Ania Witkowska (Dip IBMT)*1 was born in London and raised her family in Manchester. She is a Somatic Movement Educator and Therapist who specialises in the perinatal period working with parents to be, parents and babies in individual and group settings. She also runs professional training workshops and offers supervision. She has a private practice based in Berlin, Germany, teaches internationally and offers sessions via Skype. You can connect with Ania via her blog and website at www.witkowska.com.
We are privileged to have Ania write for us as part of the Growing Families blog series.
As a Somatic Movement Educator and Therapist I spend a lot of time trying to dispel myths and encourage people to see things from a different perspective. Our value systems are intrinsically based on a premise – that there is a hierarchy of mind over matter, or that the brain is superior to the body which has been repeatedly challenged. In recent years there is a growing body of scientific research that demonstrates the complex and sophisticated relationship between brain, body and mind. But though the researchers may be excited by the detail of these new ‘discoveries’, this knowledge really isn’t so new. Every parent is witness to the egalitarian process of development as they play with their babies – but it can be hard to appreciate something when you know little about it.
Our babies grow and learn through movement. The developmental movement sequence that takes us from curled up to standing up is not just about building muscles and practicing balance. As we move we also build our neural connections, we experience and express emotions, we learn how to connect and focus in our world. As each pattern elicits and integrates particular reflexes it teaches us something more about ourselves and creates new possibilities for relationship and communication.
So how is it that the baby books seem to consign this rich and informative dance of development to a simple series of movement milestones? They encourage parents to race through that first year anxiously waiting for each seemingly miraculous achievement rather than relaxing and sharing in the fascinating process of getting there. Worrying when their child is not yet doing ‘whatever’ and unaware of the experiences a baby needs to have to support this moving journey.
It’s not just about the positions a baby can get into, it’s about how they get there by themselves that makes a difference. A process of yield, push, reach and pull, identified by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen*2 underlies each new achievement and allows babies to pace themselves, to find their safety before taking a risk. Building their confidence as well as their ability.
It’s not that hard to gain this knowledge, with guidance the body remembers, it just needs a bit of encouragement and a comfortable floor to roll and stretch out on. When parents try a movement themselves all kinds of things come to light. For example if a parent has tried to crawl on their belly like their baby they will know that the movement is initiated by a push from the big toe so they can see the disadvantage of wearing socks that will slip and frustrate their efforts. They will notice how hard it is to belly crawl on a carpet and how impossible movement becomes when their body is stiff and tense. This information will help them provide their baby with an appropriate environment and to intervene sensitively recognising the difference between effort and total frustration. And if they should join their baby down on the floor to try it out with them, their child will see the whole body movement and recognise it, will be encouraged by this moment of connection and empathy. Their relationship will deepen.
But, as The Cat in the Hat would say, “ …that is not all, oh no, that is not all…” You see something magic happens when we take some time to experience our physical sensations, to notice how we feel rather than focus on what we think. We slow down, take care of ourselves and are better able to deal with the demands of caring for a baby. In a world which trains us to look outside ourselves and our own experience for answers exploring the movement patterns helps people to look inside, activate those mirror neurons and trust the wisdom of their body. Acknowledging the value of these intuitive responses builds parent’s confidence and enriches their experience and enjoyment of their new role. It really is a win – win situation!
Much has changed in childcare practice and I look forward to the day that every 12-year-old will explore the developmental movements in their biology lessons. Until then however why not join me in working to ensure that an understanding of the process of movement development and how it underpins relationship and learning becomes standard knowledge for parents and anyone who works with them.
*1 Institute for Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy http://www.ibmt.co.uk/About-IBMT.html
*2 Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen is the originator of Body Mind Centering™ http://www.bodymindcentering.com/about