EMILY HUNT: Hello, everybody, and welcome to She’s A Full On Monet, a digital lifestyle magazine for anyone identifying as female.
Today, we’re super excited to welcome Alyson Stoner, whom you may know from movies such as Cheaper by the Dozen or Camp Rock. She has recently started a company called Movement Genius that is focused on mindfulness, wellness, and embodiment, and we’re really excited to chat with you about the process of creating it and what inspired it. First of all, what inspired you to start Movement Genius? I know it was started during the pandemic, and I imagine that played a pretty big role in it.
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ALYSON STONER: Sure. So, there are a couple of different inspirations. First, for those who don’t know what Movement Genius is, it’s a subscription platform that offers stress relief techniques and mental health tools that you can use anytime, anywhere. Most mental health solutions focus on your mind – you know, maybe you’re prescribed a certain medication or you try talk therapy. But we recognize that the body is also carrying stress, anxiety, emotions, trauma, your past experiences.
So without including the body in your mental health solutions, you’re missing a huge element of who you are and what it really takes to feel better. Our tools on Movement Genius incorporate both the mind and the body, so you can really address that stress and help your body feel calm and relaxed. At the beginning of the pandemic, I led 14 days of mindful movement; a lot of people hadn’t tried anything like that.
When they hear movement, they assume that it has to be exercise or performance driven, but mindful movement is more of an invitation to notice what’s going on as your body’s moving. Where are you holding tension, and how fast are your thoughts moving currently? It’s this non-judgmental way of checking in, not only with your mind but also your whole self.
Over 150,000 people showed up over the course of 14 days. And a lot of them were saying, “This is the first time I felt this connected and this whole,” and “I feel like I’m getting some agency over how I’m feeling” instead of just being stuck in these patterns or just overwhelmed.
And so, they said, where can we find more of these classes? So I started working with a bunch of psychotherapists who designed the classes on Movement Genius. And we really wanted to create a platform where if you only have 3 minutes, you can find a video. If you have 30, and you want a full length class, we also have those as well.
EH: Where did you find the psychotherapists that you work with?
AS: A lot of our psychotherapists have a background in somatics, or at least they understand what it means to administer therapeutic tools while including awareness of the body. Otherwise, as I mentioned, sometimes the tools aren’t as effective, where they only solve a portion of the struggle. So we started seeking out somatic psychotherapists, and we also wanted to make sure that we offered multiculturally competent tools for that.
Then we wanted to focus on hiring and collaborating with BIPOC psychotherapists, queer psychotherapists, psychotherapists who have physical or cognitive disabilities, visible and invisible, and just making sure that there was way more representation as well as care and thoughtfulness around more people being able to be included.
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EH: Yeah, I love that, and that actually hits on one of my next questions, which is about accessibility and diversity – when you go on to Movement Genius’ website, that is something that is just made immediately apparent. Can you give any specific examples of how some of your instructors incorporate that in your average practice? Or are there other practices that are specifically designed for certain disabilities, disadvantages, or cognitive issues?
AS: Absolutely. So, first, it’s important to sort of lay out the landscape of the wellness industry. It’s predominantly built by and for and funded by white, cis, hetero, nondisabled, lean humans, and so, naturally, if we’re building tools, we will carry our own biases and limitations. We just won’t even think about what other people are going through because we won’t even be aware. Inherently, it’s going to be a narrow outcome.
So, for example, when it comes to making content that our deaf members or our blind members can access, we are really intentional about not only including captioning but also making sure any audible instructions really help someone understand their position in space.
If they’re not able to visually see the class, how can I make sure you can still participate comfortably and not feel like your needs are an afterthought – but, really, that we intentionally built this with you in mind, because wellness is something that’s deserved. There are also technical decisions you can make when you code into a platform; you can add widgets and features that make it more accessible.
But then, the tools themselves – for example, if we’re teaching a class specifically for wheelchair users, we have Rodrigo who teaches adaptive yoga. Something that I didn’t think about originally is [that] certain people, with certain kinds of physical disabilities, will have a different pace to their movement and classes. I might be transitioning from one move to the next without being cognizant of the transitional time that someone with a certain physical disability might need.
