Authentic Movement in Grief Work by Germaine Fraser

Hi Nanette,

I read in the Connections page of the community website you’re looking for experience or research on how others are using AM in grief work. I am one of the editors of the AM community blog and make my living as a conventional/holistic bedside-care RN in a northeastern hospital.

My hospital was deeply affected by the Haitian earthquake as we have many staff that are Haitian. I am trained in Critical Intervention Stress Management (CISM) and did several grief groups over the last 2 wks.

In spite of the conservative nature of most hospitals, I found my AM practice very beneficial, indirectly and directly. The deep listening skills cultivated in AM over two decades served me well during the sessions listening to the catastrophic experiences of my coworkers. In the sessions, I noted lots of respectful silences and stillness, sensing this as extremely supportive to the entire group. Granted, deep listening is not solely the auspices of AM, still I attribute its influence indirectly impacting those sessions. Watching body language and movement, even how people aligned themselves in relation to each other was very interesting (in one group in a circle, participants chose to sit in a semi circle not across from each other). I found a home-spun version of the form in the experience of debriefing myself after the sessions doing AM in my rather small living room space (circumstances are never ideal, are they, but inevitably don't really matter when one has intention).

Lighting a candle as my witness, I set a personal intention of caring for myself after witnessing the devastating testimony. I moved, breathed and sounded as I needed to to help me process the very intense work. It was very healing. An unplanned AM experience was finding myself at the end of the week at a live Afro-Cuban music concert in a small and intimate cafe, in the darkened room toward the back, releasing through my hands and torso what I'm sure was residue of the earlier grief experience. Eyes closed sitting next to an AM friend, I just let it move. The expression was contained to my immediate seated self at a table, but again, despite the circumstantial limitations, it rocked. Very cool. Very healing. My main impression of this experience was the softness and incredible articulation of my hands, how receptive and open and responsive they were/are. They waited and listened, skimmed each other repeatedly and opened their humbled, magnificent soles/souls to themselves and to the world so gently, patiently and with a great deal of love. – All to an amazing Afro-Cuban beat!

I frequently have AM moments in my role as a bedside nurse.
My first experience was 7-8 years ago when I first started considering using the form and presence in my work. During one night shift I admitted a 60+ yo man for heart palpitations. It turned out he had found his 30 yo son’s body hanging in the woods behind his house (“heart palpitations”… give me a break). This patient was in shock, able to speak, but barely. His eyes were 200 miles deep in his head. Very disassociated. All the nurses kept telling me to drug him to the max, but he refused everything and I couldn’t talk him into even the mildest medication. As sometimes happens, it was a slow night, so I decided to sit with him. I sat in a chair facing him in the bed, he was sitting pretty much 90 degrees in the bed, the room dark. I told him I was going to sit with him as long as I could and he was free to speak or do whatever, or not. I know Therapeutic Touch, a type of energy medicine, and I did this around his heart and down his right arm finally settling at his open palm. My fingers met his wrist and his fingers met mine and we just sat like that for a very long time not saying anything. I had an impression of our meeting relaxed hands as being a small wrought iron cage and that his heart had migrated down his arm to enter it; it felt like his heart was a small furry animal like a mouse nestled inside the strong cage, deeply protected. I was very aware of my spine and the need to maintain its vertical, which had to be righted several times during this period with him. Around 4am, realizing I had to go back to my duties, I spoke to him encouraging him once again to take some medication that would help him to rest. He agreed and I gave it to him. I was able to stop in on him before I left at 7a, at which time he broke down and began his next step in the grieving process.

Despite my efforts to keep my vertical I was undone by this experience (naïve to the powers of transferrance at this point). For months, I was unable to make any similar efforts in the practice at the bedside, my nursing was rote at best. What I learned from this was the importance of my own self care before, during and after such an effort, and the unwavering vigilance needed toward this end.

