Personal Agency, Movement, and Teaching with Amy Matthews (LBP 065)

Today I’m talking with Amy Matthews. Amy has been teaching movement since 1994. She is a Certified Laban Movement Analyst, a Body-Mind Centering® Teacher, an Infant Developmental Movement Educator, and a movement therapist and yoga teacher. Amy is also the co-author of the best-selling book Yoga Anatomy, and together with Leslie Kaminoff Amy teaches The Breathing Project's Advanced Studies courses. In today’s conversation we’re talking about Laban Movement Analysis and Body-Mind Centering, developmental movement work, and what that means for infants- how they can get a solid foundation for personal agency and emotional regulation through movement, and how developmental movement work helps adults as well. We also talk about embodied teaching, how teaching is its own art form and how it can also call forth a student’s personal agency.

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Taking On Chairs as a Public Health Crisis with Juliet Starrett (LBP 044)

Juliet Starrett, the other half of MobilityWOD, is talking with me today about StandUp Kids. She and her husband Kelly have created this non-profit to get chairs out of classrooms in order to create movement-rich environments instead.  No conversation on re-thinking classroom design and movement for children is complete with talking about the big undertaking Juliet and Kelly Starrett have kicked off. This is the most ambitious program to get rid of chairs happening in the United States. And as Juliet plainly puts it in our conversation, this is crucial because the amount of time spent sitting- of which classroom time accounts for a huge percentage- is a massive public health crisis. Now that we understand the implications of sitting it’s just nuts that we are forcing children into chairs. And Juliet is here to tell you all about that.

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  • StandUp Kids is in the process of converting a public school in California to the first completely chair-free public school in the US. They currently have 100 students at standing desks, with the goal of having all students in the school at standing desks when it reopens for the school year this August.
  • Juliet and Kelly spend much of their time working with top athletes all over the world and they always tell them to spend as little time sitting in a chair as possible.
  • Their a-ha moment came when they attended their child's school field day and they saw that many of the kids did not have the hip range of motion to get in and out of the sack or to jump effectively for sack races. They realized that in their professional lives they were telling people not to sit and then were sending their kids to school to sit all day.
  • Their concern was primarily orthopedic- for kids to move and perform optimally they were at a massively increased risk of injury from sitting all day and shortening their tissues.
  • There is a high intimidation factor about taking on the bureaucracy of public schools, but they were pleasantly surprised to meet with their school principal for coffee and have their first standing desk classroom set up 6 weeks later.
  • Imagine if all the parents pulling their kids out of public school instead invested the money they spend on a private school within that public school.
  • StandUp Kids has partnered with Donors Choose to fundraise for standing desks in classrooms.
  • Often the education piece for the public needs to happen about why this is a crucial and not a frivolous expense, especially when you consider how needy classrooms are these days for basic supplies.
  • Each class is 20 to 25 kids and in the elementary grades there are vast height ranges within any given classroom, yet they are all crammed into one-size-fits-all furniture.
  • You do not need an ergonomics expert to fit the desks to each child. Anyone can do it and it takes 2 minutes per child.
  • The classrooms are now set up with standing desks that each have a fidget bar at the foot which allows children to fidget out of distracting view from the teacher.
  • The classrooms also have 5 stools each- with the number of stools smaller than the number of desks intentionally. The goal is not to change sitting at a chair for sitting at a stool as they make the same c-curve shape in their spines.
  • People always ask "won't the kids get tired?" but the only people who stand like statues at standing desks are adults.
  • Kids are also encouraged to work on the floor as they wish.
  • Standing is not the answer to sitting- movement is the answer to sitting, but you cannot have a movement-rich environment with chairs. With standing desks it opens up so many opportunities to have a movement rich classroom environment.
  • The 4th graders had a harder time transitioning and wanted to use the stools more at the beginning. The first graders didn't use the stools much at all- presumably because of how their bodies have been trained for years to either move or not move.
  • Getting rid of chairs can be an equality issue- boys are failing in the current educational environment, and studies show that children with ADHD have to move to learn. Both boys and children with ADHD do so much better in a standing desk, movement rich classroom.
  • If standing desks reduce the number of kids medicated for ADHD that is a huge deal.
  • The current design of our schools comes from the industrial era when the goal of classrooms was to make compliant workers for factories- but that is not the world that awaits our children now.
  • The StandUp Kids website also has a curriculum section where teachers can either learn brief movement breaks to teach in their classroom, or they can simply push play and have the kids go through the video.
  • The data also shows that kids burn more calories at a standing desk- for obese children it amounts to 25-30% more calories per day.

Home play!

Let's train for more standing, shall we? Juliet talked about the need to train to stand more when you transition- even if you are athletic. So see what will bump the needle for you to get more standing in in your day. Can you set a timer for a certain amount of time and stand? Also remember to fidget and move! The goal is not to be a static robot. "The best position at your standing desk is your next position."

Resources

StandUp Kids- donate and/or learn how to get your own standing classroom project going.

Texas A&M standing desk research: The impact of stand-biased desks in classrooms on calorie expenditure in children

Texas A&M research on standing desks increasing attention in the classroom

Kids with ADHD Must Squirm to Learn in Science Daily

Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boysby Michael Thompson

If you’re inspired to leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher I would be oh so grateful! If technology isn’t your thing however you can just tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!

Making Classrooms Movement Friendly (LBP 043)

Today's episode is a double header! First I talk with Richard Brennan, an Alexander Technique teacher in Ireland who is also the originator of the School Chairs Campaign which aims to make backward sloping chairs illegal. Next I up speak with Patricia Pyrka of Beyond Training about her weeklong furniture-free experiment in her son's classroom.

What is approximately 15,000 hours spent sitting throughout the course of a child's education costing them (and us, as the adults who grew up that way)? We talk about the effects to physical and emotional health, as well as brainstorming the options for more movement-friendly classrooms and the upsides that has had.

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Conversation highlights

Richard Brennan:

  • Richard explains what the backward slope of a chair is, and why it's so detrimental, and how backward sloping chairs came to be in the first place.
  • In the UK teachers are not allowed to sit on the chairs as it is considered a health risk, but that health risk consideration has not been extended to the children.
  • The effect a wedge for his child's chair has had.
  • The attempts children make to keep their spines upright in the chairs and how it is admonished by educators.
  • Everyone is blaming a child's posture deteriorating on heavy school bags, but they sit for 15,000 hours throughout their educational years.
  • 1/5th of children in school are already suffering from back pain.
  • The lungs and oxygen to the brain are also affected.
  • Posture goes much farther than shape- how we dampen children's spirits and personalities through forced sitting.

Patricia Pyrka:

  • Patricia describes how she got inspired to talk with her son's teacher about a furniture-free experiment.
  • How she approached the teacher and made it happen.
  • How specifically the room was redesigned.
  • How she communicated with the students and parents about the upcoming changes.
  • The barriers in adult workplaces to sitting on the floor.
  • What kind of movement education she used to help the kids adapt.
  • How this week affected the children with attention issues.
  • Cost comparison of traditional school furniture vs. the equipment they used.
  • Does sitting autonomy have an effect on more self-directed learning?
  • The teacher's input on how it went from her end.

Home play!

Say goodbye to the chair for a bit! The floor is your friend... see what happens.

Resources

Richard Brennan

School Chairs Campaign

Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT) petition

Patricia Pyrka

Patricia's article on exactly how she did it

If you liked this episode, you might also like

Physical Disempowerment of Infants and Children with Kathleen Porter

Move Your DNA with Katy Bowman

If you’re inspired to leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher I would be oh so grateful! If technology isn’t your thing however you can just tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!

Physical Disempowerment of Infants and Children with Kathleen Porter (LBP 042)

Kathleen Porter of Natural Posture Solutions and I had a chance to talk about the many developmental issues facing children that are new since the 1970's (with an even bigger wave of change hitting in the 90's). How have our "advances" physically disempowered infants and children and what long terms costs does that have? How might the current epidemics related to poorly functioning nervous systems be linked to or influenced by this? And, importantly, how might we be sending the message that what is "out there" is more important than what is "in here"?

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Conversation highlights

  • Kathleen talks about some background on Natural Posture Solutions, and how she became concerned about how American children were developing.
  • Why do we assume that children in developing nations who carry siblings on their backs or who do physical work like head carrying are suffering? We have an auto assumption that physical work is a strain.
  • Children in these cultures have fewer cases of developmental disabilities and neurological disorders.
  • We have lost our connection to ground reaction force and therefore we experience physical work as a strain- we are hauling ourselves around.
  • Neurobiologist Richard Sperry says that 90% of the nutrition to the brain is driven by the movement of the spine.
  • The new focus on the intrinsic or enteric nervous system- there are millions of sensory and motor neurons in our gut and it is vitally important to engage the core. Not with contrived exercises, but if you inhabit your body in a natural way the core takes care of itself and the spine is supported.
  • By the time toddlers are upright and walking they have all the core strength they will need in their lifetime.
  • The current disruptions of our nervous systems in contemporary culture.
  • Beginning in about the 1970's we started putting children in all these devices- molded plastic carriers, swings to lull them to sleep, carriers, etc.
  • In the 1990's the Back to Sleep campaign which was designed to prevent SIDS came along and created a perfect storm.
  • With this parents have become convinced that putting children on their tummies at all is a dangerous thing to do. They have then lost the belly to earth connection and there has been a 600% increase in Plagiocephaly. Also things like Torticollis and vision problems which were rare in children are now more frequent.
  • This loss of engaging with the Earth with the belly down has huge implications.
  • Kathleen gives a little home play exercise where you can see what gets worked when you try it out for yourself.
  • Instead we focus on dangling all these bright colors and shapes in front of them in the hopes of giving them a cognitive head start, are we giving infants the message that what is out there is more important than what is in here?
  • Kathleen tells a story of working with a child who "could sit up but not roll over or move". This perplexed her since rolling over comes first- it's how the infant gets into seated position. What she found is that the parents had been placing the child in a sitting position- and the child didn't know how to get into or out of it. It has become common for pediatricians to do this to encourage slow development along.
  • How we teach infants to sit on a "sad dog" pelvis.
  • Head lag as an early predictor for autism. 90% of children diagnosed with autism later on had head lag at 4 to 6 months.
  • Putting babies on their backs all the time has disrupted their development of the core. While one certainly can't say that this is the cause of autism, the lack of core tone should be looked at more globally to see what role it plays in spectrum disorders.
  • Some of the promising therapies for autism are things like Hippotherapy which reverse the collapsed spine and the posterior pelvis.
  • We don't just have bodies. We are bodies.

Home play!

Somewhere around about minute 25 or 26 (or 27? precision was never really my thing...) Kathleen gives a great home play. She suggests getting a pillow to prop under the belly and lying belly to floor like an infant. See how even the small movements create so much dynamic work in the core and the spine!

Resources

Natural Posture Solutions

Happy Dog, Sad Dog: How Poor Posture Affects Your Child's Health by Kathleen Porter

Natural Posture for Pain-Free Living by Kathleen Porter

Richard Sperry neurobiologist

Head lag in infants at risk for autism: a preliminary study, The American Journal of Occupational Therapy

The "back to sleep" campaign and deformational plagiocephaly, The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery

If you liked this episode, you might also like

Esther Gokhale: Primal Posture 

Katy Bowman: Move Your DNA

Judith Aston: Our Relationship to Our Bodies and Their Relationship to the World

If you’re inspired to leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher I would be oh so grateful! If technology isn’t your thing however you can just tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!