Archives for January 2012

Successful Aging Through Movement

Have you made healthy aging a priority?  We’re never too young or too old to begin.  That being the case, I thought you might enjoy going off the beaten path to consider a novel developmental perspective of successful aging discussed within the field of somatic psychology, a sub-discipline of psychology.

Researchers within this field recognize and explore the role of first-person experience in the development of a social, emotional, mental, and internalized sense of self.  Thomas Hanna, a pioneer in the field, advocated the inclusion of a somatic perspective in the human sciences in order to understand and circumvent the aging process.  He studied the link between habituated, contracted bodily movement patterns associated with decrepitude and formulated a method for restoring structure and function, Somatics.  In his book, Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health, he proposed the following,

The reason that physiology and medicine have failed to perceive the myths behind aging is that they have failed to recognize the fundamental fact that all human beings are self-aware, self-sensing, and self-moving . . . By adding the somatic viewpoint to our human sciences, we not only become capable of overcoming many health problems mistakenly attributed to aging, but we are capable of overcoming many of the major health problems that plague all of mankind.

While most of us understand the concept of self-awareness and self-sensing, what is meant by the term self-moving and how does it relate to health?

Self-moving is the term Hanna used to describe the ability humans have to work consciously with  reflexive, unconscious, and involuntary muscular bodily movement patterns in order to restore structure and function.  He demonstrated how muscular patterns form in response to chronic experiences, like stress, which interfere with the ability to completely relax contracted muscles.  In time, this can lead to chronic stiffness, soreness, aches, and pain.  Internally sustained states of tension can lead to hypertension and cardiac disease.

Hanna also recognized the role of early social experience in the childhood development of habituated movement patterns which can impact a child’s health long-term.  This important topic has been widely studied in somatic psychology and will be discussed in future posts.

The good news is, no matter what the cause, chronic contracted muscular patterns can be released and reversed, leaving you feeling more alive and vital.  You don’t have to look and feel old in your senior years! To achieve lasting results will require time and effort, but aren’t you worth it?  Many people have had good results dealing with stress and undoing chronic muscular patterns by engaging in movement practices such as Feldenkreis, the Alexander Technique, Tai Chi, yoga, Somatics, and Qi Gong.  It’s never too early to start, so what are you waiting for?  Get moving!

Have you ever considered that optimal movement patterns could be the basis for long-term health? Have you engaged in a movement practice that had positive effects on your health?  

Childhood Experience and Parenting Strategies

The Dilemma of Childhood Experience and Parenting Strategies

What is the impact of one’s own childhood experience on their parenting strategies as an adult?

I’ve never met a parent who didn’t want the best for their children.  I’m not referring to wealth or material acquisitions. I’m talking about the instilling of qualities that underlie the development of positive social behaviors from infancy on, such as an adaptable personality, the ability to formulate flexible strategies, and the capacity for resilience.  In other words, you want to see your child grow up to be a happy, well-adjusted adult.  How does someone begin to develop parenting strategies and how does one’s childhood experience of being parented come into play?


I suggest that if you are contemplating raising a family, that you begin by reflecting upon your own childhood experience since it is often predictive of how you will parent your own children.

“Wait a minute,” you might say, “I would never do such and such to my children,” (referring to distasteful childhood experiences).

True, most of us make conscious decisions not to repeat our parent’s hurtful behaviors, yet the truth is, we are the product of our experience.  To illustrate, please consider the following questions which are put to you now, as an adult, but know that your answers may be rooted in your early life experience:

1.  Is it easy for you to connect to others in a meaningful way?

2.  Are you comfortable in social situations or would you prefer to be alone?

3.  Do you welcome new experiences or do you tend to stick to familiar situations?

4.  Is your response to a stressful challenge organized, chaotic, or numbing?

Researchers in the field of early childhood development have linked behaviors associated with the above questions to experience-dependent patterns of brain organization which offer clues to an individual’s capacity for adaptability, the development of effective strategies, and resilience.

In view of the above, we may have to make conscious decisions to change our behaviors when we begin to parent.

Developing effective parenting strategies can be quite difficult if that was not our childhood experience.  An effective parent is not a reactive parent.  Adaptability and resilience can be developed and are invaluable when attempting to meet the needs of our children.

Parenting is one of the most important and challenging tasks that an individual can take on.  While you can never be completely prepared, the more you understand about your own childhood developmental history, the more present you can be as a parent.

If you are a parent, did you find yourself struggling to give your child a different kind of parenting experience then you had received?

Early Childhood Experience and Long-Term Health

The topic of early childhood experience as it relates to long-term health is rather personal for me and has been my chosen topic of research for many years.  In some ways, it has been a search for meaning. Having been raised in a very scary environment fraught with intermittent bouts of rage, alcohol, and domestic violence, my sense of safety and security were fleeting at best.

I really get it, why my father was so abusive and tormented or why my mother was unable to formulate a plan to protect us.  I’ve come to understand that part of my experience as a piece of a puzzle in the all too common multi-generational transmission of interpersonal trauma.

What I have struggled with is understanding my enduring response to adverse childhood experience and how it has impacted my sense of self, my beliefs, and my general health and well-being.

Last century, fundamental advances were made in medicine, both in studying the disease process and in developing methods and treatments to overcome disease which have led to the present model of the adult onset of disease and chronic illness.  In this model, once you hit 50, all kinds of things start to go wrong in the body.

Adult Onset of Disease Model

As a health care practitioner, I find this perspective somewhat limiting since more recent research is now exploring the link between  adult health status and early childhood experience.   In fact, in 1999, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) invited scientists and researchers specializing in early childhood experience to form the Early Experience, Stress Neurobiology & Prevention Science network.   Their task has been to correlate data from animal studies of early life experience with data from human psychosocial research in the study of emotional and stress-related disorders.  Their findings suggest that the effects of early life stress are cumulative and far-reaching, giving us insight into the role of early life experience in long-term health.  This series will explore this fascinating and relevant topic in more detail so stay tuned!

Have your ever thought of stress as cumulative?  Do you think that early childhood experience, positive or negative, can impact adult health?

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