Primitive reflexes: emotional and mental health and highly sensitive people

In this article, I’m going to look at the basics of some of the primitive reflexes that I test for. This post looks at the Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR), Moro Reflex and Babkin reflex, and how these impact on our emotional and mental health.

Highly Sensitive People” tend to have ALL these reflexes active, as do those with autism spectrum conditions, ADHD/ADD, anxiety, depression and dyspraxia. It is important to mention at this point that I do not even look at a person’s medical diagnosis – I purely look at their combination of reflexes and how this affects behaviour and emotions.

These particular reflexes must be matured and integrated for a person to feel safe in the world. They are completely involuntary, governed by the brainstem. When babies are born, their little movements are not random… they are all reflexive, not voluntary, controlled movement.

In order for a baby to develop and move to the next little milestone, they involuntarily repeat these movement patterns over and over again until neural pathways are myelinated, at which point, the reflex matures and they move onto the next set of movement patterns.

Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR)

As soon as we are conceived, dividing cells react to stress by shrinking and tensing. This cellular reaction goes on to become the fear paralysis reflex at around five weeks post conception. The fear paralysis reflex is at its peak at around nine weeks post conception and should merge with the emerging Moro reflex and integrate before thirty-two weeks.

If the fear paralysis reflex does not integrate fully, it will prevent other primitive and postural reflexes from emerging and integrating effectively.

Someone with an active FPR will not feel safe outside their close, familiar surroundings.

Characteristics of a retained FPR reflex are:

  • Finds it hard to express opinions
  • Does not like to draw attention to self
  • Issues with eye contact – either can’t make appropriate eye contact, or will stare inappropriately
  • Prefers to withdraw from social situations
  • Tactile defensiveness
  • Selective mutism
  • Panic attacks and anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Hypochondria
  • Inflexible outlook
  • Cannot take criticism
  • Has to always be right
  • Demand avoidance

If you think you or your child has an active FPR reflex, it is well worth seeking the help of a professional reflex integration therapist, as it may block later primitive and postural reflexes from emerging and integrating properly, so it is wise to have some help to unravel the puzzle,

It is worth mentioning that some people need to work with FPR, Babkin and Moro for many months or even years in order to integrate them.

Further reading on the FPR reflex

If you would like to read more about FPR and anxiety, I’ve written the blog post Why baby reflexes may be at the root of your anxiety. For how FPR affects sleep, you might find Sleep, anxiety, night terrors – and neuroscience useful. For opinion on social media and working in isolation, you might find Connection, isolation, social media, mental health and primitive reflexes useful.

Moro Reflex

At around nine weeks of age, the Moro reflex starts to emerge. It is responsible for filling a baby’s lungs with air when it is first born. It should mature and become the Strauss (startle) reflex at around 4-6 months post birth.

If a baby requires artificial resuscitation at birth, the Moro reflex will not have a chance to emerge properly.

If the Moro reflex remains in the system. a person will not have a well-modulated fight or flight response.

Characteristics of a retained Moro reflex are:

  • Sensory processing difficulties, shutting off sensory input that they cannot handle (overwhelm)
  • Problems socialising with peers
  • Over-reactions, anxiety and emotional outbursts
  • Easily tired
  • Finds it hard to switch off
  • Argumentative and has to have the last word

If you think you may have an active Moro and/or FPR reflex, it is well worth going for an assessment if you can, as a qualified therapist will be able to help you work through a programme and learn movements that will help you manage yourself for life.

It is also worth mentioning that in order to develop and mature postural reflexes effectively, you will need to work with FPR and Moro first if they are present. This is because a person needs well-functioning connections between the brainstem and higher brain levels in order to progress with the postural reflexes.

Things you can do for an active Moro reflex:

  • Snow angel movements
  • Balance on a Bosu ball/air cushion
  • Row, row, row your boat
  • Kneel on a skateboard and scoot around

Further reading on the Moro reflex

For an insight into the Moro reflex, you may enjoy reading my article Why are some people just so ANGRY? You may also find my blog post on Sensory Processing Disorder useful. Although it does not specifically mention Moro, as I have explained it is the Moro reflex that is at the root of sensory modulation.

Babkin Reflex

The Babkin reflex emerges at around 13 weeks in utero and should mature and integrate to become the Bonding reflex by around four months post birth. It plays a major role in bonding and attachment.

In order for the Babkin to integrate, the clinging part of the Moro reflex must integrate too. Skin contact and cuddles with the mother, eye contact, movement (being carried and rocked) and proper nourishment are all essential to help a Babkin reflex integrate in a timely manner in an infant.

Characteristics of a retained Babkin reflex are:

  • Speech difficulties (articulation)
  • Makes movements with mouth when concentrating or drawing
  • Prone to dribbling
  • Cannot read body language effectively
  • Problems with pencil grip (too firm/too slack)
  • May appear to be thick skinned when talking to others, but over-sensitive when people are talking about them
  • Does not like being cuddled/unaffectionate
  • Eye contact issues
  • Difficulty with peer relationships
  • Hoarders/compulsive collectors/kleptomaniacs
  • Lies about the obvious
  • Appears detached, cold and unfeeling
  • Trust issues with self and others

Things you can do for an active Babkin reflex:

  • Press-ups against a wall
  • Winding wool around fingers
  • Picking marbles out of Theraputty
  • Scrunching paper as fast as possible

Further reading on the Babkin reflex

My review of Rocketman entitled Rocketman: alcoholism, drug addiction and eating disorders is about the Babkin reflex.

