Judith Aston is widely recognized as a pioneer in the art and science of kinetics for her discovery of the Aston® Paradigm and consequent development of the many forms of movement training, bodywork, fitness programs and ergonomics of Aston® Kinetics. In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren discuss Judith’s ability to see the body, her early career teaching movement and physical education, and when she had her eureka moment with body symmetry.
Aston Kinetics: www.astonkinetics.com
Aston Postural Assessment: https://www.astonkinetics.com/books-and-dvds/aston-postural-assessment-2nd-ed
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0:01:50.8 Darren Buford: I'm Darren Buford.
0:01:51.9 Kristin Coverly: And I'm Kristin Coverly.
0:01:53.2 DB: And welcome to the ABMP podcast, a podcast where we speak with the massage and body work profession. Our guest today is Judith Aston. Judith is widely recognized as a pioneer in the art and science of kinetics for her discovery of the Aston paradigm and consequent development of Aston kinetics. Aston kinetics is an educational system of movement, body work, fitness and ergonomics that aims to treat each person's body as unique and customizes the work to match. Rather than enforcing physical symmetry, Aston kinetics seeks to recognize which asymmetries are natural to a person's body and how to maximize their use when needed. Early in her career, Judith taught movement, physical education, and dance for performing artists and athletes at Long Beach Community College. In 1968 at the request of Dr. Ida Rolf, she developed the movement education program for Rolfing SI and taught this program for nearly a decade. Judith is an author, inventor of an array of ergonomic products and creator of movement and body work programs. She continues to teach Aston kinetics training and certification courses. For more information, visit astonkinetics.com. Hello, Judith. And hello, Kristin.
0:03:10.1 Judith Aston: Hi, Darren. Hi, Kristin.
0:03:12.0 KC: Hello, Judith. We are beyond thrilled to have you here with us on the ABMP podcast. Thank you so much for being with us. We are gonna jump right in and get to your story. So you've been developing new ways to reimagine and move our bodies within our world since 1970. Tell us how Aston kinetics got started. What's your origin story with that?
0:03:35.5 JA: Well, I have to start with this thing that happened to me around five years old. [laughter]
0:03:40.3 KC: Oh, all right.
0:03:41.6 JA: And that is, I never tried to do this. I don't even know why I was given this gift, but I could duplicate a person's pattern almost immediately at five years old. And so mother would say, "Who dropped this off?" And I'd say, "Oh, I didn't get her name, but she walked like this," and she'd go, "Oh, this is so and so from the PTA. Okay, fine." And so it was fascinating because it wasn't a study thing, it was somehow a present that I received because it has been the gift that has really helped me teach people this work, but also clients to see their body in a certain way and how it can change as well. So that was one of the really big things that contributed to this. And then, as you've said, Darren, I did go to UCLA and after I graduated from UCLA, let's see, I was hired by a college when I was 20.
0:04:39.4 JA: And I taught there for almost 10 years. And in the middle of that time, I was asked to create movement problems from many different systems. I got a reputation for building and creating movement programs. So I had to do that for the college, for the athletic department, for the music department, for the theater department, and they wanted me to create a dance department, so I was kind of like, okay, alright, now done that before. And I didn't have a template. So I am so happy that one of the gifts that I've been given is a high level of creativity, which sometimes is overwhelming because you have so many ideas going on and you need to hone them in to focus on one something, but it has allowed me to create many, many programs. That 1965 invitation was to work at a human potential resort where people would come like Esalen, this one was called Chiros.
0:05:42.1 JA: And I was also at Esalen, and the psychologist and psychiatrists that were leading these therapy sessions for people over the weekend would ask me to come in and do, be the movement lady, and quickly the movement lady [chuckle] was like, "Well, yes, I can teach them to breathe stronger. I can teach them to move," but really what I'm fascinated in is their character expression of their persona and and the emotion. And so suddenly that was really the focus. And I had to create according to like, I don't know if you know [0:06:21.9] ____, there's a...
0:06:24.6 JA: The person is in the hot seat and the therapist, the psychiatrist is in the other. And so they'll keep asking questions, and the audience, so to speak, would know the answers by watching the woman in the hot seat or the man in the hot seat. And I thought I wonder if I had a third chair that I called the observer and I had them sit in that, would they be able to see? And they did. So it was kind of like, wow, this is an interesting idea that we can get out of our persona expression that we're used to and get a different perspective and help ourselves. So that became one of the teaching techniques when I started working with private clients of Dr. Rolfs and so on, all how for them to see their bodies, how to let them see what they actually do without judgment, that somehow the events in your life have led you to this particular pattern.
