Letter Gestures as Natural Movement

I hear you, I hear you.  You are saying, “If letter gestures are natural movements, then why don’t I get it?!”  Let me explain…

As I was talking with some of the older kids at our co-op, a lot of them were able to guess what some of the letter gestures were.  I was amazed by this. When I asked how they were able to guess that, they answered that when they said [this] sound it made them think of [this] motion.  The gestures really are natural movements and once you understand them, you are really able to see that.  Rudolph Steiner explained it like this:  When we talk, we move our hands.  When we are trying to explain or describe something, we use motions with our hands and bodies.  This is eurythmy babble.  When a baby is learning to speak, it babbles on and on.  Sometimes we are able to understand what the baby needs because either the babble is becoming slightly clearer or because of body language and other motions.  But as they learn the language, their speech becomes clearer and the sounds from their mouth start to be orderly and make sense.  That is the same with Eurythmy gestures.  We babble with our movements when we talk or explain something.  But as you come to learn more and understand the gestures better, those motions become more orderly and you begin to speak with movements in a clearer manner.  This is why Steiner called it “visible speech.”

gesture sampleThe gestures are the phonetic sounds of a letter.  And while this statement is true, it is not 100% accurate.  The letter gestures were created based on the phonetic sounds, but are actually fashioned after the movement our air makes when leaving our mouth, while saying the phonetic sound of the letter.  Phew!!  That was a mouthful!  So for example, say the sound for the letter F.  “f-f-f-f-f”  The air moves forcefully, straight out the front of your mouth.  The gesture for letter is made by bringing your hands back at shoulder level, elbows back, and forcefully, but controlled, pushing your hands straight out in front of you.  This is the same way the air moved out of your mouth.  And as we do the motion, we might say the sound of the letter, not the name of the letter, hence the reason we say it is based on the phonetic sound.

After learning all this you might still be saying “But some of these gestures still seem a little awkward and not so natural.”  This is because of our limited movements.  As the times go by, we have more and more machines doing work for us.  Our muscles, once upon a time, used to get a good, full workout when we had to work for everything we had, literally.  We now have machines that till the land, harvest crops, chop trees, rotate mulch, sew, stir and whisk… all of these things that we once had to rely on our own bodies to do!  And although these machines are time savers and allow us to mass-produce, our muscles are becoming atrophied.  Some muscles are not in use so they sleep.  So the motions that we do make with our hands and bodies are very limited.  Now if we were still doing all these jobs,  we would find that we had awake and alert muscles, ready to move!  And then these gestures would indeed come naturally.  They would not be so awkward to move.

So now that you know all this about the air in relation to the gestures, don’t they make a lot more sense?  Aren’t they perfectly natural?!  Now we just need to wake up those sleeping muscles, and we can do so through Eurythmy.  As we practice the gestures, movements, forms, and copper rod exercises, we will find that those sleepy muscles are becoming alive again.  Our overall health will improve (because there is also a spiritual and mental awakening side which we will discuss as another time).  Eurythmy is VERY therapeutic!  And the letter gestures ARE natural movements.

The Thinking Stage

Coming Soon…

This post will be about the Thinking stage, from roughly age 11 (puberty) thru high school.  We will talk more in depth about each class (or age group) and give examples of what eurythmy exercises to do with each class.

  • Talk about how they are struggling to connect their feeling with their thinking and how eurythmy helps do that.





image from bigshakti.com

What is Eurythmy?

