My guest this week is Anat Baniel, a trained clinical psychologist and founder of the Anat Baniel Method®NeuroMovement®. Anat’s work is at the forefront of the emerging brain plasticity field and the understanding of the role of movement in child development, health, and vitality. Anat has worked with athletes, musicians, and 1000s of children with special needs diagnosed with cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, genetic disorders, and more. She is the author of the highly acclaimed book Kids Beyond Limits and the bestselling Move Into Life: NeuroMovement for Lifelong Vitality. Anat was trained as a clinical psychologist, dancer, and was a student and professional associate of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. She has trained over 700 practitioners and with her team of trainers she leads workshops and runs a private practice at the Anat Baniel Method Center in San Rafael, California.
In this episode, Anat and I discuss why it is important to shift the parental perspective of children’s behavioral problems and how to navigate them as possible neuromovement disorders. By introducing her NeuroMovement® Method essentials, Anat shows parents how children with special needs such as Autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy and more can thrive both physically, emotionally, and in their cognitive performance. To learn more about NeuroMovement® and Anat Baniel click here.
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- Anat gives reasoning as to why behavior is not necessarily a neurodevelopmental disorder but rather a neuromovement disorder
- NeuroMovement® Disorder: An interruption in the brain’s ability to form itself
- Our level of skill and perception is correlated to the degree of differentiation we have already experienced
9 Essentials Overview
- Each of the essentials helps the brain to do its job better at making new connections, overcoming pain, and attaining new levels of physical, emotional, and cognitive performance
- Here are a few:
- “Movement with Attention”: when you shift your attention to what you feel as you move. In a child, this can create 1.8 million new connections per second
- “Slow”: Start slow, work to get the brain’s attention allowing for more feelings and better perception
- “Reduction of Intensity”: reduce mechanical intensity, emotional intensity, drilling, and repetitions. The more intense of a stimulation, the more apt we are to desensitize
- “Variation”: Differences. Those things that allow your brain to create new possibilities in feelings, action, thought and more
- “Flexible goals”: If we know how to get somewhere or how to do something, we would do it. We must embrace the unexpected steps it takes in learning along the way
- More details can be found here
Where to learn more about Anat Baniel …
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Anat’s Story … 00:03:20
What is NeuroMovement Disorder? … 00:10:30
Anat Baniel Method 9 Essentials … 00:36:24
Episode Wrap Up … 00:45:40
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show, I am Dr. Nicole, and on today’s episode, we’re going to discuss a new way of thinking about neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, ADHD and related kinds of issues. These are often thought of as behavior disorders, but our guest today is going to help us understand how these children really are impacted by neuro movement disorders. This approach incorporates the science of neuroplasticity, which tells us that the human brain is capable of forming new connections and changing throughout the lifespan. Also, what we understand from neuroscience about the brain-body connection and how essential movement is for proper brain connectivity and function. I first learned about Anat Baniel and her work at a conference many years ago. I went on to read her book and it fits so well with my holistic and connection-focused approach to working with children. So it’s really exciting for me to have her on the show today. Let me tell you a little bit about her.
Her work is at the forefront of the emerging brain-plasticity field, and the understanding of the role of movement in child development, health and vitality. She’s the founder of Anat Baniel Method Neuromovement. Over the past 30 plus years, Anat has worked with athletes, musicians, and other high performers as well as thousands of children with special needs, diagnosed with cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, genetic disorders and more. This combination of clients led Anat to have profound insight as to how the brain learns and changes and leads to powerful transformations. She developed a method that provides both practice and theory supported by current brain science. She is the author of the highly acclaimed book Kids Beyond Limits and the bestselling Move Into Life: NeuroMovement for Lifelong Vitality. Anat was trained as a clinical psychologist, dancer, and a student and then a close professional associate of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais for many years. She has trained over 700 practitioners that now work with children with special needs, getting breakthrough outcomes. She continues to train practitioners with her team of trainers, lead workshops and runs a private practice with her colleagues at the Anat Baniel Method Center in San Rafael, California. Anat, it’s such a pleasure to have you here, welcome!
