The Power of Super-Relaxation ['Relaxogenesis'] to Unlock the Healthy Developmental Potential of your Brain Injured Child. PART 1
In this post I am beginning to introduce you to the idea of Super-Relaxation and how such Super-Relaxation allows to Unlock the Healthy Developmental Potential of a child affected by cerebral palsy even in the most severe cases.
We are going to do this introduction in a step-by-step manner – starting with a deeper look into the essence of 'ordinary' Relaxation and understanding how the Relaxation is different from Anti-Tension. This will enable us to move further towards what Super-Relaxation is, and to see clearly why it is such a powerful approach. As the next step we'll look at the difference between two avenues of making the most of your child's developmental potential – the 'Unlocking' strategy and the 'Boosting' strategy. And finally we'll put the pieces together – showing how all these elements can quite easily and smoothly fit into the daily life of your child and your own.
In general 'Relaxation' is a very familiar word – we all know it and use it quite often. In fact, in our stressed modern lives we do not have much of the opportunities to 'relax' ourselves and we look forwards to the weekends and vacation times hoping that we'd finally be able to "switch off", "calm down", "enjoy" etc. (Unfortunately, all too often the reality is very different and we keep ourselves busy, stressed and connected to the mobile phones even when we hoped for some 'time off' – but that's a different story altogether…)
Our typical idea of 'relaxation' is mainly related to the psychological and physical domains. When we tell someone: "Relax, your body– don't be so tense." – first and foremost we are referring to one's stiffened muscles. "Relax your arms, relax your feet, relax your neck" etc. That's our intuitive understanding of the physical relaxation.
Even more obvious and frequently used reference to the 'relaxation' is psychological – when we look for the ways of saving ourselves from the pressures of everyday's chores and obligations, trying to find a mental and emotional escape from a frantic pace of a modern life.
And then, of course, there is a combination of physical and psychological relaxations that we are all craving for–"Having some rest"; "Relaxing after a hard day's work…"– where we just want to lie down or to sit very comfortably, to do nothing; to stop moving; to switch the busy mind off by getting distracted …
Both the physical and the psychological perspectives on relaxation share an important thing in common – we perceive such 'relaxations' as the 'nice to haves' – something which is obviously good and pleasant but not fundamentally important. In our daily lives we are much more often keep doing things that we consider important until we drop into bed exhausted, rather than deliberately focusing on the value of relaxation time.
I've made this relatively long introduction into the 'relaxation' subject in order to make sure that we review this intuitive perception on 'relaxation' before making a subtle but important shift towards the less obvious aspect – the Physiological Relaxation.
The 'physiology' studies the internal processes taking place within our bodies – so Physiological Relaxation is the inquiry into what's happening inside our body when we are relaxed and what effects it has on our health.
In fact, even in our daily language this 'physiological relaxation' receives a special mention –when we talk about our need to relax in order to re-charge; re-energize and re-fresh ourselves…
This is the avenue that we are going to pay our special attention to in this inquiry and this avenue eventually is going to lead us to the Super-Relaxation and to the practical ways of helping your child to thrive, flourish and progress despite the constraints and challenges of a brain injury.
The Power of Physiological Relaxation.
Now once we are very clear that we are focused on the internal physiological aspect of the Relaxation– we can move deeper into the full understanding of the special benefits that it brings.
First of all, Physiological Relaxation is a physiological state – in other words it is a very specific INTERNAL ACTIVITY.
The focus on Physiological Relaxation being an 'activity' is extremely important because intuitively we associate relaxation – both physical and psychological – with our conscious INACTIVITY..
In our usual everyday life we relax when we stop doing things, when we 'switch off', when our bodies and our minds are INACTIVE. There is even a song : "Relax, don't do it…"
This external aspect – what I call "our own "lazy" perspective on relaxation" as on "not doing anything" – is the one that hides from us the truth about the state of physiological relaxation – being the state of the highest internal physiological activity.
