Bringing the Body into Balance

Stacia Friedman, for the Shuttle
Photo by Hamilton Visuals
Germantown movement analyst Susan Deutsch works with a client.

Many things can throw your musculoskeletal system out of balance: taking a bad fall or picking up your groceries the wrong way, for example. Or, in my case, after spending decades hunched over a laptop, I was waking up with chronic lower back pain and my posture left a lot to be desired. Over the years, I had seen chiropractors, massage therapists and physiotherapists. But it wasn’t until I consulted with Susan Deutsch, a certified Laban Movement Analyst in Germantown, that I learned how to undo the damage and rethink the way I move.

Deutsch began our session by quickly analyzing my body language. “Because of the way you have been using your body, you have put stress on your back. As a result, your bones have pulled your muscles out of alignment,” she said.

After discussing my concerns and identifying my problem areas, Susan used a skilled touch technique developed over her thirty-two years of experience to unblock my body’s energy flow and encourage better postural alignment. For me, the results were instantaneous. Areas that had been tense and painful to the touch suddenly softened and relaxed.

Deutsch then patiently guided my now relaxed and pain-free body into a sequence of repetitive small movements which, to my amazement, unlocked my stiff lumbar muscles and helped me relearn the proper way to sit and stand. Looking in a full-length mirror, I saw that my lower spine bulge, which I thought was a permanent deformity, had returned into normal position. She then demonstrated the proper way to go from a sitting to standing position, letting the upper legs rather than the back do all the work. After years of doing it wrong, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. But, eventually, I got it right.

“I’m giving you a new way to live inside your body with less pain,” she said, “I am helping you remember how you used to move years ago before poor posture habits misaligned your spine.”

Following my first movement therapy session, I not only felt better, but was much more observant of my posture, instinctively correcting it whenever I started to slump over my laptop. While it will take several more sessions with Deutsch to hard-wire her “corrections” into my brain, I view her unique approach to movement therapy as an insurance policy against further pain and mobility issues.

A former dancer, Deutsch has an innate understanding of movement. However, it was her study of Movement analysis and therapy at Laban Institute of Movement Studies in New York City that took it to a whole new level. Laban is a 40-year-old multidisciplinary approach to movement that incorporates anatomy, kinesiology and psychology. Among Laban Institute’s core values is recognition that “…being alive is being in movement, moving with greater consciousness and understanding…” Laban looks at the what, how, where, and why of all movement,” says Deutsch. “It enables me to look at bodies not just anatomically, but also the way in which each individual’s movement preferences say so much about them.”

“My work is about re-training the body, going back to simple movement patterns you probably had and may have lost as you became an adult and have a less playful and mobile life. In my work with clients, we revisit developmental movement patterns, in order to re-organize the brain and body,” says Deutsch, who works with people who have had brain injuries, as well as those with chronic aches and pains.

“I am passionate about teaching people ways to feel good throughout their day and night. Instead of exercises, I want to help you understand the way you use your body and how that can affect the way it feels. I want to give you ideas and imagery to operate in the long run.

“We are awake approximately sixteen hours a day. How are our bodies moving during these hours? How mindful are you about the way you are sitting? Standing? It is more than just being aware of our bodies during exercise time. We need to pay attention and find a new healthy normal for all hours,” she says. 

In addition to her private clients, Deutsch teaches undergraduate Movement Analysis and a graduate Laban-based movement observation course to students working on their Master of Arts in Dance Movement Therapy. She also teaches at Circadium School of Contemporary Circus in Mt Airy. (If you’ve ever been to their performances, you know how attentive aerial artists must be to avoid injury.) 

Besides her busy schedule as a movement analyst, therapist and teacher, Deutsch is a wife, mother, and co-owner with her husband James Hamilton of Rittenhouse SoundWorks, Rittenhouse FilmWorks and her son Matthew Hamilton’s headshot photography studio MHamiltonVisuals. Yet, she somehow finds time each day to care for and ride her horse Caetano. “Caetano and I are currently studying dressage,” she says. “This process makes me a more empathetic teacher and reminds me how hard it is to be a student, how hard it is to learn new things, how uncoordinated it is possible to feel or how hard it is sometimes to do a simple task when your mind and body are not on the same page.”