Sources of Strength - Rudolf Steiner’s Soul Exercises

<< back

By: Lory and Michael Widmer
In the last century, human beings have accomplished amazing feats of physical prowess. They have broken unbreakable records, scaled unclimbable mountains, swum impassable seas. Athletic achievement is rewarded with fame, fortune and admiration, because we love to see palpable evidence of the human ability to triumph over obstacles.

But what about exertions of the soul? These are much more elusive and harder to measure. Often a hard battle is won—a temper tamed, a habit overcome—unbeknownst to anyone but ourselves. No outer reward may come our way, yet when we do master some part of our inner world, we realize that this alone is a truly lasting achievement.

In our time, which tends to neglect the subtle, hidden workings of the soul in favor of what is outwardly visible (and televisable), we need help in strengthening our inner life, becoming healthy from within. Among Rudolf Steiner’s many contributions in this area are a set of twelve exercises which are often called the “soul exercises.” By consciously calling up vivid inner experiences in combination with specific bodily movements, we can actually exercise the soul—that is, the part of us that mediates between all the outer impressions of the world and our higher, spiritual individuality.

These exercises were originally given to a group of people who wished to learn about the therapeutic applications of the art of eurythmy, which Steiner developed in response to the question of how the art of movement could be renewed out of spiritual sources. Somewhat surprisingly, he answered that such an art would have to do with the forces inherent in the human power of speech. Though we tend to forget the fact in our rather thoughtless use of everyday language, speech is full of a tremendous creative power. Each vowel and consonant has its own gesture, its own distinctive movement which has been transformed through our speech activity into sound. When we take up those movements again with the whole body, and make them present in our soul, we reconnect to the spiritual archetypes of the world—as St. John expresses when he writes “In the beginning was the Word.”

Speech eurythmy, a performing art full of beauty and grace, has specifically therapeutic effects when these “sound gestures” are worked with intensively and with emphasis on particular aspects. It is important that this be done under the supervision of a trained eurythmist, and ideally of a doctor familiar with the patient’s illness. The twelve soul exercises are a special case which Steiner recommended to be done—as a complete series only—by people who are not ill, but who need the soul-strengthening that almost everyone today lacks.

To give an example, one of the exercises begins with strongly calling up a feeling in the soul—the feeling of love. As a gesture, we can stretch our arms out wide and feel that a mighty stream comes through us from far expanses, giving itself over in surrender to the other. We may gently follow it by bringing the hands slightly forward and together in an open, sympathetic way, even leaning somewhat forward as well.

This is followed by an entirely different movement: we come back to our individual, upright selves, at the same time bringing the arms from their open, vulnerable position and crossing the forearms strongly—so that we feel the point where they touch—in front of the chest. This is the eurythmy gesture for the sound “ay,” as in “day” (in German spelled “E”). It is a sound which has a protective, warding-off quality—as we may feel when we shout “Hey!” at  someone approaching too closely.

The alternation of these two polar opposite gestures and soul experiences is a true exercise for our inner being, just as flexing and releasing a muscle makes us stronger physically. We move between a feeling of expansive, all-penetrating warmth, and a sharp awareness of our individual earthly presence. This can help someone who is too scattered, doing too many things, to become more centered and focused, while still open to the world. It can even have an effect on the blood circulation, warming and enlivening it.

Our soul activity is indeed intimately related to our physical health, and in cases of illness (e.g. circulatory problems) the “Love-E” exercise may be prescribed by a doctor and carefully supervised by a therapeutic eurythmist. Healthy people, though, should do this exercise along with the other eleven, in order to practice the whole range of human soul capacities: judgment, will activity, skillfulness, the ability to bear pain, as well as feelings such as love and hope. Again, this should be done under the supervision of a eurythmist trained in the exercises, because it is impossible to convey all the subtle aspects of eurythmy in words, pictures, diagrams, or even in a video.

It is to be hoped that more and more people will find their way to these exercises and confirm their effectiveness for bringing balance and harmony to everyday life. As with everything that Rudolf Steiner gave to the world, it is up to us to discover their value and make them our own.

For information on therapeutic eurythmy and eurythmists in your area, contact ATHENA, 773 761 0833. For information on an upcoming course on the soul exercises, contact 845-426-3746 or

Lory Widmer completed her eurythmy training in 2002. Michael Widmer is the therapeutic eurythmist at Green Meadow Waldorf School, a performer with Eurythmy Spring Valley, and the founder and director of Weekend Eurythmy.

<< back

Dynamic Content Management by ContentTrakker