In other words, Physiological Relaxation is the state when internally our bodies work their most intense.
This work is done "silently" – entirely at the level of our involuntary and unconscious body – so we are not really aware of it and do not fully appreciate how important and INTENSE this internal relaxation work is.
You might be asking – what is the body then doing when we are in this physiological relaxation state? – Well, Relaxation is the physiological state when our bodies do the most important health building and maintenance work – re-pair, re-build, re-model, re-connect, re-generate and so on…
On the one hand, everyone knows that – "Children grow in their sleep… You are taller in the morning than in the evening" etc – What is 'the sleep'? – it is the physiological state when all of the external doings of our movements and thinking are switched off , but yet at the same time the body is busy with the most intense health-building and re-building activities internally and unconsciously. So at the back of our minds we know how powerful is physiological relaxation but at the same time, we take it for granted and don't appreciate its powers..
Actually, all of the most important 'works' of keeping us healthy are done inside our bodies exactly during the state of relaxation.
Physiological state of Relaxation – beyond the sleep & rest.
Sleep is the best example of 'Physiology of Relaxation at work' but it is only the beginning of our journey into the powers of physiological relaxation.
Why do I need to highlight this? – Because too often after revisiting the health benefits of sleep many parents tend to rush towards the simplistic conclusion: "I've got it. My child needs to sleep more and to rest more often as well, right?"…
On the one hand, that's true – indeed having enough sleep and rest is extremely important for every child and for a child affected by cerebral palsy, who is weaker than the neurotypical children, it is absolutely essential. However, we shouldn't limit ourselves to this intuitive conclusion – our goal is to use the powers of the Physiological Relaxation to its maximum.
The main understanding that we should develop out of our inquiry into the physiology of relaxation is a lot more powerful:
The Physiology of Relaxation is the state where the energy resources of the human body (metabolic, electrical, mechanical etc.) are invested into the internal processes of growth; tissue differentiation; regeneration; repairs; recharge etc. – in other words into the increase of Internal Health Assets.
3 avenues of energy expenditure in the human body.
This Health investment of human body's energy resources via Relaxation is either direct or indirect;
- Direct Health Investment – the energy resources of the body are spent on the growth; tissue differentiation; regeneration; repairs
- Indirect Health Investment – the reduction of the external consumption and lesser tensional wastage of the energy resources of the body.
To understand these ideas better we need to return to an even larger matter – the human body's supply of energy resources and the avenues of their expenditure. Obviously, nothing comes out of nowhere. The energy conservation law is the foundation of thermodynamics. Any process within the human body has a some energy costs that channel along 3 main avenues of energy expenditure –Investment, Consumption and Wastage. Let's look at those a bit closer:
What is an External Energy Consumption? – these are various external bodily activities that cost energy – locomotion; fine motor skills; intellectual activity etc. The energy supply in our body is limited – so everything that we spend externally via our "doings" and 'activity' has a cost. The more we spend externally, the less remains for the internal investment. When this imbalance becomes excessive – our internal body shuts our activities off; we feel tired and sleepy and unable to do things anymore. If we force ourselves anyway – we pay the price. Our health assets reduce and all sorts of 'bad' things start happening to us – from sicknesses to injuries and serious illnesses.
Does that mean that we shouldn’t be doing anything and just spend our days idly? – Of course not, but the understanding of this relationship between external consumption and internal health investment is very important – because it makes us aware of watching for the right balance.
This is especially true for the kids affected by Cerebral Palsy, where we face the Quadruple Challenge of External Energy Consumption:
- The overall energy resources available for consumption are much lower (weaker metabolism; less efficient mechanotransduction etc.);
- The costs of external functions are much higher (less efficient transport system; imprecise nervous control; over engagement of muscles etc )
- The external agents (parents and teachers) tend to try to 'push the limits' by trying to constantly entertain and engage the child above his or her natural rhythm of activity & rest
- The internal health maintenance needs are much higher.