Be patient when attempting to integrate these reflexes with a therapist.

Reflexes can take a while to integrate, and you may see “regressive” behaviours as this starts to happen. Or you may see nothing at all, and question whether your hard work is doing anything.

One problem that I see is that people with various combinations of these reflexes tend to think it’s not going to work, and therefore avoid doing the movements I give them, making every excuse under the sun. I’ve even known of people who see a neuro-developmental therapist, don’t do the movements consistently and then tell everyone it doesn’t work…

Typical Moro!

If you would like to book an appointment in Horsham, Cranleigh or Dorking, please send me an e-mail.


Could you be compensating for baby reflexes?

 

I keep using my own experiences as a private pilot to explain compensation to new clients – the concept of working extra hard as a result of retained primitive reflexes:

I was an average child who grew up in the 1970s. I played outdoors in all weathers, possibly a lot more than the children of today – skipping, French elastic, climbing frames, gymnastics, tree-climbing, getting muddy etc.

I was talking in full sentences when I was a year old, could read my name at 15 months and was reading when I was tiny (not sure how old). I remember being shocked that children had to read out loud when I started in Reception, though – I’d been reading in my head for ages before that. I didn’t really crawl – I went straight to walking at about 15 months. I can remember trying and failing to crawl – because I have a ridiculously early memory. I was also EXCESSIVELY shy. I found nursery school just too noisy and scary and remember hiding until I was picked up the ONE time that my mother left me at a big nursery school. I ended up going to a small playgroup at someone’s house, and have very fond memories of it, even now – even though I was only about three years old when I started going there.

Oh… also, nobody ever believes quite how early my memories go back. You won’t either, so I’m not going to tell you. But it’s not normal to remember anything from the first few months of life, and yet I do.

At school, I learnt to write easily. I wasn’t brilliant at maths, but not everyone is, right? My forte was always language and music. Well, I now think I may well be dyscalculaic, and I know that I have slower than average processing speed. I found times tables horrific to learn, and would always be last to finish in maths tests. I also found swimming front crawl particularly difficult, and found sitting comfortably still all day at school a challenge!

So, when I started training in primitive reflex integration, seven years ago, I was slightly shocked to discover that I am not “neurotypical”. Walking at 15 months, skipping crawling, being excessively shy, not being able to master that cross-lateral front crawl movement and being as atrocious at maths as me is not “normal” development. But who cares? I have been successful in life! I did really well in my previous career. I can also fly light aircraft, so surely my brain must be functioning reasonably well? And yes, it is…

But… when I went on a course on the effect of retained primitive reflexes on reading and writing a few years back, I discovered to my great surprise that I had not developed a head-righting reflex! This is an adult postural reflex, which should start to emerge at around 3 months of age, and its absence causes vestibular issues, and makes reading – in particular copying from a board – and maintaining attention particularly difficult.

To test, you get a person to sit look at an object a few metres away. You then move their shoulders from side to side, and watch what the head does. If the reflex is present (as it should be), the eyes will remain level with the horizon. If it has not emerged, the head will follow the rest of the body.

The trainer showed us some isometric pressures that can be applied to help develop the head-righting reflex, and, as if by magic, within minutes mine started to emerge! I remember hearing gasps from the other course participants.

Out of interest, I went flying in a two-seater plane a couple of weeks later and did a few steep turns to see whether anything had changed. Well… normally, steep turns had the effect of making me feel disoriented and I would always lose hundreds of feet, no matter how many times I practiced and no matter how much I concentrated. However, with a head-righting reflex in place, my eyes stayed on the horizon and I maintained height for the first time since I started flying in 2003! I no longer felt disoriented either.

I often see private pilots in the early stages of training saying that they feel sick, and receiving advice on motion sickness bands, ginger etc – I often wonder whether they have a head-righting reflex or whether I could help them with it.

I’ve also brought this adult postural reflex online in several children and adults that I’ve worked with – it’s always a thrill. If it doesn’t happen immediately, something else is blocking it, however.

I digress….

The point of this post is to show that almost all of us are walking around compensating for difficulties that we are unaware of. To us, these difficulties are the norm, but they need not be! If a child is struggling with confidence, attention or the three Rs, it is well worth taking a look to see whether their reflex profile might be causing them to compensate.

So what can we do about it?

As a neuro-developmental therapist, I test for active baby reflexes, and help people to gradually mature these reflexes, using a combination of gentle foetal/newborn baby movements and pressures. Until you have experienced this for yourself, it is very hard to explain how it feels to suddenly have a challenge you have been used to for your entire life suddenly removed.

In my case, while my brain has indeed always allowed me to cope very well in the world and achieve things like learning to speak multiple foreign languages with ease, play the violin and fly light aircraft, things still could have been easier for me if I’d had integrated reflexes earlier.

Integrating primitive reflexes simply means that connections from the brainstem to higher levels of the brain will work more efficiently and not take the long way around all the time.