0:07:24.0 JA: Your complaints are your low back while your complaints are your neck. Those are the tight places, but what else is going on that might contribute? So it was all of these different opportunities where people asked me to create. And then I went to Dr. Rolf in 1968 in April up to Big Sur to receive a session because I'd been in a very serious car accident. And as a dancer and a teacher of movement, this was not a good event to be dealing with because I was in such a sciatic pain and so on. And while the session... Well I sat under her doorstep for two days because she didn't have any openings. And so she would open the door every time and go, "You're still here?" [laughter] "Yeah, I am." And then one day she had a cancellation, so I got a session. But in the meantime, she must have asked, "Who is this very strange person that is sitting on my doorstep all day, these two days? What's going on? Should I be... Should I be cautious of this person? [laughter]
0:08:29.6 JA: And they said, "Oh, no, that's Judith, she teaches movement for us and everything and she done an event and she had an accident." So she brought me into that first session. And just so you know, I am a worse it comes to pain, I mean, if there is a 0.1%, that would be me. It's kind of like, "Uh, uh, uh, uh" [laughter] And Dr. Rolf said, "I haven't even started yet." [laughter] Come on anyway. And so she did this session, but every time she'd stop, I would move that part. It was just my instinctive. And I'd go, "Oh, that's better." And she'd say, "Well, of course it is, you know, of course that's what this work does, it changes the tissue and the fascia." And at the end of that session, she said, "Wait a minute, I'm going to ask you something."
0:09:20.0 JA: You know, I understand you create movement programs for different disciplines. I said, "Yes, I do." She said, could you create a movement program for my work? And I said, sure. I thought I was leaving at that point. [laughter] That she would get ahold of me when she wanted me to do something. She said, where are you going? And I said, oh, she said, well, I have to train you. And I said, train me in what? And she said, in Rolfing, instructional integration. And I said, oh, Dr. Rolf, I don't do massage. And I don't I... I don't think I've had a massage. And she said, no, in order for you to know what this is, you'll have to do the training. And it's 12 weeks. And it starts in six weeks. And then I said, and I had tickets to go to Europe and blah, blah. And it was my first time. I was quite excited, but Dr. Rolf was a triple tourist. And there was something about the way she looked at me when she said... I said I don't think I can change my plans. And she went, "I said, change it." [laughter]
0:10:35.2 DB: I love Dr. Rolf... I'd love Dr. Rolf's stories. [laughter]
0:10:39.5 JA: Yeah. And I said... I did a tiny little voice, "Okay." And so then I was, and I was in the back of the room at this house that was rented for the training, the six week training, the first one. And I was hiding, of course, didn't wanna be called on to either answer or be the model for anything. So I'd be hiding as far back in the room, leaning against the window, if I could. And the practitioners started coming back one at a time, and they would say, "What do you see? What do you see?" And I'd say, "Well, I see there's a tilt in the pelvis." And so they would go to their friend room and they say, "Well, Dr. Rolf I see there's a tilt in the pelvis. [laughter] And she goes, "Right." And they go, she's, "Very good, very good." And so on. But then she got wise to what was happening. [laughter]
0:11:27.5 JA: And I said, "Well, good thing I'm gonna create some classes for you because this can be taught how to see bodies." So the difference is that as a client and many times as a massage therapist or practitioner, we are drawn to the painful area that the client is focused on. And that's the client's focus. "All I wanna do is get rid of my back pain. I'll pay you a lot of money if you can get rid of my back pain. It's that important to me." So what happened was I created these three classes for Dr. Rolf, one was the beginning movement, one was teaching Rolfing practitioners in training, how to see body patterns, and the third one was teaching Rolfing trainees how to use their body mechanics so they could get more leverage and save their body for a longer duration in the field. And so those classes started in '71 and I taught all of those classes guide through '77.
0:12:34.9 DB: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.
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0:13:49.4 DB: Now let's get back to the podcast. Judith, the first course in your Aston patterning certification program is the Aston postural assessment course, which introduces learners to the Aston paradigm. Is that what you just discussed with us, the beginning of that assessment? Or can you go into more detail exactly about what the Aston paradigm is?
0:14:12.4 JA: I would be remiss if I didn't just at least mention the Aston postural assessment workbook.
0:14:16.1 DB: Perfect.
0:14:18.7 JA: That teaches people how to draw the patterns and how to notate them and how to look at the relationships. So that course, the 101 Aston postural assessment, 101, the life course or all online teaches people about seeing the body patterns, which I think is essential.
