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.

Mardi Crane-Godreau

Mardi Crane-Godreau

Mardi Crane-Godreau is a dynamic thought leader who has gathered like-minded scholars into collaborations, research and initiatives in fields ranging from immunology to somatic practices that challenge Cartesian paradigms. She leads a guest editorial team at Frontiers in Neuroscience for the research topic ‘Somatic and Bodymind Approach to Resilience.’ Since 2013, she and Peter Payne have pursued clinical research and addressed theoretical issues involved in the scientific investigation of somatic practices. Recent publications include proposed language and conceptual frameworks for elucidating mechanisms of somatic approaches to improving health and general well-being. 
Dr. Crane-Godreau and her team are especially interested in finding ways to share video and other digital media to educate and empower individuals and families with access to enjoyable and effective, evidence-based solutions to health challenges. One current project, (in conjunction with Dartmouth’s Digital Arts, Innovation and Leadership (DALI) Lab, involves the development of an app to improve somatic awareness and self-regulation in children with autistic spectrum disorder. Other initiatives include education and pragmatic training for leaders who work with traumatized populations within their communities. She also works with first responders such as flight attendants. 
Dr. Crane-Godreau received her PhD from Dartmouth College, where she was chosen by the school’s faculty to deliver the Class Day address for her graduating class. She is an assistant professor in the department of microbiology and immunology.