What Is It?
Aston-Patterning is a system of physical training that focuses on four key areas: bodywork (including deep-tissue massage); movement re-education; fitness exercises; and design changes to the home and work environment (such as altering the height of furniture to suit a person’s particular needs). Its goal is to promote health and well-being by improving the way the body moves and functions.
Developed in the late 1970s by Judith Aston, a California teacher of dance and movement, Aston-Patterning has proved particularly beneficial for individuals with acute or chronic pain caused by poor posture or muscle tension. It has also helped dancers, athletes, and others increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their movement patterns. Because the Aston approach focuses on the entire person–mind, body, and spirit–there is no set treatment for managing a problem. Each patient is evaluated individually.
Aston’s system evolved after she experienced injuries in a car accident in the late 1960s. In need of rehabilitation, she underwent myofascial treatment with Ida Rolf at the Rolf Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and her health improved dramatically. Rolf then asked Aston to help her develop a movement education counterpart to Rolfing, which focused primarily on bodywork. Together the two women created a new program, called Rolf-Aston Structural Patterning, which Aston taught at the Institute from 1971 to 1977. Aston then broke away to pursue her own philosophy, which she named Aston-Patterning.
Unlike Rolfing, which focuses on body symmetry and alignment, Aston-Patterning is based on the belief that each human body is unique and that a healthy body actually develops asymetrically as it adapts to different kinds of work, recreation, and other activities. Teaching clients to distinguish between physical patterns that limit their movement choices (such as walking with one’s weight distribution off balance) and the unique asymmetric movement patterns inherent in their own bodies is essential to the Aston program.
Aston-Patterning sessions are generally one-on-one between patient and practitioner, and can last from one to two hours. The number of sessions needed depends on the severity of the problem, but chronic conditions may require one to four visits a month. A typical session may include massage and other types of bodywork to relieve tension; lessons in improving common movements–sitting, standing, bending, reaching, lifting, and walking, for example; exercises that loosen, stretch, and strengthen muscles; and ergonomically sound suggestions for modifying one’s home and work environment to encourage proper posture and efficient movement.
While there are no scientific studies to prove the effectiveness of Aston- Patterning, anecdotal evidence suggests that it can improve balance and posture, increase strength and endurance, speed recovery from injuries, and assist in the management of chronic conditions such as headache and back and neck pain. Psychotherapists also find the whole-body approach of Aston-Patterning a useful adjunct to their work.
How To Choose a Practitioner
Despite the fact that Aston-Patterning encompasses both massage and movement training, it is not available from standard bodywork practitioners or physical therapists. It is important to look for a practitioner who has completed the Aston-Patterning Practitioner certification program offered by the Aston Training Center in Incline Village, Nevada. Certification in Aston-Patterning consists of five 3-week segments with evaluations that include both written and practical examinations. Further postgraduate work is available in Aston Movement and Aston Massage.
At present there are certified Aston-Patterning practitioners in 15 states, with concentrations in California, Colorado, and Washington. A list of practitioners is available from the Aston Training Center.
Because you may be working closely with the practitioner for an extended period of time, it is important to schedule a get acquainted visit before making a commitment.
Be sure to tell the practitioner if you are experiencing exhaustion or pain during treatment.
If you have heart or respiratory problems, it’s important to check with your doctor before undertaking this therapy, because Aston-Patterning movements and exercises can be demanding,.
The deep massage employed in Aston-Patterning could prove dangerous if you have osteoporosis (brittle bone disease) or a tendency to bruise easily. It may also be painful if you have carpal tunnel syndrome. If you have diabetes or varicose veins, avoid massage of the legs and feet.
Avoid this therapy if you have a bleeding disorder, take anticoagulant drugs, or are undergoing long-term steroid therapy, which can make the tissues fragile.
Do not undertake the therapy if you are taking drugs that interfere with balance.
As with other forms of bodywork, muscle release can bring up unexpected emotional and psychological issues. Be sure to tell the practitioner what you are feeling; separate counseling with a psychotherapist may be advised.
David Edelberg, MD