What Is the Scientific Basis for the Anat Baniel Method?

We are often asked this question. At the present time, we do not have any formal studies, although we have several studies that are in the works. We are collaborating with Dr. Michael Merzenich, Professor Emeritus of Neuroscience at UCSF, in a study on the effectiveness of the work with traumatic brain injury, and two studies with Martha Herbert, a pediatric neurologist from Harvard, one on the work with brachial plexus and another with autism.

There is also a very large body of neuroplasticy and brain science research that supports our NeuroMovement® approach and techniques. See the video clip of Dr. Michael Merzenich talking about the importance of brain plasticity and some of this supporting research below.

More and more leading brain scientists, medical doctors, and others in the helping professions are endorsing the Anat Baniel Method℠. Anat Baniel is currently collaborating with Dr. Michael Merzenich, a world-renowned neuroscientist and brain plasticity expert, on a pilot research project creating an ABM-based NeuroMovement program for traumatic brain injured (TBI) adults.

Michael Merzenich, Ph.D. Neuroscientist, Professor Emeritus UCSF, member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, and author of Soft-Wired: How The New Science Of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life also wrote a Foreword for Kids Beyond Limits. Here is an excerpt:

From several decades of research, summarized in many thousands of published reports, we scientists have defined the ‘rules’ governing brain plasticity in neurological terms. We now know how to drive brains to change for the better.

It has been a great wonder to me, then, that my friend Anat Baniel, working in parallel along a completely different path, has defined almost exactly the same rules.

Read the full Kids Beyond Limits Foreword by Michael Merzenich here.

Norman Doidge, MD, author of The Brain That Changes Itself; Faculty University of Toronto Department of Psychiatry, and Research Faculty, Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, also wrote a testimonial for Kids Beyond Limits. Here is an excerpt:

The approach here, far wiser, far more subtle, truly holistic, far more ingenious, far more in accord with how brain development occurs, shows ways to access the child’s own brain plasticity and yields far greater results, so that the children can spontaneously grow from within.

Read Norman Doidge’s full testimonial on the Anat Baniel Method here.

For more information on our work with children, read Effectiveness of the Anat Baniel Method for Children with Cerebral Palsy and Other Special Needs by Dr. Neil Sharp, MD, and Anat Baniel Method Practitioner.

You can also view a video of a mother speaking about her son’s experience with the Anat Baniel Method and see his progress over a period of 2 /12 years, view videos of other children who have used the Anat Baniel Method, and view Dr. Michael Merzenich speaking about this method at Anat Baniel Method Foundation.

Supporting Research for this NeuroMovement® Approach

Note: This section is in progress. We will be adding additional research soon, so please check back.

From Fixing to Connecting

The brain is structured to figure itself out: The brain is the ultimate self-organizing system.

Thompson E, Varela, F. J. 2001. Radical embodiment: Neural dynamics and consciousness. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 5: 418–25.

Lewis M. D., Todd R. M. 2005. Getting emotional—A neural perspective on emotion, intention and Consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies 12(8–10): 213–38.

These random movements are in fact required for every child’s brain to form itself as fully as it might: Merzenich and his team at the University of California San Francisco have done experiments to show the importance of what he terms randomized movements.

Coq J-O, Byl N., Merzenich, M. M. 2004. Effects of sensorimotor restriction and anoxia on gait and motor cortex organization: Implications for a rodent model of cerebral palsy. Neuroscience 129(1):141–56.

To help a child who is unable to crawl, it might seem perfectly logical to assist him in making crawling motions. What research there is often shows little effect, and part of the reason for this may be a focus on the end result.

Damiano D. L. 2009. Rehabilitative therapies in cerebral palsy: The good, the not as good, and the possible. Journal of Child Neurology 24(9): 1200–04.

Palmer, F. B. , Shapiro, B. K. , Wachtel, R. C., et al. 1988. The effects of physical therapy on cerebral palsy. A controlled trial in infants with spastic diplegia. New England Journal of Medicine 318(13): 803–08.

Butler, C., Darrah, J. 2001. Effects of neurodevelopmental treatment (NDT) for cerebral palsy: An AACPDM evidence report. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology 43(11): 778–90.

Wiart, L., Darrah, J., Kembhavi, G. 2008. Stretching with children with cerebral palsy: What do we know and where are we going? Pediatric Physical Therapy 20(2): 173–78.

Dreifus, L. 2003. Commentary: Facts, myths and fallacies of stretching. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine 2(2): 75–77.

All children learn their experience: “Experience coupled with attention leads to physical changes in the structure and functioning of the nervous system”:

Decharms, R. C., Merzenich, M. 1996. Neural representations, experience and change. In Llinàs, R., Churchland, P. S., eds. The Mind-Brain Continuum. Cambridge: MIT Press.

What your child “should” be doing now according to age and known developmental stages: Many of the researchers who identified such stages intended them not as dogma but as indicators of a developmental process.

