‘Movement education’ has therapeutic results

Published Wednesday May 18th, 2011

“Back in January I went to the Well-being Expo held in Sackville, where I had the pleasure of meeting Tatiana Reymarova. She was there to demonstrate a ‘therapy’ I had never heard of before called the Anat Baniel Method. Note, however, that Tatiana herself did not call this method a “therapy.” She referred to her work as “movement education” and explained the difference in the following way. Movement education and therapy share the same goal, that is, to change a person’s life for the better. But whereas the therapist seeks to remedy an ailment, the educator seeks to improve the person’s total functioning by teaching him or her to make the changes through their own neuromuscular system. When she mentioned that this work could be especially helpful with neuromuscular issues, it peaked my interest for personal reasons so I booked a couple of sessions with Tatiana and was very surprised at how gentle yet effective the method is. Rather than try to explain what this education-with-therapeutic-results is all about myself, I thought it best to let Tatiana tell you in her own words: Jane: What is the Anat Baniel Method? Tatiana: Let me start by saying that in our high-pressure society, aches and pains have become part and parcel of everyday life. Given our fast-paced lifestyle, we tend to seek quick-fix solutions to our health woes, such as those offered by powerful chemical drugs or surgical interventions. Scores of us undergo repair surgeries in hopes of restoring function to our backs, shoulders, wrists, hips, knees or ankles, without even considering other options. One such option is the Anat Baniel Method. It is a system of somatic (of the body) education pioneered by Moshe Feldenkrais and further developed by his long-time student, Anat Baniel. This system relies on the capacity of the human brain to build new pathways for neural communication throughout life. Once we become aware of these novel neural pathways through our bodily sensations, they will replace ones that were lost due to accidents, emotional traumas, or simple lack of use. By accessing this remarkable capacity through a system of gentle and enjoyable movement lessons specially designed to awaken awareness, the Anat Baniel method enables us to discover new patterns of moving, thinking, and feeling that will replace the ones that cause us pain and deterioration. Jane: Is this method a kind of physical therapy or is it a system of physical exercises? Tatiana: The Anat Baniel Method is neither a medical treatment nor a physical exercise. It is a learning process with a healing effect. It uses directed attention to make you aware of your habitual movement patterns. In doing so, it enables you to identify the movement habits that lead to a build-up of tension and strain in your body and to develop new ways of moving that help relieve your body and mind of the stress caused by these harmful habits. Unlike physical therapy or physical exercises, we use movement as the medium for communicating directly with the brain. This is why the crucial element in our movement explorations is awareness – the quality of attention that you bring to your movements. Rather than making you perform and repeat specific exercises, we provide your brain with fresh cues to explore. These explorations result in meaningful changes and improvements. The general principle is this: When the body movement is well organized, the pain disappears. All people with tight, painful muscles have one thing in common – they don’t feel in control of their muscular tensions. In most cases, they aren’t even aware that they have them. All that they know is that they have pain and restricted movement. In fact, they may not even know they have restricted movement; they may only know that they feel pain. Muscular tension is practically always accompanied by a loss of sensation in certain parts of the body or the overall loss of awareness of the body. It is very important to maintain or restore this awareness, because it provides the brain with the feedback that is critical for effective organization of movement. Jane: Could you describe how the method is practised? Tatiana: The method is taught in two modalities: Transformational movement lessons are typically performed in a group with participants, comfortably dressed, sitting or lying on mats, and proceed in a manner attuned to each participant’s own pace and range of motion. Participants are verbally guided through a series of gentle movements that utilize attention and imagination. As the lessons progress, participants become increasingly aware of their movement routines, including the habitual constraints that interfere with physical ease. Functional synthesis lessons are one-on-one, hands-on sessions customized to the student’s particular needs. In these sessions, practitioners use a very gentle touch and subtle manipulation which can be best understood as a direct, yet non-invasive, form of non-verbal communication aimed at helping the student discover new and more harmonious ways to move. Sessions are conducted with the student fully clothed, sitting, standing, or reclining on a specially designed table. Jane: As you know, it was the individual session that I opted for and it was surprisingly relaxing and therapeutic. In fact, the next day I had sore muscles which I didn’t expect because the movements were so gentle and subtle – yet, they must have been very powerful… I had no idea of how tight I had been holding my upper body muscles! So, apart from me, who else can benefit from this method? Tatiana: The Anat Baniel Method is recommended for people suffering from persistent muscle and joint pain, injury, stiffness, balance and neurological disorders, as well as those who need to perform at an elite physical level (athletes, dancers, musicians, artists) and anyone looking to enhance their general well-being. This method has proven to be particularly effective for children with neuromuscular disorders, for example, Anat has great success with children who have cerebral palsy. Jane: Tell me about yourself and why you began to practise the Anat Baniel Method? Tatiana: I hold a masters degree in physics from a highly acclaimed technical university in Moscow (Russia), and still have a great passion for all things physics, although I haven’t been professionally employed in this field for many years now. I also have a lasting passion for herbal and holistic medicine, fields which appear to inherently defy standardization. And there is yet another subject that has long held a special fascination for me, namely the human brain. Understanding its workings requires an approach that links rigorous standards of hard science to something intangible, and a private experience. In a sense, this is a field where my passion for physics on the one hand and herbal and holistic medicine on the other come together. So, still being a scientist at heart, it was almost inevitable that when I heard about Anat Baniel’s work of applying the latest developments in brain science to help people reach levels of performance never achieved before, I decided to visit her center near San Francisco. Meeting this brilliant and powerful person proved to be a turning point in my life. After witnessing the profound and positive differences Anat’s work was making in the lives of her clients, and experiencing its effects upon myself, I quit my financial analyst job in Moscow and enrolled in Anat’s professional training program, which involved travelling to San Francisco to participate in 10-day-long sessions every 2 or 3 months over a three-year period and I have been working at it ever since. As a closing note, I found Tatiana to be a very knowledgeable, sincere and gentle soul who is dedicated to helping people. If you suffer with neuromuscular pain and wish to try something different, in my opinion, this unique, science-based complementary method is worth experiencing. In good health – until next time!”

