Sonia Story, master movement therapist, talks about how patterned therapeutic rhythmic movement actively matures the cerebellum, and how integrating retained reflexes can mature the brain stem. If movement can actually cause physical changes in anatomical portions of the brain, what are we waiting for?
Disclaimer: The information in this Podcast is for educational purposes only. Vaishnavi Sarathy, Ph.D. is an educator, not a doctor, specifically not your child’s doctor. Please consult your physician before implementing any supplement or diet recommendations.
This 25th episode of functional nutrition and learning for kids features Sonia story and inspiring and very knowledgeable movement therapist. I am so excited for you and me to learn from Sonia his unique perspective on how movement changes the brain. Sonia’s story developed the brain and sensory foundations curriculum to address learning emotional, social, physical and sensory processing challenges. After experiencing the profound benefits of neurodevelopmental movement, which is what she teaches, with her own children and many other children and adults, Sonia created programs so that other families could also experience the same results.
She provides information and training for those seeking natural ways of helping children and adults who are struggling, her website is moved, playthrive.com, all the three words, nothing in-between move, playthrive.com. And this website, there’s a bunch of information there about the critical importance of movement in early infancy. And this isn’t something we hear a lot about. So again, I’m super stoked to talk about this. And her website also talks about how we can use early infant movement patterns at any age, to optimize our learning, create more harmony, and maximize potential in all areas of life.
Sonia is located in Washington State, she offers private sessions, training courses in service and presentations throughout the US and Canada, to educate children and adults about enhancing effectiveness through movement and play. Welcome, Sonia, thank you so much for agreeing to be on this podcast.
Well, greetings. I really appreciate being here. Thank you so much.
Thank you, could you start off by sharing a little bit about what you do and how you work with the child?
Sure, well, the interesting thing about what I do is that it truly is a window into the brain, the body, and the sensory system. So there are some simple movement base checks that you can do with someone of any age, and you can see whether or not their brain and their body and their sensory systems are functioning optimally. And if they’re not, the wonderful thing is that we’ve got a whole set of movements that can deeply impact the brain, the body, and the sensory systems. So it sounds a little technical. But since we’re moving, there are lots of opportunities for play and connection.
It’s just a lovely way to connect with a child and also help them function in ways that help them feel calmer, help them sleep better, help them with their processing speed and cognition, and also help them with their emotions and just feeling in general comfortable with sensory input and comfortable in their own bodies.
That that is very fascinating to me, what you’re saying is that movement is both a reflection of how well the brain is working and how integrated you are with respect to your senses, but it’s also a way to tap into the brain. So it’s kind of an output and an input both Is that correct?
That is correct. We use it for assessment. And we also use it for interventions. So the brain and the body are innately wired to respond to movement and the movements that I teach, even more so because they are innate. So there’s a whole set of movements that babies come with when they’re in the womb, and, and through the birth process and in early infancy. And these are, they turn out to be not just optional, but required for proper development. And the problem is, is that so many children are experiencing a disruption in these movements and that’s across the board, whether you have a child with special needs and severe challenges versus a child with, you know, who might be neurotypical and college-bound.
There are often like in most children, sadly, in this day and age, there are glitches in this neuro sensory-motor system that if we can help the child through these movements, and they have the opportunity to do them, then it really optimizes their, their functioning, whether that’s at a really high level or you know, if they have you know, something like severe, you know, cerebral palsy or brain damage or something like that there’s, we can optimize in those situations. And I ‘ll never forget one of the things that one of my mentors Dr. Blomberg shared with us which was a case study about a young, very young child who had a chromosomal challenge. And so he had a genetic issue and he had really no engagement in the world.
