It’s Never Too Late To Learn New Lessons

June 9, 2024

A few years ago, I experienced instances of vertigo which affected my sense of balance and confidence in my body. I had to be conscious of every step I took, and often this led to my feeling anxious. I could feel myself shrinking and being less capable of doing things I had done easily before. I felt that I was turning into a frail old lady.

During this time, I had a conversation with my neighbor Nick Broad. Nick had a background in physical education, outdoor education and learning differences, as well as being a graduate of the first class of Jaimen McMillan’s Spacial Dynamics Institute. Nick also had experience with Maureen Curran’s work of Transformative Movement Education (TME), and the work of Paul and Gail Dennison using the Brain Gym Technique. For 40 years, he had worked in this field, especially on the East Coast, developing the Medieval Games and the Pentathlon, which became part of the Waldorf Movement Education approach.

When I first began speaking with Nick, I knew very little of his background, but he noticed that I was struggling, and he offered help. It began in a small way with exercises with my feet. I started with one to wake up my toes by crunching a sock, stimulating the nerves by using a roller device, and various exercises that helped me stand up straight. I didn’t ask a lot of questions about them, but I began doing them. Gradually I began to feel more confident in my body and was feeling that I could stand up without becoming unsteady. Nick would check to see how I was doing. He introduced me to some Brain Gym exercises which I had known about when I was teaching students, but now I was doing them for myself. For a while, I could not walk from the front of my house to the street without help.  Everything was an effort and anxiety-producing. He also shared exercises for anxiety, and I began doing those. This went on for several months. I started to feel more comfortable using walking sticks, and my stride became stronger.

In the past year, I continued improving while continuing the exercises, and Nick would often join me as I walked around the field in the park across from my home. During this time, I was doing the exercises, but I did not really understand how they were affecting me. Meanwhile, Nick was working with individual children who had fears, were unable to trust their bodies and were becoming less and less able to cope. I watched him work with these children and could see what he was doing, and how the children were making progress, moving from stepping from one tree stump to another, tossing a ball from one side of the body to the other, standing on one leg and then taking that confidence to walk on rocks and uneven ground. Their confidence and increased capacity were exciting to see, and I was able to watch the changes they made. At that time, I didn’t think about the similarity between the children and my own situation.

Gradually Nick began introducing me to the three planes of motion for children with special needs. The three planes of movement are

  1. The transverse plane (up and down, above and below), helping with balance. Three exercises include activating the arches using the roller device, activating the toes using a sock or towel, engaging the leg muscle and standing in the upright posture.
  2. The second is the Frontal Plane (in front and behind) strengthening connection. The exercises include activating and awakening your personal space (Front, Back, Behind) and expanding your personal space (Arms open).
  3. The third is the Sagittal Plane (left and right) which works on comprehension. The exercises include the free flow of energy from my toes on one side to the opposite hand. 

As I began to connect the understanding of the three planes with the children’s exercises, and my own, I gained a whole new understanding of the space around me.

I thought back to the first time I had heard about these planes of movement.  It was during my Waldorf teacher training in England in a class taught by Knut Ross, based on Bothmer Gymnastics. Later, Jamin McMillan developed the Spacial Dynamics Institute which is now worldwide in scope. I remember how good I felt when we did certain positions having to do with the three planes. My favorite was the archer exercises.

Here I am 60 years later, working with the planes of motion, but now as a way of helping with the aging process. Just as they help children and teenagers. The knowledge of the three planes helps us keep our feet and arches grounded and connected as well as helping us gain balance and confidence. They also help with anxiety and resiliency.

When we work with the three planes of motion and space around us, we pay attention to what we do with our feet and thus attain balance. By overcoming anxiety, we can look out ahead of us, at the trees, the birds, and the sky, and we have more interest in the world. All three of these are important as we age.

Last week, I was in a classroom evaluating teachers for the first time in three years. I was able to see how understanding the three planes of motion and space would be helpful for any teacher in managing a classroom. I realized then that once I understood the three planes of motion, there were so many ways to adapt this understanding.

Although Nick, using his Adaptive Functional Movement approach, does this work professionally, I was very grateful that he offered his neighborly help. Together, we began to do action research on how the exercises led to my feeling resilient and confident. 

Please don’t misunderstand me and think I am ready for a marathon. That wasn’t my intention. However, I am walking between two and four miles a day without using my walking sticks. I’m happy to use them when that feels appropriate, but I now have choices. Most importantly, now that I understand the three planes of motion and space, I know which exercises I need to do for my own functional health.