Think you’re not strong enough? Why I invite you to give Animal Flow a go

Okay… admittedly there are some limitations on starting a movement form like Animal Flow. The vast majority of it is weight bearing on the hands, which is why so much importance is given to hand and wrist mobilisations. If, for whatever reason, you can’t get down to the ground or load-bear on your hands then the biomechanics based Beyond Pilates classes would be a more appropriate place for you to start.

However, if the main issue is that you see the videos and think ‘I’ll never be able to do that’ then I invite you to reconsider that limiting belief. I’m not particularly strong at the moment; I knew I’d let my fitness slip recently, opening a studio and learning all about marketing is stressful and time consuming and I let life get in the way of my own fitness. I knew when I went on this course that I was going to be one of the least fit people there and I probably was, but I did it (6 straight hours of body weight exercise on a hard floor for two days) anyway even though it bloody hurt! I put videos on social media that make me cringe a little bit because I know compared to anyone who knows what they’re doing I’m a novice.

The only way to change that is to do it, and within a week I’ve started to find it a bit easier. It doesn’t matter where you are now, you won’t go anywhere else if you don’t take those first steps. If at first you don’t know your arse from your elbow (I kept referring to wrists as ankles in the first intro workshop and the running joke was that we started calling wrists hand-ankles – finding words is complicated sometimes!!) and you need to rest a LOT, well, that’s okay, because eventually you will be more coordinated and get stronger. 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?

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. If your eyes glaze over, you don’t care and you just wanna do the fun stuff then no worries, you don’t have to geek out – the best way to understand why it’s good is to try it anyway – but if you’re interested then keep reading:

My journey with the Academy of Applied Movement Neurology (AMN) has given me an in-depth understanding of the importance of the brain and nervous system in relation to overall health and well-being.
The cerebellum (Latin for ‘little brain’), which sits under the cortex and above the brain stem, contains approximately 50% of your neurons and is essentially the brain’s Personal Assistant, modulating the rate, rhythm, force and accuracy of your movement. Level 1 in the AMN training focuses on how best to stimulate the cerebellum through movement, and the (simplified) answer to that is: 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 of movement stimulates the vestibular system, whether it be moving through the sagittal (forward and back), frontal (which would include side to side or up and down so includes transitioning to and from the ground), or transverse (think rotation) plane, because the more you move the more it has to report in terms of where you are.

This fires up the cerebellum, which otherwise might not have a great deal to do. As the neurons fire to keep up with the stimulation provided, the whole brain lights up, stimulating the frontal cortex. If, on the other hand, our movement is too linear, the cerebellum might as well go to the pub… and unstimulated it will lose capacity to modulate movement correctly, perhaps causing balance issues or left/right imbalances. If you believe you’re more likely to fall as you get older, I would suggest it’s not your chronological age that increases that likelihood but rather what you’ve done (or not done) with that time that might leave you vulnerable.

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

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 to the brain, 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), which 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 and synapses. Within the brain, BDNF is active in areas vital to learning, memory and higher thinking, although it is also expressed in other areas.

Increased neurogenesis (the growth and development of neuronal tissue) is related to connectivity within the brain, where we have synapses, which are the mechanism through which neurons communicate with each other. ‘Synaptogenesis’ 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…

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.