A teacher like Rodrigo – already a wheelchair user himself, trauma informed and just an incredible human – knows how to guide the class at the pace, in the manner, and with the language and the actual tools that meets someone where they are. So, for us, this is the baseline. It’s not a special or impressive decision for us.
Something that’s worth noting is that certain tools aren’t accessible. And they aren’t just excluding people in a neutral way – like, some people are in, and some people are out – but the tools, when they’re not accessible, actually have a negative, directly harmful impact on the group they’re excluding. So, it’s not a neutral thing here. It’s not just “oops, we forgot,” it’s that we might actually be adding to the problem if we don’t take this approach. That really just motivates you to check in at every stage of building a company, and we’ll always be learning.
That’s why my sister, cofounder, and I have a team of people who have expertise across all these different areas and who have different backgrounds, because it’ll take all of us to build a tool that works for as many people as possible.
EH: Yeah. Can you flesh out that last point a bit about the neutral position actually being harmful when it comes to wellness? Because that’s something that I didn’t think about, before you said it just now, and I’m sure a lot of our listeners and readers wouldn’t have thought about it, either.
AS: So, I was speaking with a woman named Aruna Rao, she’s an LGBTQ activist and advocate. She’s a parent of a young, queer, transgender human, and she also is the director and founder of some incredible organizations. And I was asking her this question about competency and she said, a lot of times people associate cultural competency with just language access. So if you are a native Spanish speaker and you find a therapist who can speak Spanish, that, sometimes, is the only consideration that was made.
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They may not go any further to understand the differences – in terms of culture, in terms of gender roles, in terms of so many different biological, physiological, social, environmental factors. So the competency is quite limited.
Another example that she brought up is she works a lot with queer immigrants, and so, sometimes, they’ll find a provider who understands their queer identity but not what it means to live as an immigrant every day or vice versa. And so, you’re missing the full context of who someone is, and when that happens, a person doesn’t necessarily feel safe to be able to build trust to try the tool to heal and really move forward, because you’re only seeing a portion of who they are.
So this educational process really is for all of us to be able to diversify our awareness and understanding. And maybe we don’t know all of the details, but it’s important for us to be aware that we all have biases and limitations. I can start by saying, “hey, as someone with a narrow view, what am I missing before we get into this conversation, so I can make sure I’m a better support for you?” You just really need an open mind and open heart and a level of honesty with yourself that we embody a narrow view, and, of course, we could stand to expand that a bit.
EH: Yeah, absolutely. I’m wondering, what avenues do you have within Movement Genius for users to provide feedback or make requests based on their own individual abilities and life experience?
AS: Yeah, so, first and foremost, we have our emails and contact, which go directly to my sister and I, or our instructors, and we also have an Advisory Board. We also have a youth council because we often work with young people. So, we’re constantly creating channels where people have direct access, especially while we’re small, and it’s actually meaningful.
I’m sure, at some point, we’ll need a little bit more elaborate system to stay on track, but keeping that open communication is very important to us. Then, if something’s brought to our attention, our response is “how can we learn more and pivot?” And so, we will take the approach of doing some research, listening to someone’s lived experience, talking with several experts, really trying to understand what the comment implies and is this more of an individual experience; is it something we can adjust; and how do we deliver the material. We really try to get into the deep details.
Thankfully, my sister and I are on our ongoing journeys of un-learning and relearning, so we don’t feel offended or defensive, because we’re not trying to defend ourselves as the best leader in the space. We see this as a community effort, so we’ll offer our best and thank you for helping us bring something to light.
It’s easy to start swimming in shame or start looking at how you can protect anyone else from seeing your mistake – or we could embrace transparency and pivot, harm fewer people along the way, and just move forward. Just move forward, make a change, move forward, keep going. That ends up being a much more helpful approach and you just harbor less inside. Otherwise, you’re up at night, trying to defend your reputation and make yourself look good, and that doesn’t serve anyone ultimately.
EH: And you’re a fairly public figure – it’s so easy to fall into the temptation of just wanting to protect and wanting to defend when so many eyes are on you. So, it’s really encouraging to hear, not only that you don’t do that, but that you’re actively aware that that’s a temptation and you intentionally try not to do that.
AS: Because we’re building a tool to support mental health, this is something really intimate and personal and vulnerable, so, absolutely, we want to be all ears and open hearts. Our health and well-being is on the line and the mental health crisis is worsening. The current mindfulness tools are not sticking with people, or they don’t feel effective enough, and so, they’re seeing that gap, and we just want to be of service.
