Why I invite you to give Animal Flow Movement a go

Have you ever seen clips of highly skilled gymnastics, break dancing, parkour, martial arts or similar and thought “wow, that’s amazing.  I’d never be able to do that”?  Me too.  But just because you don’t have ambitions to enter the Olympics or Britain’s Got Talent doesn’t mean there isn’t value in learning the basics and foundations of a complex movement method.

I spent most of my career as a movement coach also being a carer for my elderly parents, who have sadly now both passed away.  I originally got into Pilates whilst searching for cures for my own back pain, and gentle, low impact movement methods like clinical Pilates tend to attract those with injuries and/or the need to find a way to move safely.  My education as well as my personal experience have therefore been influenced by a need to consider how to age well.  

After learning about the difference between movement and exercise, the importance of challenging ourselves with more varied and complex movement, and the balance of not only getting physically stronger but also moving well and improving coordination, I decided to do the Animal Flow instructor training.  I was at a stage in my life that I had let my own strength and fitness slip.  I was also aware of the many benefits of learning a complex movement system so, whilst I felt out of my depth, I was excited to give it a try anyway! 

With a view to the fact that most of my clients are normal people who want to feel their best, who cross a wide range of demographics and are at different mobility and fitness levels, I decided to call these classes Animal Flow Movement.  Using the callouts and systemised learning of the Animal Flow system but adding in lots of beneficial movements inspired by my other training to make it accessible to anyone able to get up and down from the ground.

The Science Bit

I’m going to set out below some of the science behind why complex movement is so valuable to us as humans.  The best way to understand why it’s good for you is to simply try it, but if you’re interested then keep reading:

The cerebellum (Latin for ‘little brain’), which sits under the cortex and above the brain stem, contains approximately 50% of your brain’s neurons (brain cells) and is essentially the brain’s Personal Assistant, modulating the rate, rhythm, force and accuracy of your movement. The best way to stimulate this part of your brain is to move through as many planes of movement as regularly as possible.  

The vestibular system comprises of the inner ear canals, which transduce head movement into a signal that the brain can interpret.  So, it’s continuously registering where your head is in space so that the frontal cortex knows where you are in relation to the ground.  It does this over 1,000,000 times per second even when you’re at rest.  It also influences the extensor muscles, which are the postural muscles that keep you upright.  

Moving through different planes such as rotation, front and back, side to side etc. stimulates the vestibular system. because the more you move, the more information your vestibular system has to signal.  This fires up the cerebellum, and as the neurons fire to keep up with the stimulation provided, the whole brain lights up, stimulating the frontal cortex. 

All of which has the overall effect of maintaining or improving balance, because the more your inner ears acclimatise to complex movement, the less stimulating it becomes, making you feel more in control.

Ground-based movement such as crawling patterns have been shown to have many neuro-muscular benefits, including:

  • Helping cognitive processes like comprehension, concentration and memory
  • Hand-eye coordination important for reading, writing and sport activities
  • Conditioning binocular vision by looking into the distance and back at the hands
  • Strengthening left and right cortex by practicing cross-lateral movement, allowing increased communication between the two sides of the brain and enhancing learning
  • Osteoporoses and osteopenia prevention through load bearing and bone loading

All movement and forms of exercise influence the brain, cardio-respiratory system and central nervous system to some degree.  Complex movements that involve changes of orientation, balance, co-ordination, the need for you to engage with the process of learning, and some level of cardiovascular stimulation have been shown to encourage BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor).  BDNF is a protein that acts on certain neurons in the central and peripheral nervous system, supporting the survival of existing neurons and encouraging the growth and differentiation of new neurons (brain cells) and synapses (connections between brain cells).  Within the brain, BDNF is active in areas vital to learning, memory and higher thinking, although it is also expressed in other areas.

‘Synaptogenesis’ is the term given to new connections between brain cells, and has been proven to be increased through learning complex movement.  When the density as well as the frequency of synaptic communication is increased, you are increasing how well the brain can communicate with itself.  One can expect improved memory, cognition, spatial learning, coordination and attention as a result of considering the brain and central nervous system’s role in our overall function.

And the why…

The thing about doing something completely new and challenging is that for the period of time that you’re doing it, there’s no time to think about anything else.  The stresses of a busy day have to be put to one side for a while because your full concentration is required.  

As well as all the benefits to brain function, balance, strength and mobility, there is a sense of reward from achieving something you’ve spent time developing and learning, which means effectively the reward circuitry in the brain is stimulated to release dopamine and feel-good hormones.  In other words, it’s fun and it makes you feel good.

For anyone receiving any other therapy or treatment, learning these movement patterns will help to integrate the benefits of a massage or adjustment in a more lasting way. Meaning that once we’ve had something adjusted or released by a chiropractor or physiotherapist, if we then move our body and fire our brain whilst in that newly adjusted position, the results should last longer.

It doesn’t matter where you are now, you won’t go anywhere else if you don’t take those first steps.  If you’re already strong but have no coordination, this is for you.  If you’re not that strong and you need to rest a LOT, well, that’s okay, because eventually you will be more coordinated and get stronger.  Whether you’re really stiff or hyper-flexible, you will benefit from having better motor control.

If you can laugh a lot and have fun, not take yourself too seriously and just enjoy learning something different, then I’d say it’s worth giving it a go.  Wouldn’t you?

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