By Craig Hanauer E-RYT 500 RCYT
Isn’t it remarkable that a healthy vestibular system can process lower frequency rhythmic sound vibrations and translate them into corresponding bodily movements? Alfred Tomatis the creator of the Tomatis Listening Method observed that both rhythm and sound are processed through different parts of the human ear. He described the vestibular apparatus as the ear of the body, the part involved in the feeling and production of movement and rhythm, and the cochlea or hearing apparatus deals with the perception of sounds and pitch. Music helps to join brain and body in their response to the resonance of sound so that the body itself becomes an instrument of expression.
It is no coincidence that many disciplines designed to address vestibular dysfunction have a rhythmic component to them. Take for example traditional Sensory Integration Therapy’s focus on rhythmic movements to stimulate the vestibular system in different ways; Harald Blomberg’s Rhythmic Movement Therapy designed to address nonintegrated primitive reflexes through rhythmic movements; and although not aimed specifically at vestibular dysfunction, the therapeutic branch of Eurythmy (a practice common to Rudolph Steiner’s Waldorf Schools around the world) aims to restore an individual towards balance and equilibrium.
Clearly rhythmic movements are comforting and organizing for many children, and that is why rocking a baby tends to be soothing and swinging forward and back upon a swing is a popular activity for many kids. But what about the child who avoids the swing or is upset by even a gentle rocking motion? What does this say about her vestibular system, and how can she gradually become acclimatized to such movements so that she begins to enjoy them and to develop a corresponding internal rhythm and order?
It is through being bounced, rocked, and spun that babies develop a healthy vestibular system, so children who are hypersensitive to vestibular input should not be allowed to avoid it completely, but rather should be exposed to it with consideration to time and intensity. Much like the child who has difficulty waiting; if always called upon immediately s/he will have no opportunity to increase her capacity to wait, however kept waiting too long will send her into unproductive distress.
So what does all of this have to do with Children’s Yoga? I wasn’t aware of the many ways I was already incorporating rhythmic movements into my children’s yoga classes until I attended training on Blomberg Rhythmic Movement Therapy. All of that rocking, rolling and moving to music has a rhythmic component to it, and engaging my students through rhythm makes the class run so much more smoothly; it’s is akin to moving with the river rather than against it. In addition, I have become aware of so many new ways of incorporating rhythmic movements into my classes, now that I see how these movements benefit my students, and myself in terms of the energy I expend in leading a class. We often hear the expression “being in the rhythm of life” and this is something that can begin like so many other things on the yoga mat!
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