Gesell, A. 1940. The First Five Years of Life: A Guide to the Study of the Pre-School Child. Harper & Brothers.

Your Child’s Amazing Brain

The child’s ability to notice differences is the source of information for the brain: Physiologically, the basis of all sensory perception is contrast.

Guyton, A. C. 1981. Textbook of Medical Physiology. Saunders.

The brain uses information it acquires through perceiving differences to create new connections between different brain cells; this capacity is called differentiation: Differentiation is a fundamental process underlying all forms of life.

Prasad, K, N. 1980. Regulation of differentiation in mammalian nerve cells. Plenum, NY.

Scientists are able to measure and track the process of differentiation as it is taking place in the brain. Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 2007.

Scientist observes brain cell development in “Real Time.” ScienceDaily, May 29.

Mizrahi, A. 2007. Dendritic development and plasticity of adult-born neurons in the mouse olfactory bulb. Nature Neuroscience 10(4): 444–52.

Those connections come together in complex, dynamic, responsive, and continuously evolving patterns: For research describing development in terms of complex dynamic systems, see:

Smith, L. B., Thelen, E. 2003. Development as a dynamic system. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 7(8): 343–48.

Thelen, E., Smith, L. B. 1996. A Dynamic Systems Approach to the Development of Cognition and Action. Cambridge, MIT Press.

As we gain experience we gain control through using our muscles in a more refined and precise way. This process has been demonstrated in the brain.

Jenkins, W.M., Merzenich, M. M., Ochs M. T., et al. 1990. Functional reorganization of primary somatosensory cortex in adult owl monkeys after behaviorally controlled tactile stimulation. Journal of Neurophysiology 63(1): 82–104.

Nudo, R. J., Milliken, G. W., Jenkins, W. M., Merzenich, M. M. 1996. Use-dependent alterations of movement representations in primary motor cortex of adult squirrel monkeys. Journal of Neuroscience 16(2): 785–807.

Essential One: Movement With Attention

Research shows that movement done automatically creates little or no new connections in the brain: “[T]he variable determining whether or not the brain changes is . . . the attentional state of the animal.”

Schwartz, J., Begley, S. 2002, rpnt 2003. The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. HarperCollins.

Recanzone, G. H., Merzenich, M. M., Jenkins, W. M., et al. 1992. Topographic reorganization of the hand representation in cortical area 3b of owl monkeys trained in a frequency discrimination task. Journal of Neurophysiology 67: 1031–56.

Nudo, R. J., Milliken, G. W., Jenkins, W. M., Merzenich, M. M. 1996. Use-dependent alterations of movement representations in primary motor cortex of adult squirrel monkeys. Journal of Neuroscience 16: 785–807.

Doidge, N. 2007. The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Viking/Penguin

When attention is brought to movement, the brain creates new connections and possibilities at an incredibly rapid rate: The great movement scientist, Moshe Feldenkrais, used movement to increase awareness, which in turn helped to upgrade people’s functioning, often in breakthrough ways; he had his students pay close attention while moving as a way to enhance functioning. However, he did not formulate Movement With Attention as an Essential per se, that is, distinct from awareness.

A young child’s brain forms 1.8 million new connections per second: A conservative estimate of the total number of synapses in the adult brain is 100,000,000,000,000, or 100 trillion. The formation of synapses begins in the cerebral cortex—for example, during the 7th week of gestation and continues well into childhood. It is estimated that at its peak each neuron forms an average of 15,000 connections.

Gopnik, A., Meltzoff, A. N., Kuhl, P. K. 1999. The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains and How Children Learn. New York: William Morrow.

Eliot, L. 1999. What’s Going on in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life. New York: Bantam.

Ratey, J. J. 2000. A User’s Guide to the Brain. New York: Pantheon.

Think of Movement with Attention as bringing about a virtual explosion of activity in the brain: Scans showed high levels of activity in the prefrontal cortex during new learning but not once the performance became routine.

Jueptner, M., Stephan, K., Frith, C. D., et al. 1997. Anatomy of motor learning. I. Frontal Cortex and Attention to Action. Journal of Neurophysiology 77(3): 1313–24.

Johansen-Berg, H., Matthews, P. M. 2002. Attention to movement modulates activity in sensori-motor areas, including primary motor cortex. Experimental Brain Research 142(1): 13–24.

“Experience coupled with attention leads to physical changes in the structure and functioning of the nervous system.”

Merzenich, M. M., deCharms, R. C. 1996. Neural representations, experience and change. In Llinàs, R., Churchland, P. S., eds. The Mind-Brain Continuum. Boston: MIT Press.

Essential Two: Slow

Fast we can do only what we already know. When we go fast, the brain has no option but to revert to already existing patterns: Scientific research shows that we can either react automatically with a short reaction time of 0.25 second or less or act consciously with a delayed reaction time of 0.5 second or more.