Thank you for having me, Dr. Nicole! I’m so happy to reconnect with you after all these years!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So I want to start by just having you share just a little bit about your journey of how you got to the point of really conceptualizing and creating this new approach to therapy and development for children. I’m curious. Were you working with children and feeling frustrated with the methods that you had been trained in? What kind of led you to come to be developing this type of work?
It certainly wasn’t planned. Let’s start there! I was actually trained as a psychologist, a clinical psychologist, and also had a background in science, a degree in statistics and things like that. But when I dived into clinical psychology, it really, really didn’t quite work for me. I was trained in the Freudian dynamic approach, and I was also a dancer. So the whole part of feeling, this immediate sense of self through movement and the great impact it can have was missing for me. And also some of the ideas, even though Freud, I think, was a genius, I thought it was great but didn’t quite match people in certain ways. So I went looking, and I remember having had, with my dance teacher as a child, the lessons on the floor, which were with Dr. Feldenkrais. So I found him, I connected with him, got my very first one-on-one session from him. And it was just a very generalized memory from early childhood. And when I got the first session from him, I had no idea what he did, but I knew that I had to learn what he did. He reached right into my core. And it was so gentle and so profound, the change.
So I started observing. I had money for 7 more sessions, and I was in grad school. And he let me watch him, and then he finally opened the training program. I waited a year and a half, and it was in San Francisco, and I took the training, and he became really well-known towards the tail-end of his life. I was very young, I was in the early twenties, and I was asked to travel with him, to accompany him. So I was working as a psychologist in the Israeli army, I was doing my Ph.D., and I don’t know how I did it today when I look back, but I also got on airplanes and travelled with him around the world and supported him. At certain points, coming to the whole thing with children, he did not work with a lot of children, but they brought to him this one girl, Elizabeth, and she was diagnosed with global brain damage, she was 13 months old. She really cried pretty much all the time, and I held her. Nevermind the whole story, but I picked her up, I just couldn’t listen to her crying, and she stopped crying, so he asked me to hold her while he worked with her. And that repeated itself three times. And before I knew anything, I was assisting him in a training he was doing in Amherst. He told people that if they want to work with him, children, they have to come to me. But he didn’t tell me! He was like a Jewish Zen megamaster, you know? There was an article about his work in the Smithsonian Magazine with a girl he demoed on, 11 year-old, in one of his workshops that had cerebral palsy, and this journalist followed him after that, and that article just came out before Amherst.
So the whole thing — parents were migrating. So they would see he say, “Work with Anat” afterwards, so they assumed I’m an expert. I studied some Piajet as a psychologist, but I knew nothing of physical therapy, nothing, which was a huge gift.
Because the kids came to me, and I just saw the kid — and he was so remarkable, the fact that he referred them to me, I just accepted it. I didn’t tell the parents that I don’t know anything. And the miracles started happening, including with Elizabeth. I mean I did something and something popped, I did something, something popped. So fast forward, I moved to New York, word-of-mouth, I worked a lot with musicians, with dancers, this used to be my original population, and university faculty — I was a teaching assistant. So high-performers. That was my world. And then the kids started coming, which I think also helped me in where I am today, because I got the best in their ability, and the ones that can’t make it to the basics, right?
After about, I can’t tell you exactly how many years, it’s not a very polite thing to do, but I’d work with a child — I’ll say it anyway, and they would pop. There would be a real transformation, like wouldn’t talk, starts talking. Could crawl,rolled or would start crawling. And not all of it was like that. And I always knew it was the brain. I knew because of my background with him. I knew I was impacting the brain. These things would happen, and with the kids, it was so dramatic. Musicians, their pain went away, they could play, they played better, but they were already fully-formed people.
And I went like, “Oh my God, this shit works.” But after, I don’t know how many years, five years? I can’t tell you exactly — I asked, what’s this shit? What am I doing that makes the difference? I knew that it wasn’t in my hands. If I can do it, anybody can do it, but what about what I do works? And then I started looking at it. And then I compared between working with the adults, and then I trained practitioners, and I would see how adults were in terms of learning how healthy kids were learning, how the kids that were not so healthy and then got healthy changed And I took a year, I sat down and took a year and formulated the 9 essentials, which are basically the conditions that the brain needs in favors in order to wake up and form new connections and do what we call learning. And what’s behind it? What do these essentials provide?
