An Anat Baniel Method success story??




Sorry. I'm just sitting here hoping I can one day remove the question marks from the title of this post.... Sigh.

OK, anyway. First, let me explain a little about what the Anat Baniel Method is. If you're familiar with Feldenkrais, it's like that. If you aren't, let me try to explain it as succinctly as possible.

Malachi with his two ABM practitioners,
who occasionally team up to give him therapy.
The method is built upon the idea that the human brain thrives on making increasingly finer distinctions and greater variations, whether it be in movement or thought patterns or philosophies. Think of how a child moves: very blocky and bold compared to a healthy adult's more fluid movements. Think of how a child thinks: very extreme emotions and strokes of understanding that are very broad compared to a healthy adult's ability to appreciate and express subtle differences.

The method also takes into account the idea — which is today supported by neuroscience — that the human brain has the remarkable ability to become more and more organized (i.e. learn new things), even when damaged. Development does not stop. Ever. That's why you can still learn something new at 8 and at 80.

So, to put it simply, the method works by introducing variation into the movement patterns of children with special needs. It also places emphasis on coordinating and organizing the entire body, bone by bone. As adults this is hard to envision. Because our movements are so engrained, we don't even realize that, for example, in order to reach for a glass of water not just our arm, but our entire spine moves — each and every rib in sequence, etc. But I can tell you from watching Jaden that that is very much what a baby does as he plays. He moves his body in as many ways as he can to figure out what sequence and strength he needs in each muscle to perform a task. To us it just looks like purposeless wiggling. But it's not. (Well, OK. Some of it is.)

Our ABM practitioner has given me a few lessons (I think this is essential if you do it with your child) and here's how I can describe the feeling: Have you ever been somewhere — for example, during a massage — and felt very relaxed? It feels like you are as loose as you are going to get. Then the masseuse pushes on a particular spot or you take a deep breath and suddenly you realize you were holding on to tension you didn't even know was there. You were holding a muscle tight even when you thought you had relaxed it. Once you became aware of the tension, you could release that muscle. That is muscle tone. In my inherently limited understanding of someone without cerebral palsy, that is what it's all about: being unable to control how tight or loose your muscles are. Anat Baniel would say it's because we are unaware of how tight the muscle is. By a practitioner's ability to bring one's focused attention to that muscle, it allows the brain to recognize how it is holding that muscle and form a new pattern, rewriting the old automatic way of doing it.

So that's my understanding of it. Obviously, as with everything else, it's not a panacea and it works better the younger you can possibly start.

But after trying many types of therapy, we do feel like we've found one that really works. There is a clear and definite cause-and-effect relationship between appointments with our practitioner and improvements in Malachi's motor control and mood — something that I can't even say for conventional physical therapy.

I also like that the global philosophy of the method makes sense to me and could even be applied to my life. I've read Anat Baniel's book: Move Into Life, which I thought outlined a fascinating philosophy with broad-ranging applications. (However, I feel obliged to mention that it is a fairly conventional self-help book and didn't necessarily have a lot of specific hands-on applications for Malachi. I hear she is coming out with a new book on special needs children soon. UPDATE 11/30/12: She has and it's fabulous. You can read my review of Kids Beyond Limits here.)

The mechanisms in the method also align with the latest research in neuroscience. And, though we have experienced occasional regression, the results are cumulative.

In fact, we believe in the method so much that it is now our primary form of therapy, with series of twice daily lessons over four days every two weeks. We are even planning an expensive trip (thank you donors!) down to the ABM center in San Rafael in October.

So why, even now, am I reluctant to share with the cerebral palsy community our good news?

I suppose because it's not over yet. I don't have any hard, objective evidence. Malachi is improving, that's true, but he still hasn't reached any of The Important Milestones, like rolling over consistently, sitting up by himself, crawling, standing, walking, etc.

I also don't quite know what to believe. I mean, Anat Baniel — and Moshe Feldenkrais before her — has been doing this for decades and supposedly has had it work "miracles" on people — including getting people who have never been able to walk that ability. I've seen several videos of such people (including this one) who seem to have recovered remarkably.

So where are those people? Why aren't they screaming from the hilltops about their "cure"? Where are the Oprah shows and the 20/20 specials on this amazing method? Why isn't this already an accepted therapy? In fact, ABM folks say it hasn't even earned the research credentials needed to be called a "therapy." It is simply a "method," and as such insurance won't pay for it.

But I guess that's the Catch-22: people don't want to try something that isn't proven and it doesn't get proven until enough people do it that researchers start to take notice. Also in our pharmaceutical-addicted culture, a method that isn't attached to — and in many ways directly challenges — the multibillion-dollar drug industry isn't likely to get funding.

So here's what I know: It's working for us. I have issues with — and have therefore mostly ignored — the part of the method that insists on only allowing a baby to be in a position he or she can get in his- or herself (i.e. no equipment, no conventional therapy UPDATE 11/30/12: I still have issues with this but we don't do conventional therapy or equipment anymore. Here's a little bit of why.). But overall I think ABM is a smart and common sense approach.

