Neuroplasticity is an exciting, quickly expanding, and respected field of science and medicine, providing vast new applications to us as somatic therapists. The GYROTONIC EXPANSION SYSTEM® is uniquely conducive to positive neuroplastic change in both its methodology and innovative equipment.
In this blog, we describe the fundamental properties of neuroplasticity, ways in which movement can influence those properties for better or worse, and why the Gyrotonic Method partners so harmonically with creating positive neuroplastic change.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change its structure and its function throughout life according to what we do. We are constantly influencing positive or negative changes in our brains and in our lives as we go along. Until very recently, scientists thought of our brains more mechanistically like the hard drive of a computer.
We now know that the brain is constantly responding and adapting in both its structure and its function throughout our entire lives. Now, with current science exposing the principles of Neuroplasticity, the Gyrotonic Method can be seen as a potent tool for neuroplastic change. The creator, Juliu Horvath, clearly understood throughout the genesis of his creations that the organic roots of movement and health are far deeper than the musculoskeletal system.
Nowhere is this truth better reflected than in the sense of well-being felt after a Gyrotonic session. This shift is often difficult to describe in words as it is an experience. Sometimes words are used like “feeling lighter, feeling more grounded or feeling freer.” Sometimes, it’s expressed as a more spiritual sensation of well-being. Perhaps the only way to define it scientifically is through a pervasive neuroplastic shift.
KEY REQUIREMENTS FOR NEUROPLASTIC CHANGE
Let’s start with the basics. The nervous system is based on messaging and mapping. The messages are relayed through the neurons to the brain, where they are mapped. Though there are topographical similarities in the structure and function of all human brains, the maps of each individual are as unique as their fingerprints. Just as each experience of our individual lives has been unique, so has the corresponding mapping of our brains. The Gyrotonic equipment is designed to adapt to the individuality of each person.
It used to be thought that once we reached a certain age, our learning had peaked. It was expected that as we age, we would diminish in our abilities to learn and function. What we now understand is that learning is possible throughout one’s entire life. It’s not that our brains lose the ability to learn. It is more a reflection of our tendency to stop learning as we become acceptably skilled or resign ourselves to ageing. Just like our muscles, our brains have a use it or lose it component. To the extent they are positively engaged, new circuits are accessible. And even if one aspect of the brain is damaged or never developed, it is possible for other areas of the brain to take over the function.
The flexibility and adaptability for us to learn, change and develop new brain maps throughout our lives is a characteristic of neuroplasticity.
It is important to understand that the neuroplasticity of our brains can be driven toward both positive and negative outcomes according to what we experience, do, think, feel and even imagine. Activities that are repeated most often become the strongest and fastest maps of the brain. They become habits which we can rely on to help us remember how to ride a bicycle, for example. Or they can become negative, such as postural habits from computer use. They can also become disorganized and very challenging in instances such as chronic pain and anxiety.
The opportunity is that wherever we find ourselves in life, we can trust that our brain is structured to be able to help us change, learn, heal, and grow with greater potential than we ever realised before.
THE GYROTONIC METHOD AND THE ROLE IN POSITIVE NEUROPLASTIC CHANGE
So what does this have to do with The Gyrotonic Expansion System and movement? Movement is life. So, from the moment there is life, signalling is occurring in the nervous system that creates maps which help us develop, learn, and adapt. Since movement, especially the most essential movements like breathing, are occurring concurrently with every moment in life, movement maps become associated between the activities that happen concurrently, such as breath and experience. Usually, many centres of the brain are firing concurrently, which means they light up or fire together and are mapped together. As an example, think of the most basic skills an infant learns. Sensations like touch, desire, vision and hearing are all coordinated with multiple centres of our brains to help us survive, communicate, play, learn and become autonomous.
Not only are these movement maps generated by the developmental experiences of our life; they are internally known at the most primal level of ourselves based on the evolution of our species. The most essential skills for survival are innate or reflexive versus learned. They go back beyond our experiences as primates, further back, when we mobilised ourselves through the water with rhythmic undulating movements.
The wave is one of the most quintessential movements in the entire Gyrotonic exercise sequences. Often, people comment that the equipment gives them the sense of fluidity, like moving in water.
Our deepest primal wisdom is far more intelligent, reliable and efficient than cognition. Breath is an obvious example of contacting that primal intelligence for survival. Using breath, we can connect into the deepest centres of our organisation and positively reset. Somewhat like restarting the computer, sometimes this reset leads to more superficial challenges and tensions to readily diminish.
Just as movement innately is connected to the maps of our history, so can we use movement to navigate our well-being in the present moment and the future.
In the Gyrotonic Method, from the awakening of the senses, the internal figure eights, the breathing patterns, eye movements and undulations of the body all tap us into our primal resources that we can rely on to help us access and improve the organization of ourselves and our well-being.
To create new mapping to maximize our potential through positive neuroplastic change, there are key requirements which are inherently a part of Gyrotonic sequences.