He sat there in a vegetative state, he didn’t notice what was going on around him. His parents basically, you know, opened his mouth and put food in there. And had the parents were told that there was nothing they could do. And so that’s pretty severe under-functioning. His parents were told to put him in an institution, by doctors, the woman who trained Dr. Blomberg, was a self-taught movement therapist, and she basically took these tiny rhythmic movements that babies do, she was very observant, and she gave them to others who were struggling and the parents want to see Kiersten lien, who is the one who taught Dr. Blomberg and, and I think I’m saying the name right, it’s a Swedish name. And I think actually, it’s supposed to be something like sheer spin, Linda. Okay. To our English eyes, it looks like Krysten Roque. Anyway, so she taught the parents these fairly simple rhythmic movements. And this little boy started to wake up, he started to be able to move on his own.
He started noticing the family dog, he started to crawl and slither around the house. And then within several months, he was up and walking, and then he was running around playing with his brother, he started to have an opinion about his food, and what he liked and what he didn’t like, which So, you know, it’s you that you see, and you hear a case study like that. And it’s so astounding, you think, wow, that must be the one in a million case. But actually, what happens is that because these movements are innate, and because they’re already existing as a template in our brain, they work across humanity. And they’re so good for optimizing function for any age, which is the part that just blows me away.
I’m just always so amazed by it, because they’re meant to be the movements that grow the brain and body and sensory system in the first place in infancy. But there’s something about them that I think it’s just because the brain recognizes them. And they’re so deeply impactful because they’re designed that way. And humans are designed that way, that they work at any age, which to me is it’s one of the biggest gifts I think that we have as human beings. And I’m doing my best to get the word out. So I appreciate that. I appreciate being on a podcast and being able to talk about it.
I and this particular case study that you were talking about rhythmic movement being used as a therapy, correct? Yes. Okay. And I’ve been really fascinated with rhythmic movement therapy. And I was introduced to read a couple of years ago, maybe three years ago, and I have used it on my son, though, honestly, I will admit that not very consistently. And you had also recommended that I start using it and after getting your email, I did start using it more regularly. There’s definitely an instant calming, and an instant kind of relaxation and centering of the child that I observed. And the more interesting thing is that my neurotypical daughter will come to me every day, she’s nine, and she’ll ask me, can we do the bouncy stuff, so which is so I, regardless of whether I do it with my son or not, I’m doing every day with my daughter. So
That’s so wonderful. The first comment I’d like to make is that these aren’t just any rhythmic movements, they’re innate rhythmic movements, I just want your listeners to understand that there’s a difference. There’s a difference between say, swimming and dancing and something like that, that they’re already sort of aware of as a rhythmic movement versus the innate rhythmic movements. There’s a whole set of innate rhythmic movements. There are also other categories of innate movements that we work with, in addition to the rhythmic movements, and they’re, they all support one another, to help make these changes.
The second thing I wanted to point out is that I love how you explained how it helps your son and your daughter to feel calm and relaxed. Because if you really think about how humans learn, and this is actually proven in scientific studies, but all pretty much all parents probably know this intuitively, is that children learn best When they’re in a relaxed, joyful, playful, calm state, it’s just the way our brains function. Yeah, so the more relaxation, the more learning, when your brain isn’t left in a state of immaturity, in terms of like, it’s always on hyper, like a hyper-vigilant survival mode, which is where an infant is, they’re basically at a point in their development in infancy, where early infancy where there’s, you know, the survival brain or the back brain or the brainstem is what’s really the most active because let’s face it, infants are vulnerable, right.
All those survival instincts and the movements that go with them are really active in that stage because that is the optimal time for them to be active not only for survival and protection but also for our growth and development. So there’s a whole developmental system that’s beautifully complex and designed to do exactly what it’s supposed to do if it doesn’t get hindered. But the problem is, is that so many children don’t get out of that stage, they remain in this sort of vulnerable.
It’s, it’s actually a state of brain immaturity, body and maturity, and sensory maturity. And then that’s a place where you’re not able to take in new information and learn easily because your body is and your brain is giving so many resources to just surviving. And, and being in like protection for some children, it looks like withdrawal, and freezing. And for some children, it looks like a kind of like a fight or flight sort of agitated state, right, where they’re easily agitated by, let’s say, sensory input, things like that. So the calming and maturing and organization of the brain body and sensory system is what allows us to learn because if you think about it, human beings are learning machines. That’s what we’re meant to be.