I now find that I can do things that I used to struggle with far more effortlessly – for example,

  • Getting butterflies before a stressful meeting: gone
  • Ability to listen and concentrate: vastly improved
  • Processing speed: vastly improved
  • Auditory processing: vastly improved
  • Ability to express myself clearly under stress: vastly improved
  • Procrastination: greatly reduced – especially when it comes to writing a blog post or completing a daunting form

If you would like to find out how reflex integration might help you, please do get in touch – emma@move2connect.com.


Anxiety: how to retune your nervous system

One of the things I’m most frequently asked about is how to reduce generalised anxiety.

With the current situation continuing to unfold, we all need to look after ourselves and make sure we are not projecting our fears onto our children too.

Here is a brief explanation of how our nervous system works, and how it relates to anxiety:

In order for us not to be in a constant fight/flight/freeze cycle, we must activate our parasympathetic nervous system – or our social engagement system. In this state, we feel calm, able to think clearly, able to communicate clearly, able to listen clearly and able to see clearly. We do not falsely detect threat and are consequently far more engaging to others.

Here are a few simple things you can try, almost anywhere, which will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and help you to feel calmer:

  • Music – Find a recording of Mozart’s K448 – Sonata for two pianos and stop everything else. Sit in a chair and listen. This piece of music has been proven to reduce stress – and even the occurrence of seizures in kids with epilepsy!
  • Breathing – Try slowly breathing in through the nose to the count of 4, and out through the mouth to 8. Breathe from your belly rather than ribs!
  • Gargling – Try very vigorous gargling – to the point where tears start to form in your eyes. When you start getting tears, it means your vagus nerve is firing. Try and keep it up for a few seconds and then relax
  • Hum – this activates laryngeal muscles, which get signals directly from the superior and recurrent laryngeal branches of the vagus nerve. If done for long enough, this allows us to control our breath, slow down thoughts and enter deep relaxation
  • Chant – chanting “om” stimulates vagus activity to the digestive tract, and is said to improve digestion and inflammation levels in the body. Chanting “om” following stressful events is an excellent way to reduce stress levels
  • Laugh – laughter is extremely effective in improving mood and heart rate variability. This is because we use our diaphragms when we laugh – unless we are laughing nervously, in which laughter is shallow and comes from the ribs. Belly laughs are an easy vagus nerve workout! Personally, I have a couple of video clips that keep up my sleeve, which I can’t watch without crying with laughter.
  • Socialising – socialising and connecting with others is SO important. Being solitary, lonely and disconnected from others severely affects our mood and health. Being around others helps us laugh more, which, as we’ve just established, helps us keep our vagus nerve regulated… Obviously, this is rather difficult under the current circumstances, which is why Zoom is quite helpful to allow us to stay connected with others.
  • Yoga and Meditation – PROVEN to tone the vagus nerve and reduce stress. I was even discussing this with a respiratory doctor a few weeks ago. It is only your logical left brain telling you it doesn’t work!

All the above are excellent things to do WHILE doing or BEFORE the Safe and Sound Protocol, by the way. The SSP is a five day listening intervention designed to re-tune the vagus nerve, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and consequently has a calming effect on all the systems in your body.

If you want to dig a bit deeper and help reduce your anxiety permanently, you are welcome to contact me.


Reducing Coronavirus Anxiety

One of the things I’m most frequently asked about is how to reduce anxiety.

With the current situation unfolding, we all need to look after ourselves and make sure we are not projecting our fears onto our children too.

Here are a few simple things you can try, almost anywhere, which will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and help you to feel calmer:

  • Music – Find a recording of Mozart’s K448 – Sonata for two pianos and stop everything else. Sit in a chair and listen. This piece of music has been proven to reduce stress – and even the occurrence of seizures in kids with epilepsy!
  • Breathing – Try breathing in through the nose to the count of 4, and out through the mouth to 8. Breathe from your belly rather than ribs!
  • Gargling – Try very vigorous gargling – to the point where tears start to form in your eyes. When you start getting tears, it means your vagus nerve is firing. Try and keep it up for a few seconds and then relax
  • Hum – this activates laryngeal muscles, which get signals directly from the superior and recurrent laryngeal branches of the vagus nerve. If done for long enough, this allows us to control our breath, slow down thoughts and enter deep relaxation
  • Chant – chanting “om” stimulates vagus activity to the digestive tract, and is said to improve digestion and inflammation levels in the body. Chanting “om” following stressful events is an excellent way to reduce stress levels
  • Laugh – laughter is extremely effective in improving mood and heart rate variability. This is because we use our diaphragms when we laugh – unless we are laughing nervously, in which laughter is shallow and comes from the ribs. Belly laughs are an easy vagus nerve workout! Personally, I have a couple of video clips that I can’t watch without crying with laughter – mainly Reeves and Mortimer sketches, and also something too inappropriate to discuss in this post, but it’s a scene from The Inbetweeners.
  • Socialising – socialising and connecting with others is SO important. Being solitary, lonely and disconnected from others severely affects our mood and health. Being around others helps us laugh more, which, as we’ve just established, helps us keep our vagus nerve regulated…
  • Yoga and Meditation – PROVEN to tone the vagus nerve and reduce stress. I was even discussing this with a respiratory doctor a few weeks ago. It is only your logical left brain telling you it doesn’t work!