So first of all, I realized what the essentials are, but then I said, okay, what do they provide? And we can talk about that if you like, because once this is understood, it really changes a lot of how we would approach helping anyone. Now we’re implementing — we had to stop it because of Coronavirus, but we’re implementing this program in a whole school district in Canada, and they’re seeing huge, wonderful changes in the aids, in the children. I am so sad that we had to stop it because we were also doing research on it with Dr. Martha Herbert, but anyway. Ask me what you want to know.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Well, let’s get into next — because sharing the story of how this came to be in your work really leads us to what I think is a fundamental difference in how you and your approach views what’s going on with kids, compared to how a lot of people and professionals view these kinds of issues, right? They tend to be viewed through the lens of behavior. These are behavioral disorders. And you’re saying actually, there’s something more fundamental, more foundational in this realm of neuromovement, brain-body connection that is creating the symptoms that we call Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Cerebral Palsy, whatever it may be. So let’s branch into you talking about, when you use the term Neuromovement Disorder, what are you referring to there?
Well, basically, I’m referring to an interruption in the brain’s ability to form itself. The brain forms itself. So for instance, it’s still a mistake that’s done by quite a lot of people. Babies are born, and they just lie there and they have random movements and they flail and they have reflexes, which are beyond-belief-important for future voluntary movement, and people think it’s just a waste of time, but if the baby doesn’t do it, they will never move. So I don’t know if it’s for the scope of this interview, and then, they’re 6-weeks old and they hold their head and they learn how to latch, and then they learn how to focus, and they grasp, then they can sit up, and it has a development. The idea is, the sort of unconscious belief or sort of thought is that by a certain age, a certain thing needs to happen. Now it’s true that certain things tend to happen by a certain age. But the reason they happen is not because of the age. They happen because of a process that took — that happened that allows for that spontaneous occurrence. The keyword here is spontaneous. So what happens? So we don’t sit the child so they learn to sit — so first of all, there’s an underlying, complex, huge — we’re talking in the billions and trillions in the numbers, of connection from which this next skill or capability emerges. The underlying process, the word for it is differentiation. So people hear a lot about integration disorder or something about sensory integration.
Integration is terribly important. It has to happen. But before integration needs to occur differentiation. And actually before differentiation, there is something that happens which you can call discrimination, which is — the brain is not a mechanical system, it’s an information system. I’ll come to behavior in a second. Information systems work with different rules. When you ask what the source of information to the brain is, people say stimulation. Absolutely true, and not sufficient. Because stimulation by itself is irritation to the system. And we know that when somebody bombards us with too much and we can’t make sense of what they say and all this stuff, what the source of information to the brain is, is the perception of differences within the flow of stimulation. This is so important to understand. So if you take a child with autism, and you tell him — “Do this” or “Say thank you” — you assume that they see and hear and sense what you see and hear and sense. So what happens is they don’t. It’s not like they are not intelligent, but their brain, at least certain areas of the brain have a challenge in perception of differences. The first source of information to the system, experiential information is movement. Movement is also always associated with sensory — If you really don’t move something for a while, you stop feeling it. So people talk about the sensory, but there is no sensory without movement. You don’t see if your eyes don’t move, there are invisible small — you don’t hear if there is no movement in your ear drums. The brain doesn’t work if there isn’t movement of whatever is happening in the brain.
So then, a child misbehaves — By the way, one more thing. Our level of skill and even perception is correlated to the degree of differentiation we have already gone through. So another example, the baby is born, it makes sounds, it cries, and then at certain points, it starts cooing. These are very wonderful sounds that are important sounds, but they are undifferentiated. It’s “AHHHH”. That’s the beginning of language. And then you go to gaga and joo and da da da and mumumumumomma and they hear it and they feel it. It’s interesting for them, and gradually, it funnels in until there is something predictable. So when they say “Mama”, this wonderful thing shows up, right? And that’s amazing! The first time it just happens. The second time, they make the connection. And then it becomes an intentional action. At the basis of all this process is movement. It starts with random movement, and it moves — again, just like the “Mama” thing, you move your arms, you press on the breast with the baby nurses. More milk comes. It’s an involuntary movement. Does it again, it makes the connections, they start doing it, mushing the breast and they learn. And this happens at an enormous speed. Just really billions and billions of connections form. Not all of them stay. But the integration, by the way, which is also so important because the next thing I want to say is it is spontaneous. In other words, we can not make you learn anything at any given moment. We can only give you enough variability and take you from where you are to greater options. Greater freedom in movement, in thinking, feeling, that’s all differentiation, differentiation, differentiation. And you are likely to integrate it to watch human beings integrate things into language, into being upright, into thinking, into interacting socially, so on and so forth.
