THE PROBLEM? It’s two-fold: the epidemic of neurological and mental wellness issues in our bodies and the rampant incivility in our society.
Dispensing the remedy for what ails us is the passion of Kent State University alumna and Kent resident, Laurel Myers Hurst. Hurst focuses on the fundamentals of wellness: rest, nourishment, movement and state of mind, and builds these elements into the lives of her clients through GrooveTherapy™ events, family coaching and individual consultations.
Hurst founded GrooveTherapy™ Health + Wellness, LLC in 2017 after more than a decade of studying the benefits of melorhythm through Gospel music and traditional drum ensembles and becoming certified as a Blomberg Rhythmic Movement Training® consultant. In March, she will become one of six professionals licensed to instruct this neurodevelopmental protocol in the United States.
Neurological and Mental Wellness
There is no denying that Americans are in a neurological and mental wellness crisis. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and the National Institute of Mental Health, 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety, 9% of adolescents in the US suffer from major depression, and major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in people aged 15 to 44. What’s more, these conditions in less severe forms affect us all from time to time. We can readily identify with churning angst in the pit of our stomach or sleepless nights of worry brought on by stress or fear of the future.
In her practice, Hurst meets these challenges head on from the inside out. It’s shocking to learn that more of the “feel good” neurotrans-mitters—serotonin and dopamine—are made in our gut than in our brain, and the good bacteria in our gut are largely responsible for the health of our nervous and immune systems.1 Hurst rarely encounters clients who struggle with mental wellness who don’t also have tummy troubles or some sort of autoimmune diagnosis. Partnering with the industry leader in traditional herbal and nutritional remedies for healing the gut, calming the immune system and feeding the brain what it craves for optimum focus allows Hurst to address her client’s wellness at the cellular level.
Changing Our Wiring
On the macro level, GrooveTherapy depends on the glorious design of the human body to overcome neurological challenges. Over the past decade, brain research has revealed much about our innate neuroplasticity. Throughout our lives, our nerve connections grow and change dependent on our activity. The things we do, day-by-day, hardwire our nervous system to do those things better and better by repetition. This is a double-edged sword. If our physical, emotional, and social activities are beneficial, over time our health and resilience grows. However, harmful patterns are reinforced by the same mechanisms.
This explains a great deal about many of the negative things in our lives. It’s the force behind the habit we picked up as a kid that is so hard to break, the thought pattern we try to leave behind that haunts us still, and the aching neck acquired in a fender bender 10 years ago that plagues us daily. With time and repetition, we are in a rut that is hard to escape.
In the face of all that bad news, Hurst states, “The good news is that we can create a new groove!”
Finding Hope Through Neuroplasticity
As we sleep, the body scans the nervous system for neuronal connections that have been recently used. Connections that have gone inactive are pruned and the active nerve pathways are myelinated. Myelin is the “turbo boost” for nerve conductivity. Myelin speeds the rate at which signals can be sent along a particular nerve pathway and stabilizes the communication between the brain and the part of the body activated by the nerve (i.e. skeletal muscles, vital organs, sensory inputs).
Here’s where the magic happens.
By moving, thinking, and acting in beneficial ways, we shift the creation of nerve connections toward beneficial pathways. When we repeat beneficial activities, we also myelinate beneficial nerve pathways. Because our nerve connection sites have an approximate 15 month lifespan, over time we can completely redirect and reshape the nature of our neural network. By beginning today, you can be a completely different person from the inside out in just over a year.
Directing Neuroplasticity For Physical, Emotional and Cognitive Development
Stimulating, developing and integrating beneficial nerve connections mature the neural network, soothing physical pains and quieting emotional distress with them. Have you ever thought about why jiggling a baby calms fussiness? Activation of the Tonic Neck Reflex to stabilize the position of the head gives the brain a problem to work on that is greater than whatever distresses the infant, whether that be hunger, teething pain, a wet diaper, or just sheer boredom. Presenting these types of “problems” to the brain stimulates new areas of growth in the dendrites that connect nerves to one another.
