Monday, July 24, 2017

Resolving Moro - the "Startle" Reflex

This is a refreshed version of an article I wrote previously for my newsletter, with a new Addendum. 

Christine had always been awkward at sports, and was particularly afraid of catching balls, even ones tossed gently to her. As a child, this was a tremendous hindrance in school PE classes. She said she felt awkward and was often ridiculed by her peers. Now an adult, she had a group of friends who loved to spend time at the park playing Frisbee, but she always created excuses not to participate.

As Christine and I moved toward balancing for her goal of “easily and comfortably catching things” it became clear that the “Moro reflex” was still strongly “on” in her system.

The Moro reflex develops in infants at 9 weeks in utero, and usually falls away somewhere between two and four months after birth. The Moro reflex is a series of rapid movements made in response to sudden stimuli. When young infants are surprised, both arms swing out and upwards, opening the hands, and there is a sudden intake of breath, followed by momentary freeze and gradual return of the arms across the body into a clasping posture.

If the Moro reflex does not fall away when it should, one may remain poised on the edge of “fight or flight” throughout the rest of their life. Here are a few of the possible behaviors that may result:
• low tolerance to stress
continuous anxiety, often unrelated to reality 
difficult to settle at bedtime; sleeping difficulties; nightmares 
may tire easily or misbehave under fluorescent lighting 
difficulty making decisions 
tend to over or under react to fears 
problems conforming to rules 
reacts badly to changes in routine 
either insecure or controlling (both a reaction to sense of fear) 
difficulties with reading because eyes become fixed in the periphery - unable to come together at visual midline for near-point tasks such as reading and writing
• difficulties with physical skills such as catching balls
may habitually “tune out” the more high pitched sound frequencies, leading to auditory confusion about the phonemes in some wordspoor pupillary reaction to light, photosensitivity, may want to wear sunglasses even on cloudy days. 
difficulty with black print on white paper or black marker on whiteboards  
visual disorientation - words “move around on the page” or the reader is distracted by white spaces

(See note below on “Irlen Syndrome” in regard to these last visual processing points [1])

I did a “cover check” of Christine’s eyes. I covered her right eye, had her look at a small object I was holding about two feet directly in front of her nose, then slowly brought the object in to a few inches from her nose. At that point I uncovered her right eye, and found that, rather than directly at the object, her right eye was pointing out to the side, quite away from the object. The left eye behaved just the same when it was checked, pointing out to the left side.

When we are in fight or flight, as those with a retained Moro reflex invariably are, the body’s eye muscles pull both eyes outward to the periphery of one’s vision, essentially looking for danger. 

Keep in mind that “danger” doesn’t have to mean a threat of physical harm in that moment. We react in the same way to threats that are psychological or emotional, often lodged in the past. For example, the child in school, or even the adult in his workplace, could be (subconsciously) fearful of who might come through the door of the room, reacting with fear-based patterns developed long ago.

The result is a hyper-vigilant state, always on guard against what might be approaching, watching out for danger everywhere. And “danger” is seldom in the space right in front of us, as in that paper with words on it that we’re supposed to be reading.

People with Moro still “on” may tend to focus first on the blank border of a page of print, for example, rather than on the print itself. (Needless to say, continually requiring the eyes to focus together on a single point makes reading very difficult, and tiring on the body.)

When I described this condition to Christine, she said, “That’s me! I have the hardest time remembering people I’ve met because I don’t really see their faces, I see just the outlines of their heads.” Of course she’d panic at an object coming right to the center of her field of vision, where her eyes had the hardest time working together.

To do a quick pre-check of her ability to catch an object, I gently tossed a small,

soft pillow to her. Even though she told me she was ready for me to do this, she almost panicked, moving backward when it came her way, caught it with only one hand, and nearly dropped it.

We moved on with the “learning menu” for her balance, which included Dennison Laterality Repatterning, and some additional movements that specifically support the resolution of Moro reflex.

At the conclusion of her balance we repeated the “cover check” of her eyes, which showed considerable improvement. We also rechecked her ability to catch an object. When I gently tossed the pillow this time, Christine playfully moved toward it and easily brought both hands together to catch it, with a big smile on her face. She said, "That was actually fun!"

