How Knowledge of Neuroanatomy helps a somatic educator.
Of what a benefit is it to a somatic educator is it to have an understanding of the neuroanatomy behind the protocols they are following. In theory would it be enough just to know the principles of somatic education and follow them. True skill at any profession requires the ability to adapt and handle deviations from the normal. How does one adapt without knowledge of the principles behind the work. Knowledge of why they work amplifies ones ability to perform. Knowledge of how somatics works allows one to explain and instruct clients who need more information. Knowledge of how it works allows one to screen clients to determine who you can and cannot help.
Knowledge of the problem determines the solution. This principle applies to both the general concept of somatics and specific problems. Somatics works to resolve problems with Sensory Motor Amnesia. In neurology terms this would be considered habituation of muscle contraction and pain, or loss of the ability to feel and by extention control. How does this occur? Habituation is stimulus specific and dependent on the intensity of the signal. The brain will do this because of functionial importance that changes in stimulus are more important than continuous ones. Knowledge of this leads one to the solution to the problem of habituation. One must change the continuous signal to a novel stimulus. This can be done by providing new stimulus by either giving more intensity to the current signal or by providing something new for the brains sensory motor track to work with. Both of these are performed with motion, either through novel motions with means whereby or by increasing the signal with Pandiculations. This knowledge helps because it helps you explain and observe in your clients the need to do new motions ( and your observations of difficulty in their trying new things) and the need to increase the stimulus to a point of them being able to feel it.
This habituation is a learned behavior by repetition of a stimulus. The habituation being signal specific requires matching of the signal this requires working with the whole neurological pattern the body is and not thinking and working in terms of individual muscles. This is vastly different from the compartmentalization of the current medical and body work model.
The learned behavior of sensory motor amnesia also also provides insight into the treatment of the condition. If the condition is learned then new patterns can be learned. Knowledge of how the brain learns is helpful in this regard. Learning is dependent of altering the strength of synaptic connections between nerves. New synaptic connections are formed to create even stronger pathways. This pathway connection explains how strongly entrenched SMA patterns can be. In learning new patterns repetition is necessary in order to strengthen the new patterns you as a somatic educator are helping the client create. This knowledge is important as a practitioner because it helps one understand why it may take more than one session in order to get permanent results and the importance of having the client do his home care movements. The repetition of the movements will transition the new movements into long term memory. This learning can also be enhanced by doing a variety of movements (such as numerous movements to create patterns).
Outside of the basic principles of how SMA forms understanding of neuroanatomy helps the somatic educator understand the tools and methods at a somatic educators disposal. The following is a discussion of the specific tools and the neuroanatomy behind the tools.
Attention and active participation: Learning is a cortical task. Attention to an area automatically increases the amount of cortical activity. The reticular activating system regulates where this attention goes and the what the cortex perceives. This information is of use to a somatic practitioner because it helps one feel the importance of communicating to the client the need to focus ones awareness. A practitioner will create an atmosphere where distractions are minimized. Distrating conversation will be minimized and the client should be told what to look for for example, muscle skipping, tapping the areas involved, areas of holding. By communicating this you prime them to notice what they need to notice and allow the reticular activating system performs its function. Attention will also cement the new motor pattern in memory as successful motor learning involves two things; how it felt and the result. So careful attention to how the movement feels is essential to new learning (Brooks, 6). For learning to take place it is not just attention that is needed but also active participation as the brain learns by comparing input and output functions to the desired result, active participation is necessary to provide the input stimulus to compare to the ideal stimulus. It is by comparing the motion performed (skipping) to the ideal motion ( smooth and controlled) that one learns (Brooks, 35). This awareness is also important for you as the practitioner because you need to focus on noticing their areas of trouble and your awareness will increase your own sensitivity.
Motor Planning and Motor Patterns: The supplementary motor area (SMA) will increase nerve firing to the muscles controlling the motion before the action takes place. This informs a practitioner that if a joint is immobilized or too painful to move the area can be working on by the client if the client visualizes the action in detail. This same area of the supplementary motor area will work on both sides of the body (due to the connection in the corpus callosum), thus this visualization will begin work on the other side of the body even before it is specifically focused on. Another benefit of visualization is that postures and movements are always corrected by comparison to central and peripheral reports. Visualizing how the motion should be provides the source of comparison (Brooks, 15).
The understanding and development of motor programs, whether instructing a class or more complex pandiculations understanding of how the brain processes motor programs, helps one properly instruct students. The brain best learns new motor programs by learning smaller motor units and fusing them into one fluid motion. When instructing students it is best to start with small simple motions and build up to the more complicated, fluid, total body motions.
