< Back

Andrea Juhan

Music as Co-Therapist

May 14, 2021

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. Music is what feelings sound like ~ Aldous Huxley

If you were to peek inside a studio when one of my groups are in session, you are likely to see a fairly large group of moving people, of all ages ,shapes, and sizes. Some on the floor, some on their feet, some jumping around, some together, some alone. What you would hear is music and the natural sounds of active breathing bodies. If you stood there for a while, you would hear a soundscape of an unpredictable blend of songs from different genres, different rhythms. Some with vocals, some not, some electronic music, and some acoustic music. You might even hear nature, like bird songs, ocean waves, and foghorns, mixed in as well.  At times, no music will be playing; the movers following their inner musicality.  

Taking in this scenario,  you might sense that people are generally enjoying the freedom of movement – they may not always be having a good time but their bodies are engaged and oriented towards the kinesthetic delight of movement.

Two questions I am occasionally asked are “Is your work really mindfulness practice?” and  “Is your work actually a form of therapy?”. I assume these two endeavors are regarded as more serious, more painstaking. But the answer is yes. The students moving to music are deeply engaged with embodied awareness practice, and these qualities of movement and awareness are part of the therapeutic process. I believe that enjoyment is a powerful form of healing and a terrific doorway to learning.

The most fundamental aspect of our Embodiment is our experience of our body-mind, in all its micro-unobservable movements, as well as our big, across the floor movements and everything in between.

Why is music so important in embodied movement practice? It moves us!  And we enjoy it.

So much of healing is about movement: igniting movement when we are stuck or frozen, slowing down movement when we are spinning and running ragged. Expanding movement when we are too small and centering movement when we feel all-over-the place, just to name a few dynamics. In my experience nothing moves a body more reliably than music.

We are born with this receptivity to melody and rhythm. The sound of our care-givers voices being our first heart songs. Bessel Vander Kolk (a psychiatrist and research specializing in trauma) states that the musicality of attunement and reciprocity in our early years forms our brain.


The sound of music impacts us physically, mentally, emotionally, and soulfully. In Open Floor terminology it touches all Four Domains of Embodiment. It also embraces and speaks to all 4 Relational Hungers as well,(again Open floor language).  Songs can deeply move us and bring us into a sweet solitude, pieces of music connect us, or bring unity, and offer us a sense of belonging to community (think anthems and gospel).Transcendent music has soothed the lonely souls of millions, uplifting our sense of divinity, beauty, and hope. Music is the sound of our humanity in all its sorrow and celebrations.

Music moves us. We play music when we want to dance, or to bring people together like parties, and in rituals such as weddings and funerals. Babies can hear music by the second trimester in-utero, by the final trimester they begin to respond physically. We know that lullabies soothe, and children love games with songs. If you ever want to motivate a two-year to do something, make it a song:

“It’s time to put our toys away,

toys away, toys away,

It’s time to put our toys away

for another day”.


Music is often the soundtrack to our first crushes in our ‘tween’ years. Our favorite artists help denote our social groups as teens. Rhythmic music supports endurance and repetitive work activities. Couples choose “their song”. Music carries meaning and our bodies respond. What could be better attributes in a co-therapist?

Music has a powerful impact on our bodies whether we like what is being played or not. The compelling influence of music is well known to advertisers and film composers. Music can change our mood and coerce our behaviors. Music can manipulate us, because in hearing it we are often not aware of its subliminal influence. I may feel sentimental in hearing the music on a phone commercial – later I may find that I feel attached to that company even though their service is inferior to others, and not even have a sense of where that loyalty came from.


Music touches us in a primary cellular place, a place of body memory. Music holds time and place. How often has an old song come on and you are immediately transported to an earlier time in your life when that song was popular. For all these reasons I find music to be the perfect co-teacher /co-therapist.


When I use different genres of music, different tempos, and different instruments in creating a soundscape for my students or clients, I can very strategically leverage the direction of the process. Music can call for people to access certain times in their lives. Music invites specific emotional cognitive and spiritual states. My musical co-teacher can engage people together, activate a play session, and induce a deep meditative state, far better than I can. As the human teacher, I am a witness and look for music to support what I see is already happening, substantializing the embodiment possibilities of each moment.


Music is a human-to-human connection through art. When we hear music, we hear the state of being of the artist who composed it. We hear their joy, their pain, their struggle, their heartbeat, their backbone, their soul, and the spirit that moves them.

Music is intrinsically relational. As the teacher or therapist, my presence can pose many real or imagined threats, so having my musical co-leader is like always having a welcomed safe place for the embodiment process. It somehow feels trustworthy in the way that it enters our lived experience. Unlike people, we are much less likely to feel threatened by music. We may not like music, but in most cases, it does not activate the survival part of the brain. Of course, if we have unresolved or unintegrated trauma, music, like any experience can trigger traumatic memory. But to some degree, if we replace activating music with a soothing piece (whatever that might be for the person) the traumatized body can feel the sweetness of another way of being.

When I teach, I rely on music for my state of mind as well, it becomes medicine and a resource for my being. Music can bring the students, clients, and myself into a place of embodied congruence and authenticity. Moving together with music creates magic. It’s beautiful to witness movers “drop-in”, allowing the soundscape to hold and move them. When movers are in a deep state of embodied mindfulness, I can see the pure presence of awareness in all its creativity. I see people connect and attune to each other in ways that their regular personalities would probably shy away from. The beauty of this is transcendence from the ego-contained self to the self of limitless possibilities. Sometimes it takes just one song.