That night I got a call from Christine. She said, “I’ve been having the most amazing time seeing people’s faces all day. And I can’t wait to play Frisbee with my friends!”

A Moro Addendum:

Claire Hocking, Brain Gym® instructor/consultant in Australia, developed the system I use most often for resolving retained infant reflexes. She tells this story of how she became inspired to create it.

She was working in a middle school, doing sessions all day with students who had specific learning challenges. One day, she was walking through the corridor looking for "Marty," who was said to constantly start fights, although he always denied it. 

She saw him standing with a group of students when a nearby window slammed shut with a loud bang. Marty's arms instantly flew open, bumping his nearby companions, a look of alarm on his face. Claire, who had raised children of her own, said to herself, "I know that movement — it's Moro! But Marty is a teenager — what is HE doing with it?" And then she realized, "This must be why the other kids think he's striking out at them - and why he says he's not intentionally starting fights!"

From this impetus, Claire wondered: Could infant reflexes stay retained in the mind-body system, and cause havoc? Could I adapt the Brain Gym balance process to address reflexes? If I could figure out how to pre-check the status of an infant reflex, and develop a learning menu of activities for resolving it, would it be possible to support learners in releasing these old reflexive impulses and moving on in a more coordinated, capable way?

She worked with Marty, specifically addressing Moro reflex. Once it was fully resolved, he never got in "fights" again. 

That was twenty years ago. And Claire has been refining and expanding this Reflexes work ever since.

I took one of the first Reflexes courses Claire ever taught, at the Brain Gym® International Conference in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, in 1999. I knew immediately that this was the "developmental ground floor" for many learners. I've used these tools ever since, whenever they come up as priority "learning menu" when working with clients of all ages.

I've now taken Claire's Level 1 class four times, and finally had a chance to take her Level 2 class. I've sponsored her here in Phoenix twice recently to teach this work. And - Claire has now authorized me to teach her Level 1 course, and I have it on my calendar about twice a year. I also travel to teach it in other locations.

Would taking this course interest you? Follow this link to my Reflexes Course page, and find out about the next opportunity to participate.

For other articles I've written on using the Brain Gym® system to resolve retained infant reflexes, you can refer to these links:
Fear Paralysis Reflex 
Fear Paralysis Reflex - 2
Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)
Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)

With warmest regards,

Kathy Brown, M.Ed.
Educational Kinesiologist
Licensed Brain Gym® Instructor/Consultant
Author of Educate Your Brain

[1] Note: Irlen Syndrome (also called “scotopic sensitivity”) is a visual processing disorder, which may be alleviated when looking through lenses of a specific color, or by placing a colored plastic sheet over what one is reading, to change the relative colors of the paper and print to ones that are more easily perceived and processed. Specialists in this system are trained in how to assess clients’ needs and supply the exact color of lenses or plastic overlay the individual requires to resolve the visual disorientation. Is it easier for you to read text when it’s on colored paper, or easier to read colored print on white? A mild version of condition may affect you, too! This kind of visual disorientation is a potential sign of a retained Moro reflex, and may be considerably relieved or actually resolved when the Moro reflex is integrated. 
©Copyright 2017 Kathy Brown. Sketches ©Copyright Kathy Brown. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation  •  Ventura, CA  •
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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Exploring Lazy 8s

This is an article I originally wrote for my own newsletter, which was then published in the Brain Gym® Journal, both titled "Refining Lazy 8s." This is the version I included in my book, Educate Your Brain1.

Exploring Lazy 8s

In a conversation with Paul Dennison, I learned some very important information about Lazy 8s, one of our most frequently used Brain Gym® movements. 

First, just what is Lazy 8s? 

The Lazy 8s Pattern

The Lazy 8s movement is done by tracing a lateral 8, or “infinity” sign, over and over, sweeping across the lateral midline of the body again and again, activating both brain hemispheres and encouraging them to work together. The Lazy 8s movement looks so very simple, yet many people find over time that reading and writing are easier after doing Lazy 8s for just a few minutes, even reducing or eliminating letter-writing reversals.