So behavior represents the solutions the brain got to in order to take care of itself and survive. It’s not behavior. I don’t even use the word behavior because they’re something punitive and judgemental behind it. And by the way, anybody that works with me knows that I can be pretty — I wouldn’t say strict, but I give the kids — I call it the gravitational response. If I hold an object in my hand and then I open my fingers, it’s going to fall down. If I do it two times, it will fall down. If I do it 5000 times, it will fall down. So there are certain things that kids do that I will give it a response where they can become aware of what they are doing. And then, they have an opportunity to have other choices, but I would not tell them what to do. I do not tell them what to do. Because even if they will start following me the best they can to where they are, and where they are at this time, the present time, they don’t get agency. And one of the real, real big — I’m associated with this wonderful scientist, maybe you know her — you have to interview her: Elizabeth Torres, and we are friends and we want to do things together, she’s amazing. Elizabeth is just a genius, she’s amazing and passionate about this whole thing. And when I heard about certain approaches to the kids in Autism where they are prompted a lot and there are hours of repetition of the same things — from my point of view, trying to control their behavior. That means it looks at it from a social point of view. I\’m looking at it from a biological point of view.
A 3 months old baby is not supposed to be socialized. A year old does not socialize. A two year old starts getting some of it. A 5 year old gets some more. You know, but in the process, when the process is the normal healthy one, then the child continuously gains more and more agency, meaning, “I can do it.” The feeling that “I can figure it out. I do this, this happens.” That means the brain becomes more powerful, a more capable brain. So that’s a long answer, but I don’t know how to make it shorter.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
But it’s so important because really, what you’re talking about is that in order to support these children to become more on a path of healthy development, to be able to do the things that they are capable of doing and that we want them to be able to do, we have to look at it from a foundational perspective. And so often, what happens in our treatment of these children is we start at this cognitive top point, and we start intervening at the level of saying words and doing something with a peer or doing some kind of rote academic skill or something like that. What we do is we ignore all of these critically important developmental foundations that actually allow for the natural unfolding of those skills that we’re trying to teach. So we take this developmental pyramid and we turn it upside down, that’s how I look at it. We try to intervene at the top and we don’t give the kids any foundations to be able to truly have a more natural developmental process for things like relationship development and communication and other kinds of cognitive functions — that’s how I think about it.
I love it. It’s 100% correct. I teach trainers, practitioners, and the total training to get to be able to work with children is 136 days of training, so it’s a thorough training, because they themselves have to evolve and understand. For the very first time, last February, just caught it before the Coronavirus, two of my graduates who work with children, I did a 9-day course. They asked me to do it. And I wasn’t quite clear how I would do it, because it’s not so easy to speak it. But I called it “Movement, thinking and cognition.” And movement comes first. We showed tons and tons of video clips, and a bunch of them were on the autism spectrum. The kid has no idea, because you see, the job of the brain is to put order in the disorder and make sense out of the nonsense. And if your brain is not perceiving those differences and can do one versus — it’s all this versus this, this versus that, the perceived differences, they can’t make sense of it. It’s just flat, and by the way, for example, from a neurological point of view, we see that many of those kids on the spectrum — and it’s true also for CP in a different way, but I will say it first of all about autism, they do very extreme actions.