All the above are excellent things to do WHILE doing or BEFORE the Safe and Sound Protocol, by the way. They help regulate the vagus nerve, which has a calming effect on all the systems in your body.

If you want to dig a bit deeper and help reduce your anxiety permanently, you will be welcome in clinic once things are looking more “normal” again.


Could you be compensating for baby reflexes?

 

I keep using my own experiences as a private pilot to explain compensation to new clients – the concept of working extra hard as a result of retained primitive reflexes:

I was an average child who grew up in the 1970s. I played outdoors in all weathers, possibly a lot more than the children of today – skipping, French elastic, climbing frames, gymnastics, tree-climbing, getting muddy etc.

I was talking in full sentences when I was a year old, could read my name at 15 months and was reading when I was tiny (not sure how old). I remember being shocked that children had to read out loud when I started in Reception, though – I’d been reading in my head for ages before that. I didn’t really crawl – I went straight to walking at about 15 months. I can remember trying and failing to crawl – because I have a ridiculously early memory. I was also EXCESSIVELY shy. I found nursery school just too noisy and scary and remember hiding until I was picked up the ONE time that my mother left me at a big nursery school. I ended up going to a small playgroup at someone’s house, and have very fond memories of it, even now – even though I was only about three years old when I started going there.

Oh… also, nobody ever believes quite how early my memories go back. You won’t either, so I’m not going to tell you. But it’s not normal to remember anything from the first few months of life, and yet I do.

At school, I learnt to write easily. I wasn’t brilliant at maths, but not everyone is, right? My forte was always language and music. Well, I now think I may well be dyscalculaic, and I know that I have slower than average processing speed. I found times tables horrific to learn, and would always be last to finish in maths tests. I also found swimming front crawl particularly difficult, and found sitting comfortably still all day at school a challenge!

So, when I started training in primitive reflex integration, seven years ago, I was slightly shocked to discover that I am not “neurotypical”. Walking at 15 months, skipping crawling, being excessively shy, not being able to master that cross-lateral front crawl movement and being as atrocious at maths as me is not “normal” development. But who cares? I have been successful in life! I did really well in my previous career. I can also fly light aircraft, so surely my brain must be functioning reasonably well? And yes, it is…

But… when I went on a course with Janice Graham on the effect of retained primitive reflexes on reading and writing, I discovered to my great surprise that I had not developed a head-righting reflex! This is an adult postural reflex, which should start to emerge at around 3 months of age, and its absence causes vestibular issues, and makes reading – in particular copying from a board – and maintaining attention particularly difficult.

To test, you get a person to sit look at an object a few metres away. You then move their shoulders from side to side, and watch what the head does. If the reflex is present (as it should be), the eyes will remain level with the horizon. If it has not emerged, the head will follow the rest of the body.

Janice showed us some isometric pressures that can be applied to help develop the head-righting reflex, and, as if by magic, within minutes mine started to emerge! I remember hearing gasps from the other course participants.

Out of interest, I went flying in a two-seater plane a couple of weeks later and did a few steep turns to see whether anything had changed. Well… normally, steep turns had the effect of making me feel disoriented and I would always lose hundreds of feet, no matter how many times I practiced and no matter how much I concentrated. However, with a head-righting reflex in place, my eyes stayed on the horizon and I maintained height for the first time since I started flying in 2003! I no longer felt disoriented either.

I often see private pilots in the early stages of training saying that they feel sick, and receiving advice on motion sickness bands, ginger etc – I often wonder whether they have a head-righting reflex or whether I could help them with it.

I digress….

The point of this post is to show that almost all of us are walking around COMPENSATING for difficulties that we are unaware of. To us, these difficulties are the norm, but they need not be! If a child is struggling with confidence, attention or the three Rs, it is well worth taking a look to see whether their reflex profile might be causing them to compensate.

So what can we do about it?

As a neuro-developmental therapist, I test for active baby reflexes, and help people to gradually mature these reflexes, using a combination of gentle foetal/newborn baby movements and pressures. Until you have experienced this for yourself, it is very hard to explain how it feels to suddenly have a challenge you have been used to for your entire life suddenly removed.

In my case, while my brain is indeed functioning extremely well and allowing me to cope very well in the world and achieve things like learning to speak multiple foreign languages with ease, play the violin and fly light aircraft, things COULD have been easier for me if I’d had integrated reflexes earlier.

Integrating primitive reflexes simply means that connections from the brainstem to higher levels of the brain will work more efficiently and not take the long way around all the time.

I now find that I can do things that I used to struggle with far more effortlessly – for example,

  • Getting butterflies before a stressful meeting: gone
  • Ability to listen and concentrate: vastly improved
  • Processing speed: vastly improved
  • Ability to express myself clearly under stress: vastly improved
  • Procrastination: greatly reduced – especially when it comes to writing a blog post or completing a daunting form

If you would like to find out how reflex integration might help you, please do get in touch – emma@move2connect.com, or to find a provider near you, please see https://rhythmicmovement.org/consultants


Sleep, anxiety, night terrors – and neuroscience

Some of our children – indeed, some of us – find it extremely hard to switch off. Our brains work overtime, processing what’s happened that day, worrying about what might happen… Some of us wake up at 3am and can’t get back to sleep. Some of us are almost asleep when we suddenly jolt ourselves back to wakefulness, having had a sort of dream that we are about to fall off a cliff or down stairs or similar. And worst of all, some of our poor children suffer from night terrors: episodes of extreme night-time distress, thrashing about screaming and crying, eyes open, but fast asleep.

