Monday, September 8, 2014

Arm Activation - A Fall-Prevention Tool for Senior Citizens

This story first appeared in my book Educate Your Brain - Use mind-body balance to learn faster, work smarter, and move more easily through life. Since its publication, I've talked with many people with aging parents or neighbors, or who work with seniors in their practice. All are concerned about their clients' or loved ones' potential for falling, which for the elderly can lead to serious injury or even death. 

Since this story tells of a remarkable shift into more secure and confident walking, I felt it was important to share it more widely. At the conclusion of the story, I explain how to do the Brain Gym® “Arm Activation” movement, which made so much difference in my own mother’s ability to walk securely.  

My 93-year-old mother was recovering from a leg fracture, which required three months in a skilled nursing/rehabilitation center. Once she got home, her physical therapist (PT) was helping her continue to improve her movement and stability. Her typical hunched-over posture meant that she took short, shuffling steps, not the true stride the PT was looking for, leaving her at higher risk for falls.

As Mom practiced with the PT’s guidance, my attention was drawn to her shoulders. I know how much stress I tend to hold in my own shoulders and how that can affect my whole body, so I wondered: could the key to her short stride be the fact that her shoulders seemed so raised and frozen? Later, I asked Mom if she’d like to experience one simple Brain Gym movement that might help, and she agreed. While she was sitting, I supported her in doing Arm Activation by having her raise her arm and “push just a bit” against my own hand in all four directions: forward, backward, toward her ear, away from her ear. Then I gently held her wrist as she lengthened that arm overhead, releasing all the way from waist to fingertips. She loved the feeling of relaxation in that shoulder and arm, and we repeated with the other.

Then I had her stand up, and she said, “Kathy, I’m looking right at you!” She was experiencing the fact that, for the first time in many long months, she wasn’t hunched over. Her shoulders had spontaneously come into improved alignment, leaving her chest more open and her head up. She said she even felt taller.

Then I had her walk, and she took lovely steps, much longer than before. She was so pleased with herself! Later that afternoon, Mom and I demonstrated Arm Activation for some other family members, and this time she stood even straighter, her chin held high. Her gait was even more fluid and confident—a true stride.[1]

Arm Activation is one of the Brain Gym Lengthening Activities, whose purpose is to release tension in the back of the body. This movement unlocks stress held in the shoulders, so we can regain our natural alignment, gain more fluid and coordinated use of the arms and hands, experience clearer focus, and more. 

Before you experience this movement, do a few simple a pre-checks, so you have a means of comparing your "before" and "after": Take up a pen or pencil and write your name, and then a sentence or two. Notice the formation of your letters and words, how your hand and arm feel as you write, and your experience of expressing ideas in words. Notice your sitting posture, then stand, and notice how you feel as you walk. 

Now for Arm Activation: 
Position your left arm straight up overhead (or at any comfortable angle in front of you). Place your right hand on what’s now the “front” of your left arm, below (not on) the elbow. Hold steady with your right hand as you press gently against it with your raised left arm.

This is an isometric activity, rather than a "pushing hard" activity. Using only twenty percent of your push power allows your muscles and tendons to gently activate and release. Hold for about eight seconds, or until you feel the shoulder muscle relax, whichever comes first.
Pressing forward  •  backward  •  in toward ear  • away from ear
Now do the other three directions. Keeping your left arm raised, move your right hand to the “back” of your arm, and hold it steady, this time pressing your arm to the back. Move your right hand to the “inside” of your left arm, and hold it steady as you press toward your ear; move your right hand to the “outside” of your left arm, and hold it steady as you pull away from your ear.

Run your right hand up your left arm and take hold of your left wrist; gently pull up on your wrist, lengthening the whole side of your body, starting at the waist.

Slowly lower both your arms, and notice the difference in how they feel as they hang at your sides. Does one arm feel more “alive” than the other?

You can repeat the entire process, reversing all these directions to activate your right arm.

Now that both arms are “activated,” what do you notice about your posture? Your breathing? Your sense of focus and presence?

Take up your pen or pencil again, and write your name and a sentence or two. What do you notice about the formation of your letters and words? How do your hand and arm feel as you write? Is there any difference in your focus on your writing, and your expression of ideas? What do you notice about your sitting posture, and your experience of standing and walking?

Modified Arm Activation:
Feel free to modify this movement in any way that works, such as holding the arm lower, or even with a bent elbow. The important thing is the isometric release of the shoulder joint, in all four directions. 

It’s even possible to “activate” both arms at the same time, with the support of a friend. Here are some photos that show me sharing this activity with my friend Susan.  
Pressing forward  •  backward  •  in toward ears  • away from ears     
For the “forward” activation, I am bracing my body against the back of Susan’s chair so it doesn't rock backward. This way, Susan feels stable, and able to relax in this movement.

And here’s another tip: For even the able-bodied, doing Arm Activation with the support of a friend - activating both arms at the same time - is a delightful experience, and one I love. Find someone to share this activity with!

I hope you enjoy this wonderful Lengthening Activity from Brain Gym. Please let me know what your own experience is, and what happens when you share Arm Activation with others.
Warm regards,

[1] Brown, Kathy. Educate Your Brain. Phoenix: Balance Point Publishing, 2012. 201-202. 
Click here for a link to the website for my book, Educate Your Brain
Copyright© 2014 by Kathy Brown. All rights reserved. 
Photographs copyright© Laird Brown Photography. All rights reserved. 
Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of Brain Gym® International, Ventura, California •

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