Includes Aston-Patterning® classes and workshops.
Short Description of Aston Patterning
Article on Aston Patterning® and Skiing from "Sno News
Resume: Zia Parker MA CMT
303-530-1415 Email Contact
By Zia Parker
The cornerstone of this method is understanding functional movement--everyday movement habits. Over time, our habitual ways of moving through our lives literally shapes our bodies--and then, our symptoms. The influence of functional movement habits on structural symptoms is widely under-rated. Understanding how to assess and work with functional movement patterns is the missing link for many acute or chronic problems arising in the human structure.
My practice of over twenty-five years has been increasingly focused on people with apparently intractable problems that have tried many other approaches. They have been helped with chronic pain, as well as recovery from surgery or very serious injury with this method.
The Premise. Based on the observation that in nature, movement and form occurs in curves and spirals that flow, Aston-Patterning® accepts that the same is true in the human body and human movement. Also in nature, we see that each form is unique, each individual rock, each tree, has its own individual shape and means of deriving balance. Yet, we tend to think of a rather rigid "ideal" when we think of "good posture"--that ideal is a linear, symmetrical, shoulders-back, chin-in, book-on-your head kind of notion. "The common denominator (for most models of good posture) is holding; holding in any way loses the essence, the person in their natural state." Judith Aston.1
The Aston® idea is that each individual recreates the ideal. In Aston® work, good posture is not achieved by holding your body in a certain shape, it is achieved by learning to recognize what balance feels like. By "balance", we are referring to equilibrium, as well as several factors that, within a range of ongoing kinesthetic negotiation, stay well-proportioned relative to each other. These include: proportionate tone, body-weight, momentum and the counterbalance of gravity and ground reaction force.
In learning to recognize the various factors that affect balance and degrees of refinement thereof, the rewards of discovering body-communication skills can eclipse the initial goal of resolving a troublesome symptom or syndrome. These lines of body communication can yield a relationship with your body that, like learning a new language, can open unexpected doors of perception and possibility. Among these, people report feeling a sense of freedom, a lightness of their body that they have never felt before, and are somtimes surprised to also feel a lift of attitude and change of thought patterns and self-image.
The Aston® movement principles are enormously helpful in the process of refining your relationship with your body and learning to communicate with it to discover what it needs for ongoing structural and functional balance. Learning each principle is a rich saga, a story that can be told in many ways, which is useful to the extent that you learn to apply it to your own unique body-mind in the present moment. The Aston® principles are like gems which reflect the many facts of structural influences--which can range from the sublime to the mundane, such as your teenage or childhood heroes from decades past--or the breathing pattern you picked up as you drove across town in heavy traffic.
From a combination of the Aston® movement principles and hands-on work, one learns to balance the forces of gravity within this unique combination of structural influences. Part of this process is coming into relationship with the counterbalance of gravity--"ground reaction force". Ground reaction force is the "equal and opposite reaction" of gravity that occurs when we push down in the gravitational field--and we get voila! an upward lift. This not only provides the set-up for your counterproductive holding patterns to begin the process of letting go into a higher level of balance, it feels good and is affirming of the whole being on a very essential level.
As an example of the benefits of this process, honing in on the counterbalancing of forces of gravity and ground reaction force results in more direct weight bearing through your skeletal system. Muscles, which are often constricted because they are erroneously called upon for structural support, are set free for responsiveness, for action, for expression. The result is less compression of joints and muscles. Ground force can be thought of as the source of "up" and learning how to use it is a lift--both physically and psychologically. Learning to "cash-in" on ground reaction force with accuracy often allows the opposite--release of bodyweight into a more solid, connected relationship with the ground and a friendlier relationship with gravity. These discoveries are so fundamental to the human experience that they tend to paint everything with a little lighter, brighter hue.
I have been continuously surprised and delighted at the wide range of symptoms that resolve through this learning process.
When we observe nature--the movement of the water down the hillside, the shape of the wind blowing the grasses, the flow of animal movement--we see that this movement occurs in three-dimensional dynamic spirals. "Dynamic" in that the arc of the curve and the direction of flow are in constant change. In human movement, problems can occur when the strong conditioning toward linear preferences in modern culture squelches this 3-D dynamic quality. For example, for the most part, we live within recti-linear structures, our city streets are linear. We read straight lines. Ninety-degree angles are even called "right" angles. How much does the linearity surrounding us influence us toward linear thought patterns? Modern culture is so influenced by linearity that it is difficult to perceive the pervasiveness of its influence.
Imagine downtown New York City during rush hour and the spatial impression people are making as they move down the street. In your mind, compare them with the fluid, curvaceous images of women in Africa or Asia as they walk to the well in the morning, or to their gardens. This comparison helps us see how our bodies have been compressed by a cultural preference for linearity.
Thus, the Aston® work has sometimes been said to come closer to the engineering principles of fluid dynamics (the science of how fluids move)--since our bodies are 75-85% water-- rather than body mechanics, which is based on how solid objects move.
When studying the Aston® approach, the resounding side benefit is learning these principles in your own body. The Aston® model has excellent means to provide the kinesthetic education needed to maintain the dynamic support needed to perform the strenuous work of doing therapy over the long term. If the practitioner is supporting his/her body well, her touch, leverage, every interface with the client will also be smoother and better supported.
The structure of an Aston-Patterning® session:
Each session begins with observation of movement, which provides information to direct the session. Some everyday functional movement such as walking may be observed, or, whatever is relevant, e.g. playing the violin, bicycling, etc. Together, the practitioner and client decide the goals and priorities of the session.
