Movement as the language of emotion: Why Moving Meditations make sense.

By Peter Payne and Mardi Crane-Godreau, Ph.D.

Rational explanations make little difference when a child is wired or anxious. This is especially true for many children on the autism spectrum and can apply equally to many other kids as well. So, is there anything that can help?

Let’s start with some basic neuroscience. The brain communicates on two main levels: the instinctive-emotional-movement level, and the rational-verbal level.  It should be no surprise that we begin life operating on the instinctive-emotional-movement level. The language of the instinctive part of the brain is movement and sensation! As this part of the brain and nervous system develop, the maturation of the rational verbal aspects can more easily follow suit.

There are many supportive therapies and educational programs that strive to help kids who are on the spectrum, develop their nervous systems and the skills that are needed for successful and satisfying everyday living.  The ‘Moving Meditations’ app was designed to provide an easily accessible, low cost, and useful tool for both younger and older kids to support calm and skills for self-regulation. When watching and following along is a shared activity, parents and teachers have reported reduced stress and anxiety for kids and for themselves.  

‘Moving Meditations’ app uses movement to help to discharge stress and to build neurological awareness.   Inspired by ASD pioneers, and backed by neuroscience, the app includes a series of short (1 ½ to 2 minute) videos, which show a child doing various simple self-care movements. These images are accompanied by nature scenes, special effects, and music, to create a fascinating and mesmerizing flow of imagery which draw the watcher in to a calmer, more present state, and restore balance to the  nervous system.

The watcher may be moved to imitate the motions that are shown. Similar to imitating the movements of Tai Chi, this can be very beneficial. These simple movements (with or without the videos) can be used at any time to help to support inner balance. For those striving to find tools to promote self-regulation, we made these videos especially for you.

This project was inspired by the work of pioneer autism researcher, Dr. Louisa Silva, who discovered that meaningful support and communications could be established with the nervous systems of children with autism, even severe autism, by training parents to use specific and regular patterns of touch and body movements. In a series of scientific papers, she documented evidence of the results from tests of her method (called Qigong Sensory Training, or QST for short). Anat Baniel independently discovered much the same thing; by tuning in to the child’s movements and interacting through touch and sound, the child’s nervous system calms down and re-organizes itself, with  improvements in behavior and communication. Neither system denies the importance of understanding the genetic and brain changes involved in ASD and other developmental challenges; but they have found that despite these issues, approaching the child through movement and sensation can help restore a balanced nervous system and bring calm and presence.

Moving Meditations draws on neuroscience and pragmatic research.  Download the app today.

Feel free to contact us with questions or feedback at Bodymindscience4Research@gmail.com

Moving Meditations: a stress reduction tool for families with autism

From BodyMind Science

Mardi Crane-Godreau, PhD

Experts agree that stress and anxiety are common challenges for families with autism. Stress is linked to many health issues that can create roadblocks to leaning and well-being. Aware of this issue, we’ve been working on an app that we hope will help to address some of the challenges.

In 2015 I began working with a family whose 7 year old son had been diagnosed with autism five years earlier.  Despite dedicated and loving attention from both parents, and support from specialists and the best professional advice available, efforts to find solutions to their son’s lack of self-regulation and frequent anxiety and panic were ongoing challenges. My involvement began by teaching the parents the QST method of tactile-movement therapy that they began to administer on a daily basis. Their son’s language, social skills, and digestion improved and his anxiety began to diminish. But as he began to mature, he began to resist the daily parental therapy, except in times of special need, when he would seek it out.

Self-regulation skills and continued neurological developmental support were still needed.  I wondered if watching and mimicking another child doing gentle but meaningful movements might be useful.  A colleague, Peter Payne and I selected movement practices based on research demonstrating benefit to adults with nervous system dysregulation.  (The research from our lab at Dartmouth has shown significant improvement in health and wellbeing of adults who have taken part in long term body-awareness training.)

Our adult oriented training videos would not be meaningful for most kids, so we dug into the problem and began to make short child friendly videos backed by music, special effects and by scenes from nature. Some of the special effects include ‘stims’ designed to attract and hold the attention of children with autism. A few prototype videos were made available to the family, who began to use them, not just on a tablet or phone, but also projected on the TV screen with the whole family taking part.   The child’s special education teacher and his school also began to use the videos to calm him at times of high anxiety.

For this child, who has now had the use and support of videos for more than 18 months, his parents report marked decrease in anxiety and continued improvement in language and social skills. Separation anxiety and panic attacks are now rare events. While the videos are reported to have an immediate calming effect for him and other children who are now using them, his self-regulation and language skills continue to increase gradually. We hope that more families and teachers will give the Moving Meditations app a try.

Moving Meditations for Families with Autism is available for Android and Apple devices. It contains 18 short videos that address 6 separate goals. It is suitable for most kids to watch by themselves, but we encourage family participation with parents or siblings also taking part in a brief but enjoyable activity. Some teachers may also find this suitable for classroom use.

