Check in and reset your nervous system!
Last week in the blog ‘Can You Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?’, I discussed how to challenge your brain by learning new things. Whether these are simple or complex movements, the brain adapts to new stimuli and environments at any age, allowing you to master new motor skills and processes.
There are many cognitive and physical benefits associated with learning NEW movements. However, what if we take a step back and look at OLD movements, including the most basic functions of human movement?
If you’ve ever watched a child develop throughout its first few years, you’ll know that he or she passes several distinct milestones:
- Diaphragmatic (and nasal) breathing
- Control of the head
- Rolling over
- Rocking on hands and knees
- Crawling and eventually walking
From an early age we are programmed to move and to overcome obstacles. Our bodies and our knowledge of the world are developed through movement and exploration.
This past weekend, my fellow it’s time! kinesiologist Andrea Brennan and I traveled to Seattle to attend an ‘Original Strength’ (OS) workshop. OS is an organization that builds upon these developmental milestones in an effort to help adults ‘Press RESET to “[restore] the body through movement” .
OS supports there are three guiding principles to ‘Pressing RESET’:
- Breathe through the diaphragm
- Engage the vestibular system (our inner ear/brain balance and awareness of space)
- Cross your midline with movement
When we reflect on our daily lives, it becomes evident most of our natural movements are designed to help us constantly RESET. Crawling, walking, and running, for example, require we continue to breathe, keep our head up and balanced, and move opposing limbs in tandem.
Furthermore, OS postulates there are no ‘bad’ movements, as how a person moves is simply a reflection of where their nervous system is today. The goal is to simply move a person from ‘good’ to ‘better’ by ‘Pressing RESET’.
How do we ‘Press RESET’?
‘RESETTING’ is about reminding our bodies and brains how to move and work, not teaching them. We do this by tapping into the developmental stages listed above. Through practice of these OLD movements, we can remind our nervous systems how we moved when we first learned to control our body, how integral the ‘happiness’ of our nervous system is to movement, and how it feels to be at YOUR body’s best.
On average, humans take 23,000 breaths per day; 8.3 million breaths per year! Until 6 months old, we are entirely diaphragmatic nasal breathers, but as we age we often shift our breathing work to the accessory muscles (ie. chest, shoulders, neck). Without natural diaphragmatic breathing, the body loses core and spinal stability through a cascade of muscular effects, and in turn activates more sympathetic nerve activity (including the release of more cortisol, the stress hormone).
RESET: Get down to the ground or a hard bed. Lie on your back or front. Slow down and start to relax. Take deep breaths in/out through your nose, focusing on filling your low back, sides, and stomach with pressure. Do not let your chest or shoulders elevate. If any areas of your body are uncomfortable, try a different position (ie. hug your knees, plant your feet, arms up or down, etc.). Shorter positions will be easier on the spine.
Your vestibular system is the first to develop in the womb, and it is connected to every system in the body. It is located in the head (inner ear) and protected by the skull, and is responsible for balance, spatial awareness, and posture. Posture is a reflex – it’s not a position we hold through cognitive effort. Every muscle in the body is connected to the vestibular system, so in order to own our body’s movements, we must own movement of our head and neck.
Think of a baby – it’s head comprises 33% of its total weight, and 25% of its total size. If they can learn to control their heads, we sure can!
RESET: Vision precedes head movement. Lie on your back or front. Look first, and let your head follow. Play with up/down and rotational movements. Try different body positions and explore your neck range of motion.
Rolling is the beginning of the human gait (walking) cycle, and is the first of our RESETS to cross the midline of the body. Not only does it mobilize the spine, provide rotational stability, and engage the vestibular system (balance), but it also stimulates our proprioception, the input we get from things touching our skin. Our skin is our largest sensory organ (contains 640,000 sensory receptors) and is intimately connected to the brain, so this tactile stimulation improves neural connections, positive hormonal activity, and mental and emotional health.