Another example of a grief based experience was a few years ago (and a lot more experience down the pike) working with an 80 yo neglect patient. This woman was in a type of coma, not able to communicate directly. Yet, she writhed in the bed with an open, soundless scream-formed mouth and no amount of intravenous narcotics seemed to obliterate her pain. When I was assigned to her as her primary nurse on an evening, I anticipated the challenge of caring for her having heard about this repetitive writhing and soundless scream from other nurses. Having had the earlier experience with the ‘heart’ patient, I knew this had to be different for me. I decided to stay in my ‘feminine’, preparing by doing a lot of purposeful walking around the circuitous nursing station very aware of my pelvis taking the corners and being quite springy in my hip sockets. That being established, I set my intention for myself to be of service to her as best I could, while staying close to my own truth. I initially spent a few minutes at her bedside watching and being with her. It was clear she needed to be seen, mirrored (although this made no sense to the logical part of me as her eyes were closed and she was in a type of coma). I only knew a few words of her language. I said (probably very poorly!) in her language, “I am here with you. All will be well” over and over (kind of singing it) while I did this butterfly-light type stroke over her chest and down her arm to her clenched fists, while writhing with her (her in the bed, me standing). I did this pattern for a very long time, maybe 7-10 mins (long if you’re in a semi private room with only a curtain separating beds). Something relaxed in her the more I was with her in this way. When her writhing became quiet and there was a significant decrease in body tension, I sat on the bed beside her and was quietly with her and myself for 5-10 mins (it must have been another slow night I guess!). I felt like I was getting the communication from her that she wanted and needed to die. She was a full code at that point in time. I, along with the help of many other concerned staff, was able over the course of the shift to arrange, despite a difficult and complicated family dynamic, that she be made a DNR. She without interference, died two days later.

The creative (unconscious?) seems to be AM’s foundation. When this is self-accepted, the form becomes quite spacious. I tried to stay true to it and myself by: making an intention for my practice, dropping into sensation in my body and my in-the-moment experience, witnessing another as best I could and responding authentically. For me, these are basic AM principles. My experience is when the form is well grounded/known and trusted in the self, it unwinds itself and finds it’s way as it needs to.

I deeply know the benefit of AM in this type of work and also realize institutions aren't ready for it as I have thought in the past to ‘deliver it’. But there I am. And this is what I know and understand. I bring this work (AM) as I can, how I can, having learned to be with more of myself outside the box (both hospital and AM form) through this incredible creative/spirit-based practice. Not as ambitiously routine as I had hoped for in earlier years as a practitioner (I think I used to imagine a big open well-lit room with aware, willing and somewhat well participants—you know, sort of like US! lol), but we do what we can, where we can, as we can.

Perusing the blog the other night, I saw I made a promise a few years ago to write about AM in Life and I’ve been thus far remiss to do so. Maybe this will be my springboard.

Wishing you well in your research and collection of stories, but especially in the evolution of your individual practice, as that is where the work is and also where the hope lies.

Warm wishes,

Germaine Fraser


Ann McNeal said...

That is such a moving, deep witnessing, including witnessing of yourself. Thank you for doing that amazing work and for letting us in on it.

Is that your art work, Germaine? wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Germaine couldn't figure how to comment right, but she says 'anonymously':
Hi Ann, as part of my 'self care' piece during these haiti sessions, i have
been doing a 'postcard from home' collage/assemblage art series. attached is one i made over the last few weeks, that in my mind/body/heart, is very akin to helping me work through the grief work. i work in an AM type way; using a compelling image and whatever calls me that surrounds me from found objects to everyday stuff to collected things that resonate. cut, paste, thread and PLAY! very fun and very healing.

thanks for your warm words and appreciation. I feel held. wonderfully.

Ann McNeal said...

Gorgeous collage. It feels very whole and healing to me--the water and the rounded shapes, the way it is contained and open. I am so glad you are doing this for yourself and sharing it.

Embodied Movement said...

Thank you for the deep sharing. Your sharing helps me again as a dance/movement therapist how to use AM in the sessions.

lisa Tsetse said...

Your sharing of these experiences is written with such clarity and honesty. I feel as I read that I am with you. I see you move and I see you transition from your "movement". Then I see you speak directly from inside your "movement" . A tenderness rises within me.

