Aligning Our Words with Our Hands and Our Movements: An Interview with Monica Canducci

By Lina Amy Hack, Certified Advanced Rolfer® and Monica Canducci, Certified Rolfer®, Rolf Movement® Practitioner
November 2023

ABSTRACT Words we hear, read, speak, or even think can evoke reactions in our bodies. In this interview, Rolfer Monica Canducci discusses the embodiment of words. Canducci teaches people to work with mental imagery to improve the comfort they feel in their bodies, not as a talk therapist, but as a somatic educator. Learning the familiar and safe words for each client can enhance teamwork during a session.

Lina Amy Hack: Hi Monica. Thank you for meeting with me to share your insights with our structural integration (SI) community. I wanted to follow up with you after your last article (Canducci 2022b). You pay careful attention to the words your clients use, and this is part of what informs your understanding of your client’s embodiment. In fact, you have written several books ( Canducci 2015, Canducci 2022a) and developed a course about using mental imagery to support nervous system recovery through movement called Move In Mind™. I want to learn more about your perspective as a Rolfer regarding how language and embodiment are connected in your understanding of the body.

You and I have something in common. I have had several mild traumatic brain injuries (concussions), and you had a head injury many years ago that played a role in informing your perspective about the value of words. I relate to your writings about the challenge of having to focus on improving my nervous system rewiring. For those who don’t know your story, can you tell us a little about what happened to your nervous system and how that led you to write about and create a course about words, the body, and organizing in gravity?

Monica Canducci: Yes, thank you. It was 2009 when I suffered from a cardiac arrest and subsequent brain anoxia. It was mild, but left me with some epilepsy-like symptoms that I didn’t want to treat with medications. One of the most annoying physical symptoms was related to clonic muscle contractions1 in my trunk and legs every time I tried to fall asleep. That prevented me from sleeping well, and the absence of sleep made my other symptoms even worse. I would say that my background and attitude of being open to exploration and experimentation in the face of adversity allowed me to address these problems creatively. First, I made a strategy for myself, then second, I developed a routine to follow based on the integration of breathing, motor imagery, and slow-motion movements. That plan led me to completely recover after a few months of discipline, applying these strategies to help myself.

I was so fascinated about how this recovery happened, I applied my knowledge from my studies in neuroscience, meditation, dance, and all my certifications, and it seemed to me that my nervous system did ‘rewire’ itself towards wellness. I knew this was not just me – thanks to our brain plasticity, we all have this capacity. I continued experimenting, on myself first, and then I brought my ideas to a couple of clients suffering from serious neurological issues and coming to me for Rolfing® sessions. As I had noticed for myself, with these clients it was immediately apparent how much the choice of words was crucial when working with their bodies. My words and the order of those words could create mental images for my clients, offering a possibility to functionally affect their body control, movement coordination, balance, and relationship with gravity.

LAH: Yes, it is so true that healing is an active behavior that we can bring into our life. What I notice about your story is you didn’t sit back in bed and wait; you applied yourself and followed your knowledge. Were you already a Rolfer when this injury happened? I believe your husband is a neuroscientist, which makes me guess that your nervous system studies are a passion for you in your daily life. What I’d like to know is if orienting your body to gravity also gave you support during this challenging time?

MC: Yes, I was already a Rolfer, and as you mentioned, my background included dance, meditation, hypnosis, and different disciplines involving movement. My husband is a neuropsychologist and our common passions are mind-body connections, neuroplasticity, as well as spirituality, and philosophy.

For me, gravity is not only a physical force. For me, gravity is also something implying philosophical and spiritual aspects – something that influenced and shaped not just our bodies, but also the way we give meaning to life. So, for some reason, I felt that grounding and orientation were crucial for my recovery, both on a physical and spiritual (philosophical) level. That helped me to never give up, and to keep aspiring to organize my head/brain upward by keeping my feet well grounded on the Earth. This is both on a practical level of physically feeling the ground and also a metaphorical level of feeling support in my life. Having already experienced the effect of metaphors and similes on my physiology through hypnosis, I started experimenting with how my choice of words could help me create metaphors to be felt, and perceived through my body. I started choosing metaphors that supported my healing process.

LAH: When I think about your injury and recovery, you experienced being a case study of how language gives shape to our brain, and in turn, this shapes our body posture. What is your concept of how our words influence our brain and our body movements?

MC: We know that in certain conditions, our brains do not differentiate something happening for real from something simulated – our breathing and heart rate change even when we watch movies. Action movies and suspenseful moments will affect how you are sitting in your seat and the physiology of your body. And you are not even personally involved. The brain cannot entirely tell the difference between what you are really experiencing from the images and sounds in the movie.