* Written by Jane Claxton-Oldfield MDN. Tatiana works out of her home (Smart Body Studio) in Sackville, N.B. You can reach her at: smartbodystudio@gmail.com or call: (506) 536 4641. Nutritional or therapeutic advice is never a substitute for your health-care practitioner – ND or MD

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Emma’s Progress

Emma is nearing her second birthday and I couldn’t help but to send you a letter on her progress.  Our little angel came into this world with a long list of problems that no one would wish on their worst enemy.  She spent the first three months of her life in pediatric intensive care units and when she finally did come home prognosis was grim.  She has been diagnosed with a rare genetic syndrome and some of her symptoms are peripheral neuropathy, extreme developmental delay, agenesis of the corpus callosum, feeding issues, cortical blindness, epilepsy, and GERD.   To quote some of the best neurologists in the world; “Emma is teaching us”. What a quote.  Definitely not something a parent ever wants to hear about their child; but that is the reality of special needs children.

It was about a month after she got home when I was surfing the Internet looking for answers and I came across the name Anat Baniel.  I had never heard of her but people were saying great things.  One mother’s story in particular sticks in my mind.  She was telling her story to another women on an internet support group and she spoke of her child walking without his walker after just two ABM lessons.  I was amazed.  I kept searching and inevitably found Anat on YouTube and saw the famous “Elizabeth” video. After watching, I foolishly ran to Emma and tried to imitate all the movements Anat had performed on Elizabeth.  Emma’s eyes lit with life.  I knew this was our answer.

Very often friends and family look at me with sympathetic eyes and ask me how I do it or what is it like to be a parent of a special need child.  I never really had an answer till just the other day while watching the movie “Cast Away” with Tom Hanks.  There is scene where he finally escapes the island with his best friend Wilson (a volleyball).  The raft he has built is barely floating, his oars are just about useless, and he is at the mercy of the sea and all its fury.  He has surrendered to it all.  The wind, the waves, and the tide. His fate, Wilson’s fate, are completely unknown.  Watching this, I could not understand why I was overwhelmed with such emotion.  Then it occurred to me.  That is exactly what it feels like to be a parent of a special needs child. Every day we wake up to the unknown and it’s not until we surrender to it all that we realize that there is a path for us and our child.  Miraculously, a whale comes along and awakens Tom Hanks to the roaring sound of a passing container ship.  He has been rescued.  Well, ABM, for myself and many other parents, is that miraculous whale.  It gives us the ability to accept and surrender knowing that our child’s next miracle is over the next wave.

Emma has come a long way since her first days at home.  Many of her changes are slow and subtle and that’s exactly how we like it.  Her movement improves every day and she is a joy to be with.  There was once a time where all she would do was cry.  Now she smiles much of the day and lights up the room.  I can attribute her progress to two things.  Her family’s unconditional love and The Anat Baniel Method.

Like all parents, I feel as though I know what’s best for my children and am not particularly concerned with other people’s opinions.  However, the other day her Developmental Therapist had written such a beautiful report I had to share it.  She wrote:

“Emma seen at home with nurse present. Emma had a GREAT session. Lots of vocalization throughout the entire session and lots of smiles as well(smiley face)!”

“Sensory Play: Emma LOVED moving her fingers around in the dried pasta and dried beans. When the bin of beans/pasta was presented at her left hand, she independently picked up her right hand, moved it across midline and placed it in the sensory material (smiley face)!!!!!! She did this multiple times. ( I would move her right hand back to her right side and she would do it again.) Great job Emma?  Patty Day

Need I say more?  It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.  I am not one to put much emphasis on validation but I’ll let this one slide.  These are huge results and it’s even better when others are witness to them.  I’m  loving it.  Little miracles here, little ones there: Perfect.

Now when I think of the doctors comment, “Emma is teaching us”, I say they are absolutely correct.  She has taught me that I can love completely without complete understanding, that life’s possibilities are endless,  that she is my guardian angel just as much as  I am hers, and that my life would not be complete without her existence.

Love and Light,    

David Zupko