And I think you all should look into it, whether or not you are dealing with disability. It's that good.

Update 3/16/12: Anat Baniel's website has been updated and looks much better now.


  1. I find it so disconcerting when methods present that they are "working on the brain" as a novel approach. Is there a way to work with a child that DOESN'T work with the brain? I've been interested in this method as well, I'm not discounting that it may have some good strategies- I even bought a DVD that teaches parents and professionals how to do the methods...still need to watch it though!

    90% of my physical therapy sessions with children are working with the child's strengths so that they can successfully to their nervous system how to perform new skills. Yes, sometimes I am dealing with alignment issues, such as bracing needs, etc, but for the most part I am focused on the nervous system and how to teach it to learn something new. I'm sorry you didn't have a great PT experience with your son, but one PT is just one PT. You'll find the same doing any approach. Results will be both approach and person-dependent and PT can include a multitude of different approaches performed by different personalities.

    I'm a little concerned about the not placing the child in positions he can't get in. If you think about typical development, the child is often carried in supportive ways that allow him to develop his trunk, head and eyes. The child wouldn't be able to get themselves in these positions. For children with motor challenges, working down on the floor can do the hardest place rather than the easiest.

    I wish your son great success and I think whatever journey you take he will accomplish great things with YOU by his side!

  2. Joni: I get what you're saying. I know that conventional PT also works on the brain. But I have to say, I feel like the way our PTs talk (and we've had several, and they're all wonderful, and very advanced in their field) focuses much more on the *muscles* and not on how the brain organizes those muscles. For example, they constantly talk about "strengthening" and "stretching," as if there is something wrong with the muscle. Maybe after years of CP the muscles have atrophied or caused deformities, but at this stage the problem in the BRAIN not the muscles.

    From my limited understanding, it seems like PT is about helping the child turn muscles on whereas ABM is more about teaching the child to turn the muscle off. I'm sure that is a very simplistic way to put it.

    I share your concern about the part about not putting a child into a position he can't get into and I'm sure I'll have an entire post one day about the arguments I've had with our ABM practitioners about it.

  3. Great post Shasta. We are starting Feldenkrais soon, and I have a good feeling about it. But I know exactly what you mean - why aren't these "miracles" out there announcing what a miracle it is, and why has no one around me heard of it (or myself heard of it before I had a son with CP??). You are now the 2nd mom with a young one with CP that I know that has had positive results so I can hope only the same for Asher. Continued success for all of us!

  4. Anonymous12:35 PM

    Unfortunately, part of the issue of whether a therapy works is "can you prove it." In a small child like Malachi, all you can know for sure is the therapies (ABM & traditional PT) are helping proper neurological pathways form, but you'll never know for SURE how much difference each of the therapies made.

    With my 12 year old son, regular PT wasn't going much of anywhere anymore so it was worth a shot with a therapy that works with right and left brain learning to talk to each other better. I'm happy to say, the six month experiment (5 months into it) has produced some good results that I don't think would be there if we hadn't tried it.

    I agree that helping a child into different positions during the learning process can help teach them it's possible. Babies who can't learn to move on their own don't know it's possible to move and need to be shown. The danger lies in getting in the habit of helping.

    It's been made plain to me in recent months that over the years I've taken on more of my son's labors than I should have and he didn't learn all he could/should have about doing things on his own. We're working on breaking THAT habit of MINE.

    Shasta, I'm so glad you're working on something like ABM and that it is available to Malachi. It will make a LOT of difference in the long run even though it looks slow now.

    Keep up the good work,

  5. Tracey: Indeed! Continued health and progress to all of us and please let me know what you think!

    Faith. What an appropriate name. Thank you. I agree that we'll never know for sure what good or bad any of this stuff has done. It drives me nuts. And yes, we all need to be mindful of over helping. I'm hoping/expecting that Jaden will make darn sure I don't over-spoil Malachi! ;)

  6. Anonymous3:16 PM

    Shasta, rest assured, the only alternative to trying is to sit back and do nothing. I can see that you aren't one of the do nothing kind (and I've seen WAY too many who are). So, by removing the alternative, we prove that your efforts ARE worthwhile! Aren't I great at proving what we all knew in the first place? =o) !!!

    I did FINALLY get done with the peaches, etc. I'm ready for my fall vacation! I put pictures on Ben's blog of the finished products if you want to see them.


  7. I like what we saw with ABM too - the limiting factor for us is time to do the therapy combined with all the other stuff we do in our family, and the other two typical kids. I hope to pick it up again soon, but most of all, Cici really seemed to enjoy it. I have found in our short 3 year journey so far that what works now might not work later, these kids constantly change things up on you.

  8. Hi Outrageous fortune, et al,
    Thanks for your website and perspective. I am a Feldenkrais and ABM for children practitioner and appreciate your taking action and exploring a new methodology for your child. It helps that people like yourself take the courageous step of going outside the confines of conventional medical system to look for practical, real world solutions for their loved ones. Proven systems in my experience are those that get real world outcomes and real world results!