We’re meant to be moving in smooth, rhythmic, coordinated, flowing ways. And we’re also meant to be learning and are developed, what we’re given in terms of our development innately is perfectly designed to help us get there naturally. It’s just like I said, unfortunately, it’s not happening. There are so many things that hinder the system. So and the other thing I just want to say, that I so loved your TED Talk. Thank you. And the other thing that Dr. Blomberg said and he, he mentioned this case, I think he said it right on the tail end of this case study that he was sharing that I shared with you about the boy whose name was Olle, spelled OLLE And that case study is documented in Dr. Blomberg’s book, which he wrote with my read Dempsey, and that’s called movements that heal.
What he said is, you can never say ahead of time, what someone is capable of until you try these movements. And so it very much dovetails with the message of your TED Talk, like don’t make assumptions about how far you think someone can go in their development and their intelligence and all of that. So I just wanted to say I love your TED Talk. And, and thanks for that.
Thank you, Sonia. I think you addressed a couple of questions that are coming up later as well, I was going to ask you about the role of movements in anxiety, but you refer to that, in the context of children being in fight or flight or this immature state of, you know, their nervous system being in a slightly mature state that is then addressed through these movements that were intended in the first place to regulate their emotions or their nervous state, correct?
Yes, and I could just add a little more about that. So we talked about innate rhythmic movements. There’s another whole set of movements called primitive reflexes. And those are the ones that are they’re so important to our development. That’s why they’re there. And as I said before, they’re not optional. They’re required if we want to have normal and comfortable development for our children, right. But what happens is, is these specific movements have a lifecycle and they have a design and they’re meant to be very active.
When we are infants. There, they’re active, actually in the womb, and in very early infancy. Obviously, they’re active at birth, and they help the birthing process happen naturally. Most of them are what we call integrated. But before the first year of life, that’s what should happen. Then, in an ideal situation, that means those movements and those patterns have done their job, right? And if they don’t do their job, then they remain active, which means they’re, they’re not in an integrated or dormant state, which means part of the brainstem is active when it should be dormant. And what happens is that leaves the brainstem in a state of immaturity, which then doesn’t allow for the maturity of the higher brain centers, when the higher brain centers are accessible, which they won’t be if, if you haven’t gotten these movements completed.
That’s where we have things like our ability to manage our emotions, our ability to manage our impulses, our executive functions, but it also has a tremendous amount to do with whether we feel anxious or not. Because if that survival brain is constantly being stimulated by reflexes that are active, that should be dormant. And if you look these up in the scientific literature, they’re often called retained primitive reflexes. If people want to look them up, there’s also quite a lot of research referenced on my website. They’re not integrated, or what we call dormant, then it does, and can leave us in a state of anxiety that affects everything. Of course, we know anxiety affects our health, it affects our digestion, it affects our ability to learn it affects our enjoyment of life and our comfort.
Yes. That is, that’s amazing that you actually tied it into a specific area of the brain correct? So I remember that in the course that I took from you. You also talked about cerebral stimulate cerebellar stimulation from the point of view of rhythmic movement therapy. So it looks like there is an understanding of the role of both rhythmic movement and reflexes in their ability to actually affect certain specific anatomical parts of the brain.
Yes, absolutely. There are studies that show many studies actually now that show when we move, we’re literally growing the brain. So there is always going to be a physical correlate in the brain when we are moving and fat. Brain scientists will agree that movement is the thing that will change the brain the fastest and the most. And that’s pretty clear in the scientific literature.
One of the things that Dr. Blomberg set out to do is to really understand what was going on, because what happened is he went to Shearson, Linda, initially as a patient he had suffered from polio as a child. And so he had, he was having some challenges with his own balance and coordination. And he’s a psychiatrist. So when he started doing these movements, he found that they worked well for himself, but he asked her if he could stay and watch her work with clients.
He said was, is that he was astounded by not only the physical help that they were giving to these, both children and adults, but also he started using the movements with his adult psychiatric patients, and they were getting well from protracted mental illnesses like schizophrenia and psychosis. So he said he was just utterly fascinated. And he had to figure out why this was working so well.