RESET: Vision precedes head movement, and head movement precedes spinal movement. Look and reach where you want to go, and let your body follow. Try rolling forwards/backwards or side/side while hugging your knees. Try rolling from a loose, straight position on the ground. Try rolling without the use of your arms or legs. If you begin to hold tension in your neck or face, the movement is too much!
As adults, our spines contain three natural curves. As babies, these curves do not form until we start to rock. Rocking occurs in the all fours, or quadruped, position where our weight is supported on our hands and knees, and integrates all our joints (toes, feet, ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, wrists, spine). Moving forward/back or side/side engages the vestibular system and teaches our brains how to coordinate hip and shoulder movements, preparing them for natural gait (walking or crawling). Rocking is also soothing and reflexive – ever seen a mother rock a baby, a child rock when they’re overstimulated, or even an adult sway and pace when they’re angry?
RESET: Find a position on your hands and knees, creating a base about shoulder width apart. Keep your head up and gently sit back into your hips, reversing the movement before your spine starts to round. Experiment with leg, foot and toe positions – knees wider than hips, toes tucked or flat, heels rotated in or out. Motions can be small. They will get bigger. Listen to your body.
*Note: rocking can be done standing to accommodate mobility issues – place your hands on a counter and try rocking there.
Crawling (and Cross Crawling for life on 2 feet)
Crawling lays the foundation for posture, rhythmic coordination, and contralateral movement (crossing the midline of the body). It integrates every reset to this point, and is therefore the ‘Ultimate RESET’. Our brains and neural networks are ‘plastic’ – they are malleable and free to change. Crawling ties neural pathways together to optimize efficiency through the whole nervous system. Walking is based on the pattern crawling creates. Crawling may be hard, but the pattern is deep within you. Try practicing moving opposing limbs before adding full body locomotion.
RESET: Start on hands and knees. Keep your head up. Moving opposite limbs, step forward in sequence to start your crawl. Try crawling forward, backwards, laterally, or around an axis. Try crawling with your toes flat or tucked. Try with your knees off the ground. Vary your speed. Play!
*Cross Crawl is done sitting or standing. Lift one leg and touch your knee with the opposite hand. Try cross crawling for a full minute! Progress to a walking march. March in different directions. Add a skip! Try a run! All these movements integrate the principles of the basic baby crawl.
Notes to remember with the RESETS:
- DO NOT move into pain! These are meant to be gentle and peaceful. If you cannot maintain your diaphragmatic breathing, the position is too hard!
- Keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth, its ‘home’ during development.
- Time is relative – do what feels good for your body. If you’re having a stressful day, your nervous system may like an entire 5min of breathing!
- Scale the movements to you.
Where do these RESETS fit into your life?
There is no hard rule as to how to use these developmental resets. Do what feels right! Try doing your favourites in bed in the morning, or when you get up. Do them to warm up, recover, or cool down at the gym. Do them if you have an injury (but don’t push into pain). Do them at night to unwind!
You will likely find specific RESETS, or even specific variations of each RESET, resonate with your body. Try testing them out! For example, try to touch your toes, or perform a bodyweight squat before resetting. Try one reset at a time, testing your initial movement between each one. Do some illicit more positive changes? Do you get closer to your toes? These are the ones to work into your daily routine.
As with any learning, relearning, or rehabilitative process, consistency is key! Spend some time on your body and brain to restore your confidence, mobility, and strength.
There is no ‘bad’ movement, so start wherever your body is today and Press RESET!
Written by Briana Kelly
Briana is a Kinesiologist and Strength Coach at it’s time! Fitness Results in North Vancouver.
Click here to listen to Briana discuss this topic with Jon McComb on the “Fitness Segment,” which airs live every Thursday at 9:05 am CKNW 980am radio.
- Original Strength Manual, version 3.0 (Nov 4, 2017)
Image Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_iqoncept’>iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo</a>