When Alyson Stoner began her career in the entertainment industry at 6 years old, she was already experiencing high rates of anxiety and chronic stress. This evolved into eating disorders, dangerous overexercise, and other serious health issues. She checked herself into rehab in 2011 at 17 years old, recalling in a powerful essay published by People the trauma and toxicity that she faced as a Hollywood child star (titles include Cheaper by the Dozen, Camp Rock, and Step Up). But this isn't about her struggles. It's about how she overcame them.
"I'd say between the ages of 13 and 17, I was constantly seeking an anchor point as an antidote to the chaos in the industry as well as the chaos at home," Stoner, now 27, told POPSUGAR. "While in rehab, I had the first glimpse of what it means to regulate my nervous system, to manage discomfort, to be able to feel emotions and process them safely, and to really start a very intentional journey of healing, both psychologically as well as physically."
Stoner learned to appreciate movement again after a harmful relationship with exercise that, at its height, had her in dance rehearsal and doing workouts every day for 10-plus hours total. "There's a difference between running on a treadmill and the treadmill running your life," Stoner stated. In order to shift toward a healthier viewpoint of her body, she had to refrain from activity for some time, so she stopped dance training as well as working out.
"The fundamental change that took place was disengaging from the idea that my body is a project to complete or an object to fix," Stoner explained, adding that she had to, instead, see her body as "a source of intelligence and information and a center point to who I am, the place that I experience life." She noted, "As I continued doing that healing work, it opened up a whole different way of relating to movement where it wasn't just about 'no pain, no gain' diet and fitness. It was a tool to process, express, and release whatever I needed in that moment."
"There's a difference between running on a treadmill and the treadmill running your life."
Stoner now listens to her body above all else; some weeks, she'll stick to a routine, and others, she'll play it by ear. She has incorporated this new way of mind-body and holistic thinking into the "affirmation workouts" she posts on her website. She's used affirmations for years while exercising, oftentimes just to get her through a challenging circuit, so she created 15-minute workouts available on her website that feature dance moves along with audio that guides you through these affirmations.
Accessibility to exercise and wellness practices is something Stoner wanted to address when she founded Movement Genius. On the platform, coming soon, you'll find live and on-demand classes in several different movement categories (she confirmed that affirmation workouts will be included, and other series are desk workouts, full-length movement workshops for stress and anxiety, and what she called "moving meditations"). They're still testing classes at the moment, but the ultimate goal is to officially launch Movement Genius at an affordable price point, she said. "And we're including a variety of instructors who represent different identities, cultures, and abilities."
Stoner herself is also devoted to education in the wellness space. She's certified under yoga instructor and clinical trauma specialist Jamie Marich, PhD, in trauma-informed movement facilitation as part of Dr. Marich's Dancing Mindfulness program, and she explained she has a certification in basic psychological safety through Johns Hopkins. On top of that, she's currently studying somatics as well as contemplative neuroscience.
Before rehab, Stoner had started going to therapy, and she's continued seeing mental health professionals since. Through her therapy experiences, she has learned how to "safely reinhabit my mind and body, so I don't feel like a bystander or a victim of my thoughts and feelings." She's gained a better sense of how to set boundaries, too.
Stoner is at a place where she's redefined what being "well" means to her. "Whereas before, the word 'wellness' evoked a very certain unattainable, narrow idea of luxury experiences and private fitness training, it now has a grounded, patient, and compassionate sensibility that threads into each day." Wellness, she said, "is total embodiment and radical honesty with, and acceptance of, myself and others. It's healthy relationships based on mutuality, respect, and boundaries." It is ever-changing, but, to her, this much is true: it's healing. It's moving forward.
If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has resources available including a 24/7 helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For crisis support, text "NEDA" to 741741.