@movementgenius Comment 🤯 if it made you think. #mentalhealthhelp #biopsychosocial #somatichealing #selfdevelopmenttips #interestingfact #fascinatingfacts4u ♬ original sound – Movement Genius
Hopefully, we continue to grow and also keep community as a center point. You know, really allow the users and members to feel like this is a welcoming, easygoing, safe place to meet other real humans who just show up. However you’re feeling that day is enough. There’s no one image of wellness that we’re all striving towards.
Even for different seasons in your life – you know, you’re in an active season where you are motivated to be more productive, and from the outside looking in, someone might say you seem to be working long hours. But after this season, I’m going to enter a season where I’m resting more.
Balance doesn’t always have to mean that you’re perfectly whelmed all the time. It’s really more about a concept called allostasis, where you’re able to come back to balance. We sometimes tend to view wellness as you’re supposed to feel perfectly calm all the time, whereas, I would say, I strive for wellness that inspires resilience and wholeness, so you feel like you’re equipped, no matter what is happening. Highs, lows, this color, that color – that, to me, feels more empowering and realistic.
EH: I love that! I want to pivot, slightly. I’m curious about what it was like starting a business in the midst of a global pandemic. What kinds of obstacles did you and Correy face, and how did you overcome them?
AS: Well, as a first time founder, it seems like we find new problems every day. I think the job of a founder is to tackle whatever challenge is in front of you. Every day is a learning curve, and I knew that our attitude going into it would not only have to be really patient and compassionate but, also, really flexible to be able to humbly say every single day, I don’t know how to do this yet. And I don’t know how to fix this yet, and I’m going to have to ask for help. I’m going to have to seek resources. I’m going to have to educate myself. I’m also going to have to make lots of mistakes.
Also, being a first time homeowner, I’ve been learning that my first attempt at pretty much everything is wrong.
EH: I’ve seen your baby homeowner videos – I love all of them.
AS: What you don’t see in my baby homeowner videos is the first or second attempt where I’m like, “oh, I totally did that out of order,” even though I read the manual.
So I feel like I do the same thing with the company. I’m like, “oh, we fixed that problem but forgot this whole thing over here,” and it’s like that every day. And in a pandemic – we don’t know the difference because I’ve never started a company outside of a pandemic. It’s really just dealing with whatever presents itself: building your operations, your revenue channel, designing your product, making your first hire; all of it is new and an opportunity to grow. But yeah, it takes a lot of humility, every day.
EH: Alyson, movement has always been a huge part of your life. I remember seeing you on TV just moving, and I’m not a mover. I’ve never been a mover. I would try to dance and do things, and it just never really happened for me, so I would see you and I would be like, how does she make herself move like that? And I’m wondering how your experience having movement as such a big part of your life, all through your childhood, how your views of embodiment have changed, how your experience with movement has changed, and how that may have influenced Movement Genius as well?
AS: Sure. I think, first, I always feel compelled to say [that] everyone is a mover. There’s no one way of moving – however you naturally move through the world is your language, and I actually think that. On the one hand, it’s really lovely to celebrate dancers and movers, athletes who have mastered a craft and are very precise with their motion, and that’s wonderful.
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And sometimes, I think we subtly place ourselves in contrast – if we’re not that, then we must also not even be right at all. Really, with just the concept of embodiment – I wish, as a society, we were way more open to celebrating all the different ways that your body naturally takes up space.
And we’re not talking just creative artistic expressions. We’re also talking about learning in what places and with what people do you tend to feel super relaxed and open. What places and with what people do you notice yourself closing up. How do you take up space in conversations versus make space for others.
There’s just so many other interesting components to embodiment that I think, as a society, we overlook. So, to answer your question, my experience of movement growing up was that former precision, performance-driven mentality, and I was quite disconnected from actually feeling my embodied experience.
I was diagnosed with a condition called alexithymia, which literally means I was unable to name or sense the emotions and sensations happening in my body. So, outwardly, I might have come across as very personable or expressive and emotive on stage, yet I really didn’t have the capacity to manage genuine, honest, sensed experiences, and that took quite some time with a therapist to learn how to safely rebuild trust with my body, to listen to its cues. If it told me it’s hungry or if I was anxious and jittery – learning how to work with my body as opposed to feeling like an enemy towards it.