So some of you may be saying “What is Eurythmy?” I always laugh when people ask me this because there are no short answers. It is so simple and natural yet with so many layers!  Eurythmy is a form of artistic movement in Waldorf education.  It allows you to express your feelings and thoughts without words… words that pale in comparison to what is actually being felt.  Words put a limit on what and how you can express yourself.  Have you ever said, “I just don’t have the words to express how I feel.”  Eurythmy allows you to break free of that.  Rudolph Steiner says, “Eurythmy is an attempt to create a visible speech in such a living form that it will be able to reveal the experiences of the human soul more vividly and therefore more artistically than tone and speech themselves can reveal them.” So these movements are actual speaking. Like a good friend of mine roughly put it, “It’s like interpretive dance for phonetic sounds.” These movements are gestures that represent letters of the alphabet, colors, or musical tones. But this is just one layer! There is also form walking, copper rod exercises, soul gestures, moods, grammar and syntax, and more!  Now I know your head is probably spinning!  But if you just stay with me and follow me on my journey, I will try to the best of my knowledge to help you understand all these things.  Eurythmy really is natural and simple once you get to know it!  I will try to break it down bit by bit and give you little by little!




photo from chicagowaldorf.org

The Developmental Stages of Eurythmy

So why do we practice Eurythmy with Waldorf education?  Movement has been felt in the child (and in each and every one of us) from the very beginning of its existence; in the womb, the baby feels its mother’s breathing, heartbeat, even her voice.  As they grow older, the birds, the wind, cars, everything around them is rhythm and song, and calls to their imagination.  When they’re teens, they start to develop self-awareness that can cause them to withdraw and hold back, afraid of anyone else seeing the real “me” and being criticized. Eurythmy allows them to express these feelings in a safe way and be validated in these feelings. Thus allowing them to blossom into the person they are striving to become.
In Waldorf education you hear “thinking-feeling-willing, thinking-feeling-willing” as the pattern over and over again.  For those of you who don’t know what this means, like I said before, Waldorf educates the whole child; thinking refers to the brain or within their head, feeling refers to what’s going on inside or what makes them tick and will motivate the child to learn best, willing refers to their hands or hands-on activities that build character.  So we see this pattern again and again.  You will see this pattern too in Eurythmy; however, thinking-feeling-willing is expressed backwards!  Let me explain…

From birth to roughly age 7 (the 6yo change), we focus on WILLING. Babies do it naturally by WILLING their little bodies to move. They are trying to get their arms and legs to move when they need them to. As they get older, they learn to jump, run, snap, all things that require coordination and skill. Because of this, their focus is very inward; therefore, their imagination is strong and realistic to them. As they play, for example, fairies and knights, they aren’t just creating an imaginative world, they ARE the fairies and knights.

From 7 to roughly 12 years (puberty), we shift our focus to FEELING. They realize they are full of feelings and emotions and through Eurythmy exercises, they learn how to control them and deal with them. They learn that their identities are separate from nature. Their imaginations start reaching out of themselves. They reenact scenes they have seen/heard (and can do so with toys). Now when they play fairies and knights, they are doing so with toys or puppets.  They still imagine in “space.”  For example, if the Eurythmy teacher were to tell a story, the class would be doing the motions with her.  If the teacher jumped over the river, all the children would wait to jump over the river in the exact spot the teacher did.  As they get more towards 11 years of age, their imaginations are much bigger and open and their coordination vastly improves.

From roughly 12 years (puberty) through high school, we start to focus on THINKING. They now learn that they can affect their environment and relationships around them. They can start imagining in “time.” For example, this time when the teacher tells the story and jumps over a river, they jump over the river AS the teacher jumps over the river. They can think bigger; the sky, the universe; and can remove themselves from it (THINKING again).  Each child is on their own path.  They no longer exist as a group.

Eurythmy helps to work with each of these developmental stages.  Each stage has a different need and therefore, the stories and movements will focus on different muscles and areas of their bodies and souls.  Eurythmy is fun and positive so it encourages the children to work through these clumsy stages when their limbs are growing faster than they can learn to move them!  Eurythmy gives the opportunity for creative thought and expression as they work through hormones that rage through their bodies at the onset of puberty and bring up feelings and thoughts they never even imagined!  Eurythmy helps develop the child in a way not found anywhere else.  This is why Eurythmy was created.  For artistic and therapeutic benefits to children (and adults as well)!





image from vox.com

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