How To Maximize Neuroplastic Processes: Keep Your Clients Focused!

Watch #PilatesHour Episode 120 “Neuro-Concepts And Pilates” with Brent Anderson and special guest Kate Strozak MSc Applied Neuroscience, LMT, NCPT. New to Neuro-Concepts? Check out the blog “Fascinating Neuro-Concepts You Need To Know As A Pilates Instructor”.

BA:  As Pilates teachers, how do we make what we do in one or two hours a week potentially influence a positive neuroplastic change? We know that one or two hours a week may not be enough to influence this. What else needs to happen, and what needs to be influenced in that one or two hours a week? 

KS:  Giving people good appropriate challenges is really important for this process.  Also, I try to stimulate them in multiple ways.  The use of imagery is incredibly impactful and profound for people to help them embody these new experiences. Imagery helps them build different relationships between a movement and their perception of that movement or their relationship to that movement.

Many of these things are built into the Polestar curriculum actually!  Utilizing imagery, utilizing tactile cueing in order to tie in sensory nerves and proprioception thus integrating the brain on another level.

Kate Strozak

Now more than ever I talk to my clients about their sleep habits. I remind them it’s out of the scope of my practice, and that I am not a professional sleep consultant. I encourage them if they feel like their sleep could be better quality than it is right now to reach out to a sleep professional and get some help in that arena. It’s when we are in our deep states of sleep that a lot of these neuroplastic changes occur in our brain.  

Being “Chatty” With Clients

Another important thing is mindfulness. Prior to studying neuroscience, I was inclined to be chit chatty and casual with my clients. In part, thanks to Alexander Bohlander and my experience with him in his meditation workshop at the Polestar experience I dove deep into studying mindfulness and meditation. It’s fascinating the effects of these on the brain and profound in terms of stress reduction and sleep quality.  If you are doing something that supports the quality of your sleep you are, therefore, hopefully then supporting the process of neuroplasticity.  So it’s a very long-winded answer to say there is a lot!

BA: That is excellent Kate!  I just learned this year from an Andrew Huberman podcast about the idea of neuroplasticity occurring typically when we’re sleeping.  We challenge the body and challenge the nervous system during the day, challenging ourselves to learn.  I’ve been using this with the students at the university as well. Especially the ones who are struggling with retaining information or integrating and synthesizing information.  It’s so interesting that it’s the sleep that is going to allow you to synthesize this information.  This leads into the “interleaved” learning where we’re stressing you a little bit to recall information to make it challenging and difficult.  At first, you can’t remember what it is, but when you go back and look at it again after the stress of trying to remember it (and a good night’s sleep), it is amazing the amount of synthesis that happens on the following day or two of processing that information.  

Creating Demand And “Struggle”

The same thing is true with movement of course and some of the things you mentioned.  If I could get my client to remember what we did last week, “do you remember where your body was when we had that really good experience? “Can you show that to me again?”, and maybe they fail, that’s ok.  They are trying to figure it out and recall it, but that’s the internal feedback and the mindfulness that we’re talking about that allows information to be synthesized.  They need this demand and the struggle of the recall. And don’t just give it to them and show them, let them struggle with it, we don’t want to make it so easy.  We want them to understand that struggle is good, that failure is good, and that these are learning processes that will help them in the long run. If we don’t challenge them with that struggle we don’t challenge the nervous system to change.  

KS: Absolutely, there is no incentive to change if you are not being challenged or having that moment where you have those slight releases of cortisol and adrenaline. Your palms start sweating and we have to have those moments, it’s part of the human experience.  

I don’t know about all of you but I was very prone to just having casual conversations with my clients. When the client has done footwork a million times with me, which in and of itself presents another problem, but if I’m talking with them about something, I’m taking them out of their experience and out of their body, so I limit that.  I’m not cold or stoic and not available to them but I really get them to focus on what they’re doing and to really be present and attentive to their movement. 

If I’m talking with them about what they are doing this weekend, they start thinking about it and they are not aware of what their body is doing at the present moment in time. 

Kate Strozak

BA: I really appreciate you saying that.  Our friend Polestar Educator Juan Nieto calls it “being the butler”, and I call it “gum holding”. The point is that we get into a chatty, chummy kind of relationship with them and were really not challenging the nervous system. We become a “paid friend” in that situation.  If they are doing the same thing they always do with you, you are not challenging any improvement or any change other than maybe being a listening ear.  Even worse when we bring our own problems to our clients.  

Supporting Neuroplastic Processes

In group classes when there is flow and purpose, there is more internal reflection going on and feedback that is more likely to create change than in a chatty one-on-one session.  We can create incredible challenges and demands on the nervous system when we’re working with a group of ten people.  If we’re not having that same intensity with our clients one-on-one they are not going to have the same neuroplastic challenges.  

KS: And if you’re not supporting these neuroplastic processes then what are you doing? The neuroplastic process is just a really fancy way of saying that you’re helping to create a repatterning, working on movement efficiency, or working on a tissue adaptation.  If you’re not really supporting those processes you’re not really supporting the longevity of the Pilates work you are doing with them.  So maybe Brent, you, and I are suggesting to everyone that our challenge to you is to try to support more quiet and focus in your pilates sessions.  If your client` is really keen on talking and carrying on a conversation, you might not be challenging them enough!  There is a time and place for all of it as you know!  

BA:  Let’s see how chatty they are when it’s time for jackknife…time for hip circles!

KS: Yes! Can you juggle while doing feet in straps?  

Watch #PilatesHour Episode 120 “Neuro-Concepts And Pilates” with Brent Anderson and special guest Kate Strozak.

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