Tom Christensen

Tom Christensen

It begins with movement

Anat Baniel Method and Feldenkreis practitioner Karen Toth offers workshop to Vernon parents and their children

Children in the Okanagan will once again have access to a specialized method for developing greater awareness and control over their own actions.

“We wanted our kids to feel confident in their own abilities,” said Vernon  parent Brent Kisilevich.  “We had heard about this method that was non-medical and rooted in a child’s natural ability to learn. It was unlike anything we had ever heard of before.”

What Kisilevich and his wife, Teresa, discovered was the Anat Baniel Method (ABM) based on the works of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, which provides learning experiences that help children develop beyond their existing patterns of thinking, sensing and moving. It uses gentle innovative techniques to access the brain’s ability to learn movement, thought and feeling. Children are asked to move only in ways which are within their true capabilities.

“It creates a feeling of safety and encourages a willingness to expand into new abilities,” said Karen Toth, a certified Feldenkrais practitioner and ABM practitioner, who specializes in working with infants and children.

“I seek to wake up a child’s natural awareness to feel what he or she is doing (in their nervous systems). When they are more aware of what they are doing, they have more choices available to them to accomplish what they intend to do.”

Parents who brought their children to Toth in August reported shortly after the sessions that their children’s moods, behaviours and sleep patterns improved.

“My son seemed to be more alert, aware of his surroundings, and yet at ease. We noticed how our son easily got up on a wakeboard for the first time and seemed better balanced and coordinated,” said Teresa Kisilevich, who initially admitted to being skeptical of the claim that infants and children’s progress often surpassed medical expectations.

Sara Wiens, a Salmon Arm resident and teacher, described how her son, Ronan, who has been diagnosed with hemiplegia, a type of cerebral palsy, now raises both arms more freely above his head, sits more easily with both legs bent, and is consistently placing his right heel on the ground when he walks.

“His two-handed play increased with no prompting,” she said. “Our pediatrician said, ‘whatever you’re doing, it’s working. Keep it up.’”

According to ABM practitioners and neuroscientists like Dr. Norman Doidge, author of The Brain that Changes Itself, the process of giving attention to movement is what has enabled human beings to develop their forebrain, enabling them to sense subtle changes when given enough time and safety to do so.

Feldenkrais, who dedicated more than 40 years to developing his method with adults, was also fascinated with how children learned to move and how that learning could be supported. His student of 20 years, Anat Baniel, built upon his works and later focused her studies mainly on infants and children with special needs.

Toth said the opposite of spasticity is a well-organized nervous system.

“And a well-organized nervous system is in a state that is receptive to learning,” she said. “When we experience limitations like discomfort or pain, we either work around those limitations or just accept them and say ‘I can’t or I’m not good at that.’”

She added that limitations can be learned early on by children but that does not mean they will always have them. The more the forebrain is used, the more of it becomes involved in coordinating the complex and adaptive movements that enable us to thrive.

“Every child is capable of learning what is possible for them. It’s fun. It’s natural and with a little help from the hands of a skilled teacher, it can go a long way to making a big difference in how each child thinks and feels about himself,” said Brent Kisilevich, a local school teacher  who is currently completing his second year of a four-year training in the Feldenkrais method at the University of Oregon. “Whether your child has special needs, is an aspiring musician, artist or athlete, the results are often surprising.”

Toth said she ideally works with each child twice a day for about 45 minutes over the course of four or five days. However, a single session alone can make a significant difference.

“There is so much learning and change that takes place within the nervous system that a period of rest between each series of sessions is recommended so the children can assimilate their new learning into their daily experiences,” she said.

Toth will be in Vernon, Jan. 24 to 28 to work with children throughout the day. She will be offering an introductory session Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. for parents and interested professionals at a studio in downtown Vernon and another parent session Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m. in Salmon Arm.

For more information or to arrange for sessions for your children, please call Brent at 250-545-2653 or e-mail  tmkisil@gmail.com. For more information about the parent session in Salmon Arm, please call Sara at 250-833-4303.