Alyson Stoner is no stranger to movement. She started professionally dancing and acting as a child, and is well-known for her roles in movies like Camp Rock and Step Up. But though dance was closely tied to her identity as a performer, it didn’t always serve her emotional wellbeing. “I've had a disconnected relationship to my body because movement was always performative, professional, and highly technical,” she says. “Over the years, I grew distanced and disinterested in anything that reminded me of perfectionism.”
Where she was once the face of Disney movies, Stoner is now known for writing and speaking about how she prioritizes wellbeing after her tumultuous experience navigating the emotionally punishing and physically demanding life of a child star — an experience she said left her chronically stressed before the age of 12. That evolving relationship with her body and mind in part inspired Stoner to pursue her ongoing work in mental health advocacy. She debuted her podcast Simplexity in 2019, where she chats with experts about topics like gender non-conformity and financial health, and has collaborated with social impact organizations like the Los Angeles LGBTQIA+ Center to lead workshops, volunteer, and more.
After the start of the pandemic, Stoner took to Instagram with a two-week mindful movement series she posted on Lives, which is a non-athletic movement program — no workouts, just moving your body to music in a way that feels good — she created to boost peoples’ mood, relieve pandemic stress, and tap into their creativity. The series was a smash, with more than 150,000 people tuning in over the course of the program. “We typically view the body as this object to fix or project to undertake,” Stoner tells Bustle. “It was really liberating for people to experience their bodies as another source of intelligence, as a part of themselves that had a voice that could be respected and trusted.”
“I want to celebrate how many ways we can move our bodies.”
Encouraged by the success of her Insta series, Stoner decided to share the experience with a larger audience and founded her company Movement Genius. The digital wellness platform offers classes and programs for a minimal fee that are designed to help improve users’ mental and emotional wellbeing, through activities like moving meditations to help release stress — something that’s distinct from the virtual workout classes that popped up in quarantine. The beta version of the platform launches to a select group in July of 2021 (you can join the waitlist to try it).
Here, Stoner tells Bustle how she’s using Movement Genius to help people of all abilities use their bodies to express themselves and boost their emotional health.
What inspired you to move into the mental health and wellness space?
I've always been passionate about mind-body connection because I’ve witnessed the consequences of feeling severed from yourself from being stressed beyond belief. I was trapped in a workaholic hamster wheel. I admire people who are authentically themselves. And [authenticity] is a facet of wellbeing that we don't promote in the commercialized wellness industry, because we're all trying to chase some very narrow ideal instead. Now I want to celebrate how many ways we can move our bodies.
What are all of the services you’re offering through Movement Genius?
Well, it was born out of the pandemic, because we’ve all had to reshape our relationships with our mind and bodies. It’s a come-as-you-are experience, literally: No equipment needed, no high price tag on some subscription, no expensive products. It's you and your body. We work with licensed somatic psychotherapists and movement designers to provide a variety of categories that meet someone where they are. We have a whole series that can be done from the comfort of your chair. We have moving meditations where you can mirror the instructor’s movements. There's open movement, where you follow guided prompts and tap into your own creativity.
In many ways, we're broadening the accessibility of wellness. But we also really empower people to empower themselves [by] normalizing non-athletic movement.
“I've always been passionate about mind-body connection because I’ve witnessed the consequences of feeling severed from yourself from being stressed beyond belief.”
What do you hope to bring to the wellness industry?
Real and honest inclusivity and accessibility. From a tech standpoint, we're working with advisors to make the Movement Genius experience available to people with visual or hearing impairments, dyslexia, and color blindness [using] specific fonts, colors, and tools that allow people to make selections based on their needs.
There’s also the content itself: Our instructors span a wide range of identities, abilities, disabilities, cultures, and movement traditions. If you feel excluded from other wellness platforms, intimidated by gym culture expectations, or bored by uniformity, you might feel like you're more at home with Movement Genius.
Why are you prioritizing accessibility and inclusivity with Movement Genius?
The people who are facing the most complex and disproportionate challenges in terms of mental, emotional, and physical health are often the people who have the least access and representation in the wellness industry. So it's my responsibility as a human to make sure that all of my neighbors can take a class, for starters. There are also many barriers to entry for health care in general. And though we’re not replacing therapy or professional support, we do provide resources if people find themselves needing extra support, to introduce and simplify concepts that are typically reserved for elite retreats and expensive therapy.
What about your own wellness — how do you give yourself some TLC?
Flexibility and heaps of grace! I'm learning to trust that my wellbeing is very individual. My mentor [in wellness] says, “hold tightly, loosely.” I'm rocking with that phrase and listening to my body, recognizing what my unique needs are, and honoring the fact that they change every day.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.