Mirror Neurons: We are gonna piss off ALOT of people today with this post.  

How closely do your kids watch you? If you are a guy, how closely did you study the sporting greats like Michael Jordan, Joe Thiesman, Magic Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Carl Lewis, etc ? And ladies, who did you mirror yourself after?  When we are young we idolize, mimic and mirror that which we are surrounded by or that which we aspire to.  Every kid in my neighborhood had a Kareem Addul Jabar Sky-hook.  Heck, why not ?!

When it comes to gait, we model there too. In our practice we have seen, enough times to know it is not coincidence, a father walk into the office and his son have the same limp and swagger.  Kids pay attention, they just don’t model our 4 letter words.  Actions speak loudly and imitation is a strong method of learning and communication.

Humans have always observed other humans.  Observation, modeling and imitation are a form of survival.  If we want to socially understand, interact and survive we have to understand the actions of others and learn to assimilate, interact and react to others. Mirror neurons and the mirror-neuron mechanism are fundamentally human and necessary to complete these tasks of social interaction.

To this end, it is imperative to understand the gait cycle, both the walking and running cycles. The observer must know the normal cycles in order to identify the abnormal components of someone’s gait cycle. Once this can be identified one must know how to determine the cause of what is observed and know how to remedy the cause of the abnormality, not the remedy of the observed abnormality.  And just as importantly, the observer must help the client see and feel the pathologic pattern, correlate the causitive factor and help model a cleaner motor pattern. We find it very helpful to be able to mimic the client’s pathology to help them see and recognize it outside of their own body and then help them better feel their pathology (which is often an epiphany to them), model a remedy, and help them remedy the problem fitting the new pattern into a new non-pathologic gait pattern.  Once a client sees their problem, recognizes it, feels it in their own gait, feels the cleaner remedied pattern then they can cycle in a new neurologic pattern.  Then the clock begins to tick, and a new pattern will develop in 10+ weeks once a new myelinated pattern is engrained with conscious practice.  

* But one thing is clear, if you do not identify the source or cause of the abnormal gait pattern first (with remedy to follow), and you skip this critical diagnostic first step, deciding to go directly into showing your client how they SHOULD walk or run then you merely have helped them to develop a new gait cycle on top of the faulty old gait pattern which was a compensatory strategy to begin with around the underlying neuromechanical pathology (ie. immobility, hypermobility, instability, weakness etc). Whew ! That was mouthful.

Go for the root level of the problem, forget about the grass level appearance of the problem. Dig deep, don’t be a shallow digger. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Think about all of this the next time you goto a running clinic that is teaching what is supposed to be “better form”. First of all, better form for whom ? The elite running? The upper quartile athlete?  The mean? The median? Or, the first timer amateur ?  Telling people how running should look and feel, rather than looking for the cause as to why someone runs less than optimally is a big mistake.  The body doesn’t decide to run poorly and inefficiently, it chooses to do so because some of the parts are either twisted (ie. osseous torsions), there are remnants of old injuries unresolved completely, they are in the wrong shoes for their foot type, they have physical limitations from underlying weakness (which then predicate the development of tightness or altered patterns to compensate) or lack of body awareness. Think about all this the next time you start to ponder form running clinics and treadmill gait analysis at your local store or therapists office.

Examine your client, test their motor patterns, test their muscle strength, find the cause of that gimpy gait or running technique.

Shawn and Ivo, The Gait Guys…….. likely pissing off a whole lot of people today with science, logic and neuro-mechanical principles. And, not intentionally pissing folks off, just suspecting that a bunch of people just had a light bulb moment and are pissed at the messenger.

Another video link:   http://youtu.be/6s1ON7ZZQxQ   Family Performance by Warren & Kristi Boyce – Glenn Richard Boyce & Kayleigh Andrews @ 3rd Surabaya International Dancesport Championship 2013 (8th June 2013)

Reference Links:



Gait, Running, Dance, Martial Arts and the Mirror neurons of the brain. Today The Gait Guys put it all together.  (Why you need to get familiar with mirror neurons).

When was the last time you actually truly “listened” to music and “used it” while you worked out or ran?  Many of us do it, but many of us are not using the music to its optimal advantage. This is something we will talk about at the end as we summarize today’s very important article.