Right. And basically, what he came up with was, that he did a lot of studying and research and he said that these movements matured the brainstem and the cerebellum, especially rhythmic movements will mature the cerebellum. And because those two areas are critically important to the overall functioning of the brain, that’s why he was seeing so many positive effects from the movement. So and he said nothing in his medical training prepared him to understand that you could make these kinds of changes with movement.
He said he was absolutely astounded, I bet Yes. And so what so if we want to get even a little more technical, what happens is as the brainstem and cerebellum are maturing, they make actual physical links through the middle part of the brain or the limbic system, which is where our emotional that’s where our emotional maturity lies, like our Malian type of characteristics, like our ability to play our ability to be curious, our learning our nurturing of each other, our social abilities, those come from there.
Then the further linkage happens through the limbic system and up into the cortex, which is the front part of the brain. And that’s where we have our executive functions that I mentioned, that people are probably familiar with, like our ability to communicate our language skills, our higher learning skills, our ability to manage our emotions, solve problems, control our impulses. That’s where those kinds of you know more of the learning functions, reading, writing, arithmetic, you know, communication, solving problems, and also managing emotions and impulses.
That’s where it’s so so even though these movements, well, they really target the cerebellum and the brainstem very directly, but they have a whole like a holographic effect on the brain. Because once the brainstem and cerebellum armature, this linking process happens. So I hope that I actually like that this got got brought up in this way. Because sometimes people see these rhythmic movements, and they say, they’re so simple, how could they possibly be doing all this?
Inside? The interesting part of and that’s, that’s normal, right? We expect things to be really complicated for them to work, and which is probably the opposite of what is true normally, because the concept of you know, you know, cerebellar, I don’t know if the word is integrity, or whatever. So cerebellar development, it is so critical to so many things. Eventually, as I was learning more about the cerebellum in my studies, I, I could relate almost every one of my son’s motor symptoms to cerebellar immaturity, and then when you mentioned that, I mean, we could talk about gait with a texia.
You know, sometimes eye movements, like you mentioned in that course. So it’s, so this isn’t just what you said is true. This isn’t just some random movements that you’re doing just for fun, which is it’s fun, but it and it’s simple, but it’s also remarkably powerful in the brain. So I assume I’m really thankful that you took the time and I feel like I need another 25 minutes to talk to you.
So maybe we’ll do another podcast. But this was a lot of information. And I I hope that a few things that parents can take from this podcast is the importance of what Sonia calls rhythmic movement, which are very specific patterns or rhythmic movement therapy. And she also talked about primitive reflexes. And this and other things are combined in, in what you teach as neurodevelopmental movement, correct?
Yes, neurodevelopmental movement combines all the categories of innate rhythmic movement or innate movements. So there are rhythmic movements. There are primitive reflexes, postural reflexes, and developmental movements. And then we combine all that with some processes and other types of integrative movements that help the whole integration happen more deeply and quickly. And so yes, I’m so thankful and happy to share this with my parents. So thank you again.
And you can reach Sonia at www.moveplaythrive.com. And is the way that parents can work with you is through taking a course that you offer, or the parents also work one on one with you?
Yes, what I suggest as a first step is to take the brain and sensory foundations first level course. And that gives parents so many tools to help their children and to develop, start to develop a movement program at home, which is really the best way to do a movement program.
I feel this because you can monitor your own child. Since you love them and you are with them. And you’re the one that knows them the most but also it’s really the most economical and empowering way because you have these tools then for life and they really are the foundation for lifelong health and wellness.
Perfect.Thanks for tuning in, folks. I can’t believe it’s been 25 weeks already. Functional nutrition and learning for kids is a podcast that is brought to you by a two-person team. With most of the work done by me vaish Sarathy. And with music composed by my daughter Maitri Gosh. I am taking a week off to consolidate and share these 25 episodes. I will see you in two weeks on Friday, not the 13 but the 20th of March. Bye !