The work you do for a living and the work you do from the heart and your art is so essential to the growth and nurturing of our collective consciousness. I send deep gratitude over these virtual waves of energy.

寶貝 said...
This post has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Germaine, Thanks so much for your detailed descriptions of your work, both with patients and with yourself. I like your emphasis on intention and the listening way in which you work with the felt energies between you and the client. You deepen for me the word "witness" to yet another level. Thank you. Judy Funderburk

Life after A Moving Journal

by Annie Geissinger, Paula Sager, and Joan Webb

Editors’ Note: We asked the Journal editors what they’ve each been doing since AMJ ceased publication. A Moving Journal (AMJ), the first periodical devoted to Authentic Movement, ended in July 2006 after 13 years of publication. The Authentic Movement Community website began in November of 2006, attempting to replicate many features of AMJ, while expanding to an on-line presence and blog. All three editors of AMJ began their work in Authentic Movement by studying with Diana Levy in 1990. They acknowledge Zoë Avstreih and Aileen Crow as teachers and important influences; all three have worked extensively with Janet Adler for many years. They have also worked together as members of a weekly peer group for 16 years and continue to collaborate and practice Authentic Movement together.

From Annie Geissinger:

Authentic Movement is an integral part of my life. It continues to reveal and transform, to be a vital way in which I can understand who I am and what I’m up to—how I work with my big questions about knowing who I am within the unknowing, this dance of creation. It is a mystical, spiritual practice of direct experience. I am so grateful for Janet Adler’s work and for the clarity and courage of her path, which has inspired and sustained me over the past twenty years.

I continue to teach and to work with a community of peers. Sometimes we relate through distance witnessing. Here in Providence, I am able to meet often with a small band of soul mates, including Paula and Joan (my eternal co-collaborators). As we’ve each moved down our separate paths of investigation, we now have the incredibly rich experience of learning from one another, and weaving our different threads into our shared Authentic Movement practice.

After A Moving Journal closed I experienced a time of opening, a kind of empty space, and then I met a teacher. For two years now I’ve been working in an intensive process within a small community under the guidance of Tewa/Hopi Medicine Woman, Willow Tequillo. The work has provided me with a structure through which I can understand and hold the deep experiences that Authentic Movement opens for me. It nurtures my Authentic Movement practice, and is nurtured by it.

Within my Authentic Movement practice, over many years, I often felt in bodymind the experience, perhaps the memory, that we are truly wanderers in the wilderness, cut off from our ancestors and the earth, who could hold and teach us. And we work so hard to search the revelation of our own bodies, to recreate through intuitive knowledge what we have lost. This quest for wisdom through the body seems to have arisen with great longing and integrity out of our western culture, in response to a collective calling out for meaning, as we seek to recreate or re-member our understanding of who we are.

My teacher, who calls herself a “Universal Humanitarian Ceremonialist,” comes from an ancient and sustained lineage, held by many generations of wise ones with intimate connection to the earth. The work with her has been enormously helpful in grounding the clarity and vision of my Authentic Movement practice, teaching me about the integration of my vision into daily life. It is a great joy to experience these two ways of practice inside of me: the one hewn through intensity of commitment to body-centered wisdom without a fully formed or conscious lineage; and one that ancestors have carried through enormous challenges, and share as they will, in great compassion. I am amazed and grateful to experience each one as an extraordinary vessel for my search and questions, and to feel them weave together within me, speaking to one reality within different forms.

From Willow I have learned of the Hopi story of the creation and destruction of previous worlds, and of moving from our current Fourth World, based on separation, fear or scarcity, to the Fifth World of unity. In the past year I’ve begun offering a teaching process called Hawk Dance Ceremonies of Transformation [], which focuses on emotional evolution–specifically, transformation of fears. The intention of Hawk Dance is to support our movement into Fifth World, as we co-create a new world in evolving consciousness. Hawk Dance has been an adventure of experimentation and learning, as I bring together drumming, movement, art and creative contemplations, drawing on many years of studying and teaching African drumming, expressive arts therapy, and all the deep work of Authentic Movement practice.

To Janet, Willow, and to all my companions in learning, I offer my heart’s enormous gratitude.