I think Movement Genius represents that transformed relationship to the body, one where you are listening, learning, understanding what’s going on and building trust and trying some new ways to be in your skin. Maybe you begin to notice that certain habits or patterns are not very helpful or effective for your health and well being.
So, these kinds of mind-body classes really help you explore what it would mean to move through the world in a more healthful or whole way, and that excites me, because movement, then, is not just something you do for 30 minutes a day on a treadmill or with weights. It becomes this really amazing, full-body, daily experience of like, how am I moving through this relationship? How am I showing up? What’s my embodiment in my career? You start to see shifts in every area of life, not just being at the gym getting your gains.
EH: As you have worked with people who are just starting this journey of mindfulness and embodiment, working on the mind and body cooperating with each other but also recognizing both and recognizing what’s going on with both, what are some of the first things that you notice people experience as they start that journey?
AS: So, something that tends to be really helpful to share with people is that, a lot of times, when we’re incorporating the body, we try to use the same tools we would for our minds as if our body operates the same way. So, with your mind, you can use logic and reason to check in with those thoughts and reframe that negative belief.
However, your body doesn’t operate in logic, it operates in sensation and feeling. So sometimes, it really surprises people that you can actually, first, address what’s going on in your body without even trying to tackle that negative thought. You can just say, “I’m feeling anxious, and there’s tightness in my chest, and my hands are a bit numb, and I’m going to try this body-oriented stress relief technique first to help my body feel safe and come down from that stress response.”
It opens up this state of being to be able to address those thoughts in what, I would say, might be a more holistic and effective way. So, I think a lot of people are surprised that they’re able to find relaxation that quickly, or they actually feel a lot of emotions bubble up because they didn’t realize they were suppressing them or stuffing them down for so long. It’s very individual, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that using these tools is not a one size fits all, or it’s not one destination for everyone.
It’s learning to ask, “How am I feeling? What do I need, and how can I try some of these different tools so that I feel equipped to know how this really works for me? Or this?” This tool is my go-to before I’m going to go on stage and give a presentation, or this tool is what I do to come down from the high after I give a presentation. I think people feel empowered and encouraged that they have that much agency over their well being. No expensive equipment, no expensive anything, no exclusive retreats needed. Just your mind and your body are enough to feel better. And, of course, I know that there are exceptions where medication and/or professional support can be really, really helpful.
Learning to speak the body’s language tends to be really surprising because, otherwise, we’re just telling our bodies to just calm down. Just relax. Your body’s like, I don’t speak that language. I just have a survival switch, and it’s flipped on right now. Help me turn that off and then we can address the problem more rationally.
EH: That’s so interesting because, as you were just saying, I always tried to do the opposite until very, very recently. To tackle the mental side of it first, and then hope that my body would calm down.
AS: But I mean, and it’s an ongoing relationship, so you can probably kind of toggle back and forth. We just want to make sure we don’t forget the body and that we do know how to speak to both, so that you can address the actual symptoms of stress and suffering.
EH: Yeah, with all that said, obviously, this is so important, and it’s not something that I see in practice regularly elsewhere. I would love to hear about where you’d like to see Movement Genius a year from now, five years from now, in the future in general, what are your dreams?
AS: Yeah, I think we’re starting to see people use the term “mental fitness.” The fact that we’re acknowledging mental wellbeing is important. And just like you would schedule time to work out your body, maybe, just maybe, we can schedule time to work out our minds.
I would hope that, in a year, we’ll have our app out, so it’s not just our website and that our members will see it as a go-to place to take a moment for their wellbeing and that people will, you know, integrate it into their schedule the way they would any of their other wellness practices.
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And something that I love is that it includes both the mind and body – you can find a meditative experience and something where you break a sweat all in one sitting. So it’s very efficient in that way. I’m really hoping that it becomes a go-to and also that it is one of the pioneers in creating wellness tools that integrate both the mind and body right now.
I open up Calm to meditate, and then, I open up Nike training to work out, and then, I go to this thing, and it’s all separate, but Movement Genius says, “Hi, how about we bring our whole selves into this moment and do something that meets us exactly where we are as a whole being?” I definitely want to see more mind-body tools and, hopefully, help lead that space.