We need your feedback! Download the app to your phone or tablet today.  Try it with your child.   Submit your ratings and comments.  Your experience will help us improve this product and learn more about its benefits and limitations. Your input can help thousands of other families decide how to use this tool.  Thanks for your support! Please shop using the buttons below.

Buy the full app with all 18 videos for Android, iPad or iPhone.

Bullying: Anatomy of the Bully

Bullying: Anatomy of the Bully

Mardi Crane-Godreau, PhD

Recently I’ve been on a deep dive into expert opinions on bullying, its causes, effects and methods.  Fortunately there is consensus on a number of points, irrespective if the bullying is associated with schools, work place or larger social groups.

Bullies have specific characteristic and act in predictable ways. There also appears to be emerging evidence that awareness, education and speaking out are among the effective tools that any group can employ to stem this destructive behavior. Equally important, there is strong evidence that resilience against bullying can be developed through emotional intelligence, self-knowledge, self-awareness, self-respect and self-efficacy.

What is bullying? Experts seem to agree that bullying involves the persistent use of threat, force or coercion to intimidate or abuse the target in order to dominate an individual or a group.  Bullying can be seen in terrorism, where a few individuals seek to impose control on another group, by imposing fear, through threat of harm, misinformation and isolation.  The pattern is not that far removed from bullying in schools or the workplace where one or more bullies seek dominance over a target individual or group, isolating them from normal activities, sometimes by spreading rumors (misinformation) that undermine self-confidence, and/ or by threatening them with emotional, social or physical harm.  Bullying behavior seems to persist; if one target proves to be resilient and impervious, the bully or bullies move on to a new target.

Scientific and social science literature report two distinct types of bullies. One is the individual who is only involved in being a bully.  The other type of bully is the victim-bully, a person who is both an active bully and who is, at the same time being bullied by others.  An apparent root cause of bullying is that bullies gain self-gratification through their acts of attempting to dominate and control others. Another likely cause is that bullying may involve unconscious projection of anger or retribution for some unrelated trauma or harm from the bully’s past.

Rationalization for bullying should not be confused with cause or ‘reason for bullying’. Common rationalizations may include differences of work place job titles, schoolroom strengths or weaknesses, differences in social class, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation.  Physical appearance, behavior, personality and body language, as well as reputation, strength, size or ability can be the rationale for targeting an individual by bullies.  Persistent aggression against and abuse or isolation of diverse group members are clear forms of bullying.

So what can be done about bullying? Resilience toward the aggression of bullies AND the diminishment of bullying behavior are reported to be associated with a factor called self-efficacy in conjunction with a balanced sense of self-esteem.  According to the respected psychologist Albert Bandura, self-efficacy is the extent to which a person believes in their ability get things done.  Self-efficacy works in conjunction with a balanced sense of self-worth, to change the inner motivations that seem to foster bullying behaviors.  It changes both vulnerability as a target and the ability of the bully to grow beyond the need to harm or dominate others.

Bullying is a lose-lose proposition.  No one gains. It has profound effects on both the bully and the target, some of which can have life-long implications.  Awareness, education, calling out the situation  and support of the targets are all steps that can be taken to stem bullying.  We also need more research into the deep inner causes and mitigation efforts to change this behavior.

For readers at Bodymind Science, I have no doubt of your deep interest in this topic. Bodymind awareness is a source of self-knowledge, a resource that supports resilience. More on this in future blogs.

Our app cultivating self-regulation, available for Android and Apple devices, can help any child develop the emotional intelligence, self-awareness and self-efficacy that provides resilience against bullying. 

Remembering Women Veterans

I recall being focused on a butterfly that had just landed on a nearby plant. The butterfly paused revealing crisp black and yellow stripes and spots. Its wings slowly opened and closed as it tested a flower for nectar.  Overhead, the drone of a prop aircraft increased until it was just above us. Then the pitch of the engine changed, as if perhaps, going into a stall.  Instantly, the butterfly disappeared and the world spun as I was lifted off my feet and thrust down into the brush at the edge of the field, my mother pinning me down and protecting me with her own body.  In what seemed an eternity, the sound from the aircraft engine again shifted and it flew away.  This was not a war zone, it was Connecticut on a sweet summer morning in 1949 well after WWII had ended and the troops had come home.

Lt. Sylvia E. Van Antwerp was one of America’s first flight nurses, serving with honor in 1943 and 1944, carrying the wounded to hospitals remote from the North African and Italian fronts. She and 29 other RNs, were the first to be trained as US Army Aircorps Flight Nurses. She, and most classmates, was recruited from airline service by the US Army, for their inflight experience.   They trained at Bowman Field in Kentucky in late 1942 and then were stationed in various areas of need in the Pacific and in her case, North Africa.  Reportedly, Sylvia had the second highest number of flight hours of any flight nurse in WWII.