What is an Energy Wastage? – these are unproductive and unintentional Internal & External Tensions that either cost direct energy expense or interfere with the efficiency of energy transport.
The difference between an External Energy Consumption and an Energy Wastage is rather obvious.
Useful and intentional activities such as purposeful movements, locomotion, play, intellectual engagement etc. are the ones that cost energy but has some benefits – physical, physiological and emotional. This is an External Energy Consumption.
An Energy Wastage is caused by restrictions, transport resistances and Tensions. These are pure costs that drain the limited energy resources of the body but do not bring any tangible benefits in return.
It is helpful to summarize all these ideas in a compact form:
Total Energy Supply of the living body has exactly 3 avenues of expenditure:
- Energy Investment via Internal Physiological Relaxation– the energy invested in the increase of the Internal Health Assets – growth and tissue differentiation; self-healing; regeneration etc. Takes places quietly, silently and unconsciously in the background.
- Energy Consumption via External Activities – the energy is spent externally but in exchange to some well defined physical and emotional benefits. This is the conscious level that we are aware of.
- Energy Wastage via Internal & External Tensions – the energy is wasted
We can write this down as a neat equation:
E (Total) = E (Invested) + E (Consumed) + E (Wasted)
E (T)= E(I)+ E (C)+ E (W)
This simple equation is going to help us immensely allowing to gain the powerful insights into the developmental progress of both healthy children and children affected by cerebral palsy.
The first major insight is obvious right away – the essence of any child's development is in the growth and tissue differentiation. A newborn baby is small in size and has primitive non-differentiated tissues – growth, tissue differentiation, health and developmental progress are all linked together. Functions & motion require healthy structure; or to be even more precise – a child needs to be able to afford the E consumption necessary for external functions by building his or her health assets first.
What is a necessary condition for all these good things to take place? –
The E (Invested)has to exceed E(Consumed) + E(Wasted).
If this is not the case a child is due to struggle and perish.
On the other hand, what do we all know about thriving and flourishing child? – During the period of proportionally the fastest child's growth (the 1st year of life)– the Relaxation time is at its maximum (the baby sleeps and stays "idle" for most of the day); the Activity that causes E consumption is at its minimum; and the Tensional Wastage is at its lowest (just recall how soft and supple are the babies).
Healthy Relaxation Autopilot vs. Broken Relaxation Autopilot
Physiological Relaxation is an intense Internal ACTIVITY! The main difference between ourselves – healthy people – and a child affected by cerebral palsy that we have a Healthy Relaxation Autopilot that combines three powerful benefits:
- First, once we stop doing things externally our bodies then automatically turn on the high intensity of the internal self-healing and self-recovery processes. In other words, once we stop the External Energy Consumption – our body switches on into the Internal Energy Investment.
- Second, our unproductive tensions are relatively low even when we are in the External Energy Consumption phase –doing things and moving. It is a well-known fact, that during a regular movement a healthy muscle switches the activity between its fibers in such a way that any given element only works 3-5% fascia the time. So a healthy muscle rests and has this background relaxation turned on 95-97% of the time even when its engaged in external action.
- Third, once we stop moving and become idle – our unproductive tensions (especially in children) almost disappear. As a result all of the body's energy resources immediately become available for physiological relaxation and internal investment.
Compare this to the predicament of a child affected by cerebral palsy. Unfortunately, the Healthy Relaxation Autopilot does not work for brain-injured children – especially the severely affected quadriplegic ones. It makes sense to look at this Broken Relaxation Autopilot in a reverse order to appreciate the extent of challenges:
- Third, even when a child stops moving and tries to be idle the unproductive background tensions remain high – not only in the most obvious areas such as the legs and arms but throughout the entire body. That's why the Energy Wastage never stops automatically.