I invite you to experience Lazy 8s for yourself. Draw a large lateral 8 figure on paper, either flat on a table or vertically on a wall, and place it so that the center of the
8 is directly in line with your midline.

Drawing Lazy 8s

Now, trace the 8 with one hand: begin at the center of the 8 and follow
the line, flowing first up the middle and to the left, then up the middle and
around to the right, again and again. Holding your head still, allow your
eyes to follow your hand. Trace this pattern for a while with one hand,
then the other, then with both hands together. Each time you switch hands 
or begin anew, start in the middle and flow up and to the left. Notice your
ability to follow the flow of the Lazy 8; more importantly, notice any areas of resistance, as these will illumine areas where your brain is experiencing “glitches” in how your two brain hemispheres work together, or how your eyes and hand work together. As you continue to use Lazy 8s, it will become much easier, and you will likely find certain aspects of reading and writing easier as well.

New information from Paul Dennison about Lazy 8s
For a long time, we encouraged learners to trace the Lazy 8 pattern only in the “up the middle” pattern. Any learner who was inclined to trace “down the middle” was gently guided in the “up the middle” pattern. For some learners, this was quite a challenge and resulted in more than a bit of frustration.

Paul Dennison now recommends allowing learners to trace Lazy 8s in whichever direction they are most inclined, especially at first. He says that learners inclined to trace Lazy 8s “down the middle” are helping themselves to experience their body more fully, to feel more grounded. Once learners are able to more fully experience their body this way, they will easily make the transition to the “up the middle” pattern.

The Elephant
So—the new Lazy 8s guideline is this: Allow learners to trace Lazy 8s in whichever direction they are inclined, at least at first. Regularly model the “up the middle” pattern; invite learners to notice which direction their body feels like flowing, while encouraging eventual movement to the “up the middle” pattern.

Alphabet 8s
This guideline can also be used with The Elephant, which is essentially a whole-body Lazy 8; however, the original “up the middle” pattern is always used when doing Alphabet 8s, which rely on that flow for correct letter formation. In fact, Paul Dennison states that the Alphabet 8s and letter formation should not be attempted until the learner has integrated Lazy 8s in both directions, up and down.

No matter which form of 8s the learner is doing, it is still optimal to start at the center and move first to the left, so he or she is activating the “ease” aspect of the gestalt hemisphere.

I have been playing with this new information and have had very interesting experiences. When I trace Lazy 8s “down the middle” I’m much more aware of my body — my feet even feel more connected to the floor. Then, when I trace “up the middle,” I’m less aware of my body and very aware of my mind — I can almost feel the hemispheres of my brain switching on!

Paul Dennison explained, “Thirty years ago, I worked with delayed learners who basically had a good sense of their body but needed more integrated brain function. Typical Lazy 8s were quite effective, and we didn’t realize that they might ever need to be done another way. Now, many of us are working with learners who do not have a good awareness of their body. We need to support these learners in developing body awareness so their experience of brain integration will be more appropriate and complete.”

I love this new information, because it helps me understand why learners might be inclined to trace Lazy 8s the way they do! Now my job is simply to notice direction of flow the learner is using, continue modeling the “up the middle” flow, and notice change as it occurs (sharing with the learner, as appropriate) with appreciation for the process. 

Here are previous articles I've written about the Lazy 8s pattern:
Backing Up to Move Forward into Lazy 8s
Alphabet 8s for Reading
Learning As a Force of Nature

With warmest regards,

Kathy Brown, M.Ed.
Educational Kinesiologist
Licensed Brain Gym® Instructor/Consultant
Author of Educate Your Brain

[1] Brown, Kathy. Educate Your Brain. Phoenix: Balance Point Publishing LLC. 2012. 112-115. 
Brain Gym® movement photographs Copyright© Laird Brown Photography. All rights reserved
©Copyright 2017 Kathy Brown. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation  •  Ventura, CA  •
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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Spinal Galant Reflex and Its Effects on Bedwetting and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

In previous articles I have described the challenges resulting from incomplete progression of infant reflexes, and how “retained” reflexes are at the core of many academic and behavior issues. Here I have refreshed a story from some years ago, about a client who experienced a profound shift through integrating a key infant reflex.