Norretranders, T. 1998. The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size. Viking Penguin. His writings are based on an interview with Benjamin Libet that took place on March 26–27, 1991, in San Francisco.

Libet, B., et al. 1983. Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness potential): The unconscious intention of a freely voluntary act. Brain 106: 623–42.

It is important to hold off on fast until the brain has formed the necessary connections and patterns for performing that skill: Then we can speed up successfully and even develop strong intuition in that area.

Kahnman, D. 2003. A perspective on judgement and choice: Mapping bounded rationality. American Psychologist 58: 697–720.

Current brain science confirms the critical importance of Slow: When developing his Fast ForWord program, Michael Merzenich saw the underlying problem of children with language and learning impairment as one of signal and noise—that is, the inability to filter out or generate meaningful information from background stimuli rather than a lack of stimulation per se.

Merzenich, M., M., et al.1996. Language comprehension in language-learning impaired children improved with acoustically modified speech. Science 271(5245): 81–84.

What matters is the underlying process that leads the child to accomplish particular milestone, not the milestone per se: “Do not look for linear increases in a single . . .function but for progressive patterns of maturity. Nor should we look for static absolutes. Nothing is. Everything is becoming.”

Gesell, A. 1940. The First Five Years of Life: A Guide to the Study of the Pre-School Child. Harper & Bro.

Essential Three: Variation

In the first three years of life, the brain grows fourfold, reaching 80 percent of its adult weight:

Gould, S. J. 1977. Ever Since Darwin. New York: W. W. Norton

The brain itself creates variation all the time: “Thus, and this is the most important note that we are going to make, the motor skill involved in even a very simple and monotonous movement cannot be a movement formula. . . . It is the ability to find a solution across a range of variations.”

Bernstein, N. A. 1996. On exercise and motor skill. In Latash, M. L., Tuvey, M. T., eds. On Dexterity and Its Development. Trans. M. L. Latash, Lawrence Erlbaum.

Furthermore, no one learns a skill directly through practicing that skill: “A human starts learning a movement because he cannot do it. . . . The essence and objective of exercise is to improve the movements, that is, to change them. Therefore, correct exercise is in fact a repetition without repetition.” Ibid.

In 1990 a group of brain scientists set up a very interesting research project with four separate groups of adult rats which showed the importance of variation:

Black, J. E., Isaacs, K. R., Anderson, B. J., et al. 1990. Learning causes synaptogenesis, whereas motor activity causes angiogenesis, in cerebellar cortex of adult rats. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 87: 5568–72.

Researcher Melissa A. Schilling and colleagues have shown that we learn better when we use variation rather than repetition:

Schilling, M. A., Vidal, P., Ployhart, R. E., Marangoni, A. 2003. Learning by doing something else: Variation, relatedness, and the learning curve. Management Science 49(1): 39–56.

Essential Four: Subtlety

Reducing effort enables children to perceive finer differences. The Weber-Fechner law emphasizes that the greater the intensity of the background sensory stimulus, the harder it is to perceive a change. See Uppsala University. 2004. The Weber Fechner law.

Essential Five: Enthusiasm

Think of enthusiasm as a skill: Enthusiasm amplifies our experience, and amplification is a characteristic of many biological systems.

Guyton, A. C. 1981. Textbook of Medical Physiology. Saunders.

Murphy, B. K., Miller, K. D. 2009. Balanced amplification: A new mechanism of selective amplification of neural activity patterns. Neuron 61: 635–48.

Lewis, M. D. 2005. Selforganizing individual differences in brain development. Developmental Review 25: 252–77.

Essential Six: Flexible Goals

One example of imposing a rigid goal is the practice called tummy time: It is true that babies who are subject to such efforts do tend to reach some of the earlier milestones a bit sooner with poorer quality than those who developed in a more natural environment.

Dudek-Shriber, L., Zelazny, S. 2007. The effects of prone positioning on the quality and acquisition of developmental milestones in four-month-old infants. Research report. Pediatric Physical Therapy 19(1): 48–55.

Kuo Yu-Ling, et al. 2008. The influence of wakeful prone positioning on motor development during the early life. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 29(5): 367–76.

Davis, et al. 1998. Effects of sleep position on infant motor development. Pediatrics 102(5): 1135–40.

Strassburg, H. M., et al. 2006. Continuous documentation of the development of infants by means of a questionnaire for the parents. Early Child Development and Care 176(5): 493–504.

Pikler, E. 1988. Lasst mir Zeit: die sebstaendige Bewegungsentwicklung des Kindes bis zum freien Gehen (Give me time: The independent movement development of a child up to free walking). Munich: Pflaum-Verlag.

Pikler, E. 1997. Miteinander vertraut werden (To gain trust with one another). Freiburg/Breisgau: Herder-Vertlag.

Pikler, E. 1999. Friedliche Babys, zufriedene Muetter (Peaceful babies, contented mothers). Freiburg/Breisgau: Herder-Vertlag.