EH: Why do you think it’s taken so long for people to become aware that this is a thing that they need, this is necessary?
AS: Well, there are several layers to why we might, on a daily basis, feel disconnected from our bodies. First, the sheer busyness of modern life and stress leads us to dissociate, or, you know, disconnect just as a tactic to survive through the day. Second, not a lot of us grew up in households with parents or other people consciously modeling embodiment.
Then we have technology being this, you know, access to a whole bunch of information and places, yet that screen can become a barrier to staying connected with your physical self. You end up kind of getting distracted or escaping. And then we’ve got media, religion, politics.
All these large forces that have lots of opinions about the body and maybe judgments about the body. Overlay all of that onto your personal experiences, any difficult challenges you’ve had with your own body over the years, and it’s a recipe for us to just say no, I’m not going to deal with that.
So I have to have compassion there, and I think a lot of us can feel a bit intimidated – what if when I reconnect, I’m gonna feel too overwhelmed or I’m not gonna know what to do or how to feel better? It’s too much.
That’s why the way we design the tools is to only do what feels manageable today, and, over time, you build that capacity. It’s like building a muscle – soon you feel like, “Oh yeah, I actually can manage that discomfort,” or “I can tolerate a little bit more of that heavier emotion and bring myself back to a relaxed state after.”
Also, I will say – a few important influences are the Western healthcare system and the biomedical framework that we use has a facet of separating and isolating parts of ourselves in order to address health problems. It’s very common for us to say, “Oh, you’ve got a mental health issue. Try these mind oriented tools. You’ve got a physical issue. Try these body oriented tools,” and we miss that intersection, so it’s deeply embedded into our medical practices.
However, there are some trends, especially in young people, towards being open to alternative and complementary practices that, one day, hopefully, won’t even be considered alternative.
EH: I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, but I would love to hear about a couple things that have you really excited. Since you started Movement Genius, what have you seen that has just made you click, that you’ve been like, “Ah, yes, this is it”?
AS: I think something that’s really special about building a company the way that we’re building is that every step of the way is meaningful and impactful. So we’re not behind the scenes building something or coding something, and then hoping, 10 years from now, it helps someone – we are already out there with real people trying the classes and sharing their experience.
One story really stands out. Someone was dealing with frequent panic attacks and even seizures, and they shared that once they started integrating Movement Genius content into their calendar, they no longer are having panic attacks or seizures.
EH: Wow, that’s incredible.
AS: We know the power of these tools and the potential they have for really deep, long term transformation, and it’s still amazing when you hear directly from someone that they feel like they’ve gotten their life back. And then another person who comes to mind – they dealt with certain kinds of social anxiety and professional workplace stress where they just felt limited or stuck.
Through using Movement Genius classes, the way that they viewed themselves and their own personal potential shifted, and they ended up taking a chance on going to a job interview for a dream job. They got it, and they shared (in their words) that it directly reflected their experience in our classes. And so, we were like, yay! So I think that really fuels us to keep going. Also, seeing just how many people from different backgrounds and lived experiences are at our live classes. To be able to see different embodiments and everyone coming together and being able to utilize the same class, even though we’re all so different.
EH: I love that. Can you tell us a bit about the live classes? Because we didn’t hit that – how do users find them? When do they happen?
AS: So, for all of our members there are about four live classes every single month, and that’s included in the membership. And also, we try to keep our membership rates so low. I believe there’s an annual membership that’s less than $5 a month to get 150+ stress relief classes and four live classes. Like, come on! And that’s intentional. So, the live classes are on our Instagram, on our website, you just click to join, and it’s very simple.
And if you have any questions, you can always reach out to us, and we can make sure that you know you’re all set up. And I believe there’s a link for 30 days free in our Instagram bio.
EH: And I’ll include all the relevant links in the description of this video. And would you just tell us some of your handles, for anyone who might be listening to this on the podcast?
EH: Thank you so much for talking with us today. This was inspiring for me. I feel like I learned so much, and I know our readers are going to love it.
AS: I hope so. Thank you for having me, and please sign on. Come hang.
We loved talking to Alyson Stoner about her groundbreaking platform! We’ll be checking out her classes, how about you? Tell us in the comments!
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