They hit, they speak a certain way, they walk in an undifferentiated manner — the brain has to organize itself, it’s a self-organizing system. Just like the heart beats, “Ba boom, Ba boom”, every organ in the body does it’s job. The brain’s job is to put order in the disorder. It has to sum up, impose structure, so to speak or perceptual consistency, a systematic thing to function. It took me a while, but when I was working with these kids, people called it bad behavior or self-destructive behavior. Well, it is self-destructive. But they don’t intend to self-destruct. They don’t intend to behave badly. They don’t even know what behavior means. What happens is their brain goes to the first place where it starts noticing differences. And if people understand that, it totally opens, like you found a new planet of relating to those children. They don’t know what they’re doing, but they get to the point where if it is loud enough — many of them have a monotone, very loud voice, because their brain can’t differentiate it into “Oh, really? How are you today!” “Oh great!” “Really? You said THAT to him?” All that modulation requires tremendous amounts of differentiation. That’s why great actors work on themselves for years to be able to move their body and do things so you will know what they are thinking and feeling from the way they move and sound!
So we need to work on the ability of the brain to perceive differences. That’s where we need to go. The rest takes care of itself. And movement is the language of the brain, I coined that. Without movement, there’s nothing. And you have Damasio that wrote the book The Feeling of What Happens. So our cognitive ability, our rational capabilities, the way we make sense of our world lives in the feeling sensation universe. That’s where it emerges. When we get older, and we already know that 2 and 2 is 4 and that the United States is not Canada — we forget where we came from. That leads me to the fundamental principle, it’s not one of the essentials, it is moving from fixing the children to connecting with them. And the essentials, if you do them, you have no choice but to connect to yourself and to the child.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So the whole approach, your whole method, your neuromovement approach is really about bringing it back down to the point where the brain starts to perceive these more subtle differences because what you said there is so profound: Kids will start to engage whether it’s speak, move, whatever at the level that their brain is able to perceive difference, and that often is not until something is very in-your-face forceful, and so we need to help take it back to helping them organize themselves through their movement in a way that their brain now can perceive all of those subtleties, right?
The one word I would change, you said it before and I didn’t — I don’t take them back. I take them forward. I take them into the process that the system needs. So let’s say, you want to learn to speak hebrew now. There’s nowhere back to take you to. But if I started saying words in Hebrew, unless you are familiar with it for some reason, you wouldn’t even be able to repeat the word I said, especially if I said it a little fast, right? You can’t say it. But if it’s an Israeli person, they say “Oh Bogatov Gomlaukh” It’s Chinese for you, it’s Turkish, you don’t know what the hell it is. Your brain can’t even distinguish between one sound and another. There’s nowhere back to take you. It’s always from here forward. And that’s where I liberated myself from Freudian psychotherapy. Because they kept taking people backwards. And I said, you’re training us in our problems!
It’s important to know our history, it’s important to know what we’re dealing with and to validate it and to acknowledge it and to begin differentiating from there. But it’s always differentiation. It’s always a movement forward, there’s nowhere to take the child backwards. So if I get a 7 year old kid on the spectrum that’s lying on the floor and banging themselves, there’s nowhere to take him. I start. I go, “You’re on the floor. You are really strong! Your legs especially are making a lot of noise, that means you’re strong! What about your arms? How about you bang your arms too?” And for many of them, it’s kind of like they just stop in their tracks because they realize they are banging their legs. You see, when a child lies on the floor and bangs their legs and yells, you think they know exactly what they’re doing. It’s so loud, it’s so big, you assume they know what they’re doing, they have no clue what they’re doing! So I take them from where they are — it’s always an opportunity. Every time children with CP, cerebral palsy, with brain damage, a stroke, whatever — the brain damage itself interferes with the ability of the brain, with the opportunity of the brain to differentiate. The whole thing gets very spastic.
People try to make them sit up. The brain learns its experience. It doesn’t learn what it’s supposed to learn. When I wrote my book Kids Beyond Limits, I wrote children learn their experience — and I’m still friends with her, she’s wonderful, my editor. She emailed me back, she gently said — “I am at a problem, you meant to say that they learn from their experience?” I emailed her back and I said, “Don’t we all wish?” We learn our experience. So what happens is you get a child and you try to get him to stand up, and they try to — and that’s what they learn! That means that you gave them a life sentence to never be able to really walk. And by the time they are 14, 15, 16, they refuse to put in ridiculously enormous efforts to do walking. Their brain has to have freedom to do stuff, it shouldn’t work so hard to walk, you know? But if you don’t try to make them walk, and instead you give the brain the kind of variability of movement differentiations that it would have had spontaneously if it did not have the stroke, it would have it’s challenges. It’s not like, oh, in 5 seconds you fix it. It will grow. So we have a child that started with us at 5 weeks. He’s now a year old. The parents are both Googled people. So they Googled, and they found us and they knew he had a stroke, brain damage at birth. And they decided to skip all the stuff.