0:14:40.5 KC: Yes.
0:14:40.9 JA: And that is part of the paradigm because if you just do, and I think everybody, when they're learning massage and all the different body work techniques, they need protocols in order to learn them. But once you learn the protocols and you become efficient and able to kind of link things together, it seems like you really need the problem solving skills. And so some of the things that became really important to me were seeing and palpation and assessing how to notate, et cetera, etcetera, and create a session plan for the person that you can perform on that session. And you create a new one every time, every time. What led to this whole paradigm change, and actually I was presenting at a conference when someone called it that, the Aston paradigm, that it was so different. And I said, I appreciated that. And to go back to some of the things that I had said in those presentations that I did was, for example, there were just life-changing moments for me.
0:16:00.1 JA: I was looking at the plumb line at 90 degrees going through the ankle up to the ear, and I said, "Wow, that's the plumb line. That's how it dissects, bisects the front and back of the body." But actually equidistant from the Calcaneus to the line, equidistant forward, doesn't include the toes or the very front part of the foot. I wonder why. I think we're supposed to have the foot fully support us. And then I said, yeah, because the length of the support, the foot supports the depth of the body and the width of the support and the placement of the foot supports the width and length of the body and so on. And the arch support, if it's new to a supports, the vertical length and so on. And so then that idea came and then that influenced why I started designing shoes on [chuckle] because a lot of shoes were pronating, not only by the fact that the shoe on the ball of the foot comes in and I understand in the 1800s or something you had to pay extra for that foot to be curved in to get your shoes made.
0:17:17.6 JA: But anyway, and so that was one of the significant pieces. And then, I had never met or seen a body that was symmetrical. So I didn't know why I was being asked to do the same thing on the right as the left. And I didn't know why I was to be so happy when they looked symmetrical at the end of the session. And then I realized that sometimes I was scolding them because I was passing along what I was taught, which was you needed a skyhook and you needed to reach for it, and you needed to tuck your pelvis, and you needed to have your elbows in a certain place and so on. And that came to life. When I was teaching a class, I had 20 students in a class and I was teaching, and I opened the door to enter the classroom.
0:18:08.2 JA: And everybody went, and they went on hold and almost went out, the waistline went back, top of the head went up, and I said, "Oh, you guys, I'm so sorry, I forgot something in my car. I'll be right back." I closed the door. I counted to five, opened the door again, and they went like that again and I said, "Oh my, something is drastically wrong. At the moment you see me, you add a holding pattern that is unacceptable to your wellbeing. This is frightening that I'm teaching this." So I realized that the egg, the proverbial egg cracked in a million pieces, and I said, "I gotta start over again. What is this about?" And then I was working with a client when I lived in South Sweden, that was '72 to '88 or something, he said, "Well, you keep talking about the body being asymmetrical, Judith, what makes you say that?" I said, "I don't know, but I have never met a body symmetrical, and there seems to be a tendency. I... Not always.
0:19:15.5 JA: I'm not doing the research, so I can't give you any statistics. I can only pass along ideas for other people to pick up, and they do their research. But the point is, I've seen this tendency at the left side of the body being a little taller and slightly narrower and the right side of the body being a little lower and slightly wider. And I don't know why I see so much of that tendency, not always." And so I finished the session. He was putting on his street clothes. I went out to my book and I yelled in delight because my Netter anatomy book had been open to a certain page by my window being open, to the organs. And there they were, asymmetrical, in sides, in placement, the two lobes on the left, three lobes on the right, slightly wider, lower, blah, blah, blah. And I mean, eureka! Maybe this is what's supposed to happen, that we are slightly asymmetry. I would, oh, and as soon as it came out of my mouth, I said, and I'm getting chills, "It's the asymmetry that keeps us moving. There we are." And ideas like that. And they go on and on. But you told me that we only have five hours together, Aston. [laughter]
0:20:39.8 KC: Well, I just wanna say a big thank you to that gust of wind and your Netter book. Right? So that's perfect. So Judith, I'm curious, you have so much wonderful information to share. You teach assessment, movement, hands-on techniques, palpation and body mechanics on and on, more and more. I'm curious, what are your overarching principles behind working with the body? Basically, what do you want practitioners to think about when they're working with clients?
