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Developmental Learning

Neuromovement & Biochemistry

By ABM Movement Lessons, Developmental Learning, Nutrition

I’m passionate about helping children be 100% healthy, 100% full of vitality and the best learners they can be. What fascinates me about my work is that as a child’s neuro-developmental system is improved, all other aspects of the child’s life improves.

This first in a series of blogs on movement lessons and biochemistry, explores the inter- and intra-relationships between the application of a neurodevelopmental movement lesson and generalized improvement in function. These changes are non-linear and although task-specific, in the majority of cases, go beyond the movements explored, to generalized improvement in all areas.

Addressing and reducing brain disorganization, can improve motor, emotional, mental, behavioral, spiritual, & biochemical health. Yet, we don’t know for certain which biochemical pathways are being influenced and shifted towards homeostasis.   Although there is one planned study in the development stages, (Oxytocin levels as a marker for increased vagal tone) there is currently no peer-reviewed research on this topic of neurodevelopmental lessons (Feldenkrais and/or ABM for children, ChildSpace, etc.) vis a vis changes in internal biochemical markers. Assuming the components in a person’s system work together as a whole, and that the relationship between them is non-linear and dynamic, then information leading to a significant change in one component of the system, must be affecting all others, including a biochemical one.

My clinical practice focuses on the Anat Baniel Method for children and Feldenkrais methodologies. It’s referred to as Neuromovement learning because we use movement to access the power of the brain to learn new pathways. In other words, I help kids become better learners. I also coach parents in practical ways to support this learning at home. Of the thousands of adults and children I’ve had an opportunity to work with in 22 years, the majority of the children I see have special needs. Approximately 15% are on the autism spectrum.

Anat Baniel’s Method, is an evolution on the work of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. It articulates Nine Essential components to improve function that exists in in the learning space of a ‘Movement Lesson.

They are:

  • Movement with Attention
  • Slow
  • Subtle, or reduction of effort
  • Variation
  • Flexible goals
  • Enthusiasm
  • Imagination & Dreams
  • The Learning Switch
  • Awareness

These essentials are applied in different ways depending on the child’s needs; verbally, visually, or through hands-on manipulations. Even in cases where the biochemical environment of the child is compromised, as is the case with many/most children with learning and developmental delays, the pathways via which information is organized and then acted upon can be significantly and radically altered with Neuromovement lessons alone. Without a biochemical intervention first! And this is an important point.

If both systems were addressed  simultaneously there is a potentiation effect..   My point is that a change can happen from either direction. We can affect a change from the neuro-motor system, or from a biochemical one.

A stunning example of the effect of neuromovement intervention alone is the case of a little girl, 6 years old, whose mother brought her to see me during one of my clinics. Here is a brief history of Susie (name changed for privacy)

  • Susie is on the autism spectrum. And had not yet initiated any specific diets, such as the GAPS, GFCF, or SCD. She’s a very sensitive eater, only eating when mealtime was rigidly structured, and then only when standing up and moving about. Her food choices were severely limited. She had difficulty with fine motor skills. She had sensory integration issues and didn’t like touch. She was considerably ataxic and although she had receptive language, she was delayed in her expressive language. She had significant dyspraxia. All these are red flags for biochemical imbalances that might be related to: gut dysbiosis, autoimmune syndrome, inflammation, methylation and/or thyroid disorders, and oxidative stress.

Our 30 minute lesson centered on my visual proximity to her while discovering a variety of balance possibilities on roller; 2 points, 3 points and 4 points. My primary focus was on implementing these Nine Essentials, specific to her immediate needs.

We explored various combinations allowing time and space for these things to converge:

Her eyes with her attention, reversibility of balance/ imbalance/balance, open-ended, curiosity-based exploration, having fun, & giving space to make mistakes and to explore doing something the ‘wrong way’

When she spontaneously and dynamically arrived at a particular combination, I brought this to her attention. I followed her curiosity on the roller, without demand for a certain combination of points, or an outcome.