What causes all these disturbances?

When we are in a constant state of fight/flight or freeze, we are living in survival mode: our brains are on alert for perceived threat. Our primitive lizard brains are active, rather than our rational upper brain (cerebellum). This means it’s very hard to switch off a racing mind and fall asleep.

This fight/flight and freeze cycle (think rabbit in headlights freezing with terror and then racing away to avoid danger) is caused by unintegrated Fear Paralysis and Moro reflexes.

The Fear Paralysis reflex is the first reflex that a foetus develops. It is thought to develop at around 5 weeks in utero, but there is research to show that it may even develop earlier than that, given that Fear Paralysis is a reaction at a cellular level rather than a neurological reaction involving the central nervous system. A foetus will react to threats, such as loud noises, by shrinking and withdrawing in order to protect itself.

The Fear Paralysis causes the foetus to stop moving, restricts peripheral blood flow, lowers the heart rate, reduces exposure to adrenaline and reduces the absorption of cortisol (the stress hormone).This is similar to a mouse feigning death when caught by a cat: heart rate and breathing slow right down so it can protect itself and zoom off and hopefully escape when dropped.

The Moro reflex starts to develop in the second trimester, and gradually takes over from the Fear Paralysis reflex. However, if something stops the Fear Paralysis reflex from integrating effectively, the Moro reflex will also be retained, and a person will live in a constant cycle of fight, flight and freeze. The Moro reflex will cause racing thoughts.

Fear Paralysis is responsible for the emotional well-being of a person, and retaining it means that there are likely to be anxiety, phobias, brain freeze under extreme stress, a lack of adaptability and potentially panic attacks and night terrors. Signs of a retained FPR reflex are:

– anxiety / withdrawn behaviour

– low stress threshold

– rabbit-in-headlights-like freezing when there is a threat

– sensory processing challenges

– hypersensitivity to light/sound

– finds change difficult

– clingy behaviour

– extreme fatigue

– selective mutism (also in adults)

– breath holding when worried/upset/stressed

– obsessive behaviour/OCD

– fear of not being in control

There’s another pesky reflex that I usually find in those with sleep disturbances: the Babkin reflex. This is a reflex associated with separation anxiety.

When I started working to integrate my children’s reflexes, we noticed a dramatic improvement in my son’s ability to switch off at night – it used to take him around two hours to wind down and fall asleep! From a month or so after we started working with his reflexes, he was able to switch off and drift off to sleep within minutes.

I was one of those unfortunately to be jolted awake with a falling-off-a-cliff type dream just as I fell asleep, almost every night, but a couple of weeks after I’d started working with my own reflex integration, I noticed that I had stopped having this experience – and I haven’t experienced this again since, in around 6 years.

If you don’t plan on working with reflex integration to resolve these common sleep issues, here are some other things you can do to calm your autonomic nervous system down:

  • humming
  • take deep breaths in to the count of 4 through your nose, push breaths out through a small “o” (as if you are whistling) through your mouth to the count of 8
  • take deep breaths in to the count of 4 through your nose, push breaths out through a small “o” (as if you are whistling) through your mouth to the count of 8
  • yoga is extremely helpful and will teach you to breathe to help you self regulate
  • take yourself back to your lizard brain, and pretend to be a mermaid, separating upper and lower body as well as you can and rock your lower body from side to side
  • leave mobile phones downstairs, and don’t have a clock by your bed, especially if LED
  • use spray magnesium oil on the soles of your feet
  • use an eye mask to block out light

However, if none of this works, or if you have an inconsolable child with night terrors, reflex integration work – or even the Safe and Sound Protocol, depending on the person – might be a sensible next step, in which case, please do get in touch to find out how I might be able to help.


Could you be compensating for baby reflexes?

 

Whenever I try to explain compensation to anyone, I find myself relating to my own experiences to be the easiest and most neutral way to explain:

I was an average child who grew up in the 1970s. I played outdoors in all weathers, possibly a lot more than the children of today – skipping, French elastic, climbing frames, gymnastics, tree-climbing, getting muddy etc.

I was talking in full sentences when I was a year old, could read my name at 15 months and was reading when I was tiny (not sure how old). I remember being shocked that children had to read out loud when I started in Reception, though – I’d been reading in my head for ages before that. I didn’t really crawl – I went straight to walking at about 15 months. I can remember trying and failing to crawl – because I have a ridiculously early memory. I was also EXCESSIVELY shy. I found nursery school just too noisy and scary and remember hiding until I was picked up the ONE time that my mother left me at a big nursery school. I ended up going to a small playgroup at someone’s house, and have very fond memories of it, even now – even though I was only about three years old when I started going there.

Oh… also, nobody ever believes quite how early my memories go back. You won’t either, so I’m not going to tell you. But it’s not normal to remember anything from the first few months of life, and yet I do.