Also, learning in the brain is not permanent but exists in a state of static equilibrium, in which neurons compete for synaptic space. The more traveled neurological patterns become strenghthened and survive. Thus in building new patterns of motor programs these must be practiced otherwise they will be lost. It is vital that your client needs to understand the need to practice new motor patterns. All motor programs fade unless they are actively refreshed.
Means-whereby: As discussed before awareness alone increases cortex activity. By performing novel movements and increasing sensation new muscular control is gained. Additionally when doing planned programmed movements we normally use sensory feedback for adjustment of speed and path, be we can execute them without feedback if these sensory feedback aren’t available. This option is not possible with movements that haven’t been learned, thus it is important for optimal effectiveness of MWB motions to be new because it forces the brain to seek and use feedback (Brooks, 11).
Kinetic Mirroring/avoiding stretch response: Understanding of the muscle spindle within muscles and how a stretch will cause the muscle to tighten further will keep a somatic educator from stretching the muscles of the client. But it also aids the practitioner in knowing that if you bring the origin and insertion of a muscle closer together without the client contracting it will cause the muscle to reset the muscle tension the muscle spindle is registering as baseline.
Pandiculation-resetting of muscle spindle-excitation of pattern. Alpha motor neuron activation contracts the muscle. Ia neurons send the signal from the muscle fiber which will send a signal to fire the alpha motor neuron if stretched. The gamma motor neuron fires contracts the muscles of the muscle spindle when the muscle contracts so the muscle fiber spindle stays on line telling the length of the muscle. Slowly contracting muscles puts both alpha and gamma motor neurons online. Slowly relaxing the muscles from there causes a reset of the muscle spindle activation (gamma loop) by firing of interneurons relaxing both the alpha and gamma signals together (Brooks, 41). This takes the muscle to new alpha gamma co-activation level. This is how pandiculation allows more muscle reset without activating the stretch response. Knowledge of this will stress on the practitioner the need to keep the client actively engaged during the pandiculation and be careful not to stretch. It is of note that this reset is not taking place within the muscle, it is taking place in the cerebrum and cerebellum where the memory of the alpha gamma co-activation level is stored and a new ratio is established (Brooks, 51).
The alpha gamma coactivation process can only work on small and slow motions. For larger/faster motions tension relaxation would follow a different route of supraspinal adjustment of the number of active motor neurons (Brooks, 51). Thus for alpha gamma co-activation to take place the motions need to be slow and small. This motion must be slow from the beginning as ballistic motions are controlled differently by the brain also as it only fires an initial burst of neuron firing, thus the motion is not controlled and no learning takes place. A somatic educator will encourage slow, controlled motion from beginning to end.
Reciprocal Inhibition: Activation of alpha motor neuron causes firing of inhibitory interneuron which causes relaxation of the antagonist muscles to a movement. This emphasizes the utility of the Lock in.
Session conditions and atmosphere: Knowledge of the 6 motor sensory functional tracks is useful in terms of knowledge of what paths we use in our work, the corticospinal path and sometimes the rubrospinal (redundant pathway). The ventomedial pathways (4) are useful in terms of knowing what conditions to remove so awareness can be more focused on the corticospinal pathway. By having the client lie down you remove these pathways regulating balance and head control.
Purpose: Essential to learning is the feeling and knowledge of purpose. When understanding of the how and why of a task is explained the human brain comprehends tasks far more quickly (Brooks, 13). Thus, as a somatic educator it is essential that we explain motions to our students clearly and not just routinely perform motions. Besides just the how-to a deeper level of purpose is helpful. The limbic areas of the brain are completely entwined within the neo cortex. Thus a sense of larger emotional purpose and success is vital for the work. For things to be entrenched within the brain there must be an strong emotion purpose. Similar to learning in school it is vastly easier to learn a subject that one is interested in, the same is true for motor learning. This emotion also plays a role in determination of success. The feeling of successfully completion of a movement cements motor patterns. To do this students need to be encouraged and also demonstrations of progress should be built into sessions.
Understanding of the neuroanatomy behind the techniques and principles enables one to be able to fully grasp how and why they work, thus enabling an educator to make full use of them. It also enables and educator to be able to explain their profession to clients, doctors, or others who need an explanation as to how it works. It enables an educator to adapt to the needs of the client because of full knowledge of the tools at their disposal.