Often, children experience immediate changes during a lesson that are task-specific. In Susie’s case, her balance improved during the lesson. But this was not our goal. Adherence to the Nine Essentials and insuring they were compassionately applied to her specific immediate need was my focus.

Just as dependable, are the outcomes experienced in the interim between lessons. And these outcomes, those happening in the interim, are more generalized improvements, and are the ones that drive my intense curiosity as to what is happening biochemically in a Movement lesson context. What happens in the cascade of biochemical events that leads to improvements, often transformational?

Here is the incredible testimonial from Susie’s Grandmother (G); recorded on video, and reproduced here in transcript form:

PH: Hello R. Please tell us about some of the changes that you observed.

G: The first impressive thing we’ve noticed, is that when we came out of your clinic was she could step down the concrete steps one foot after the other, and she would get to the last step and she would jump. She’s never been able to climb down any stairs without hanging onto the bannister or railing. She was so proud of herself she said, “Look what I can do!” At the same time she turned around and she walked back up the stairs so proud of herself, so proud. And she continued to climb up and down probably 4 times. She was able to concentrate and do this.

PH: Whereas before, the concentration wasn’t there?

 G: No, and she would have to hang on to a rail and usually go down one foot, put the other foot right next to it, and so on, versus continually stepping down.

Another thing we noticed during the following week was that she mentioned that she was hungry. She’s never ever vocalized that she has hunger sensations. When it came to meal-time, we always had to play games, running around the house, having a food stations, and stop her and give her food at these ‘stations’.

She seemed more ‘at peace’ with herself, more comfortable in her own body, she would sit for longer periods of time and let us read ta whole book to her!

At one point in the week, she came home form school and she wanted to use a pen and draw. She’s never wanted to do that because fine motor is hard for her. It was impressive to us that she initiated, and asked to do it.


I’ve had other parents of young children on the spectrum observe similar transformational changes after 1 or several lessons.
It’s remarkable that by using developmental tools alone, a child on the spectrum can experience transformations in behavior, and mental-emotional well being.

And this brings up the topic of biochemistry of the child. When a child makes these kinds of changes, there is a shift in how the information is processed in the brain-body continuum. These changes result in a non-linear, but associative change in the internal biochemistry of the child. Those neurotransmitters, co-factors, hormones, enzymes, redox states, energy thermo-dynamics, & ‘omics’ must also be making a shift if we are to assume that the brain and body work as a continuum in a dynamic state.

Patricia Holman helps Isaiah turn on his learning switch

How Do I Decide the Best Therapy For My Child?

By ABM Movement Lessons, Developmental Learning, Feldenkrais Method

Adults & the parents of children that choose the Feldenkrais Method or the Anat Baniel Method for Children, choose the principle that connecting with what is rather than correcting what’s wrong, is the first step in novel learning and overcoming limitation .Combined with the other brain-based learning tools,  there’s more potency in any action that  that comes from discovering for oneself how to shift from pain and limitation to possibility; creatively & dynamically problem solving; using the incredible and elegant power of the human brain to learn something new.

The current widely held therapeutic model is basically this: Exercise, or force the child into the milestone that isn’t currently there, practice it a lot,  add in tears, pain, resistance, willpower, & coercion, and it will be hard-wired.  Functional outcomes will be hard-won in the short term and the potential for neurotic, compulsive behavior that develops from force, coercion and ‘not-being-met’ will pattern ineffective and dysfunctional patterns.

I operate from an entirely different working hypothesis.   When the brain can become a better learner, then function will follow.  Improved thinking, coupled with present moment awareness is the first step to more organized function.  I help children overcome limitation using the Nine essentials to prime the nervous system.  When I set the table using the Nine Essentials,  then other developmental steps can emerge.  Not only do these milestones have a better chance of emerging organically, but they emerge with  with less effort, more joy, more natural curiosity, more power & potency to last a lifetime.