At school, I learnt to write easily. I wasn’t brilliant at maths, but not everyone is, right? My forte was always language and music. Well, I now think I may well be dyscalculaic, and I know that I have slower than average processing speed. I found times tables horrific to learn, and would always be last to finish in maths tests. I also found swimming front crawl particularly difficult, and found sitting comfortably still all day at school a challenge!

So, when I started training in primitive reflex integration, six years ago, I was slightly shocked to discover that I am not “neurotypical”. Walking at 15 months, skipping crawling, being excessively shy, not being able to master that cross-lateral front crawl movement and being as atrocious at maths as me is not “normal” development. But who cares? I have been successful in life! I did really well in my previous career. I can also fly light aircraft, so surely my brain must be functioning reasonably well? And yes, it is…

But… when I went on a course on the effect of retained primitive reflexes on reading and writing a few years back, I discovered to my great surprise that I had not developed a head-righting reflex! This is an adult postural reflex, which should start to emerge at around 3 months of age, and its absence causes vestibular issues, and makes reading – in particular copying from a board – and maintaining attention particularly difficult.

To test, you get a person to sit look at an object a few metres away. You then move their shoulders from side to side, and watch what the head does. If the reflex is present (as it should be), the eyes will remain level with the horizon. If it has not emerged, the head will follow the rest of the body.

Janice showed us some isometric pressures that can be applied to help develop the head-righting reflex, and, as if by magic, within minutes mine started to emerge! I remember hearing gasps from the other course participants.

Out of interest, I went flying in a two-seater plane a couple of weeks later and did a few steep turns to see whether anything had changed. Well… normally, steep turns had the effect of making me feel disoriented and I would always lose hundreds of feet, no matter how many times I practiced and no matter how much I concentrated. However, with a head-righting reflex in place, my eyes stayed on the horizon and I maintained height for the first time since I started flying in 2003! I no longer felt disoriented either.

I often see private pilots in the early stages of training saying that they feel sick, and receiving advice on motion sickness bands, ginger etc – I often wonder whether they have a head-righting reflex or whether I could help them with it.

I digress….

The point of this post is to show that almost all of us are walking around COMPENSATING for difficulties that we are unaware of. To us, these difficulties are the norm, but they need not be! If a child is struggling with confidence, attention or the three Rs, it is well worth taking a look to see whether their reflex profile might be causing them to compensate.

So what can we do about it?

As a neuro-developmental therapist, I test for active baby reflexes, and help people to gradually mature these reflexes, using a combination of gentle foetal/newborn baby movements and pressures. Until you have experienced this for yourself, it is very hard to explain how it feels to suddenly have a challenge you have been used to for your entire life suddenly removed.

In my case, while my brain is indeed functioning extremely well and allowing me to cope very well in the world and achieve things like learning to speak multiple foreign languages with ease, play the violin and fly light aircraft, things COULD have been easier for me if I’d had integrated reflexes earlier.

Integrating primitive reflexes simply means that connections from the brainstem to higher levels of the brain will work more efficiently and not take the long way around all the time.

I now find that I can do things that I used to struggle with far more effortlessly – for example,

  • Getting butterflies before a stressful meeting: gone
  • Ability to listen and concentrate: vastly improved
  • Processing speed: vastly improved
  • Ability to express myself clearly under stress: vastly improved
  • Procrastination: greatly reduced – especially when it comes to writing a blog post or completing a daunting form

If you would like to find out how reflex integration might help you, please do get in touch – emma@move2connect.com, or to find a provider near you, please see https://rhythmicmovement.org/consultants


W-Sitting – what does it mean?

Does your child sit in this position?

w sitting 2

This is known as “w-sitting”, and you may or may not have heard that it’s not a great position for the hips.

Your child sits like this because they are comfortable sitting like this.

However, I’m about to tell you what causes a child to sit like this, what consequences it may have for attention and learning, and what you can do to help them.

This W position is very comfortable for a child with a weak core. Your child may have been diagnosed with hypermobility – or perhaps not. They may fall over frequently, they may get exhausted easily compared to their peers. In class, they will find it hard to sit comfortably in a chair, and will perhaps keep experimenting with several different positions in a chair in one sitting, and never truly be comfortable with feet flat on the floor. This is because of a lack of core strength.

This wonderful video demonstrates beautifully how it *should* happen, within the appropriate developmental window:

Let me make a very important point:

Merely stopping a child from w-sitting will not address the neurological cause, and will not address the knock-on effects of having poor core stability, nor the future problems it may cause.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is a very visible example of someone with a weak core and poor stamina

I was talking to my son’s teacher when he was in Reception. She told me that there is a noticeable reduction in stamina and core strength in children these days, and that a large proportion of children in Reception classes are unable to support themselves when sitting, drawing, at a table – or even on the mat during story time.

Why this epidemic?

Well… we are simply not allowing our children to move enough. We are restricting movement by using “equipment” and props. Some babies end up sitting in car seats for hours at a time, or end up in jumparoos, Bumbos, or even being “worn” for longer than absolutely necessary. Later on, children tend to move less, glued to screens for long periods of time. Play areas are now hyper-safe, with protection against knocks, bumps etc. When I was growing up, most children had a scab on their knees several times a term.

