One cannot talk about Bal-A-Vis-X without first talking about Bill Hubert. My first interaction with him centered around him asking me to help crack his back. He laid on the floor, crossed his left knee over his body, and asked me to step on it as he twisted his torso opposite. I reached down to push on it with my hand, trying to be more delicate and polite, but he repeated, “Just step on it, ” So I did. Bill is very particular. And he cares so very much about this thing he’s made.
After years of working as a first grade teacher, middle school teacher, and martial arts instructor, Bill amalgamated the disciplines into a long process of connecting dots:
- Dot One: Each year many of my grade one students didn’t function well.
- Dot Two: My martial arts experience enabled me to watch these 6-7 year-olds through the twin lenses of balance and rhythm.
- Dot Three: I felt it important that all these students have fundamental balance and rhythm capabilities so I taught them such basic physical skills as throwing, catching, walking balance beams, skipping, and so on.
- Dot Four: Slowly I became aware that, of all my students, the ones most deficient in these basic physical skills often were the same ones who struggled most academically.
- Dot Five: I noticed, as we all worked on balance and rhythm, that now and then when a struggling student’s balance and rhythm improved, his/her academic performance also improved.
Fine tuning a child’s balance and rhythm seemed to simultaneously address his/her academic difficulties. It was about making connections for people who struggled. From schools, the program spent a few years entrenched the world of occupational and physical therapy, adopting a broader lens of scientific protocol to motor learning. These “odd birds” as Bill called them, looked at trends between problems more so than people. They were different than the “what is in front of me” mentality that elementary teachers gravitated towards.
Part one of this series focused on the neuroscience that underpins every auditory and visual cue behind each series of exercises. Knowing the type of learner you have in front of you in incredibly important. It helps you reach them by playing to their strengths. Which eye and ear are dominant filters input. Which brain hemisphere is dominant organizes output.
Whether their eyes or their ears are their strength determines whether they will fare better with listened to or seen instruction:
Subject would be identified as a VISUAL LEARNER, because there was an ‘off-ness’ to her hearing only test.
A couple of insights on performing this. Do not try to look at subject through a mirror to tell if they are ‘on beat’ or not. You will automatically sync up with their hands (especially if you are visually strong). Video it and check recording if you don’t have a unbiased third-party observer. I am trying to simply look down at my hands throughout, and in the facing, visual test she happens to place her hands below mine in my sight line. A bit more distance between us would have been better, as is a steadier, SLOWER rhythm — a recurring theme worth remembering.
The work starts with bean bags. There are no intricacies of bouncing, nor even a catch component. The slap-clap of the bags provides a rhythmic quality that sets forth a predictability. Instructions are not spoken. Gestures and cues provide all the necessary direction.
Please note that when demoed, the client or student with ‘attention issues’ was standing on a balance board while working with Bill. Balance is an important component; the micro-adjustments made through the feet assist in forging connections through the entire body. I used a wobble disk because it was what I had available. Other ideas are a short 2 x 4 or 4 x 6 on a pen or similar cylinder object.
This reluctant, almost defiant subject was a perfect model of reworking physical communication strategies, and when to recognize that the detail one is trying to convey might not be as important as the interaction and ‘successful’ completion of the task.
There is magic in the pause, a collective organizing and resetting. Everything is deliberate. The bag moves from the left side to the right, and the right to the left. (The free hand is NEVER to be brought to the bag or ball). Circling the bag around the body creates an equator around the axis. We are connecting hemispheres. Bag and ball motion mimics weight shift and synapses crossing halves of the brain.
Connecting top to bottom can be done with a toss, but for the sake of minimizing variables (the toss, then the catch) we will utilize a ball bounce. The square becomes a rectangle and the circle becomes an oval to utilize the spring effect of the new implement:
Note the differences in style between myself and the participant. I am trying to get them more like me, and they are trying to keep their own way of doing things. On first encounter, does it matter all that much if they are engaging with the task at hand?
Again, keep things slow and in time, particularly in the learning phase.
This pace from the Bal-A-Vis-X website is what I was trying to replicate.
Forward stepping crosses the front leg through the midline. Backward stepping rotates into the gap. The pattern changes and I tried to keep it the same.
The synchronicity of the forearms pre-drop sets everything up. This is the convergent ‘pause’ that aligns sides. Ball drop aims for just inside big toe. Outside hand should be dropping ball throughout.
The newest phase of Bal-A-Vis-X showcases its brilliant simplicity to fullest effect. It embodies the “what’s wrong with you?” to “what’s happened to you?” shift that seeks to empathize and understand rather than dominate and conform. Balance issues are a sign of anxiety. There is a stimulation problem. Integration ends when stress exceeds a tolerable amount.
Those who “can’t deal” either tighten too much (clamp down) or too little (become aloof, flighty) — akin to fight or flight. Stress, however, is necessary for learning. Those with deep seeded trauma have a constantly upward rising ‘normalcy’ line caused by recurrent untolerable stress. In a constant state of alarm, there is no resolution nor return to former lower levels of ‘homeostasis’.
We address untolerable stress by repeated and recurring bouts of tolerable stress.
Nervous system downshifts and re-regulates. “It’s OK. Elevation is NOT a gateway to trouble/ alarm.”
Bill succeeds where Fighting Monkey fails. He does not provide an incredibly difficult challenge for the best, most capable students. He scales down and makes coordination challenges accessible to all. If the ultimate goal is self-regulation, all the ‘selves’ need an approachable plan to start with. For the novel stimulus to become a positive catalyst of change, it needs to be doable. Ability, then, dominoes into further trying and future belief of success.
The goal is to get the “maybes” and “I can’ts” into the mindset of “I can”, which comes from experiencing accomplishment.
Bal-A-Vis-X stimulates the understimulated and integrates the overstimulated by providing an appropriate level of challenge. Its actions cross through all three planes of motion, connecting all three hemispheres of the brain. The trauma patterns use no equipment and do not cause any kind of distraction in the room. When a child senses their stress/ alert levels rise, and/or begins to feel unregulated, they can simply step outside the class and perform their routine.
Even this entry level exercise needed 100% focus to achieve (and I didn’t even fully achieve the 5-count each direction, per leg). Breakdown: hands clap with foot. The forward-back-forward step follows the path of a singular leg – right, then left.
The caveat to such meticulous attentive work is that you can only do it for so long. Precision is taxing. And yet, this potency feeds directly into the stimulation and stress regulation waves; the peak followed by the valley. Both the process and outcome of confronting and conquering an imposed demand calms the system, and lowers the threshold of normalcy. The more an organism experiences safety, the more it becomes trained to exist within it.
Bill, too, falls under this protocol. He mentioned several times “he only goes where invited” and how “they won’t let us in.” He is quite protective of his method, and fully aware of how good it is. Thirty five years and he is still tinkering and creating for a need, a need that is substantially growing and yet looking in almost every other place for an answer. “It’s too simple, it’s just a game.” Dig into what the work is founded on, and it’s well ahead of the curve; ahead of the science and data so many wait on for direction. Teachers have to do and get it done — best practices fluctuate by the minute, and we must adapt the situation to the people at hand.