Moreover, words we hear, read, speak, or even think can evoke reactions in our bodies as if they were real. There is fascinating research on this (Robertson 2000, Garfinkel et al. 2016, González et al. 2006). Hearing or reading the phrase, “The patient kicked the habit,” stimulates the motor areas involved in the act of kicking (Garmston 2019). Even though this is a metaphor, we all can experience how sometimes just a thought, word, or image can trigger memories and provoke a change in our mood that becomes visible as a change in our posture as well.

Monica Canducci teaching in her online course, Move In Mind™.

Our body will literally change shape in response to the internal stimuli of one thought, and this is due mostly to autonomic nervous system responses. Even an unaware change in our breathing pattern due to temporary stressors can affect our posture and become visible. Even when the cause of the stress is gone, the dysfunctional pattern might stay with us. Our thoughts, mood, and state of mind can support or interfere with any motor task. It also imprints in the way that we carry our bodies.

LAH: Movies do take us on a ride. I see what you mean. Do you think words mean the same thing to all people?

MC: No, there is a lot of individuality in how words affect us. A word evoking a pleasant sensation for one individual can be totally displeasing for someone else. This is why I always suggest asking the people we work with, what they find relaxing and resourcing. I pay attention to what is familiar to them. We can find some generalizations that are true for most people, but there are exceptions. For example, think of something that makes you feel happy. If I just ask you, “What things in your life make you happy?” I give you the freedom to think about whatever you want. If I start to suggest something to you without checking, I might pick something dysfunctional.

Let’s say I invite my client to make a gesture like holding a sleeping puppy. What if that person had a traumatizing experience with a dog? That wouldn’t work. This is why I love to teach how to help people to create their own mental images that are the most functional for them.

Now, let’s come back to what I just asked you, recalling something that makes you feel happy.

LAH: Okay yes, it’s being in my front yard with my husband, kids, and dog.

MC: Okay, now that you have decided what it is, and if you were my client in my office, I would ask you to stay with that feeling for a while. Then I would suggest that you notice how your body feels and reacts while you have that thought. Now, just for this demonstration, think of something that made you feel sad for only a few moments. Perhaps some news in your community.

LAH: Oh sure, something comes to mind, and it is quite sad.

MC: Is there a difference in how your body feels and reacts?

LAH: Very clearly, sure. In the first image with my family in the front yard, I felt my body relax. I thought, oh, that’s a nice letting go of some stress I’ve been feeling. And then, the sad thing made my eyes well up with a few tears. The relaxation changed to a feeling of heaviness.

MC: In my work, I have found that when people compare these two feelings – sadness and happiness – there is a body experience of heaviness associated with sadness. And people in general report a lightness in their bodies when they experience happiness. This is perhaps not everybody, but it is a common experience for a lot of people.

So now I invite you to shift your attention again to the memory, or thought, that makes you feel happy. Stay with it, imagine that you can make it increase or grow in your bodily experience. One of the rules of my work, which is also a rule of hypnosis, is about leaving your clients in a state that is more functional than the state they were experiencing before the session. I invite you and the readers to keep thinking of something pleasant before continuing.

LAH: Good point, I’m back to that pleasant place.

MC: In Rolfing SI, we use our words in support of the touch work with our hands to help people decrease the tension and stress in their bodies. I like to ask my clients, “Can you imagine the sensation you would perceive if you were carrying a weight. Can you let it drop?” This invitation to let the weight drop, which I tailor to be most appropriate for the specific client’s background, can help them become aware of the processes involving their brain and body to find ease. In this way, they can acknowledge how mental images (in this case, the image of a physical weight they carry, and the image of getting rid of that weight) can create a change in their body’s posture. Becoming aware of this can become a way to help them create a more practical and functional relationship with gravity.

Words, including metaphors, idioms, and figures of speech, are able to affect the state of our body. When we use a metaphor or idiom involving body parts, or actions performed by body parts, we are creating an internal mental image that can trigger a change in our mental state and our posture.

Most of the time, a mental image that we speak aloud describes an internal state that we are experiencing. For example, think about when you might say you have “butterflies in your stomach.” It is a phrase that describes one’s visceral sensations. Usually, a person uses metaphors to describe something potentially displeasing. If a person keeps repeating this statement inside their own mind, they could be unconsciously and continuously reminding themselves of this discomfort. It makes me curious if they are evoking that feeling, and if this could cause them to unconsciously perpetuate the experience in a circular feedback loop.

LAH: This is a delicate part of our psyche: what we say quietly to ourselves. As Rolfers, we are not talk-therapists addressing cognitive psychology topics. How do you take your insight about words and keep it in the realm of SI somatic education?