What babies REALLY need is to be given plenty of floor time and as children, plenty of opportunities to explore surroundings, in order to work out how to organise their bodies for themselves, how to integrate their reflexes and move on to the next stage of development – unprompted.

After all, if you help a chick hatch, it will fail to thrive.

So, what causes w-sitting?

As I’ve mentioned, w-sitting is a symptom of a weak core. It is likely that a child will have skipped a stage of development. It is almost certain that these children will have an active STNR reflex, which is a transitional reflex that follows the Moro, TLR and ATNR. It emerges at around four to six months of age and integrates between nine to twelve months of age – but only if rolling, sitting, rocking on hands and knees, crawling, pulling to standing and walking have happened within an appropriate timeframe.

The STNR reflex allows a child to understand arm, leg and body movements without moving the head. It also affects the development of binocular vision and binaural hearing.

Children who have never integrated the STNR often have learning challenges. These children find it hard to sit in chairs or at tables, often slumped, with their legs wrapped around the legs of their chair for support.

Having an active STNR often means that vision and hearing senses have not properly developed. STNR children often find sport a challenge as their hand-eye coordination tends to be poor due to not developing sufficient connections between the left and right hemispheres, which will affect reading and writing.

It is also important to know that just because someone has a six pack, it doesn’t mean that their STNR has integrated. Reflex integration will not happen unless the body re-patterns in a specific way. So, no, I do not want to see your abs as proof of your core strength, thank you.

The STNR reflex can be integrated using the rhythmic movement patterns observed in foetuses and new-borns. You may be able to help by allowing your child to MOVE as nature intended – take them to the park, get them to walk around in a crab position, get them to wheel themselves around on their tummy on a skateboard, get them to use a balance ball, try family yoga classes or ballet…

In order for the STNR to integrate fully, it is sensible to look at what else is active and work through a movement programme to help the brain make the appropriate neural connections. These movements can take as little as five minutes a day.

For your nearest RMTi practitioner, please go to https://rhythmicmovement.co.uk/where-is-my-nearest-provider/


Understanding your aggressive child

Do you have a child who has unpredictably hit, kicked or even bitten someone else? Are you wondering what on earth is causing this behaviour and what to do about it? Read on…

When you were a tiny little foetus, only around five weeks old, your central nervous system started reacting to external stimuli. When there was a sudden loud noise, you would instinctively shrink to avoid potential danger.

It may come as a surprise, but there is nothing “wrong” with your child. Your child simply lives in a state of fear, and cannot self-regulate in order to feel safe and trust others.

Fear Paralysis Reflex

This instinctive reaction is the Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR), and is the first of our reflexes to appear. It should disappear in the third trimester, as it finishes doing its job and the Moro reflex takes over ready for birth.

However, excessive stress in pregnancy can cause the FPR to remain active in the system. The result is that we recoil, shrink, tense up and sometimes even feel slow and sluggish when we face a stressful situation, and this, of course, has an effect on emotional development and behaviour, and how we cope with the world around us.

Anxiety is a feeling of the world rushing past you, while you want to curl into a ball – just like the FPR.

Moro Reflex

A few weeks later, a very important reflex that you may have heard of, or even observed, starts to develop. You may know this better as “fight or flight”. This is the Moro reflex, and is responsible for a baby opening it’s entire body up to take a first breath at birth.

If the Moro reflex remains active in the system, which can happen if the FPR interferes with its integration, you’ll have a person who either expresses frustrations by lashing out, being excessively noisy and argumentative (fight) or being excessively demand-avoidant, potentially running away from any demands placed upon them (flight).

Let me add that this is similar to being bitten by an animal when it’s frightened – or in fight/flight… our cats are always bringing voles in, but last week, my husband decided to pick one up (because they are so sweet). He got bitten – badly. Poor little voley was in fear of its life and didn’t want manly hands picking it up.

Babkin Reflex

The Babkin reflex connects the hand and mouth and is closely related to the FPR and Moro reflex. Retaining this reflex will cause a person to be ANGRY with enormous amounts of cortisol and adrenaline in the system. People with an active Babkin find it very difficult to trust anyone, and may suffer from extreme separation anxiety.

The Babkin tends to affect adoptees, children who have been in foster care, or those who were whipped into SCBU/NICU in the first hours of their lives.

Polyvagal Theory

You may have heard of fight/flight/freeze. These are our primitive survival states, and are what we revert to when we do not have strong enough higher brain connections to understand the difference between REAL danger and PERCEIVED danger, which is not in the least bit threatening.

If we do not have strong enough brain connections to the neocortex and a dysregulated autonomic nervous system, we feel under constant threat. The result is either that we lash out (verbally or physically), avoid a situation or go into complete lockdown.

The following video explains.

The good news…

The great news for anxiety sufferers is that by repeating foetal movements, it is possible to reboot and calm the central nervous system with as little as five minutes of gentle movement per day.

An assessment with a neuro-developmental therapist involves careful observation, and, if appropriate, testing for a number of reflexes to see where attention needs to be focussed first. In some cases, it is possible to make immediate gentle shifts – but often, if a child has an extreme Moro and or FPR reflex, it is not possible to test at all – in which case, we try to show you some gentle passive movements to help calm a child down.

