January is the time to reflect on the past year (what a wild ride that was!) and make plans for the New Year.
A fresh year lies ahead!
How do you want it to be different?
What goals would you like to achieve?
What resolutions did you make?
As a mom of a special needs child, setting goals actually makes me cringe. Too many professional assessments and IEP meetings will do that to you. Plus after learning about Flexible Goals from Anat Baniel, my views about goal setting has changed so much.
Having goals and dreams are important, but sometimes goals can become rigid and force you to do things in a specific way to obtain a specific goal.
Rigid goals can be dangerous territory for learning brains!
My ultimate goal for my daughter (and my students) is a learning brain.
My end goal is for my child to be able to adapt to change.
Forcing her to accomplish a certain task in only one specific way, teaches her ONLY that one specific way. If a variable is added in, she's lost.
For example if my goal is to "teach" my daughter how to hold a pencil "properly". I'd have to do some really hard thinking about what a proper pencil hold is and whether that specific way would be the most useful for her throughout her entire life. It sounds like a heck of a lot of pressure. There are so many variables to consider.
Think about how you hold a pencil.
These are subtle changes that most people can easily adapt to, and aren’t even aware that they are doing, but HUGE adaptations for stroke survivors or children with special needs learning to write.
By teaching them ONE rigid way (through mindless repetitions), you take away their ability to adapt to change.
That’s the beauty of the Anat Baniel Method. It focuses not on the end goal (such as holding a pencil with a "proper pencil grip"), but instead explores all the rich variations of how the task could be possible.
There are so many different options for a pencil grip.
(Tight grip, loose grip, using different fingers, different papers, different orientations, etc.)
By allowing the child to experience the many variations and allowing them the TIME to play and experiment, it gives the brain a rich source of experience to draw from.
Which can be quite a different approach than what happens in a traditional one hour of OT/PT. This is frustrating because life doesn't happen with the exact same circumstances of a controlled therapy environment (as anyone with children will understand!).
Hold Goals Loosely
Think of goals as being fluid.
Creativity (and learning!) happen spontaneously. Not under time deadlines or specific criteria. Would a musical genius compose an opera only on Tuesdays with a 1 hour timer beside him?
True learning happens when your brain gathers up experiences and organizes it into something useful.
The more experiences, the more your brain has to work with. Adding constraints of time along with lack of variety, can kill real learning faster than you can say “resolution”.
So, what should one do?
1. Have Flexible goals.
Be much more curious about the journey.
It sure would be nice to get to your goal X. But how many ways could you get there? Have some fun and find out!
2. Don’t set a time limit.
It took Jill Bolte Taylor 8 years before she considered herself fully recovered from her stroke. What mindset would she have and what life would she be living today if she had only given herself 4 years?
Curiosity and experience take time. And not a certain allotment of time, but meandering, soft time, without pressure or expectations.
Which is very, very hard to do in our culture!
But it can be done with a little awareness and some flexible goals.
So what are your New Year’s resolutions and how can you add flexibility to them?
Recovering from a surgery, stroke or brain injury is hard work. As the days or weeks go by, you may have some of these feelings:
So what's the Secret to Kicking Butt in Therapy?
Shhhhh... there's actually a few secrets.
9 super awesome kick butt secrets to be precise.
Otherwise known as "the 9 Essentials" as written by Anat Baniel. They each deserve their own blog post (they are that super awesome kick butt!), but today I'm going to focus on one of my top three favorites.
Become a Variation Ninja
Variation is the spice of life in a routine of repetition.
If you find yourself staring off into space during your therapy or thinking about anything else but the next 500 repetitions you are supposed to be doing, then chance are you are NOT getting the full benefits of your therapy.
Nope. Just doing mindless repetitions doesn't cut it.
There is scientific evidence (check out Dr. Micheal Merzerich) that supports engagement in an activity increases the ability of your brain to create new neural networks.
Basically, if you are paying attention to what you are doing, you are going to learn more and learn faster.
Sounds good, doesn't it?
And the best part is that it can be really easy!
A fantastic way to create engagement is to add a bit of spicy variation!
How to Use Variation in Therapy
By giving your brain MORE variation for a specific action, you are giving your brain more options to do the action in a more efficient, pleasurable way for YOUR own body to move.
You are feeding your brain quality stimulus so it can organize itself better.
There are infinite ways to add variation to an exercise routine.
Of course, some of it will depend on what type of exercises you are doing with which body parts, but below are a few ideas to get you started. You'll get the hang of it and soon you'll be kicking butt like a Variation Ninja.
A few ideas to get you started:
I could go on and on and on! But I think you get the point! Give any of these a try the next time you do your therapy and see what happens.