0:21:08.0 JA: Number one is that everybody is unique and every history is unique, and the priorities in the moment are unique, and the pain level sometimes overrides everything. And so I want the client to know and have ways to listen to their person, their client, their student so that they can invite information without judgment, just collect information. And that the practitioners that we train have a wealth of information gathering that they collect in order to start to decipher, to decide and design a session for that person. And they need to be able to assess, so the assessment skills is being able to see a pattern in stationary balance and in motion and in the task that is most challenging. So if you sit at the computer, let's see exactly how you sit and so on and so forth.
0:22:16.6 JA: They need to be able to palpate, to read what's hyper and hyper through and through the body. They need to be able to watch this person move and say, "Wow, those low tone areas move so much more than that high density of toned areas." So it's creating a ricochet of movement on an area that's already compromised where stillness meets motion often. They need to be able to create a lesson plan from the skill sets they've been trained with us to select from movement designs for change, movement designs for learning, movement designs for application, how you carry that child on your left hip while trying to cook and work, you know, some of those puzzles that people come in, people are really thrown by them. They say, well, you, you can't do that that way. You have to sit correctly when you do the computer and so on and it's not life. So we need to train on our people to have a wealth of information to draw from. But all these skill sets and these principles of matching what is, not trying to correct everything, matching what is and seeing how to facilitate someone coming alone.
0:23:43.4 JA: Another concept and principle is there's always a way, there's always a way to improve or change or learn from this practitioner how to negotiate. We might suggest you change your style of your gate to not exacerbate this situation every time you step with the left foot, and how you can do that is by changing the length of the step, but also by stepping a little wider on your right so the right side... I mean, on your left, so the right side goes forward, left side goes out, right side goes forward. And that matches your pattern for today. And people go, "I'm blown away. It doesn't hurt." And it's because we train people how to see the body pattern to evaluate it, train the person to evaluate it so they can problem solve for themselves.
0:24:40.4 DB: Judith, can you describe what a movement session is like with you?
0:24:45.8 JA: So, a movement session, let's see, for example, if someone comes in who teaches Pilates and they have this particular pattern in their body and the assessment is the same, listening to their... Reading their intake and looking at photos and listening to their story, watching them do a few exercises of the pilates, seeing what the tendency is there. And because I, I mean, I developed a problem for pilates teachers called Aston for Pilates and Aston for Yoga, and so on and so forth where they, they use these concepts of ours to facilitate some of their teaching. But you know, you ask, now do you need to do that? Oh yes. You have to push here first, and then you go, okay, thank you. That's the rule. That's the rule of how it was taught to them, for example. So there are ways that you begin to negotiate. Okay. So if you're sweaty pushing on your feet, would it be okay if I just have you oscillate between the two feet slightly? And suddenly that jiggle is enough to keep the body juicy all the way up while they do that. And they go, "Wow, that works. And I won't even be caught for cheating" [laughter] 'cause it's so subtle.
0:26:10.9 JA: But that would be an application. The movement lesson would be, what is it that is in their body right now that feels like it's controlling? And does it need to loosen or does it need to tone? So that will determine how we move through this session. But if it's about breath, a lot of people, they function on their lung capacity when they're focused on breath, but the intercostals and those three different layers that go three different directions and the ribs that are held in certain patterns or compressed with internal rotation of the shoulders and the weight of the arms to the anterior part of the chest, there's so many things that influence and control the amount and the quality of our breathing. So we just try to address all of these things and it's one of the reasons that our trainings are like six weeks at a time for the certifications of certain things. And these days, people don't seem to have time. Life is moving so quickly and some of it can't replace six weeks, can't be replaced by two. But two weeks or two hours is a start, two minutes sometimes is a start.
0:27:33.0 JA: So we're negotiating all of that as I'm sure all people are, both people that wanna participate as well as people who are training. So a movement lesson then can be everything from selecting from the different fitness programs I've designed and created and teaching them to people to add to their repertoire. Movement lesson could be singing. I've worked with opera singers and sometimes... Well, I worked with many singers, but sometimes I'm able to do that in front of the class, or invite someone in to observe. And when that professional opera singer can take that aria because of her new body usage and understanding how to use ground reaction force to push off the earth to make that last sound go and go and go, and then break into tears when she finishes it, and the class is full of yelling and applauding, you go, "It's a gift to share."
0:28:37.2 DB: I wanna thank our guest today Judith Aston. To find out more information about Judith's work, visit astonkinetics.com. Thanks, Judith. This has been amazing experience for us.
0:28:49.3 KC: Judith, thank you so much for everything you've shared with us today, but also everything you've done for our profession. We truly appreciate you.
0:28:58.3 JA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
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