Aston® Assessment Technique "includes visual observation not only of the relationships of parts in alignment, but also dimensional relationships, relationship of parts in motion and in the expression of emotional or mental activity. It includes not only visual observation, but masterful palpation skills that reveal layers of tension, comparative degrees of tension, directional pull of tensions, and the precise shape and placement of tension areas. There are also manual techniques for assessing relative mobility and for revealing the pattern of weight bearing though the body. These assessment techniques feed into a whole picture of each body as an individual entity of the moment, rather than comparing it to any static, standard model". 2
The assessment phase allows the Patterner to understand the tension/movement pattern as a whole system. It becomes possible to recognize what body-part or parts, is exerting the highest degree of influence on the whole tension pattern or the whole body. The body-part that has the greatest influence on the system is referred to as the "index". If the practitioner has been successful in recognizing the index correctly, the first hands-on move will catalyze a significant structural change throughout the whole body. There is a method for testing your hypothesis before, and after the first move on the chosen index. You can repeat your tactile and visual assessment to check if your perception of the tensional inter-relationships was correct. By evaluating and testing the inter-relationships, you can accurately determine cause and effect, (or symptom)--even when the cause if "far a field" and seemingly unrelated to the symptom/s.
Step by step, the session unfolds, informed by the body, of the least-resistant pathway to change toward a configuration of increased ease and balance, "(AP) places enormous value on arriving at a place of resolution in every session, where the whole body is adjusted to whatever has changed and reaches a new state of physical balance."3
This characteristic, in which each session is an integrated step toward a higher level of ease and balance, is why AP is excellent not only for acute and chronic injury, but also for performance improvement for dancers, musicians and athletes.
Most sessions include a layering of movement work, hands-on work, exercise design, and ergonomic coaching.
The aim of the movement education (referred to as "Neuro" in AP parlance) is to provide an experience of the new movement pattern rather than a prescription i.e. rules to follow. The intent is to create an identifying kinesthetic beacon, like a lighthouse, that illumines a pathway of increased ease for the neuro-muscular system. The experience of identifying a movement pathway of increased ease often feels buoyant, light, or freeing. Once identified, it is sought after by one's neuro-muscular system.
In AP, ergonomic work is educationally based. From a working basis of the Aston® principles, individualized ergonomic needs naturally follow. The "Aston-Line" of ergonomic products helps support this learning.
A program of Aston-Patterning® may range from 3-4 sessions to many, depending on the degree of injury, or for example, the client's interest in honing a sport or a musical instrument. Generally, a program follows a continuum, beginning with more treatment-oriented sessions that are predominantly hands-on work, and progressing toward more involvement on the part of the client in terms of "neuro", Aston® Fitness and ergonomic adjustments.
There are three types of Aston® hands-on work. Myo-kinetics, or "Myo" releases deeply embedded structural holding patterns within the soft tissue network. Arthro-kinetics, or "Arthro", addresses skeletal holding patterns and is used to release holding along bony surfaces and joints and soft tissue interfacing with bone. Both of these are specific forms with extensive training within the certification program. The Aston® massage, is a non-compressive type of basic bodywork, utilizing a "three-dimensional touch" that releases daily and accumulated tension. Arthro and Myo, even though they are passive table work, are a very engaging type of learning. If someone is very fatigued, overwhelmed, or simply seeking relaxation, the Aston® massage may be the treatment of choice. It is taught in the three-day workshop, Aston® Bodyworks I. All three hands-on forms are used to assist the release of chronic over-contraction which holds the tissues in binding, inefficient use patterns.
Aston® Fitness, on the self-care end of the AP continuum, teaches "the how" of exercise, and gives you the tools to be able to balance your movement and your structure as you exercise. This is a 3-phase fitness system, giving your body the opportunity to release tightness with "loosening", tune your alignment with stretching, and stabilize and strengthen with "toning".
In the Aston® Fitness work, one becomes familiar with one's own tension patterns and movement habits and the 3-D dynamics, and inter-relationships that fuel them, such as positive use of spatial relationships, relative tone or mobility, positive use of body-weight for momentum, or lack thereof. Also, we can learn how to negotiate with the influence of thoughts, perceptions, and emotions, etc. that can influence our structure and function, and therefore our range of comfort or pain.
Aston® Fitness is a super resource for anyone who has trouble with Yoga or exercising in general. This system allows you to transfer all the movement principles of Aston-Patterning® to the realm of exercise. This learning can be transferred to any exercise system, martial art, or other physical endeavor.
With Aston® Fitness you can get results similar to skilled bodywork--and you can do it on yourself.
Conclusion: Aston-Patterning® is a comprehensive body therapy method, which looks to each individual's functional and structural patterns for the answer to optimal intervention. The foundation of Aston-Patterning® is: movement principles based on observation of nature and physics, the model that the "ideal" is unique to each individual; an accurate, whole-system oriented approach to hands-on work; and collaboration between the therapist and the client in terms of the direction of the session, investigation, problem-solving, and exercise.
Our movement patterns are an ever-present and accessible link between body and mind. Thus, movement is not only a means of accessing a wide realm of symptoms, but also can open gateways to body language, habits, or limiting beliefs that one may wish to change. The result of this work is often one of gaining considerable freedom in one's body, and this can translate into the larger context of one's life.
Zia Parker, MA: Movement Therapy, Wellness Design; CMT has been working in movement and the healing arts for over 30 years. She has taught and been active in multi-media productions, and multi-cultural dance in Central America, the South Pacific, Africa, Greece, Canada and the US. She has been a certified Aston-Patterner® for over 25 years, and is on the Aston® national faculty. Over the last seven years, she has developed Agua Alma, aquatic bodywork which is strong in both clinical application and spiritual connection. There are many ways that it is influenced by Aston-Patterning®.
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