Get curious about how your body moves.
Kick some therapy butt!
Can you think of 3 variations you can easily incorporate into your therapy routine to spice things up?
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We all know hugging feels good and releases some awesome endorphins which make you feel better.
But did you know there's a simple movement lesson you can do right now, in your chair, to increase your mobility and ease your back pain?
How does it work?
Through slow, gentle movements you can harness your own brain's plasticity to create functional changes.
Join me for a quick lesson and see for yourself!
This movement lesson is one of my student's favorites because it feels soooo good. Plus you can do it almost anywhere. I broke this lesson down into 2 lessons, so follow along with this first one and then head over to my "Free Video" section to find the second "Self Hug" lesson.
Grab a chair and become aware!
Take your time and enjoy hugging away your back pain.
Tired of Back Pain?
Tried everything and your back pain still keeps you from doing things you love? These free videos are for you!
Recovering from a stroke can be frustrating and the therapy daunting. As a single momma, I am a big fan of multitasking, while at the same time keeping things simple.
One thing I love about NeuroMovement, or the Anat Baniel Method, is how easy it is to incorporate into your daily life.
Anat Baniel has 9 Essentials to accelerate learning. All 9 are brilliant and could give you years of contemplation, but if you want to propel your stroke or injury recovery and see results today, this week, this month, then here are my top 3 favorite essentials that you can EASILY put to use right now.
So, if you are:
3 Tips to a Fast Recovery of Stroke or Injury:
Tip 1: Go Slow
Slow allows you to feel HOW you are moving.
The more you become aware of how you are doing activities, the more information your brain has to develop new connections.
Fast movements are done on autopilot, a definite advantage to get us through most of our everyday lives, but what happens when a brain injury affects our autopilot mode?
You may have discovered that the faster and harder you try to perform those tasks that used to be automatic, the more failure you experience and the more frustration sets in.
So, what can you do?
Those are the golden moments to slow things down.
The next time you are doing an activity that you used to be able to do without thinking (let’s use drinking out of your favourite coffee cup as an example, but it could be anything… putting on your socks, zipping up your coat, etc), instead of attempting to grab the coffee cup like you always used to before your injury or stroke, pause for a moment and slow down!
Take a deep breath.
Let go of any expectation.
As you slow down, you will begin to discover HOW you move.
The slower you go, the more awareness you have of where your body is in space.
The more awareness you have, the more information you can give your brain, for it to organize your movements efficiently.
Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself!
Start with slow.
Then you’ll begin to notice more awareness.
Tip 2: Become Aware
Following the above example of reaching for your morning coffee, the next time you do it, get curious about things. Become aware what you are doing.
It sounds easy.
But really becoming aware of what you are doing and where your body is in space is an amazing brain workout!
Here are only a few examples of what you can become aware of as you reach towards your morning brew:
Find your inner curiosity and playfulness!
Once you start noticing and feeling subtle changes in how your hand, arm, and body moves while doing a 'simple' action, the more fun it becomes and the more awareness you will have.
You'll start to notice finer and finer details, which in turn upgrades your brain to know HOW to move finer, more delicate, and more precise.
You might also notice that becoming aware is easier when you go slow.
Moving fast and being on autopilot has it’s advantages, but when you are learning new things, moving slow accelerates the learning process!
(see Step 1!)
Tip 3: Add Variation
This is the fun one!
Adding a bit of variation to a seemingly routine movement, captures your brain's attention and turns on your learning switch.
Get Curious and Explore!
How many ways can you bring the coffee cup to your lips?
Oh boy, I could go on and on!
There are an infinite number of ways to perform a specific task.
No one does the same task exactly the same way as someone else, nor do they do it the same way each time.
There’s always a variant!
Your body is never in the same precise position more than once!
You might sit in the same chair at the kitchen table every morning, but are your feet exactly in the same spot? Your elbows? Your head?
There is always something different.
Your brain is amazing at taking all the variants and creating a desired outcome (like bringing the coffee cup to your lips!).
It’s what your brain does best!
It’s what your brain is designed for!!!
Your brain takes sensory information (like where your body is in space), then organizes it all so it can perform the desired outcome with minimum effort.
Your brain is freaking amazing!
By slowing down, becoming aware of where your body parts are in space and adding variations, you are giving your brain quality information. The higher the quality of information, the better chance your brain has to figure out the most efficient and pain-free way to move YOUR body to get the desired outcome.
How exciting is that!
You get to control the quality of information you are feeding your brain!
Now go forth and conquer your new milestones!
With great Awareness!
Jen Stewart is a mommy of 3 amazing kids and a practitioner of NeuroMovement™