by Melodie de Jager.
Gravity is a unifying force that holds everything on earth together. In South Africa we all hang upside down, and so do your fridge, car and coffee. Why doesn’t the coffee spill? Gravity. Or the pots float off the stove tipping out hot food? Gravity. Why doesn’t your hair stand on end? It should, because we are hanging upside down, but it doesn’t. Gravity. How do you remember where you’ve put your keys? Gravity. Or how to shape the letters b/d/p? Gravity. Or that 6 comes before 7 in sums and in time. Gravity. How does water stay in the ocean? And the answer by now is – GRAVITY.
Could you even try to imagine the chaos, if earth should lose its force of gravity? Everything would be floating and act in a random manner. Nothing would be predictable. Because of the downward direction of gravity we know ‘what goes up, will come down’. It is predictable, and an awareness of DOWN acts as an anchor, a fixed point, a frame of reference – CURRENT LOCATION. Once you know where DOWN is, you can relax, plan and organise even the simplest thing like finding your toothbrush and getting dressed. Not a single thing we do, on any given day, is not influenced by gravity.
Cosmonauts/aeronauts/astronauts taught us a lot about the gifts of gravity when they travelled space, but more specifically when they returned to earth. It was only when they came back to earth that scientists could really understand the unifying and stabilising force of gravity. It took these space travellers months to be able to function and feel normal again, despite the fact that they all are highly intelligent people. When they came to earth their bodies, hearts and minds were deeply affected. Their muscle tone was very low. They felt uncoordinated, disorientated, confused, disorganised and anxious. They had very poor concentration, battled to speak coherently and even seemed dyslexic. They also seemed to have aged quickly.
These space travellers gave us a glimpse of how much time and gentle care new-born babies need to adjust to gravity, never mind all the other sensory impressions. They also gave us a hint of how it feels for a child, an adult or the elderly when their vestibular systems are not working well.
How does it feel when the vestibular system is not functioning optimally? One feels:
Can you imagine what it must be like to feel like that? If you are not a space traveller but feel and act as if you are in space a whole team of neurologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, physiotherapists, dieticians, occupational therapists, speech therapists may be considered to treat these seemingly unrelated symptoms.
Cosmonauts/aeronauts/astronauts gave us the gift of sharing their experiences, and so the magnitude of the influence of gravity on everything on earth started to dawn on us. For us at the Mind Moves Institute, it is the influence of gravity on the human being, irrespective of age, that is absolutely mind blowing. We do not have all the answers, but a glimpse on the complexity and impact of the relationship between gravity and human functioning.
It is the relationship between the feet, posture and vestibular system that excites us as BabyGym Instructors, Mind Moves Instructors and Senior Mind Moves Facilitators.
At the Mind Moves Institute we describe the vestibular system as the foundation of the De Jager house-model of brain functioning.
We know the vestibular system is involved with –
We also understand the vestibular system’s role in preparing muscles for action (muscle tone, kinesis). This process enables information to FLOW from sensory input, to limbic reactions and onwards to the prefrontal cortex for processing, before continuing through the limbic system once again to validate relevance and importance before acting on what has been perceived.
At the Mind Moves Institute we understand that a healthy vestibular system is necessary for babies, children, adults and senior adults to move in a rhythmic and coordinated way, feel confident and think clearly.
That is why we apply the principles of biomimicry to determine what comes first, because what develops first paves the way for what develops second, third and fourth. Hence in BabyGym, Mind Moves and Senior Mind Moves we start with the development and integration of the SKIN and progress to the development and integration of the VESTIBULAR SYSTEM before we stimulate the senses of smell, taste, hearing and sight.
We understand the central part of the vestibular system is in the brain stem (three vestibular nuclei on the left and three vestibular nuclei right) and that poor blood circulation in the brain stem can deprive the vestibular system of oxygen that is needed for the vestibular system to develop. We also understand the peripheral vestibular system is found in the inner ear and consists of three semi-circular canals and two otolith organs. We further understand the function of the saccule, one of the two otolith organs in each ear, is to act as amplifiers of gravity. This happens when the saccule interacts with gravity receptors in the soles of the feet to connect a person with gravity.