MC: I keep my inquiries with my clients on the topic of their bodies. I am also a careful observer of habits and patterns that I can see within the physicality of my clients. How we deal with gravity is entangled with how we react physically and emotionally to words and stimuli in our environment, which can affect our movement coordination and performance. The polyvagal theory explains how our autonomic nervous system responses – and I include in that the way we respond to gravity – are entangled with our perception of ourselves and our environment (Dana 2018).

Recent neuroscience research shows us how our sense of self is directly connected to our body (Ananthaswamy 2015). I do my best to educate my clients to acknowledge how their minds and bodies are one, even if we can distinguish different functions. When a client begins to understand how a thought or a memory evoked by a word can affect their mood and posture, they usually feel motivated to choose the most functional words and images so that they can make gravity their best supporter and feel lighter in their bodies.

All our reactions and responses are related to how we perceive the world. With my words addressing the physicality of my clients, I work to increase their sense of support and stability by helping them feel safe and able to support themselves. In this way, as a Rolfer, I can positively affect not only their body and movement coordination, but also help them develop emotional stability and empower them so they become more able to manage their thoughts and emotions as part of being present with their body.  

LAH: Do you see words as medicine? How did your injury lead you to all this word awareness?

MC: Words can hurt and heal. The same word can open a wound for one person and help heal someone else. It depends on what meaning and context that word carries and evokes for every single individual. I can feel regenerated when someone tells me to imagine floating in warm waters. But to someone else who experienced near drowning, that suggestion could leave them feeling startled and caught in a spiral of anxiety.

My nervous system injury led me to find my 'medicine words' to help me find more comfort in my body. Then I began to investigate with my clients what theirs might be. I started by asking them questions about what made them feel good, together we would discover what their medicine words were. I become curious about the subjective meaning of words in their perception of their bodily experience.

LAH: What suggestions do you make to your clients about how they should choose their words in order to support their body having ease in movement and posture?

MC: As I mentioned, I always ask my clients what is familiar and what places and circumstances make them feel safe and 'at home.' When working with someone, I pay attention to what they find pleasant and what they love the most. I often explain that it is important to develop a sense of safety in our body; that is what our nervous system needs to welcome any change. If our intervention is perceived as a threat, regardless of the kind of bodywork or movement work that we do, it will not create a positive or lasting change. To receive our work as helpful and supportive, our clients’ nervous system needs to feel reassured. This can come from our touch, of course, but it is more effective when it’s amplified by functional mental images evoked by words that are specifically meaningful
to them.

This is why we have to pay attention to the words we use with ourselves and with other people, especially with our clients. We have to remember that words create images that evoke feelings and influence perceptions.

LAH: Your course suggests separating the idea of what we are experiencing as distinct from who we are as people. Why is it important to have some distance in our identification with our physical experience? And how do we do that?

MC: This may seem contradictory because I also stated that I love to educate my clients to help them consider the mind and body as one. But I have also observed how often we tend to identify ourselves with our symptoms, which might not be functional for optimal well-being. When I was diagnosed with symptoms of epilepsy, it was clear to me that if I started identifying myself as “an epileptic,” it would have reinforced my symptoms like they were becoming a part of my identity. Instead, I felt that if I accepted my symptoms as potentially temporary and subjective experiences, I could work on them and maybe stop suffering so much from them. It’s easier to stop “having” something than to stop “being” someone.

This is why I suggest that my students encourage their clients to differentiate themselves from their symptoms. When we do that, we support a perception of ourselves as able to “manage” our symptoms instead of just suffering from them. In other words, we encourage a more proactive vision of ourselves than just passive powerlessness.

LAH: A common statement I hear from my clients is that the stiffness and achiness they feel is, “I’m old. Aging is catching up with me.” I do like to try to reframe how they are talking to themselves about their sensations. How do you like to approach this example?

MC: I would encourage them to differentiate between “aging” and “stiffness,” or even “aching.” There are individuals suffering from stiffness and pain who are very young, and elders who look very flexible and experience great ease in their bodies. So, first, I love to explain that generalization to our age is usually not helpful. If they want to look at other people, they can look at dancers who are in their seventies and eighties as examples. Perhaps they can discover a world of elders who are in great shape. I find that practitioners of yoga, tai chi, or other disciplines can be inspiring. Then I would help them reframe the description they give of their bodily experience.

If they feel and describe themselves as “stiff,” I suggest they find a word, phrase, or image describing how they would like to feel. That could be, for example, “more flexible.” Then I invite them to replace the statement “I feel stiff” with something like, “I would like to feel more flexible.” In this way, they keep their statement and describe their situation, but their words evoke the state they desire. This can help because increasing their use of the word “flexibility” reminds them of their goal. It can function like an invisible compass, pointing toward what they seek. Their brain and body can subconsciously look for strategies that enable them to become more flexible.