The stronger these pre-birth reflexes are, the more sensitive a child is likely to be, so it may be that a few seconds of movement is more than enough.

In cases of extreme anxiety, I tend to give some extremely gentle movements for a few weeks, and then suggest following up with the Safe and Sound Protocol – a five-day listening programme, based on forty years’ research by Dr Stephen Porges.

When working with a very sensitive child, it is important to work around their demand avoidance. Once this starts to diminish, there comes a time that clear boundaries can be enforced – but trying to do this during SSP or while working with Moro/FPR reflex integration can exacerbate behaviours.

The big problem with schools is that teachers and other professionals do not tend to be trauma and anxiety-informed, and can mistake this behaviour as “poor parenting”. Poor parenting rarely causes a child to be aggressive! Aggression is to do with FEAR – it is not for the sake of it. So, to help an aggressive child, we need to make them feel SAFE in their surroundings.

Drug-free help for anxiety

I love my work for Move2Connect, because I like to see people discover that they have the power to transform themselves using very simple movements over a period of a few weeks at a time.

It is important to understand that this is not a talking therapy. This reaches the parts that talking therapies cannot reach.

I have a special interest in adult and adolescent mental health, and practice from my clinics in Horsham, Dorking and Cranleigh.


Why baby reflexes may be at the root of your anxiety

As soon as you were conceived, your cells were able to withdraw in reaction to threat. At around five weeks post-conception, your central nervous system started reacting to external stimuli:

When there was a sudden loud noise, you would instinctively shrink to avoid potential danger.

Fear Paralysis Reflex

This instinctive reaction is the Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR), and is the first of our inter-uterine reflexes to appear. The Moro reflex emerges in the second trimester and intertwines with the Fear Paralysis Reflex. The FPR should disappear in the third trimester, as it finishes doing its job and the Moro reflex gathers pace and takes over ready for birth.

However, teratogens, such as excessive stress in pregnancy, generational trauma and environmental factors can cause the FPR to remain active in the system. The result is that we recoil, shrink, tense up and sometimes even feel slow and sluggish when we face a stressful situation, and this, of course, has an effect on emotional development and behaviour, and how we cope with the world around us.

Anxiety is a feeling of the world rushing past you, while you want to curl into a ball – just like the Fear Paralysis Reflex.

Foetal and newborn movement patterns for anxiety

By following a programme of foetal and newborn baby movement patterns, it is possible to get the central nervous system to “reboot”. In fact, it is possible to change and calm the central nervous system with as little as five minutes of gentle movement per day.

An assessment with a neuro-developmental therapist involves a questionnaire, which goes right back to details of a person’s birth and childhood, including anything they might have struggled with as a child or over the years. The therapist observes carefully and tests a number of reflexes to see where attention needs to be focussed first, and gets the subject to do a number of gentle and very precise movements – some similar to a very gentle form of yoga and some moving so gently that you’d think it wouldn’t do anything at all.

Having assessed, and with a plan of action in place, the therapist will then give the client a menu of movements that need to be repeated every day, until the next appointment.

This is crucial!

It takes around 3-4 weeks to make those new brain connections, but only if they are done every day.

Often, people arrive for a first appointment with their shoulders almost to their ears, because anxiety is so great. I’ve seen people leave looking as if they have breathed out all their anxiety, and they report feeling like a completely different person.

I once worked with an adult who reported that his mother had gone through a very traumatic birth with him, and consequently found bonding and attachment with him very hard. Consequently, he finds bonding and attachment very hard. We did some gentle pressure work and some movement: he took a deep sigh and tears rolled down his face. He said he felt tension lift from his diaphragm and “relief” from a life of carrying stress and anxiety around.

Toning the Vagus Nerve for Anxiety

A Brief Explanation of the Polyvagal Theory

Dr Stephen Porges is a leading professor of psychiatry and the author of the Polyvagal Theory. This theory hypothesises that humans live in 3 physiological states: social engagement – parasympathetic, fight/flight (moro reflex) – sympathetic and freeze (fear paralysis reflex) – dorsal vagal.

The vagus nerve is the largest nerve in the human body and connects the brain with every other organ including the skin.

We can tone the vagus nerve in order to help them out of their fight/flight and freeze states. The most passive way to provide the right stimulation is an auditory intervention called the Safe and Sound Protocol, which is a five-day listening programme. This works beautifully with Primitive Reflex Integration, and helps fear paralysis to shift, opening the doors for social engagement.

I have recently seen the most courageous adult with post-traumatic stress, who found out about the Polyvagal Theory from studying a degree in psychology. He was interested to learn about the Safe and Sound Protocol and had researched it thoroughly before coming to me. We listened to the protocol in clinic over a number of sessions. I observed much more facial expression and more varied tone of voice, and he has been able to strike up spontaneous small-talk – something he’s been unable to do for many years.

Another client’s feedback, a couple of weeks ago, was “I feel I have my daughter back”, after completing the five days of listening.

Drug-free help for anxiety

I love my work for Move2Connect, because I like to see people discover that they have the power to transform themselves using very simple movements and the SSP over a period of a few weeks at a time.

I have a special interest in anxiety, and practice from my clinics in Horsham, Dorking and Cranleigh.