The best therapy is the one that honors self-empowerment, & the current abilities of the child rather than the limitation.  It honors self-paced learning rather than standardized milestones.  It honors & recognizes that the best learning comes when your child is being “met”.


Patricia Holman turning on Elladry's learning switch

Less is More

By ABM Movement Lessons, Developmental Learning

When I first meet children in my practice, they have usually been to many therapists, doctors and other experts on how best to handle their challenges.  The kids have established defensive behaviors based on these experiences.  There are many reasons why parents decide to embark on the Anat Baniel Method for Children process, but the most obvious is that they aren’t seeing the progress they know is within their child’s grasp, and so they continue to look outside the box.  In many ways, each parent of a child with a disability becomes a pioneer and advocate.

When I meet children for the first time, it’s extremely important to establish respect and let go of any goals that I may have for them, or that their parents have for them.  The most important thing is to meet the child and get to know them.  To find their  playgrounds of communication.  We achieve this in ABM work, by touching with the least amount of intensity.  Just enough to let the child know we are there, but not enough to feel like we are imposing goals.  All kids respond to that kind of touch very well, no matter the disability. Less is more means that no goals are predetermined, that no enforcement or repetition is implemented. The effortless touch and the response to that touch then determines  the next step.  And in this way, children become connected to themselves, and a switch gets turned on, perhaps for the first time in the long line of therapies tried.  This is why parents love the work.  First & foremost, because it respects their children.  And children thrive with it because they  feel listened to and can be the true explorers that nature intended.

Babies Know

The Learning Switch

By ABM Movement Lessons, Developmental Learning

Luke (name changed) is a lovely boy, autistic and 2 years old here.  His parents were interested in neuromovement lessons to help him with a variety of challenges, most notably because of balance and movement difficulties.  This was our second lesson together.  I post this video as a visual example of what it looks like when the learning switch is turned on.

Luke has an habitual emotional reactivity to initial encounters by expressing this upset saying “No no no no no”.  In this second lesson, as Luke enters my office, he sees the video camera which upsets him and he expresses this upset very clearly.  ‘No no no no’!!!.  Instead of turning off the camera, or covering it, I heard the upset, and gave him space with his ‘No’s without my getting upset, judgmental, or feeling as if I needed to do something.  I held his ‘No’ in a safe and compassionate way, not pushing Luke at all.  Here is the theme of the lesson.  I began to playfully explore the word No in such a way as for Luke to begin to hear the word, apart from the emotion it was paired with.  My thinking process is to:

1).  Calm him but not dismiss his emotion, by using a prosaic tone in a variety of ways.  Say ‘No’ in many different ways and attitudes.

2).  Use variation in activities once he could recognize what he was hearing.  In this case, I read him a book, that specifically addresses the use of the word “no” on it’s pages in conversation with the characters in the book.

3)  Find social contexts in the immediate environment to use the word more powerfully, and and introduce a variation to No.   which is Yes. For example, his mom and Dad were in the room with us and I engaged Luke and his Dad in a “No” playing game.  So the two of them were using this once charged word in a playful way, deactivating the emotional charge.

4).  Create a context for  Luke to embody this new opposite.  The Yes.  Now is where I began to intentionally direct his attention to movement-based sensations.

We found creative ways, using sounds, imitation, engaging Mom & Dad in a counting game and gentle, slow, weight-bearing shifts on his pelvis in sitting; Luke learns to sense and feel that ‘No’ can also be neutral, that it needn’t carry the emotional charge it had in the beginning of the lesson.  This led to his ability to differentiate’ No’ from ‘Yes’. and his subsequent discovery of Yes when looking at a video camera that initially was very upsetting to him. As well as clear expressive communication to what his needs were at the end of the lesson:  “I want to get down”.

I was astounded at this outcome actually, as I had no plan for the lesson other than to stay present and find ways to use differentiation, variation, slow, and flexible goals.  My teacher Anat Baniel has a beautiful adage.  She often reminds us that our job is to make order out of the disorder.  And this  lesson is a lovely example of that adage.