3 weeks. We got him at 3 weeks. I just saw him on a Zoom — I’ll tell you in a minute what we’re doing, there are a few minutes left because now we are working through the parents with the children because we can’t work directly. He’s drinking, he’s — and the parents, we sent them for some coaching to get support because they said “You’re not going to put him up sitting before he sits. You’re not going to stand him up before he stands. You’re not going to drill him to say words.” I said, “If we give up that he can get better, we’re going to do it.”
So it wasn’t easy for them, and they learned to observe fine changes in their child. Now he took his first 10 steps, and we trained them to not clap and to not say “Do it again!” And all that stuff. And now he has done it again, and that’s the agency. This child has no distortion, the muscles are well-balanced, which means the brain is well-balanced. So that is true, you bifurcate. And the sooner you bifurcate in your approach, the more intelligent and the better the brain learns, and that’s what we see in the schools in Canada. We walk in and we start teaching the teachers to start using the 9 essentials, and kids start getting smarter.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And that’s an important point, because you’ve provided some great examples of children on the autism spectrum, maybe with some more severe kinds of issues, kids with cerebral palsy or strokes, but we’re even talking about this approach is so beneficial even for kids that somebody might call high-functioning, a child with ADHD who is impulsive and chaotic in their movement.
Let me interrupt here. It’s incredibly important and helpful for any child, from the day they are born — you see the program, that’s the way I can slide it in right now because it’s relevant. So we can’t work with the kids directly, right? The parents travel to California to our center and we work with them, we do intensives, a week or two weeks, they go back home, and I got 3 and a half to 4 weeks ago, I can’t even remember anymore — I felt like, oh my God, the children are not getting any input. The parents are coped up with them. It’s not good, and this can continue for — we don’t know, but we might not be able to work with them for a year, a year and a half, we don’t even know. That’s a really long time for a young brain to form. It forms. Doesn’t matter what happens, it forms itself. So I created a program and I had 5 of my colleagues that trained with me but now are trainers with me, and I called it ABM neuromovement through your hands, and I told the parents, we are not working with the child, we are working with you.
The child is going to be there, we see how you interact and we’ll take naturally occurring interactions in their living room, kitchen, wherever they are with their child, and we will guide you on how to use the essentials based on your ways of operating. So it was massive — we had the caretaker, either the dad or the mom or the grandmother, but the same person, 4 times, 3 sessions and through Zoom. I can send you the links if you’re curious on your email. We said at the end — we had 25 families, over 5 days, they each got 4 sessions. 3 adults, we work with strokes, we work with any needed learning, right? And the feedback — I mean I thought it would be helpful. It was — a couple of them said “Life-changing”. Life-changing for them, their insight about how much they tried to fix their child rather than connecting and giving the child the conditions to discover stuff and doing things for the child — even their relationship for their marriage feels improved. They can use those principles — I mean one of them is an actress, she’s lovely, she said — I did the first two sessions with her and her child, and she looked wasted, and it was 25 minutes that I worked with her because it was so new for her, and as you can see, I’m intense — I’m right on top of her, and I was telling her, “This — No, see you just did this again. Try it a different way!” Comes back the next day, she says, “This is relevant for everything. This is overwhelming. I have to change everything”. I said, “How about you don’t change everything? Start in one corner. Get a little expertise there, then move to other corners in your life.”