- Second, a child affected by cerebral palsy recruits more muscle fibers with individual muscles and more muscles as well when making the same movement or function as a healthy child. That's why the Energy Consumption even
- Besides the third and the second challenges individually there is a vicious combination of those: The positions & postures that for a healthy are truly idle and cost-free – lying down, sitting, reclining etc. – require active work for a child affected by cerebral palsy especially to a quadriplegic one. Hence we face a double trouble – what should be the positions and times of external rest and internal physiological relaxation investment – actually become the periods of External Energy Consumption.
- First, the continuous over-engagement of the surface musculature; the inability to stop working in the "idle" positions; and the presence of the permanent background tensions – make it difficult to do the full switch from the External Consumption & activity to the Internal Investment & physiological relaxation.
Think of this challenge this way. All of us can recall the times when after prolonged period of stress or especially hard work we find ourselves in a very disturbing situation – we are tired and even exhausted; we sense that we need to switch to the physiological relaxation modality – but we can't; we remain stuck in the external mode because of the background muscle tension and elevated tone that doesn't go away. How disturbing and detrimental is that? – For a child affected by cerebral palsy – that's an everyday reality…
Paradoxically when we healthy people look at CP kids from the outside – we think that they are not doing enough and want to "help" them into doing more… but the reality is exactly the opposite – they are already working too hard and doing too much, consuming too much energy resources. Their bodies are already in the overload. What they need from us is not our "help" and intervention for doing more – but our facilitation in doing less!
Cerebral palsy kids have massive Healthy Relaxation and developmental potential but their Relaxation Autopilot is not working. They can't stop doing too much externally, so their bodies do not have enough opportunities to do the healthy work internally. They need our assistance and intelligent help in turning off the unproductive tensions and the excessive postural activity in order to free themselves from the Energy Wastage and excessive External Energy Consumption.
TO BE CONTINUED....
P.S. I want to thank all the parents who responded to my questions about the interest to have more advanced training and on having a "spare learning capacity"... I am going to reply to everyone shortly. Meanwhile -- in case some families missed the previous post -- I am re-posting those questions
Over the recent years I have accumulated a lot of videos teaching the techniques and going into the specific details and nuances of positioning, setups, technical refinements etc.
We've been using those for the internal training of ABR team but the constraints of the ABR training sessions that we have today only allow to share a fraction of those with you during the trainings at the ABR Centers and Satellites.
However, at the same time – I often here the remarks both from many parents and from the Trainers giving feedback after the sessions – that "parents are 'at full learning capacity' with the technical training that we already give" assuming that any further dive into the details is going to be an overload and overwhelm.
I believe that this is true for some parents but I hope that some of you do have some ''spare learning capacity'.
Such trainings will need to undergo some editing and setting up a membership site for accessing these video – so it is quite a lot of extra work & expense on our part. So I'd want to hear what's the level of interest towards it among the active ABR families.
Whilst my own style of training is very technical and detail oriented – after working closely with Alex for the last year – I can see that his training brings an entirely different perspective and dimension that I find very valuable:
His largest focus is on your 'inner game' – on your ABR Mindset and on the Philosophy of expressing your relationship and deep personal connection with your child via your exercise. One of his favorite sayings is: "You have to make your ABR ball ALIVE… With every 'roll' you want to bring some extra life into your child's body through this ball – can you achieve that if your ball is dead in your hands?"..
Again, I am unlikely to come up with this perspective myself because my entire language and the worldview is shaped differently but I am fully behind it and I think that there is a tremendous value to it for those who are ready to hear the deeper meaning…
So my question is quite straightforward – if I see enough enthusiasm from you – we'll then try to make these trainings available during the coming year, either via the membership site or some other video sharing form.
I am asking these questions for a very simple reason – we have plenty more to give but I want to see the volunteers who'd deliberately step up and say: "Yes, I am ready to do this extra learning work."
These levels of trainings is not something that I am going to simply dump on YouTube or Vimeo for the curiosity of the passing strangers..
You are welcome to leave you responses in the comments here but otherwise please write to me <firstname.lastname@example.org>