My SI journey began with my desire as a physiotherapist to have a positive impact on public health in my community by encouraging people to be more physically active.
Exercise is one of the four pillars of physiotherapy and is well evidenced to play an important role in the prevention and management of many different conditions from depression to breast cancer. I began to work with local primary schools and different community groups to find ways of encouraging people to overcome some of the barriers to them living a physically active lifestyle.
Barriers such as lack of time, pain or motivation were the obvious hurdles I had considered, but I soon realised that for many people the barriers were more complex.
Sensory and motor problems were, for many people, impacting their ability to participate and enjoy physical activity. Asking the child with sensory issues, who dreaded PE lessons every week, to find a sport or type of exercise they could enjoy and access themselves regularly, was an almost impossible task without first addressing their whole needs.
I realised that I needed to extend my knowledge to be able to fully do my job properly, and I embarked on SI practitioner training. I’ve just recently completed module 2 and am looking forward to beginning module 3 next year. Through my studies I’m beginning to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of really looking at the bigger picture of somebody’s life, considering participation challenges, as well as looking at the detail, to help me think about the neuroscience and patterns of SI.
On September 8th Sensory Integration Education supported World Physical Therapy Day. This year’s theme was raising awareness of the importance of physiotherapy and particularly exercise for positive mental health. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health condition of some sort in their lifetime. There is now strong evidence that physical activity can both protect against the emergence of depression and treat depression.
As bestselling author Matt Haig says in his latest book, Notes on a Nervous Planet, “Mental health is intricately related to the whole body. And the whole body is intricately related to mental health. You can’t draw a line between a body and a mind anymore than you can draw a line between oceans. They are entwined…We are mental. We are physical. We are not split up into unrelated sections. We are not an existential department store. We are everything at once. Brains are physical”.
I am learning just how entwined physical and mental health are when thinking about SI. It’s impossible to ignore feelings such as anxiety, that many of the people we work with can experience as a result of SI difficulties. Recognising sensory and motor problems that impact on a person's motivation and ability to take part in play, exercise and acts of daily life is an important part of an SI trained physio’s skill set. Looking after physical and mental health (or maybe just health!) is important across the whole lifespan. Whether we work with children or older people, it’s important for us to be aware of the opportunity we have by addressing sensory needs, to support people to live longer, healthier lives.