By Veronika Pena
We are all so uniquely different, yet we follow the same pathways of development. From a tiny helpless being to an all-encompassing human power house, we are guided through complex development stages by our primitive reflex system. These reflexes get us from embryo to fetus, from womb to birth, from birth to earth, from lying to sitting, to standing, running, jumping, feeling, understanding, learning, finally integrating all of this into each unique individual. Our first block of reflexes is vital for survival, the next set for us to become upright, cognitive and emotionally balanced.
Primitive reflexes emerge in a specific order in human infants, and indicate on-track development of the nervous system. One early example is the plantar grasp reflex, usually present from birth to one year, whereby the baby’s toes fan out when pressure is applied to the ball of their foot. Crucially though, babies cannot walk until this reflex is suppressed.
If these reflexes do not develop in the right sequence and at the right time, are slightly off-centre (retained) or are interrupted (unintegrated), there will be a long-lasting effect that we may not even notice. Yet we may be aware of a certain postural tension, or automatic emotional responses or sensitivities which appear at a time when we feel undisturbed – for example, when doing yoga.
Reflex Yoga can help rehabilitate and align the nervous and sensory systems – the power of subtle pattern breaking and pattern making can have profound effects. For instance, once you can sit with your legs out straight, new muscle connectivity helps you reach your toes without strain. Your breathing is effortless and you don’t need to think about what you are doing, so you can hold your posture and meditate without any interruption. Or the way you respond to everyday dramas that may previously have resulted in out-of-balance nervous system reactions (fight or flight, fright or freeze), may take on a new response, conscious rather than automatic.
Introducing reflex integration into your yoga practice can be a great way of preventing recurring injuries, as well as offering you a deeper connection with your body, brain, intuition and emotions. Once you find your holding patterns and release them, your nervous system calms down, and you’ll feel a significant difference.
Research shows that people on the autistic spectrum have an interrupted primitive reflex system. This can be why their gait may be different, why they walk on their toes, or why their nervous system is on higher alert, breathing more rapid, or responses highly automatic and following a certain pattern. I have seen many people totally relax for the first time in their lives, by integrating some of the unique movements of reflex yoga into their practice. Their nervous system that has been on constant automatic response mode, has been reset and reorganised. That is why we love Reflex Yoga!
Here’s what one of our workshop participants said:
“Through many years of physical activity I have found yoga is my sanctuary. It grounds me and allows me to express myself. Having worked in special needs education for many years, I just had to bring this style of yoga to my students to allow them to feel the magic! Everybody can do it and it’s a perfect way to integrate the reflexes, mind and body, and feel a sense of calm. The tutors are great and very supportive… Can’t wait for the next course!”
Yo’tism runs workshops and teacher training in the Reflex Yoga method. Find out more at www.yotism.com/veronika or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel: 01600 890 966 or 07799 532 826
Founder and editor of FitNet.
Previously gymnastics coach, massage therapist and personal trainer with 20 years of experience. Former gymnast and dancer.