BabyGym and Mind Moves Instructors have been stimulating this complex system for years by massaging the ears and planting the feet firmly on the ground and turning the head in different directions to oxygenate the vestibular nuclei. According to our Russian colleague, neurologist Dr Olek Efimov, movement and massage are the only ways to develop a positive relationship between gravity and the vestibular system.
What about Senior Mind Moves facilitators? They facilitated this process in a way more accessible to the elderly – rhythmic heel-to-toe walking to develop the gravity-vestibular connection. They also massaged the ears and encouraged their clients to care for themselves using deep pressure when they shower, apply lotion and give themselves a heartfelt hug.
Our BabyGym and Mind Moves instructors and Senior Mind Moves facilitators have consistently reported an improvement in their clients’ physical wellness as well as emotional wellbeing and mental clarity due to our simple but effective approach – proprioceptive and tactile stimulation first, and movement in a variety of ways and directions second. This approach has been found over years to –
We have experienced it ourselves and our clients have attested to the fact that a functional vestibular system seems to be associated with a sense of safety and security. According to neurologist Dr Oleg Efimov, although the vestibular system starts in the brain stem and interacts with the inner ear, it is also involved with the development of the limbic system where it forms a grid around the hippocampus. This grid acts as a map of the environment and is the reason why memories associated with a place/location. You may know that London taxi drivers were known for their elaborate mental maps of the environment prior google maps? Their comfort and confidence are said to stem from comprehensive grids around the hippocampus.
That would ONLY be possible if their vestibular systems were fully functional. A faulty vestibular system undermines the development of these grids, which may be why a client who seems to be clumsy, uncoordinated and accident prone often feels lost and emotionally vulnerable. According to scientists and psychiatrists who are studying the vestibular system and its link with the limbic system, it seems to become increasingly clear that many psychological conditions (psychosis and neurosis) may have a physical basis.
If you think of a person who, for example, feels depressed, note their posture. Stooped? Not only does research show that the head increases in ‘weight’ when it moves away from the natural upright position, it has also found that a stooped posture draws concentration away from clear thinking.
Poor posture not only draws attention and concentration away from clear thinking, poor posture also provides an unstable base for the eyes to track and to scan the environment and read books/screens.
How do BabyGym and Mind Moves instructors as well the Senior Mind Moves facilitators address posture and eye movements? We all constantly work towards balance, that quiet confident place where the body stays effortlessly still and straight with an innate alignment between the ear, shoulder, hip, knees and ankles. It starts with the feet firmly connected to gravity and an imaginary string above the head that when pulled up, allows the spine to align like a string of beads. Effortless posture supports healthy emotions, effortless concentration and clear thinking.
Have you been wondering what could the link between cognition, gravity and the vestibular system be? Cognition can be defined as the ability to perform adaptive behaviour. That means to learn. The vestibular system is neurologically linked to the cognitive centres of the brain to provide a stable point of reference (current location) and a sense of direction from which a sense of sequence is a natural consequence. Without being grounded in gravity any sequence like numbers, letters in a word, words in a sentence or reading time might be difficult. Likewise consequential and logical thought processes may also be compromised.
Without an intact body map (gravitational receptors and proprioception) and without a map of the environment (vestibular system and grid around hippocampus) and the ability to move confidently (vestibular system, kinesis) motor planning would be difficult. That makes moving with confidence even more difficult and clear and coherent speech challenging.
That means that a healthy relationship with gravity and a fully functional vestibular system supports thinking and most higher cognitive functions like reading and writing. A faulty vestibular or poor connection between the gravitational receptors and the vestibular system may be why dyslexia can rather be considered a faulty process, than a condition.
That is why learners and adult who suffered injury or trauma need: