Meeting the Challenge Of Developmental Issues with Therapeutic Eurythmy ATHENA West Coast Regional Conference Rudolf Steiner College, April 26-27, 2013
In this short conference eurythmy therapists and medical practitioners worked collaboratively to further understand how developmental issues manifest themselves in children, and how these challenges can be addressed with therapeutic eurythmy.
The keynote addresses were given by two doctors: Dr. Susan Johnson, a Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrician from Colfax, CA who is also a certified Waldorf teacher and Extra Lesson practitioner and Dr. Adam Blanning, an anthroposophical doctor and school doctor for three schools in the Denver, CO area. Some time was also dedicated to the sharing of exercises and observations.
On Friday evening Susan Johnson spoke about the development of foundational neurological pathways and the relationship between the four lower senses (sense of life, sense of self-movement, sense of touch, sense of balance) and their relation to higher capacities. When these lower senses are not fully developed and there are imbalances, the learning process is impeded. These impediments can lead to attention difficulties, poor coordination, lack of dexterity, anxiety, hyperactivity, poor memory and to difficulties with writing, reading and math. In her many years of working with children, she has found eurythmy therapy to be highly effective. Dr. Susan Johnson has thoroughly assessed children before and after doing recommended therapies, and found that those children who did eurythmy therapy showed the most improvement!
For eurythmy or any movement therapy to be most effective, the sense of life should first be strengthened so that the child can be peaceful and relaxed. In mainstream terminology this is related to a well functioning parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes good blood flow to all areas of the brain, enabling a peaceful, relaxed, flowing, open attitude to the world. If instead, a child’s sympathetic nervous system is more active the blood flows mainly to the “reptilian” area of the brain causing the child to be stressed and have jerky movements, become hypersensitive to sight and sound, and to generally experience a “fight or flight” reaction to the world. A strong parasympathetic nervous system leads to a good sense of life and a peaceful sense of well-being. To strengthen this healthy sense of life a child needs warmth, enough sleep, a healthy diet, breathing rhythms and routines, harmonious (non-competitive) activities and unconditional love. So, before prescribing eurythmy therapy for a patient Susan first works with the parents to help them structure a healthy home life for their child.
She has also found that one or two cranial sacral sessions will also open up the parasympathetic neural passageways and then eurythmy movements and gestures can penetrate more deeply into the child and show positive results sooner.
Eurythmy therapy further invigorates and harmonizes the life/growth forces and helps children develop their sense of self-movement, which leads to better balance and improved body and spatial awareness (proprioception). It strengthens their bilateral and cross lateral integration (crossing of midline barriers) and improves their sensory integration by helping them overcome their early reflexes. Susan has several favorite therapeutic eurythmy exercises that she often prescribes for children with developmental issues: IAO, Dexterity E, quiqui, seven-fold rod exercise, B, L, M, Big A and Hope U. She also recommends the allergy sequence TSRMA for almost everyone because it is so strengthening. With T, S, R and M we have all four cardinal points on the zodiac, so one learns to digest impressions from all around the cosmos. One then overcomes one’s animal nature with A and becomes a true human being standing on the earth in a healthy way.
On Saturday morning, Adam approached classroom and learning challenges from a slightly different angle. In his role as school doctor, he has observed many children and many classes. In every class there are children who “spill out” (chat, make faces, move and abandon the group activity). Another group of kids is very slow to enter any activity and need to be shepherded. He refers to them as spillers and herders. This is a result of how they come into their bodies. Adam then reviewed the four members of the human being (physical, etheric, astral, ego), early reflexes and the twelve senses before going into a case study.
Adam described a second grade boy who exhibited a lack of empathy for others. He observed that this boy’s foundational senses (sense of life, self-movement, touch and balance) were young and underdeveloped which led to his lack of perception of others. The boy always had his head and torso on top of his desk with his pelvis up to the edge of the desk and his arms hanging down at the sides. This position relaxed the body and gave it a boundary. The pressure and contact helped him feel his body. In between activities he held onto the backs of two chairs and swung his legs and feet. With the pressure on his hands he could feel his joints and this was stimulating.
He had a tall thin body, was a good soccer player and had good balance. One could see veins on the side of his head (more commonly seen on adults, not on children) and his face was sculptured. He often instigated things that were unkind to others. When spoken to he seemed to understand the thoughts, but it didn’t go beyond that into sensing the ego of another. This boy needed to further develop his lower senses in order for the higher ones to manifest. His sense of life was so poor that he required pressure and movement for selfawareness. His lack of empathy was not a moral issue. One is not born with morality or will, but one needs to develop it new every incarnation.
In order for the higher sense of another’s ego to unfold, the lower senses must develop. Movement, massage and therapeutic eurythmy were prescribed. Adam has found that the eurythmy sequence RLSI helps children come into their bodies and develop a healthy sense of life that allows them to then connect with their will. These sounds take them in and stir them up in a beneficial way. R brings them into movement, L moves through the etheric, S moves through the astral and I, joyfully done, brings a free balance of up and down, a balance of levity and gravity. Adam commented that the experience of this sound sequence is similar to the process of a karmic exercise described by Rudolf Steiner at the end of Chapter Two in Karmic Relationships Vol 2, where one is directed to deepen with the physical, add rhythm with the etheric, intensify with the astral and inwardly reflect with the ego. Then at night one’s higher being takes it into the spiritual. This sound sequence also helps fantasy poor children to get their thick etheric bodies moving again.
For children who are hyperactive and fidgety, whose astrality is disconnected and unhoused, Adam prescribes MNBPAU. M sets up a bridge and helps to build a connection, while N contrasts with M as a breathing polarity. He pointed out that there is character in the heads of both the M and N eurythmy figures. M has the character in the forehead, while N has character in chin and back of head. B and P help to house the movement of the unhoused astral. Then the vowels help to quiet down and organize all the head activity.
In our final discussion period with the doctors, we reflected on how Waldorf education is a healing education that supports the incarnation of the child. However, so many children today have such sensory seeking needs that pedagogy alone cannot meet all of their needs and therapy is necessary. Pedagogical eurythmy supports the archetypal development of the human being, but therapeutic eurythmy can address specific constitutions which are individual. Therapeutic eurythmy works with the Logos, with the creative forces of the sounds. It brings in the spiritual which differentiates it from other movement therapies. We ended the conference greatly inspired by these doctors who strongly support our work and value eurythmy so highly. From notes taken by Barbara Neumann.