Now we’re doing it, we’re opening — this coming week we’re opening our practice, and I’m doing training for my graduates starting next weekend because we’re not doing our hands-on work, we call it function synthesis, FS. I said you’re not doing that, you’re not telling the parents to do it because it takes 136 days to learn it. But you can get them, coaching how they can inhabit the essentials so they create the environment and kids change. One child started going downstairs freely for the first time. Another child — They didn’t practice it!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Right. But that’s the power of guiding the adults spending time with children on how to create the environment and the opportunities for them to be able to make these connections. So I definitely want the link for that information because we will include it with the show notes for our listeners to access. In the time that we have left, I want to just have you touch on — you’ve mentioned the 9 essentials, these are your sort of foundational things that you have discovered are essential for supporting children in this way, we won’t have time to go through all of them, we obviously want people to get the book and access your information to learn more about it, but what would you want people to know about these essentials and maybe what are a couple of ones that are starting —
I’ll just touch really briefly on two or three. So first of all, when you apply them, you will find yourself shifting from trying to fix your child, fixing what’s wrong in the kid, we all see what’s not working. But you don’t get fixated on that. And you start actually connecting to the child, which by itself frees you — it’s a huge freedom, it frees you to love the child, the child frees up in themselves, they stop feeling like something is wrong with them, which they all do, because if I try to fix you, you’ll feel that something is wrong with you, we can’t help that. So each of the essentials really help the brain to do its job better, and I talked about what that means before.
The first essential, I call it “Movement With Attention”. First of all there has to be movement in order for something to happen. Einstein said, “Nothing happens until something moves.” He was right. But movement alone, and especially rote movement or unconscious movement where I do things but I am focusing on something else just doesn’t create any change that increases connections in the brain. And there is beautiful research done on that by somebody I collaborate with now, Dr. Michael Merzenich.
But when we pay attention to what we feel as we move — so you know you might be getting instructions from a teacher, you hear the instructions, but then you shift your attention to yourself, to what you feel as you move, the estimated number of new connections, I believe in adults it’s the same, but in children, that’s where the research is, 1.8 million new connections per second. So it’s a billion in 10 minutes. The optimal time of a movement-treated focus, 15 to maximum 20 minutes, research done in Israel. So when the brain is ready, one of my essentials is the learning switch. When the learning switch is one, the whole thing — 15 minutes, usually 20 minutes, the rest of it will just exhaust the child and will make them lose some of what they learned. So it’s the opposite of what people think, if you do it 1000 times over 8 hours, it will help. It just dumbs down the brain, it’s unbelievable.
So movement with attention, when you are with your child, look for ways to interact with a child. Call upon them to notice what they feel. So you can use this to say, “This is hard.” But if you go “Here it’s easier!” You immediately start to get this brain to operate better. It’s so simple, it seems almost like it can’t be so simple. The next essential is “Slow”. Fast, the brain can only do what it already knows. It’s built like that. Every time we move fast, and we need to be able to move fast, we rely on that, that’s habit. We. Need to be able to walk, and run. That’s part of the success of learning, but we don’t start there. We start slow. Slow gets the brain’s attention, slow gets us time to feel, slow amplifies everything, so we perceive the differences better and we learn better. The other one is reduction of intensity. Mechanical intensity, emotional intensity, drilling, repetitions is a form of intensity. Because the more intense the stimulation, the more additional stimulation the brain needs to get to feel the difference. In other words, we get desensitized.
So if something is really like the kid that lies on the floor and bangs their legs — they have so much intensity that it’s a blur in their experience. But if you can slow down and reduce the effort and do something very delicately, the kids — and kids with ADHD and all this, they start noticing something they feel. And we are built to focus on what we feel. So we can’t focus by fixing focus, but we can slow down and reduce the effort, and maybe point and say, “Oh, now it’s like this and now it’s like that.” Dr. Seuss was a genius! He was a genius! His whole books, neurologically, couldn’t be any better! They amplify! And it’s this or that, a big then a small thing, up and down.
And the last two that I will say quickly: Variations. Variations are by definition, differences. So if you have a hard time hearing a word in Hebrew or saying a sound, I will say it slowly, then I will say it a little differently. I’ll have you say it then differently. I won’t ask you to do things correctly. That I did a lot with musicians. They are put on the instrument, play like this, hold it like this, and then they get pains, aches, you know, all this stuff. And I go like — first I’ll have them do my own movement stuff so the brain just wakes up and gets more opportunities and more differentiation, more freedom, and the pain starts going away anyway, but then when they are with their instrument, they go back to how they were when they were children, and I create conditions where they can not possibly play correctly. I have them stand on one leg, I have them hold it in reverse, I have — and the pain disappears and the quality of the — I worked with some of the top classical musicians in this country in orchestras. The quality of the music and I happen to hear it, I’m able to hear it, and that’s what grasps them, because they hear the difference in what they produce.