  9. Anonymous11:51 PM

    Lol, I agree with your thoughts on the website.

    We did ABM at the end of August with my then-8 month old and OMG have I ever seen improvement.

    He had severe birth trauma which led to a lack of oxygen and then severe brain damage in both hemispheres. He had seizures at 36 hours old and was expected to die. But instead he finally developed a suck reflex at 8 days old and here we are, 9 months later. His head control is not up to par yet so while he rolls from front to back, he has yet to do back to front, he has issues with his hands as well, and I think that his head control is holding him back immensely.

    During the ABM treatments he put his head up for a full 4 minutes on his tummy, which he had never done before!! It was magical. He also started putting weight through his legs more in the last day of treatments. It's been about a month since we've done it and he's getting better with his head control everyday and he's trying SO HARD to roll back to front but he can't figure out how to get the momentum going. He also is trying to crawl but he can't figure out how to get his arms to move with his legs, lol. It's just been in the last few weeks that he's started moving his legs alternatively, and like I said above, he only started really putting weight through his legs since the ABM treatments!

    ABM has been SO worth it. We did it for 5 days in a row, 2 times per day and it cost us $450. We had to travel to a city 4 hours (8 driving with a LO) from home but it was SO worth it. I hope that we will be able to do it again sometime before January. I wish that it was better known, we've been in physio/occupational since he was 2 weeks old and we saw SO much progress just from the 5 days we were doing ABM. If I had the money I'd pay someone who did it to live in my house, LOL. I can't emphasize enough how awesome it is!!

    Our goal is to have him sit by himself by 2....I read that if they can do that, they'll be able to walk as an adult!

  10. It’s so exciting to read about the changes you are seeing with Malachi and with yourself. Much to celebrate! And I am so so moved by your dedication and love for your child.

    I am an ABM practitioner so not unbiased, but have been the beneficiary of this work for over 10 years, as have my children and many many close friends. I feel strongly about the potential power of the work and assert that there are real reasons the method is obscure—not because it's a sham. There are too many alternative treatments that are shams, it's easy to get confused and unwise to blindly trust claims of miraculous and easy cures. It would be tragic to lump ABM or Feldenkrais in with that group.

    Some reasons for the obscurity: the work is difficult to explain (despite it's elemental nature), difficult to believe the miraculous results, and has a long legacy of poor branding and marketing (I speak of Feldenkrais (TM) here). Hopefully, in time, things will change and people will hear more about the benefits and try for themselves. Yoga was "discovered" in the West thousands of years after it's creation. Hopefully, minds will be more open (though still rigrous) and we won't have to wait that long. My Best wishes to you...

  11. I Want to share Elans story. He just turned 5, has almost 3 yr old bro and almost 8 yr old sis. Middle kid. We been doin feldenkrais for a few months now, he is really learning, he is normally completely hypotonic, and when I watch and learn with feldenkrais I see him make the most beautiful movements he never did before. Ex, in sitting last week we practice him sitting on his heels so he feel the connection skeletal between but bones and heels. Then but bones on floor as he is supported from behind by lower ribs he is swaying and I watch him learn to correct by raising the hand arm in quick little mvmt, he corrects, then right after on next sway he corrects by using his leg. Elan is 5 and that is the first time I saw him make correction like that. Very first. It is so perfect, those series of little movements. Every time we have visited a feldenkrais practitioner we are rewarded to see a beautiful graceful perfect new movement. My son "listens" so intently and I see how intelligent he is. Maybe the people aren't calling from the top of the mountain about their miracle cure because like me they are still holding their breath stricken by the awesomeness of the miracle. Let me tell you we started conductive education 6 week program, my son has learned to sit for2-3 minutes and is learning to stand, weight bear, which is amazing for a "rag doll". I hate that term but we seem to be beating it. Get the book "Conductive Education" by Maria Hari if you are skeptical or just want real information. I found her way beyond her time in the knowledge of how the brain learns things, she put together the traing program for conductors at the peto institute, Hungary, and refined the program. I find the feldenkrais and conductive education compliment each other wonderfully. My name is Joni, I am not the same person who posted earlier but glad to know another one of us is out ther, howdy other Joni! And it's great to find this place, thanks Shasta!

  12. Perhaps if the miraculous ABM therapy methods were available to parents and children from all economic classes then I would be more interested in knowing how committed Anat Baniel is to the well-being of children with special needs. I have known parents to completely wipe out their savings, retirement savings, etc in order to access these excessively priced interventions that are not proven in research studies by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the progress was minimal or absent, and the parents were left in financial stress and still searching for the "magic touch". $500 / hour is the previously quoted rate, with a requirement of at least 2 sessions per day. What a calculated move to market expensive and exclusive methods to families in their most vulnerable state, while also indicating that that other therapies are not useful and should be discarded. Can you sleep at night, Anat???


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