From Paula Sager:

During the years that Annie, Joan and I produced A Moving Journal, I was always struck by the highly individualized ways in which Authentic Movement practitioners articulate their experience of the form. And not just on a personal level: Authentic Movement practitioners keep finding all kinds of applications of Authentic Movement within a wide range of fields.

Patrizia Pallaro’s second volume of essays highlights this diversity as well as some of the ways Authentic Movement serves as a transformative practice. In one of the book’s essays, Lisa Tsetse (2007) writes about Authentic Movement as “a force that can support the development of personal and global conscience” (p. 406). This idea that there is a relationship between one’s personal practice and one’s activity as a global citizen is of great interest to me, and is the direction I see my work going in.

Ten years ago, when Lizbeth Hamlin and I began an exploration of long-distance moving and witnessing, the Red Thread project [], it felt very much like a personal process. Over time, the experience has opened us to a sense of greater possible connection to others beyond boundaries of space. Last Spring, we explored this possibility, in a literal way, through an experiment involving a moving/witnessing relationship between a group in the United States and a group in Belarus. The project came about after Alexey Konstantinov, in Minsk, contacted me after learning about my master’s thesis on the Authentic Movement Community Website Blog!

My thesis, titled Witness Consciousness and the Development of the Individual, looks at Authentic Movement’s potential for supporting individual and collective change, which for me means understanding the developmental nature of Authentic Movement as a discipline []. I focused on the development of the inner witness. It was an exhilarating experience. I loved the process of research and it was amazing to have so many people in the Authentic Movement community respond to the survey which became an important part of the study.

I am also grateful to Janet Adler as a teacher, for the way witness consciousness has unfolded through her work, and for her support as my thesis mentor along with my primary mentor Arthur Zajonc []. Arthur, with a number of other inspiring educators, created a graduate program that integrated academic research, artistic expression and contemplative inquiry with a strong emphasis on the work of Rudolf Steiner []. The opportunity to incorporate contemplative inquiry into the research model proved to be invaluable and deepened my appreciation for the ways in which Authentic Movement can serve as a contemplative practice.

Last Spring I participated in a conference at Amherst College, The Contemplative Heart of Higher Education, sponsored by The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society []. My paper discussed the development of witness consciousness in the practice of Authentic Movement and its relevance to other contemplative approaches being used in higher education. I described how, in Authentic Movement, action and perception are embodied and explored within the roles of mover and witness and that the phenomenon of an inner witness for each, develops through the relationship of mover and witness. Other participants at the conference seemed to resonate with the idea of the “inner witness” and the notion that individuals, through their own initiative AND in relationship, can develop greater capacities for perception, compassion, and knowledge.

Another project I’m involved in addresses the earliest phase of learning and education. I’m a co-founder of The Mariposa Center, a non-profit organization that seeks to create innovative learning environments for children and their families, especially in underserved communities []. We’re currently collaborating with an inner-city charter school and were recently chosen by the Rhode Island Department of Education, to participate in a Pre-K demonstration project this year. My hope is that as Mariposa develops, there will be opportunities to create training programs for schoolteachers in which some of the principles from Authentic Movement will have a place. I’m especially interested in encouraging teachers to appreciate how the quality of their presence impacts the classroom and their students.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve come full circle. My interest in education began after college when I studied the Alexander Technique and then deepened when I came across Rudolf Steiner's work, twenty years ago. It was the same year I began practicing Authentic Movement but the two seemed like separate pursuits. Now what used to feel separate is becoming more unified and I am finding that Steiner’s very detailed description of the human being as “a citizen” of three integrated worlds, body, soul, and spirit, each with its own constituent aspects, offers a profound way to understand and explore my experiences of Authentic Movement and shape my teaching of others.