Sylvia and my dad, a US Army Aircorps Flight Surgeon, both left written accounts of their experiences. Both flew in DC-3 aircraft that could accommodate 14 wounded.  Generally either two nurses or a nurse and a physician tended the men who were being evacuated. Since these aircraft also carried war supplies, they were not marked with a cross that would have differentiated them from combatants.  They could be attacked by enemy aircraft, or gunners on the ground.  Their safety between flights was not assured.  Both of my parents told of jumping into slit trenches at the edge of runways as their airfield was being strafed or bombed.  There is far more to tell about the extent of their experiences and the behaviors that they exhibited for the rest of their lives. What they and others of their generation have shared has been transformative to our generation and how we perceive the effects of war relate trauma.

What in the 1940’s was called ‘shell shock’ is now called PTSD.  We recognize that a range of traumatic events can induce it, and in general today we do not blame or demean those who have been traumatized. Neuroscience research demonstrates that it is not just the cognitive mind that is affected by trauma.  Indeed, the subconscious portions of the brain play a central role in long-term traumatic responses.  Fortunately we have also learned that somatic therapies are a viableand effective route to treating trauma, including traumas and PTSD from both militaryand non-military situations.  Somatic/bodymind therapies can also have direct impact on some associated medical conditions.

This is written for Memorial Day, 2018, a day reserved to remember those who died in the line of service.  I write to honor their memory and to remember those who have carried traumatic wounds and who perished long after a war had ended. Their courage was enduring.  It was the courage to live day to day, to kiss a child, to wipe away a tear, to see an airplane fly overhead and if they trembled, to ground themselves, to shake it off and to carry on.

You can learn more about somatic or bodymind therapies from these references and free resources at our Bodymind Practices page:

The Preparatory Set: a novel approach to understanding stress, trauma and the bodymind therapies, Peter Payne and Mardi A Crane-Godreau, Front. Hum. Neurosci., 01 April 2015

Somatic experiencing: using interoception and proprioception as core elements of trauma therapy.  Payne, Levine, Crane-Godreau, Front. Psychol., 04 February 2015

Somatic experiencing for post traumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled outcome study. Brom, Stokar, Lawi, Nuriel-Porat, Ziv, Lerner, Rossi. J Trauma Stress. 2017 Jun; 30(3): 304–312.

What are Bodymind Practices?

 

 

Resilient First Responders: Flourishing Under Challenge

Why do some people flourish in the face stress? I’d like to share some insights from our studies of flight attendant health.   One study’s objective was to determine if a ‘meditative movement’ training could change the health of our study volunteers.  This training involved teaching awareness of internal bodily sensations (interoception). Volunteers learned to engage the entire nervous system, thus learning to use the resources of the entire body, rather than just the conscious brain. The practices that were taught are based on qigong, an ancient set of principles and practices that are used for self-care, healing, and martial arts.

Many people link meditative movement  with early morning daily practice of Tai Chi-like slow movements. Our volunteers were clear that this was not their chosen life style. So we focused instead on teaching simple practices that fit into the activities of everyday living. The flight attendants learned body awareness in walking, sitting, standing, lying down, and breathing, along with a few simple visualization-based practices.

We tested those in our studies before and after 12 to 16 weeks of training.  Results showed that those who learned the body awareness practices (even many who practiced only a few of them) saw statistically significant improvements to their overall health. Since a primary objective was to determine effects on respiratory health in FA who had been exposed to high levels of second hand smoke, it has been exciting to see consistent improvements in endurance and reduced symptoms of respiratory disease.

Not surprisingly, in most volunteers who consistently did the awareness practices, there were other changes related to the autonomic nervous system, the special system of nerves that automatically controls many body functions.  Most participants with high blood pressure found that it had dropped to clinically normal levels. Additionally there were significant improvements in endocrine and immune function.

So how are these all related? We believe that the answer lies in the systemic effects of the cultivation of body/somatic awareness, that tunes and optimizes the nervous system. Many of the signaling molecules, that are released by the nervous system, are recognized by other cells, tissues and organs.  If the nervous system is pumping out signals related to fear, stress, or other adversity, tissues in the body are programmed to prepare for the adverse conditions. In contrast, if the nervous system is sending out ‘rest and repair’ signals, the body responds in kind.

Embodied awareness is not the same as hyper vigilance. Instead, we’re teaching our participants to work towards a state of openness and release. When your nervous system is primed by adequate ‘rest and repair,’ you’re able to respond to virtually any situation, whether comforting a child or responding to a life threatening event. Embodied awareness seems to extend to the cells, tissues and organs, with the ‘rest and repair’ extending to virtually all parts of the body.

If all of your coping draws only on your conscious, thinking brain, you may have a diminished capacity to respond. Your resilience in the face of a challenge may be a function of how well your nervous system is trained and how available it is to cope.

If you would like to see a sample of a practice that pertains to an activity of daily living, Morning Coffee: Bodymind Training