In the Gyrotonic Method, there are a myriad of options for shifting our attention from the outer world of multitasking into internal sensation. We do this through awakening the senses, scrubbing, internal figure eights and breath. Visualisation and sensation are among the nervous system’s best tools to develop new brain maps to help release us from restrictions into possibilities.
Breathing changes with our activities. It is different when we sleep, laugh, cry, run or are stressed. And when our breath is held, the brain receives a message that we are not safe, and the tonus goes up through our entire selves, wasting energy in the form of tension. The Gyrotonic Method offers an unusual number of variations to our breathing patterns. Each of these variations diversifies the maps of our breathing in the brain and, thereby, the associations. This diversification of maps is key to unlocking deeply held unwanted patterns and provides the opening of new options that travel with us outside the session as well.
THE ROLE OF ATTENTION IN NEUROPLASTIC CHANGE
Without attention, our brain and nervous systems aren’t interested. So, they are not stimulated to continue to generate vital new mapping in our brain. The vast variations of movement patterns in the Gyrotonic Method multiplied by the different pieces of equipment and relationships with gravity require attention.
Redundant exercises of any form, though they may have some health benefits, are meek in their results if the person exercising is not engaged. The brain doesn’t have to pay attention. It is like putting our most valuable asset to sleep instead of revitalizing it. Walking on a treadmill redundantly distracting oneself by talking on the phone or watching TV will actually negatively impact brain health by creating a “noise” in the brain versus clarity and efficiency. Noise in the brain deteriorates brain health.
So, attention is a key requisite of positive neuroplastic change. And learning has been proven to amplify positive neuroplastic change. While learning a new task, it excites the neural pathways with curiosity and strengthens the mapping of those new patterns. Those of us who have practiced the Gyrotonic Expansion System throughout most of our lives continue learning every time we enter a session.
ENERGY, MELODY, AND MOVEMENT
Music is primal in nature, in every indigenous culture and in us. Beginning in the first Gyrotonic session, the approach to all movements are taught in a rhythmical and melodic way. Music reaches into our souls as well as our cells, our nerve cells, nervous system and brain. We first respond to our mother’s heartbeat and then lullabies. The soothing sound of the ocean resonates deeply in us. Gyrotonic exercises vary in tempos to calm, energize, and release excess tensions. In the Gyrotonic Method, the rhythm, the melody, and the sound of our own breath as music through fluid movements harmonise us.
Norman Doidge MD, author of The Brain That Heals Itself, “To use an analogy, the patterns are like a musical piece, and the neurons are the orchestral musicians that play the piece.” When patterns are disorganized, they create a “noisy brain” responsible for an array of dysfunctions. Energy such as light, especially sunlight, can positively influence health in the brain and body. For thousands of years, Chinese medicine has influenced the flow of energy to improve health.
THE ADAPTABILITY OF THE GYROTONIC EXPANSION SYSTEM
The adaptability of both methods of the Gyrotonic Expansion System allows us to adapt to the needs of fluctuations in our nervous systems. A highly intellectual professional who has too much attention and tension in the mind, though a sense of a tired body, can be given challenging movements that require the body to wake up, releasing the tension in the mind and awakening the energy in the rest of the self. An elite athlete needs both. Their bodies are often overworked in specific ways, and their minds are fixated on achievement, which needs to be released to allow new, more efficient patterns to emerge.
It is important that when one level of achievement is accomplished, the nervous system is perturbed with just the right amount of additional challenge so that the reward neuroreceptors essential to learning are not overwhelmed by too much complexity; yet the complexity must be increased enough to keep the growing appetite of the brain excited. The Gyrotonic methodology allows us to create a comforting environment when appropriate. Then, to strengthen the skills, we are able to adapt the amount of chaos/challenge for the individual at the appropriate rate. We can create variations that challenge multiple skills like balance, visual perception, and accuracy in moving through space at different tempos in varying relationships with gravity. The more ways a skill is learned and challenged, the stronger and more reliable the neural connections and maps become in our brains. The Gyrotonic Expansion System and equipment allow us to titrate workouts up or down as appropriate for the individual at that moment. The plasticity of the brain is equally available for negative neuroplastic change as it is for positive. The flexibility of neuroplasticity can equally strengthen bad habits and unwanted patterns such as addictions and chronic pain. It is therefore important to remember that the Gyrotonic Method if disrespected in its principles of approach, can create negative neuroplastic change just as easily as any inappropriately used gym or other activity. If Gyrotonic sessions are approached with an aggressive achievement orientation, using too much weight, done redundantly without attention, or randomly organized, the results can negatively affect the brain, the body, and the well-being of anyone. This is where the key to success is in the hands of the artistry of the teacher. And this artistry can only be understood through personal practice.
“Theory does not create experience. Experience creates theories. Without mindful practice, there is no experience.” Juliu Horvath