Both Authentic Movement and Steiner’s Anthroposophy (Human Wisdom) [] offer practices that safely encourage the movement toward the unknown or what we don’t yet understand. At the same time we can learn, with growing discernment, to attend to what is true, distinct from what may be illusory. In Authentic Movement we also learn to attend to the experience of “being moved.” This hallmark feature of the form is so simple and so profound. In my thesis research I came to believe that each of us, out of our regular, everyday sense of self (Adler says, “we begin just where we are”) must be willing to engage a hidden or somewhat unknown spiritual sense of self. In Steiner’s teaching, it is this hidden and “higher” sense of “I” that opens us to the full mystery of being human and is behind the phenomenon of being moved. I think this is why Authentic Movement experiences are always surprising, always helping to reveal new aspects of ourselves, and our relationship to the world and others.

I’m still just beginning to understand my experience of Authentic Movement through the lens of Anthroposophy but, as Annie, Joan, and I are discovering, our practice of Authentic Movement together is providing a vast and strong foundation to explore the intersection of each of our richly distinct spiritual paths. And who knows where the journey will take us next!

From Joan Webb:

We three are grateful that we had all felt the need to move on from A Moving Journal at the same time. And now, by a similar grace, we each have delved into studies of different spiritual traditions. In 2008 I completed a four-year training in Integrated Kabbalistic Healing (IKH) []. Annie has been working under the guidance of a Tewa/Hopi Medicine Woman; and Paula completed a master’s degree on witness consciousness, informed by the work of Rudolph Steiner and Anthroposophy. When we get together, we look at our experiences of moving and witnessing from these three points of view and learn from each other. All three traditions strive to understand and bring us closer to the same basic, elusive, mysterious truths but use different constructs and language. All three help to illuminate our authentic movement practices.

IKH is a healing modality developed by Jason Shulman over the last twenty or so years. He integrates Eastern philosophy (he is a Jinen or Buddhist teacher), Kabbalah (the ancient mystical tradition within Judaism), modern psychological theories, and quantum physics. Shulman views problems, whether physical, emotional, or both, in the largest context of the processes of life and creation so that healing occurs on all levels of your being.

I have found IKH to be a wonderful practice: healing for the particular difficulty I’m having, strengthening my ability to be present to what is, increasing my ability to drop a story, to step back, and to let natural healing processes take over. Healing occurs for both me and my clients [].

Authentic Movement and IKH have at least three important aspects in common: relationship, nonduality and attention to transference.


Relationship is at the heart of both Authentic Movement and IKH. Healings occur in the context of a long-term relationship between client and healer. An IKH healer is not only in relationship to a client, but also to her inner healer, her own ego, her spiritual practice (including many meditations and exercises) and usually to other IKH healers. IKH is part of A Society of Souls, a community with annual meetings and several well-defined practices (called gateways): Impersonal Movement, the Work of Return, and The Magi Process. An IKH healer is in a nest of relationships: with self, other, community, and the divine.

In Authentic Movement we begin with the relationship between mover and witness, which mirrors and helps develop the relationship between a mover and his/her inner witness. Janet Adler (1987) speaks of three basic states of relationship: merged, dialogic, and unitive (non-dual). Each of these three states can occur between the mover and external witness, mover and inner witness, and mover and the divine.

Experience of a unitive state comes with long practice and with grace. I can’t count on being in a unitive state with the mover I’m witnessing or with my internal witness; I can only keep practicing and be awake to the times when that grace occurs. Similarly, I hardly go around being in a unitive state with the divine. But because I keep practicing Authentic Movement, I have had many of these experiences of unity, or mystical experiences, and they are happening more frequently. Authentic Movement is for me a spiritual practice; in that sense, it is about my relationship with the divine.


Authentic Movement gave me my first lived experiences with non-duality. My teachers encouraged us to experience the full range within polarities, to stay with uncomfortable as well as pleasant feelings and to feel them fully and watch while they change. We explored the shadow side. We learned to hold opposites and allow contradictions to stay as contradictions. I became able to hold the joy of a moment and at the same time feel the grief that will come when the moment is gone; to let my child love me and resent me at the same time (Teenagers exclaiming: I love you! Go away).

