the liver in its job of detoxifying the system. When movement takes the form of dance, it can acquire a whole other dimension, freeing the emotions, invigorating the spirit, and channeling excess energy. Dancing can help lift the mood through creative expression, and it can help us connect in a profound way to our own inherent "physicality".

dancerFor people who are going through withdrawal from psychiatric drugs, dance may or may not be an option, depending on where they are in their recovery. For some, it can be a struggle at times simply to get out of bed or to walk, and dancing would be the farthest thing from their mind or their abilities. Others may find that they can’t connect to the rhythm the way they used to, or that when they try to move with extra energy, their central nervous system rebels against being revved into overdrive.

Dancing is not for everyone in withdrawal, and even those who once loved to dance may need to take a respite for a while. It might be encouraging to note, however, that some people who were bedridden with extreme psychiatric drug withdrawal symptoms for long periods of time report reaching a state in their recovery where they were able to once again engage in vigorous dancing on a regular basis.

Where can I find more information?

Below are just a few types of dance that people in the withdrawal community have reported finding to be helpful. Note that if you’re not used to dancing or to energetic physical movement, the general wisdom is to start slow, perhaps keeping the activity to short intervals at first, and to listen carefully to your body. If you find that dancing increases your withdrawal symptoms, you may wish to move more slowly or in different ways, or hold off until you’re farther along in your healing.

  • Spontaneous dancing. For some people, getting into dance can be as simple as turning on an infectious song and cutting loose or jumping around their living room—an experience they find freeing and awakening. Many like the feeling of safety that comes from dancing in the privacy of their own home or in a secluded spot. Some say they dance through rage and frustration or as a way of grounding themselves in their body.
  • Ecstatic dance. Done in community gatherings and becoming increasingly popular, ecstatic dance invites people to move however they want, by themselves or in relation to those around them. Some say that the free-form dancing moves them into a sort of trance state that leads to the release of emotion and encourages healing. A related form of dancing is 5Rhythms, a kind of “movement meditation” that draws from indigenous, shamanistic, and other traditions and involves five types of improvised movement: “flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical, and stillness.” 
  • NIA dance. Some people in the withdrawal community say they enjoy and benefit from NIA dance, which is one of a growing variety of approaches to dance that amalgamate different types of movement such as hatha yoga, martial arts, and mindfulness. NIA is more structured than ecstatic dance and led by an instructor, though it often can be adapted to various levels of ability. If you’re interested in trying a class, you might want to ask if the instructor is open-minded about any needs you might have, such as sitting out some more demanding segments of the class or needing to leave class early.
  • Other dance classes. There are countless types of dance classes available, from ballet to Brazilian to ballroom. Taking a formal dance class usually involves making a commitment and memorizing steps, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea— but some people appreciate having a more structured approach and deliberate aesthetic form for their dancing rather than “unhinging” in free-form expression.


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Photo courtesy of jen collins and Flickr Creative Commons/This image has been modified.