Any body of any age can reap the benefit in this pattern of nerve growth. Blomberg Rhythmic Movement Training (BRMT) is based upon the stereotypical movement patterns innate to infant development in the time time before they rise from the floor to walk. The movements are fun and easy, and they work. By following these patterns, we can develop or regain qualities of physical, emotional, and cognitive resilience we may have lost or to which we never had access. BRMT demolishes barriers and builds bridges to wellness.
Putting The Fun In The Practice
As with any practice, the fallout is adherence. Results come with repetition. Fail to practice; fail to see results.
In Western medicine, healing is a private relationship between a physician and patient. Hurst knows from her ethnomusicological training that in many cultures wellness is a community endeavor. The support and joy emanating from group practice overcomes the inertia that keeps us immobile and unwell.
Hurst packages the practice of rhythmic movement training with group drumming in a philosophical and character education curriculum called GrooveTherapy. We live in a world of virtual reality and online grocery shopping, but there is no replacement for looking across a drum circle at another living soul and playing together.
Think you can’t do it because you’re not a musician? Hurst’s drum groups are more like
“drum karaoke” than drumming for trained musicians. All the drum and bell parts are supported by midi tracks so GrooveTherapy participants can play along. Hurst says, “The group, whether it’s large or small, sounds great right away, and that sound will make your heart and your body dance for joy.”
Putting Civility Back Into Society
The direction of Hurst’s current research involves the social and emotional benefits
of group drumming. “In drumming, you get constant feedback. You’re playing into the group, and the sound immediately instructs you to fine-tune what you’re putting out there. In this style of drumming, it’s not about ‘playing on the beat.’ It’s about calling to the group and hearing the group call to you. The call and response is reassuring and reinforcing. The repetition—traveling over the same musical ground over and over—ameliorates the tension and fear we feel in trying some-thing new and different. The sense of calm, concentration, and confidence is self-reward-ing. It feels terrific, and it’s a feeling we share together.”
Hurst believes the empathy and deference practiced in drumming spills out into other areas of life. “And we need all of that we can get in America today, don’t we?” Hurst asks. Current research backs up the lofty aspirations Hurst has for her practice. A 2017 Brain Science article published by Yuhi et al documents, increased oxytocin (the bonding hormone) levels among children in group-care foster homes who practiced drumming.2 Oxytocin levels were boosted most among boys ages 8–12 in the context of structured rather than free play in a drum group. Structured drumming is the basis for GrooveTherapy. Anyone of any age can participate, and some of the most vulnerable members of our society may benefit the most. Hurst urges, “The weight of psychological and social pain is crushing us as individuals and as a culture. If we can lift that weight by working together, I say, ‘Let’s do it now!’”
The Big Picture
Through her personal experience of recovery, the improvement in her personal clients and the success stories among clients of her professional students, Hurst is convinced that, when it comes to biopsychosocial health, chiropractic and osteopathic manipulations of the skeletal system and various therapies for the muscles (physical, occupational, massage) and the mind (cognitive, emotional, behavioral) will not “stick” unless the nerves are primed, stimulated and reinforced to accept them.
Proof of the healing potential of nerve stimulation and induced neuroplasticity is found in the amount of capital invested in high-tech interventions that achieve these effects, including surgically implanted electrical and transcranial magnetic stimulators. Though these technologies promise excellent results, they are not widely available, and they will never be available to individuals lacking the deep pockets to pay for them. It gratifies Hurst that by attending to the foundations of good health and revisiting the innately patterned movements by which our neurological system developed in the first place, she can support health equity in ways that patented technologies cannot. In her practice, she has seen even severe nerve disorders improved by the simple rocking movements she teaches that are free and accessible to every body.
Hurst currently leads GrooveTherapy sessions in northeast Ohio, and she conducts individual-family consultations in the homes of her clients. Several times per year, she instructs medical staff, teachers, therapists, social service providers, counselors, mental health professionals, and parents in the essentials of Blomberg Rhythmic Movement Training. GrooveTherapy is also a revitalizing option for corporate and community retreats and workshops. If you would like more information about the training and services she provides, Hurst can be contacted at email@example.com or www.grooveforhealth.com.
1 Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci. 2015 Dec; 13(3): 239–244. 2 Brain Sci. 2017 Nov 16;7(11). pii: E152