In IKH, through many exercises and practices, we learn to hold “nested opposites,” such as up and down, big and little, inside and outside, and good and evil, until a “third thing” arises. The third thing contains the full range of the polarity and is also a new thing. The third thing represents coming into wholeness, which is what healing is all about. When I practice nesting opposites and the third thing arises, I know it has appeared because a whole set of body sensations comes over me. I was able to feel and recognize this, I believe, because of all my work with Authentic Movement and being “in my body.” To be more specific, I am just now realizing that this set of body sensations is a subtle energetic phenomenon, and my familiarity with energetic phenomena has come through my long practice of Authentic Movement.


Authentic Movement also introduced me to awareness of projections and the importance of using careful language. Early on, we learned to acknowledge a separation between a mover’s primary experience and a witness’s experience in the presence of a mover. My teachers asked us to contain our projections, judgments, and interpretations and to “own” (by using “I” or percept language) any statements we make. “When I see your hand form a fist, I feel a tightness in myself and connect to my anger.” I don’t say, “You showed anger” or “I could see that you were angry.”

This attention to language and projections was transformative for me. It was a revelation to become aware of how I project my experience onto others and how others project onto me. To be aware of others’ projections helps free me from them. I learned to translate any unskillful language. For example if someone says, “You’re tired from your long trip,” I can separate enough to ask myself if I am tired or not and to wonder if that person might be tired. On a humorous note: I can barely watch soap operas and bad plays now! I cringe when the characters speak in “you-language,” when I hear statements like: “You’re always telling me what to do!” “And you care only about yourself!” Well, unskillful language does lead to high drama.

In IKH we work with transference, which includes all forms of projections and judgments. We talk about “riding the wave of transference.” We’re not so much trying to contain or avoid the projections as to be fully conscious of them. In “riding the wave,” we let the projection become vivid and give it full attention until something shifts. There is always information in the transference: about our client, ourselves, or both. We honor the transference as an obstacle that need not be an obstacle but instead a sacred portal to deeper knowing, once one is in conscious, loving relationship to it.

Shulman says that all our work as healers moves us toward dissolving our transference. As the “hooks” we have from psychological wounding become healed, we have less and less transference and are able to see reality more and more clearly, just as it truly is. Of course, as humans we never reach an ideal state where all transference dissolves. We can, however, have more awareness of our transference and change our relationship to it. In the same way, our work as witnesses in Authentic Movement moves us toward becoming what Adler calls “clear, silent awareness.” Again we can’t expect to achieve that state, but we can have more and more moments in it.

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For me, IKH and Authentic Movement complement and enhance each other. Authentic Movement gives a fuller, more focused emphasis on experience in the body. In IKH we work with body sensations, but we don’t move them in the same way or give them the focused attention of years of movement circles. IKH adds to Authentic Movement a fuller cognitive, conceptual framework. The Tree of Life, Kabbalistic universes, ideas about creation, and my ongoing creative process give me a framework in which to understand my Authentic Movement experiences. I didn’t know that I needed this until I encountered it. For me both are spiritual practices leading to healthy relationships, wholeness, greater consciousness, and ability to be present to all-that-is.


Adler, J. (1987). Who is the witness? In P. Pallaro (Ed.) (1999). Authentic Movement: Essays by Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet Adler and Joan Chodorow (pp. 141-159). London: Jessica Kingsley.
Adler, J. (1995). Arching backward: The mystical initiation of a contemporary woman. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.
Adler, J. (2002). Offering from the conscious body. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.

Pallaro, P. (Ed.). (1999). Authentic Movement: Essays by Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet Adler and Joan Chodorow. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Pallaro, P. (Ed.). (2007). Authentic Movement: Moving the body, moving the self, being moved. A collection of essays, Vol. 2. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Shulman, J. (2004). Kabbalistic healing: A path to an awakened soul. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.
Shulman, J. (2006). The instruction manual for receiving God. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

Tsetse, L. (2007). Moving the outer rim in: Authentic Movement and nonviolence. In P. Pallaro (Ed.). Authentic Movement: Moving the body, moving the self, being moved (pp. 406-413). London: Jessica Kingsley.


Janet Adler’s books link:

Patrizia Pallaro’s books link:

Shulman’s books link:;jsessionid=58EB8C4F9BF02E8C16BA540CEC38903A?action=displayDetail&id=1446