Neuromovement

Given all that I have written over the years about the brain and movement (both here and at my yoga blog), without knowing more about “neuromovement” I would have guessed it described the brain and how it manages movement.

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a free talk, Neuromovement for a Vibrant Life by Anat Baniel, at the Eileen Fisher Learning Lab in Tarrytown, NY. Anat is an entertaining presenter, injecting humor and a sense of “I know exactly what I am doing, and I am doing it as it should be done” into her talk. She is also the creator of the Anat Baniel Method, a neuromovement approach to helping people of all ages who have limitations imposed by a brain that is not functioning to its fullest. From her information-packed site:

NeuroMovement® is a holistic approach to human functioning and action, based in the understanding that movement is the language of the brain. Movement provides information the brain needs to grow and organize itself. And, in return, the brain organizes all movement, thought, feelings, and action.

Anat explained that her approach utilizes The Nine Essentials For Vitality®, and used her talk to describe the first three. (The free Friday evening talk was followed by a pay-to-attend workshop the next day, which I did not attend, and where the plan was to go into the remaining steps.)

These Essentials make use of brain plasticity, which I have discussed in multiple blog posts. As Anat describes, each Essential is useful for:

…creating new connections and avoiding rigidity and automaticity when needing to overcome pain and limitation to thus reach new levels of physical and cognitive performance.

The three she explained are Movement with Attention, The Learning Switch, and Subtlety. Movement with Attention is how I practice yoga, and I immediately equated it with moving with the breath, attentiveness to my body’s messages, and awareness and then dismissing of any thoughts that percolate during practice.

The second Essential, The Learning Switch, reminded me of Elkhonon Goldberg’s talk at a Learning & the Brain conference years ago. To quote from my blog post, this is what he had to say about keeping the aging brain healthy:

Goldberg employed us to “turn neuroplasticity to your advantage” by: 1. Welcoming novel challenges. 2. Beware of being on mental autopilot. 3. Remain cognitively active.

The Learning Switch necessitates the brain be in a ready-state for learning. As Anat notes, “repetition, drill, and everyday stresses, as well as habitual patterns of thought, exercise and emotions, all tend to turn the learning switch off.”

Subtlety is the third Essential, and was the most interesting to me due to being the area which provided the most ideas for ways to work with children and adults. It is the concept of “less is more”. As Anat explained:

For the brain to receive new information it needs to perceive differences. By reducing the force with which we move and think, we increase our sensitivity. With the resulting increased sensitivity we greatly enhance our brain’s ability to perceive the finest of differences. These perceptions give the brain the new information it needs to organize successful action and become more alive and vital in both body and mind.

What has remained with me is the content of a short video Anat showed highlighting her work with an infant who was born with an inability to move her left arm. Typical physical therapy dictated repetitive physical movement of her arm by a physical therapist. Anat explained that this would simply train the child’s brain that in order to move the arm it needed an external person to lift it. Then came the part that astonished me – in the video Anat simply blew on the child’s palm while seeming to apply stimulation to another part of her body at the same time. (Sitting in the second to last row, it was difficult to see all the video detail.) Within ten minutes she had successfully helped the child’s brain to recognize and move her left arm. Less was more, and the focus of the “less” was as simple as could be.

Another story Anat shared had to do with a boy who was having extreme difficulty with writing, beginning with the letters of the alphabet. This story highlighted her explanation that the brain needs to perceive differences in order to rewire itself. Well-intentioned experts had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get the boy to write the letter “A”. Anat concluded that the boy had no idea what a proper letter “A” should look like, so she asked him to draw his worst version of the letter “A” and then complemented him on drawing a truly poor version. She then suggested he draw a slightly less “worst version”, and he complied. When she requested an even slightly less “worst version”, he asked if she was kidding him, and then proceeded to draw a version that was getting close to a good version of a letter “A”. His ah-ha moment came when he realized what an “A” actually looked like.

The remaining seven Essentials are: Variation, Slow, Enthusiasm, Flexible Goals, Imagination & Dreams, and Awareness, and you can read more about them here on her website.

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