Annie was in my office for a session because she wanted to resolve her digestive issues.

She suffered from “irritable bowel” syndrome, periodically experiencing extreme pain and bloating in her lower abdomen, along with diarrhea and nausea. Bouts would last for days, during which she was miserable and sometimes had to stay home from work.

After a particularly intense series of bowel attacks two years ago Annie’s doctor put her on a program that included a very restricted diet, prescription drugs to relieve bowel inflammation, and colon hydro-therapy (colonics). Her diet included only the most basic, bland foods. She could eat no starchy vegetables, no grains or flours of any kind (which meant no bread, pasta, rice or millet), and especially no processed foods, onions or raw garlic. This regimen helped a lot, but she had to stay on it very closely. If she nibbled on something outside this limited diet (especially her favorite — ice cream) she experienced extreme symptoms that would last for days.

Annie’s story raised my curiosity. I knew that bowel issues are closely associated with retained “Spinal Galant” reflex. In children this often manifests as bed-wetting or bowel incontinence. In adults it may manifest as irritable bowel syndrome.

I asked Annie if she had had bed-wetting issues as a child. She shared that she had not only wet her bed until age twelve, but had also had incidents of uncontrollable bowel movements that had even occurred at school. She described the shame and embarrassment of this (and the subsequent teasing from her peers) when the school nurse had to call her mother for clothes in the middle of the day.

Unfortunately, her parents chose the “ridicule and anger” route to deal with this issue. At the time of my session with Annie she had already been through years of therapy to weave back together the shreds of her self-esteem.

“Can Brain Gym help me?” she asked.

I’m not a doctor, so I’m not trained in diagnosing and treating medical conditions. However, the Brain Gym system helps us gently and powerfully shift the ways we’re living life, the ingrained patterns behind how and where we hold tension. And when those things shift, sometimes “conditions” shift, as well. 

So I explained this, and then asked her this question: “How would you phrase what you’d like to be true? Her answer: “Living comfortably in my body.” That was the goal toward which she moved in her session.

As it turned out, the protocols for integrating the Spinal Galant reflex did, indeed, come up as a priority in her session. I explained to Annie about retained infant reflexes, and the specific symptoms associated with Spinal Galant.

The Spinal Galant reflex is this: when one side of the low back is stimulated (touching, stroking, etc.) it will trigger an involuntary lifting of the hip on that side, jerking the torso in the opposite direction: touch the left side, and the left hip rises, the torso jerks reflexively to the right, and vice versa. 

This may be nature's way of supporting the infant in wriggling through
the birth canal: the left side is stimulated and the infant’s torso jerks to the right, which causes stimulation to the right side and a reflexive jerking to the left, and so on throughout the birthing process. Under normal circumstances this reflex simply falls away three to six months after delivery: after that time a touch to the lower back no longer results in a reflexive jerking to the side. A person of any age with Spinal Galant strongly “active” will typically be very sensitive in the lower back area.  

To check this reflex I used the eraser end of a pencil and stroked up her back, two to three inches from the spine, from just below the waist to halfway up her back — one side, then the other. She was highly reactive on both sides: hip rising, torso jerking to the other side. And when I stroked both sides at the same time, she said she felt like she wanted to “climb out of her skin.” (With younger people I would have them in the all-fours position on the floor for this pre-check.)

If you try this, always ask the person being checked to use the toilet first, especially if you suspect that they may have Spinal Galant reflex strongly “on.” Simply performing this both-sides-at-the-same-time check can cause a person to spontaneously urinate. Doctors sometimes use this test with infants to take urine samples! 

This reflex is strongly associated with bed-wetting: perhaps these areas along the lower back are stimulated by contact with the bedding as the person sleeps. 

I find it interesting to note that individuals who have Spinal Galant reflex still “on” frequently had Caesarean section birth or very rapid vaginal delivery, requiring either little or no use of this reflex in the birthing process. My own belief is that, if this reflex is not called on in the birth process, the body is still “waiting” for it to be used, and so does not allow it to fall away. When this is the case, Spinal Galant reflex is left “on” throughout one’s life, causing all sorts of sensitivities.