And the last one that I want to say quickly is Flexible Goals. If we knew how to get somewhere or how to do something, we would do it. It’s no longer a goal. It’s an action. Goal implies that we don’t quite know how to do it yet. We’ll get there. So the more we know what the goal is, it’s like throwing something far to try and finish something, and I’ll go back to the present time. So it’s in the background. The goal is in the background. And then there are a few other essentials. Just observe and interact with what’s happening through the essentials. I tell you, that’s why I’m doing it, that’s why I’m talking to you all these years later — the miracles pop. In the child and in yourself. What happens is so clear to me: I am not making this happen. I really can not make a child understand 2 and 2 is 4. I can not make them walk, but I can really create this process — I have a ton of say in the process. So I focus on the process and I let life — life is magical. Learning is magical. So we have no control over the outcome. And we have continuously greater room for greater learning, sophistication, differentiation in how we do the process. And that’s the hope and the opportunity.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It does bring so much hope and it’s such a wonderful reframe or perspective shift for a lot of parents. Our job is not to control the outcome. It’s to help guide the process so that children can control it.
Exactly. And feed it. Feed it! A kid does something that is a mistake, and I say “Oh my God! What an amazing mistake! You are really good at doing it poorly!” Then you say, “Let’s see if I can do it poorly, but in a different way!” And by the way, when we make mistakes on purpose, it’s not easy. Everybody focuses on the right way, and 99% of what people tell you is the right way, they don’t know what they’re talking about anyway. So I don’t know the right way. I know a process that I know works really powerfully.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Such wonderful information and stories. You and I can talk for hours and hours about this. I want to make sure that people know where they can go to get more information about you, your work, your books — what’s the best website?
Well, my website. It’s anatbanielmethod.com and in there, by the way, there are the free ebooks, with the 9 essentials, both regarding the children and for adults. The program that we are doing, if people are interested, it would be interesting to see with people that we haven’t worked with before, which we had in this program, two families like that — it’s called ABM , Anat Baniel Method Through Your Hands. So we don’t have anything about it on the website yet because we just finished making it up a week ago! But we’re offering it to our clients already because they know our work. If you just want information, if they email email@example.com
And scheduling at anatbanielmethod.com gets them to the private sessions and you know, I did free two-weeks movement lessons for adults and we’ll probably do another one in about anywhere between 2-4 weeks. So they can get on our mailing list and they find out about stuff.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And we’ll make sure that all of those links are in the show notes on the podcast page, that people can click on those, but I just like to have you mention those in case someone is just listening to the audio so that they can do that, and —
And maybe show Kids Beyond Limits. It’s really good — I know it’s my book, but it’s really a good book. Michael Merzenich, the father of Neuroplasticity wrote the forward to the book. I asked him to write the forward. I was on the phone with him and after he read the book, he said, “Anat, the stories in this book…” because I guide the whole thing through stories, “… are memorable.” He said, “This book is going to be relevant for 100 years.” And I said that’s the good news and the bad news because it’s going to get 100 years before we get through it!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It’s an amazing book. It’s filled with such valuable information, but it is an easy read because of the stories and the examples that you give, and I highly recommend it for any parent, whether your child has some diagnosed condition or not. The information here is so valuable for any parent, but especially if you are a parent who has a child with a diagnosed brain-based issue, neurodevelopmental issues, any kind of challenge, such valuable resources. I really recommend that you check it out. Anat, it was so lovely to have you here today.
Yeah, thank you! And now with the stay at home and homeschooling, it would be incredible if all parents read it. Because parents all of a sudden have become not just parents, but teachers. Mushed together. And children learn so much more powerfully with it, and they calm down because everything settles better in them and it is an easy read and yeah! Thank you so much, it’s a pleasure, I love how you think and how you interview. Thank you so much!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Thank you for being here, I really appreciate it! And thanks to all of you for listening, we’ll catch you back here next week for our next episode of The Better Behavior show.