Saturday, January 17, 2009

Walking Therapy (cont.)

In my last post, I described how the eye movements one makes when walking, (with the eyes darting to either side of the path, and also looking high and low, as the gaze moves from one thing to another), actually help the brain to process whatever issues a person might be working through. In fact, all of this eye movement may give us some of the same benefits as the REM phase of sleep. In addition to that, I would say that the motion of walking itself plays a therapeutic role, because walking is a whole-body activity, so having to coordinate your arms and legs and everything as you walk must surely have a brain integrating function.

I recall listening to a recent (of not too many weeks ago [?]) NPR report on wrestling, and I’m a little foggy on it now, but I think it may have been about how wrestling has helped people with learning disabilities, or memory problems, or something like that, because so many parts of the body are worked, and therefore many parts of the brain are engaged. (I can’t easily track down this information online, because my Windows 98 and rural phone lines dial-up make it painfully slow to get into sites.) If wrestling can do that for you, I would assume that swimming and bowling would too, as swimming has been described as the most complete exercise, and bowling as second best.

Brain integration is a big concern for people with Asperger’s Syndrome and other neuro-processing disorders. Activities that help to get the hemispheres and different brain modules working in tandem can help mitigate the brain fog, which so many of us suffer from. I believe that it also modulates mental energy—what one might describe as the flow of mental “chi.” When a friend whose child was suffering from migraines looked into Chinese medicine, she was told to have her child sit with her feet in a pan of water that was as hot as she could comfortably manage, as a way of drawing energy from the head to the feet. The theory here is that a migraine amounts to too much energy in the head, which is plausible, when you consider that a migraine has been described as “a firestorm in the brain.”

I believe that in Jansen’s study of “The Quest for Therapy in Lower Zaire,” some of the people described were suffering from mental breakdowns due to what some of their traditional African medical practitioners diagnosed as “too much thinking,” a state of overload ascribed to city living. I wonder if Africans who are used to an enormous amount of walking have problems re-modulating when they have to adjust to a different way of life. We ought to consider how too much energy in the head is part of the modern condition, and build time for walking back into our routines, to walk off some of that energy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Walking Therapy

I have mentioned how I notice birds’ nests when I am out walking in winter, and how that stimulates a flow of associations related to “the dream of the nest.” If, when you walk at different times of the year, you are looking around for different things such as birds or nests, or trying to identify specific things like trees, herbs, or flowers, the darting eye movement combined with the motion of walking has a potentially therapeutic effect.

It was an ordinary walk that gave rise to EMDR therapy: “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.” Francine Shapiro, the originator of this therapy, took a long walk one day while working over some disturbing thoughts and personal problems. By the end of her walk, she felt a great sense of resolution—no longer troubled—and ascribed this to the eye motion that one is naturally engaged in while walking. (We can appreciate the benefit of eye movement when we consider how “rapid eye movement,” the REM phase of dreaming, is important for peoples’ ability to process the day’s events, as well as other issues they might have, and how people suffer when they are deprived of that REM phase.) Impressed with the therapeutic implications, Shapiro developed EMDR to help people process traumatic memories and other sorts of conflicts. In its early stages, the therapy involved having the patients follow the therapist’s finger movements with their eyes, to achieve bilateral stimulation of the brain. This has evolved into a more high tech system, where your eyes track a moving light, and audial and tactile stimulation are also utilized. Of course, there is a lot more to it than what I am describing here, and care is also taken to create a psychologically safe space for patients, so they can alternate between processing traumatic material and returning to the safety of a comfortable setting in the present moment.

Persons with major psychological problems should naturally seek professional therapy, whether it be EMDR or some other. However, for ordinary people with the ordinary load of daily problems to deal with, why not go take a long walk, like Francine Shapiro was doing when she made her initial discovery? To bring in more eye movement, you can make a point of looking for specific things, as mentioned earlier. (Getting a field guide to birds, butterflies, trees, or whatever will be helpful here.) Walking lightens one’s worries for a great number of reasons, so it can’t help but benefit you. At the very least, you will get a nice walk out of it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Nesting Places

Continuing on the idyll of the nest, I’ve been reading Winifred Gallagher’s “House Thinking” (“a room-by-room look at how we live”). She mentions that Frank Lloyd Wright arranged domestic spaces to accommodate areas for what he described as “nesting” (refuge) and “perching” (prospect), i.e. cozy areas such as an inglenook, and then large open areas where one has a broad view of interior and exterior spaces. Modern home designs based on open floor plans with a “great room” tend to lack secluded areas for “nesting.” (Women tend to prefer the nesting areas, while men prefer the prospects.)

Some birds’ nests, on the other hand, seem to combine functions of nesting and prospect: birds feel safe when they hunker down in their nests, but when perched high on ledges or certain types of trees, the view from the nest may provide a commanding prospect of a wide area.