Beautiful human movement is something to behold.  Being able to watch and appreciate beautiful movement does several things within the brain.

According the the Scientific American Article (LINK) by Columbia University neurologist John Krakauer:

“some reward-related areas in the brain are connected with motor areas …  and mounting evidence suggests that we are sensitive and attuned to the movements of others’ bodies, because similar brain regions are activated when certain movements are both made and observed. For example, the motor regions of professional dancers’ brains show more activation when they watch other dancers compared with people who don’t dance.”

Many things stimulate our brains’ reward centers, among them, both the participation in and the observance of coordinated movements thanks to our mirror neurons. Today we show an example of the world famous Slavi Kryklyvyy once again. The combination of the physical capabilities and the artistic rendering of the fluid and complex movements stir something in your brain.  Thanks to the mirror neuron cells in the brain’s cortex, which link the sensory experience from when a person is performing a movement or when watching someone else do it generates a subsequent motor experience in the brain.  Watching someone execute a complex athletic task for example, your brain’s movement areas subconscously activate and mentally plan and predict how the athlete would move based on what you would do. We do this when watching sports all the time. How many times have you watched an athlete and either verbally or mentally said to yourself “Oh man ! That was a dumb move ! I would never have done that ! I would have done ______ !”  Krakauer mentioned, ” the motor regions of professional dancers’ brains show more activation when they watch other dancers compared with people who don’t dance.”  This will be the same for all athletes. This is the same neurologic phenomenon that also allows you to truly appreciate a movement when it is done with amazing skill and precision.  Think of Cirque du Soleil and you will instantly know what we mean.

Watching Slavik move in the video above is complex motor tasking at its best. Dancers are amazing athletes, they are not just dancers. They are much like martial artists. Take Capoeira for example. It is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance and music. It was created in Brazil mainly by descendants of African slaves with Brazilian native influences. It is a complex and feared martial art known by quick and complex moves, using mainly power, speed, and leverage for leg sweeps. It is a beautiful art, and a deadly art.

So, why does music make it that much better ? It is the same reason why weddings are less touching without music.  It is why music is used in church. It is why dance is paired with music.  Music stimulates the pleasure and reward areas of the brain, such as the orbitofrontal cortex, the ventral striatum and the cerebellum where timing, coordination and movement planning is performed. The combination of music with the motor task amplifies the reward zone in the brain. It is the task of trying to add timing and rhythm to movement that makes these activities that much harder, but that much more rewarding to the brain.  Runners who run with music, those who truly hear the timing and rhythm of the music and then use it in their workouts get a little something extra out of it. But sadly so many people “just listen” to the music instead of incorporating it into the movement.  A smart runner will vary the music and combine it with a run to vary tempo, cadence, speed etc.  That way the brain will be on fire and dish out rewards at a  new level. Dancers have no choice but to force the issue. We will sometimes use a metronome snapping of our fingers or clapping in the rhythm of a clients gait to help them hear the rhythm of their gait, particularly when it is arrhythmic due to pain or faulty biomechanics. We will do this so that it cues a heightened awareness in them. Seeing, feeling and hearing are all additive when sensory-motor relearning is concerned.

Gait and running are complex movements which we take for granted.  They are so automatized that we really do not realize how complex and amazing they are until something goes wrong or until someone brings the subtle flaws to our attention.  Maybe it is a stroke that compromises it, or maybe a neurologic disease like Parkinsons, or maybe it is as simple as a sprained ankle, a torn knee mensicus, a strained hamstring or a degenerative hip.  But any compromise to this complex sensory-motor task of ambulation immediately brings about a recognition that something is wrong to the skilled and aware observer. As in life, we do not appreciate something until something goes wrong with it.  Getting good at recognizing beautiful clean fluid gait and running is our job, and it is now your job. Now that you know better you cannot ignore gait in your clients, your artists, your athletes. Now that you know better, you must hold yourself to a higher level of expertise. Knowing what beautiful looks like will help you better understand what loss of beauty looks like.  It is what will make you better at understanding gait and human movement and locomotion and better at your chosen craft. It is what will heighten your appreciation of the amazing beauty of the human form and motion, whatever form it might take.

Shawn and Ivo.  Two guys who can see the beauty in movement, and who want you to see and feel it too.