Human neuroplasticity at work:The daughter who changed her brain
6/2/2015 1:14:00 PM
These days I find myself reading about neuroscience and minimalism. I’m presently reading Norman Doidge, M.D.’s new book “The Brain’s Way of Healing”. I’m fascinated by the discoveries in neuroscience and especially reading how it has impacted the lives of those affected. I was particularly interested in this book because there’s an entire chapter on Moshe Feldenkrais and his student (my teacher) Anat Baniel. What I wasn’t expecting was the very next chapter about a blind man who recovered his vision using a principle from Buddhist teachings but wasn’t able to put it all together until he discovered a Feldenkrais exercise for improving vision called “Covering the Eyes”. Doidge presented parts of the Feldenkrais lesson and as I read I recalled doing this lesson in one of my training segments. Marcy Lindheimer led the lesson, and her soft voice along with the instructions of palming the eyes with your hands led me to a very relaxed state afterwards. I sat up when the lesson was over and my vision was blurred. I recall feeling a little bit freaked out, as I’d never had that reaction with any lesson I had before. It took about 5 minutes before my vision was restored completely. I slowly went to lunch and felt fine. It didn’t occur to me at the time, that my vision may have changed during that lesson.
My eye glass prescription prior to the training was Left (SPH +.50 CYL -0.25 Axis 120) & Right (SPH +.50 CYL 0 Axis 0). I was told I had astigmatism and I used the glasses while reading or using the computer. I didn’t bother with them during any other activities. One day not long afterwards, I don’t know what made me instinctively do it, but I closed one eye while wearing my glasses, then I closed the other. The left eye was now blurred looking through the lens. The right eye was the same, sharper with the glasses on. I booked an appointment with my optometrist. Sure enough my prescription changed. Now both eyes were the same (SPH +0.75 CYL 0 Axis 0) which was purely to make things larger while reading from a screen for 9 hours a day. My vision was actually now 20/20 in both eyes. I asked my optometrist, "How did this happen?" He assured me that although it’s pretty uncommon, people sometimes improve their vision over time instead of the other way around with age. It wasn’t until I read that passage in Dodge’s book that I was certain that that exercise caused the muscle tonus in my left eye to stop contracting and the reason my vision improved. If a man who had 20/800 vision in one eye had improved to 20/200, I was assured that my own improvement could be attributed to the Feldenkrais lessons.
Another book I’m reading (which along with "Kids Beyond Limits” by Anat Baniel should be required reading for any parent of a child with cerebral palsy) is “Way out of cerebral palsy during infancy and early childhood with the Feldenkrais Method®” by Paul Doron Doroftei. Anat brings the perspective she’s learned from her 30 plus years of experience, first working alongside Feldenkrais and then on her own with children with special needs. She has developed nine essentials that bring about improved functional abilities. Parents can use these essentials such as slow, variation and subtlety right away when interacting with their children to help them learn and thrive. Paul’s book has the unique perspective of someone who has cerebral palsy and received lessons from Moshe Feldenkrais himself. Paul decided to take the training program to become a Feldenkrais practitioner after continuous improvements in his balance and function over time. He recalls how it felt to come home to himself with Feldenkrais lessons and how it compared to other methods of rehabilitation that his parents subjected him to as a child. He talks about his approach with children which is to make them feel supported, never coerced. He discusses spasticity as the way to compensate for a deficit in perception of the child's own body. Increased muscle tension used to intensify self-perception. “The increased tension in the muscles, however, operates counterproductively concerning the perception of external stimuli coming from the environment because it massively disturbs the perception of stimuli, such as the force of gravity, creating a vicious circle: disorder in the perception leads to increased muscle tension leads to more perception disorder.” As I train to become an Anat Baniel Method practitioner I find this type of information so valuable to begin to understand what my daughter feels. I start to see how I can create a learning path forward for her to overcome this challenge that is so cyclical in nature.
Dodge writes about Feldenkrais, “These insights contrast with the approach of many conventional physical therapies or the use of machines for rehabilitation, which generally give patients with “biomechanical problems” repetitive exercises, based on the assumption that there are ideal movements for lifting, walking, getting out of a chair and so on. Feldenkrais hated it when his ATM classes were called exercises, because biomechanics repetition of action was what got people into bad habits in the first place.” and “ Feldenkrais’s approach differs from some conventional body therapies in terms of method and goals, insofar as they focus on specific parts of the body and hence are “local” in orientation. For instance, some of the forms of physiotherapy will use exercise machines, to engage specific body parts of move through stretching and strengthening. These approaches, often extremely valuable, are arguably more inclined to treat the body as though it were made up of individual parts and therefore more mechanical in orientation. They may prescribe particular protocols for particular problem areas. Feldenkrais claimed, “I have no stereotyped technique to apply ready-made to everyone; this is against the principles of my theory. I search and, if possible, find a major difficulty which can be detected at each session and which may, if worked upon, soften and be partially removed. I…go slowly and progressively through every function of the body.”
I feel as though there’s still a big part of healthcare and rehabilitation practices that are operating within a paradigm that ignores the brain and it’s potential to change. We were told by my daughter’s paediatrician that she “would walk but she wouldn’t play the piano.” SAYS WHO!!! We were told by our her neurologist that the function of her hand “wouldn’t be perfect”. Who is she to define what perfection is?!!! The limitations for special needs children and their parents are mostly put upon them by others. The worst part of this for a parent, is allowing that to influence the path of experiences they have. The best advice I can give to a parent of a special needs child is don't allow it. Don't allow their limited thinking and experience determine the path for your child. Be their advocate for learning instead.
The idea of strength training for a brain injury is coo coo. First they have to be aware their leg and pelvis, etc., exists and how it can move in the gravitational field before they try to strengthen the muscles. Often strengthening of muscles will occur naturally once they have integrated more of themselves within their movements - and this is all controlled by the brain. Our daughter not only walks now, she runs and jumps, and you can bet I will work with her until she experiences the same functionality with both hands. I love this Ted Talk by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.” She has similar views that present healthcare is acting based on science from the fifties, imposing limitations that were the belief at the time. Popular books like Barbara's and Norman Doidge's make me hopeful, as there's nothing like a best seller to reach more of society, have us question the norms and change the way rehabilitation is done.
As for the minimalism by nature, I will catch you up on that in another simpler post.