Adults or children with Spinal Galant reflex still active in their body will often
experience one or more of the following challenges:

• difficulty sitting without squirming - often described as “ants in the pants”
• extreme ticklishness
• incontinence when being tickled
• fidgeting or wriggling, especially when being held
• does not like elastic waistbands, or labels inside the waistband
• poor concentration and short term memory, thus making it difficult to take in and process information
• odd posture or odd balance in walking or running (from years of unconscious body twisting or pivoting to avoid clothing rubbing the waist area)
• low back pain or discomfort
• dislikes having their back rubbed, or arm around their waist
• dislike of seats with lumbar support
• slanted sitting posture, where upper back touches the chair, but lower back does not
• preference for sitting on a stool, or on a reversed chair (with the chair back to the side or front)
• refusal to “sit back in your chair!”
• bed wetting and/or soiling

There may be other causes for all of the above behaviors. But having a cluster of these behaviors is an indicator that the person may indeed be dealing with
retained Spinal Galant reflex. Annie recognized several of these traits as part of her childhood or present condition. In addition to her bed-wetting and soiling issues she found elastic waistbands to be extremely irritating, and was also very ticklish.

We moved forward with her session, and completed the movements and activities that she was drawn to, as her “learning menu.”

At the conclusion of Annie’s balance (20 minutes later) it was clear that she had
made a significant shift. In her post-checks, the sensitivity of her lower back had greatly diminished. Stroking either side of her lower back now resulted in a “slightly tingly” sensation, and no body movement at all. And Annie was amazed at how flexible and comfortable her lower back now felt. She said, “I feel like I really AM comfortable in my body! This is amazing!”

I was happy to see Annie so relieved – and wondered if there were more changes in store for her, as well.

A week later Annie emailed me to describe her delight. A few days after our
session she had been at a university conference. She said, “I ate whatever
was available on the cafeteria food line – things I couldn’t usually eat before, such as fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn. This time it didn't! I also tried Mexican food, and even though it was sort of greasy and had lots of starches, I was fine with it.... In the past ALL starches (except complex carbs from fruits and some veggies) used to make me hurt, especially if I ate them daily. I have had some minor bloating, but it has been far less than what I usually have.”

That was four months ago. In a recent email Annie shared, “I’m doing even
better now. There are so many more things I can eat, with only occasional
minor discomfort. And I can even eat a bit of ice cream!“

What is the relationship between bed wetting, irritable bowel syndrome and Spinal Galant reflex? My belief is that, when one’s body is “primed” to react reflexively in this way, it is much more difficult to develop and maintain control over the muscles involved in remaining continent. And years of effort to control these reflexive movements in the lower back/bowel area may take their toll, and result in these digestive issues.

Claire Hocking, the Australian Brain Gym® consultant who developed this means of addressing Infant Reflex issues through the Brain Gym balance process, has worked with numerous “bed-wetting” children, and adults with irritable bowel syndrome. She has seen significant shifts, if not complete reversals, of most peoples’ issues after Spinal Galant reflex was resolved.

It is important to note that Brain Gym® balances are not intended as a “cure” for bed wetting or irritable bowel syndrome. But as we address specific life issues through the balance process (such as Annie’s desire to “live comfortably in her body”) we often end up resolving the fundamental developmental challenges that are at their core.

Want to know more about infant reflexes? Claire Hocking has authorized me to teach her course, and I have it on my calendar about twice a year. Follow this link to my Courses Page, to learn about the next dates available. I also travel to teach this course in other locations.

Here are some other articles about reflexes:
Fear Paralysis Reflex
Fear Paralysis Reflex - 2
Moro (startle) Reflex
Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)
Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)
and there's an overview in Chapter 8, "Wired for Ability, in my book, Educate Your Brain. Click here to learn more!

With warmest regards,

Kathy Brown, M.Ed.
Educational Kinesiologist
Licensed Brain Gym® Instructor/Consultant
Author of Educate Your Brain

Copyright ® 2017 Kathy Brown. All rights reserved.
Copyright for original article © Kathy Brown, M.Ed., 2002
Drawing copyright© Kathy Brown, M.Ed. All rights reserved.  

Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of Brain Gym® International
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