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Body Language Says More Than Words

by | Jan 4, 2023 | Blog, Science

CalmConnect’s philosophy and use of movement set it apart. There are many exceptional and varied movement practices, but as diverse as they are, they all share two things: They must be learned (by someone who will become the instructor) and they must be taught (to someone who is the student.) CalmConnect’s system of movement is so effective that it activates the PSNS, but so simple that a person of any age can view the movements on screen and intuitively know what to do.

Our body affects our thoughts. Nonverbal cues, physical stance, and posture govern how other people think and feel about us and how we think and feel about ourselves. The way we hold our bodies and what we do with our bodies has an impact on our brain. Even tiny tweaks in posture and stance can lead to big changes. (Petty, 2009).

Many people come to CalmConnect with very defensive postures; seated, legs tightly drawn up, head lying down on the table in front of them with their shirt, hood, or arms wrapped protectively over the top. When they begin to imitate those people they see on the screen, they unconsciously move from a threat- oriented posture (drawn forward, down and tucked inward, protecting their core), to a more confident, upright, expansive posture that ‘owns’ more space, as well as affecting hormone levels, increasing testosterone and reducing cortisol. (Carney, Cuddy, Yap, 2010).

CalmConnect purposely involves the larger muscles of the arms and shoulders, engaged in overhead movement. Occupational therapists refer to the activities that engage both the large muscle groups and joints (and stimulate proprioceptive receptors in) as ‘heavy work.’

Proprioception is a form of sensory input to the muscles and joints that makes us aware of our “position in space.” Our sense of body awareness tells us where we are in space, how we are moving, and where the parts of our body are in relation to one another (i.e., where we are in relation to other objects or people).

People who have difficulty interpreting proprioceptive input have trouble planning their movements and regulating their level of arousal. Heavy work activities (i.e., proprioceptive input) are often used for those with sensory processing difficulties to help with motor planning, increase attention, decrease defensiveness, and modulate arousal. The resistive input obtained through heavy work activities is generally organizing and can help to regulate the nervous system, resulting in a calm and focused state. (Blanche and Schaaf, 2001).

We received an email from an occupational therapist working with a mild to moderate cognitive disability vocational class for teenagers.

“For one student in particular, this program worked beyond the classroom. He is a teenager, and he has autism. He demonstrates a lot of self-stimulation through arm and hand jerking, facial grimaces and body movements, but when anxiety is really high he tends to play with his teeth, eventually pulling healthy adult teeth from his mouth. This young man took to this program immediately, stating that it really helped calm him. On one occasion when he was home for the weekend, he received a “no” from his mother for a request he wanted to do. Typically this would have sent him into a mini meltdown. Instead, he went into the living room and began to do the arm movements of the program while listening to the music in his head that he remembered from school. He came back to school on Monday, telling us what he did and was so proud of himself for not melting down, and being able to work through the challenge.”

Movement has many benefits:

  • Improves learning and mental performance (Shoval, 2011, p. 462; Movement and Learning, 2014).
  • Improves expressive language (Rocco, 2012; O’Callaghan, 2014).
  • Assists with positive social interaction (Dammeyer, 2013; Ramseyer, 2013).
  • Raises the levels of norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, the three major neurotransmitters that affect attention, mood, cognition, behavior and the ability to learn to manage stress levels in response to environmental and life demands. (Esch, Duckstein, Welke, et. al. 2007).
  • Mobilizes gene expression and is a simple way to maintain brain function; both promote brain plasticity (Cotman and Berchtold 2002).
  • Strengthens the cardiovascular system, the endocrine system, the immune system, and the central nervous system. Increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which stimulates the growth of new cells and increases resistance to brain insult (Griffin, Mullalley, Foley, Warmington, O’Mara, and Kelly, 2011).

Movement has many benefits and can help with regulation. However, movement alone is not as effective as when it is also synchronized with the expressive features of emotion and the movement of others, integrated with visual patterns, rhythmic music and comforting vocal frequencies.