LAH: What are some starting places for movement explorations that you like to teach your clients about good word habits?

MC: Functional words – I invite my clients to observe how they speak of themselves or the world around them. I want them to notice how they describe themselves when talking to others and to understand if their words include some potential threat to their well-being, they may be increasing the intensity and frequency of that experience. If someone keeps saying, for example, “Work is such a headache.” I would not be surprised if they frequently suffered from headaches. If that person were my client, I would ask them to find another way to describe the situation that doesn’t include naming a body part suffering. I help them find more neutral and accurate words or even words that evoke a state of well-being and ease in their body.

When people are encouraged to listen to their own words, they can try to consciously exaggerate the effect that their words might trigger. People enjoy learning how to help themselves by knowing the effect of words on their bodily perception. Then, when it comes time to teach easy movement explorations, they already know why to include pleasant imagery.

I often start my movement explorations with breathing because the act of breathing is something we perform constantly, and it is a bridge between our conscious mind and our unconscious patterns. We start playfully exploring different ways of breathing, like yawning. At that point, I’m careful about what words I introduce to expand their awareness. I like to tell my clients “to play,” but before I make this suggestion, I check in with them to find out if the idea of “playing” is pleasant for them. It is a positive idea for most people, yet we have to know that some people may have negative associations with that word. Some people feel more reassured if they think of “working,” and if that is the case, I stick with that word for them!

Starting with words that the client finds familiar is usually a win-win. Once our clients are reassured with this familiarity, then they explore solutions outside their comfort zone more easily. This happens on both the level of language and the level of movement.

LAH: Thank you so much for introducing us to some of the ideas in your Move In Mind™ book and online course. Any final thoughts to inspire our colleagues to consider their words when working with their clients and even their own movement practices?

MC: I did my best to pour all my knowledge, experience, achievements, discoveries, and strategies into the two online courses I published – one addressed to everybody, and another one, more detailed and complete, addressed to professionals – because I believe that communication is what makes a huge difference in our SI practice. The more our words are congruent with our hands, the more likely we will deliver our best results.

It is important to find a common language with our clients; when our words reassure them, they can integrate the changes more easily. This will make our intervention more effective and give our clients more autonomy. This doesn’t mean they won’t need us anymore; the session becomes more cohesive teamwork. SI and Move In Mind are not meant to fix people but to educate them on a more functional way to deal with gravity. As Rolfers, we use our words to encourage embodiment and orienting to the environment to which we all belong. We spread awareness of ease and well-being, and we can support people to create harmony within themselves and with their surrounding world. As we finish a session, what we say to our clients can integrate our interventions. The more our words align with our purposes, the more our interventions align with the work’s goals.


1. Clonic muscle contractions are a rapid succession of alternating contractions and partial relaxations of a muscle occurring in some nervous system diseases (Merriam-Webster 2023).

Monica Canducci is a Certified Rolfer® and Rolf Movement® Practitioner, a Certified HeartMath® Practitioner, and Morales Method® Certified Instructor. She moved from Italy to Canada in 2012, and to the United States in 2022. Since her childhood, she has been fascinated by connections. She has been committed to connecting the dots between all the aspects of life and the human being. Canducci pays particular attention to the interconnections between body structure, thoughts, emotions, language, and the perceived environment, from both a scientific and spiritual perspective. Beginning in the 1990s, she studied neuroscience, psychophysiology, hypnosis, psychology, yoga, meditation, martial arts, performing arts, and several healing practices from different parts of the world. She is also the author of several books about self-development and healing. Learn more about Move In Mind (2015) at:

Lina Amy Hack, BS, BA, SEP, became a Rolfer® in 2004 and is now a Certified Advanced Rolfer (2016) practicing in Canada. She has an honors biochemistry degree from Simon Fraser University (2000) and a high-honors psychology degree from the University of Saskatchewan (2013), as well as a Somatic Experiencing® Practitioner (2015) certification. Hack is the Editor-in-Chief of Structure, Function, Integration.


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Garmston, Robert J. 2019. The astonishing power of storytelling: Leading, teaching and transforming in a new way. London, UK: Corwin.

González, Julio, Alfonso Barros-Loscertales, Friedemann Pulvermüller, Vanessa Meseguer, Ana Sanjuán, Vicente Belloch, and César Ávila. 2006. Reading cinnamon activates olfactory brain regions. NeuroImage 32(2):906-912. Dictionary. 2023. “Clonus.” Accessed 28 Jun. 2023.

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Move In Mind; language; words; embodiment; mild brain injury; epilepsy; breathing; motor imagery; slow-motion movements; nervous system; brain plasticity; mental images; metaphor; memory; self; perception; aging; communication. ■

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