The Importance of Patterns
The neural operators that govern our processing are in competition with similar networks that, if unmasked, provide a different pattern and thus a different reality of who we are and how we move. So if one identifies at some level with a particular dysfunctional pattern as often happens in those with chronic pain, anxiety, or even inadequate athletic output, their perceptions hinge on the selected neural network. This makes the pull towards the network that much stronger and thus more difficult to change – IF we try to change it in one fell swoop. But what if we gave them access to the pattern they are familiar with while slowly replacing it with another? Enter the concept of pendulation.
Pendulations and Reference Points
If a stimulus is too strong, it will only reinforce the previous pattern, because when we’re stressed we go back to what we know, even if it’s dysfunctional.
- Establish a reference point. It needs to be something somatic that they can feel, that is nonthreatening, and ideally takes us closer to the pattern we want to see. I will often use the left heel and the right arch (courtesy PRI) as reference points for altering closed chain movements. Awareness of the breath, and maintenance of tidal breathing during movement, are highly effective in nearly all scenarios. In those with high threat levels, let them pick the “island of safety” themselves.
- Show them the new pattern but allow them to keep the old one at first. Demonstrate and describe what you want to see, let them move in their typical fashion BUT require that they maintain the reference as an anchor. For example, “you can squat in whatever way that’s most comfortable but you must find, feel, and maintain ground contact with your left heel”. This starts swinging the pendulum. They are good at their old pattern, let them have it at first. It promotes familiarity and a sense of control. Then slowly take it away with a consistent, secure approach.
- As the pendulum swings farther, task complexity and diversity should increase with the addition of more reference points. This will serve to inhibit the old pattern is as they have to maintain an attentional focus on what’s being asked of them.
Neural patterns are our framework for movement and behavior. Changing them requires a consistent approach that operates on a pendulum from consistency and security to unfamiliarity and complexity allowing integration of a new pattern.
*For those who have taken the PRI coursework, or any good neurological-based approach, this is much of what they preach with exercise prescription – slowly take away the old pattern.