Nuggets From Linda Scotson's Call
Posted by Pavi Mehta on Aug 25, 2020
Earlier this month we had the privilege of hosting a moving Awakin Call with Linda Scotson.
What follows below is a summary of Linda’s call and introduction to her inspiration and technique. We recommend that you read the summary below, and then review the following specific resources about her technique, which include recordings of subsequent video workshops she held with us:
- Trishna created this masterful PDF that distills detailed instructions on the different steps of the Linda Scotson Technique, along with contextual background information and clarifying tips, diagrams and illustrations.
- Here is the recording of the first practice session that Linda did with us after the Awakin call.
- We hosted a subsequent workshop series with Linda in November 2020, and here are the resources from that:
Context, Background, and Inspiration for Linda Scotson Technique:
Linda is an artist-turned-neuroscientist, and founder of the Linda Scotson Technique (LST) -- an approach that has restored functionality and well-being in the lives of thousands of people navigating a wide-range of health conditions. 41 years ago her son Doran's diagnosis of acute cerebral palsy catapulted Linda out of known life as an artist and into a journey that has now encompassed 20+ years of PhD research on the neuroscience of abnormal breathing, its adverse impact on the mind and body, and painstaking research and development of techniques to address these issues. In 1996, Linda founded a charity, Advance Centre, to support children with neurological issues and she has since expanded her work to support thousands of people. People of all ages, who have practiced the LST technique combined with the use of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy at Linda's center, have experienced consistent improvements across a broad range of neurological conditions including cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy and other brain injuries, as well as with issues like anxiety, insomnia, poor posture, hypertension, joint pain, respiratory illnesses, circulation problems, poor stamina and more.
Practicalities Emerge from the Heart's Direction: A Conversation with Linda Scotson
Tell us about Doran's birth and the beginning of your journey together.
Doran's father had died a few months before he was born. When the doctors told me my son was severely brain injured, they recommended that I put him in care. They told me he would never be able to sit, walk, speak or feed himself independently. They didn't think as a single parent I would be able to care for him. "If you do take him home," they said, "Give him phenobarbital or you won’t be able to rest because he will cry endlessly." It seemed to me as though I was going through a door into another world. I was left very much alone to do what I felt instinctively was right instead of what I’d been advised.
I felt the strong presence of both my children before they were born. I felt the love and respect I held for them and their personalities. I didn't think it was going to work to leave the hospital with Doran and Lili and resign myself to a life of unhappiness and limitation. No! I knew there were things that were life-supportive like love and joy. This wasn't linked to any kind of denial ---we had an adventure to go on together. I could feel that movement of life through me.
In the beginning Doran cried all the time, which I thought was a very sensible thing to be doing given that he couldn’t hear and couldn't see very well and was stiff. But on my body he stopped crying, and gradually as I carried him around with me I felt he was beginning to take an interest in the rhythms of daily life. I sensed that he was registering my heartbeats, my breath and my movements, and I thought these things were perhaps restoring vital information that his severe motor disability would otherwise have denied him. As soon as I perceived the difference this was making-- I pursued it.
How did your background play into what you noticed?
I was a child with a lot of energy, and a lot of questions. I remember being an infant in a pram and having a distinct sensation of wonder, "Why is my body so small?" I remember being able to sense the vastness of the energy around me that was manifested in my body. When I was four or five, I would ask the other children, "How do you know that you are the you that you are supposed to be?" I was surprised and excited to be alive, and wanted to find out what it meant without any restrictions placed on me. I talked to people very easily, which was curious because I had a bad stammer, but I wasn’t concerned about it. It seemed to break the ice even when I was quite small and standing at the bus stop. My father would say, "When she was born she only had her little voice to defend herself with and she’s been using it ever since."
Later I was trained in the arts and became an art teacher. When teaching life drawing I would tell my students their work must look as though its subject is breathing. It must convey a resistance to and interaction with, physical forces on the outside, and the sense of breath on the inside. Your work doesn’t have to be highly representational as long as the lines convey these characteristics. I was very visual and I could hold images in my mind. I could see how this relates to that in a broad context. I wasn't limited to a reductionist highly focused perspective-- I could zoom in and out and see how things cross referred. This is what you’re doing when you’re making a painting. So funnily enough it was the painting that trained me for my observations and work with Doran. I’d also read a lot of science and was interested in anything that would add to my overall world picture. I was alive and I wanted to know from all points of view what the interconnectedness of this experience could clarify for me.
I always knew I didn't want an easy life. That would be the most terrifying thing I could imagine. I wanted to be used fully in this life. I wanted to know my direction and my purpose. When I was young I would look at people who were suffering. I would try and take their experience into my body. I would try and make it feel better in me and then I would give it back to them. But I needed more opportunity-- I felt that there was a broader scheme to what I was here to do. When Doran was born I came to realize -- "Ah -- this is exactly what I asked for. This is how I can use what I have been trying to do all along.
Following her intuition, Linda investigated approaches outside the mainstream and gradually introduced Doran to a home-based program that involved twelve hours a day of various forms of neurological and intellectual stimulation geared towards meeting specific developmental targets. As Doran met these goals, new ones were set, and the rigors of the program leveled up. None of this was simple or straightforward. It would take a village to help implement the various program protocols and raise funds for various expenses. Linda's unwavering commitment and Doran's courage inspired just that. A colorful rotating band of friends and volunteers from near and far joined hands with theirs.
How did you find the strength to keep going?
Elemental forces! You could just look up at the sunlight through the leaves— something that was there, and receive strength from it. You know how in sentimental films sometimes the screen goes all fuzzy and then when it clears — suddenly it’s five years later? Sometimes I wanted the "five years later" -- but no, I was in the fuzzy times. I was on this journey. I was on the boat-- I couldn’t just get off-- there was sea all around! There were an awful lot of ups and downs —they make quite good copy. But something always buoyed me up. I felt everything in my life was all just part of what I had to learn. That feeling was quite strong.
I knew I wasn't going to always be understood. But I had Doran and I had Lili. And I had the Community Service Volunteers who were sent to help us -- they were all such colorful characters with challenges of their own -- and I felt at times like I was running a theatrical troupe -- it was fun and interesting and there was always such laughter. We were all learning together.
Also -- I had a huge amount of support from Lili. I saw many other children in parallel situations to her -- and their enormous contribution wasn't really valued -- they had incredible humanity and I wanted to write our story from Lili's point of view and meet other families where the support of another child in the family had been so vital to the success of that family's integrity really. The huge responsibility that these children take on-- it's so unseen! All they really want in return through it all, is for somebody to say to them at night, "Thank you. Thank you. You did really well." Just to be appreciated -- with the lightest touch.
[Lili currently works side-by-side with Linda -- an arrangement Linda refers to as "blissful". You can read more of her own courageous health journey with Linda here.] Against the doctors' grim predictions --- by the age of six, Doran was not only walking, he was a deeply engaged and social little boy. But his movement still remained abnormal, and with bilateral hearing loss, he still couldn’t speak.
Where did you go from there?
The two books I’d written about Doran and Lili had become bestsellers. There weren't many people who had gone against the grain in this way, so there was an awful lot of publicity and Doran’s development was known to a lot of people. But as time went on I felt things had come to a standstill. I had a lot of ideas of my own, but wasn’t sure how to further develop them as a layperson. I talked to a lot of clinicians and they would discuss things with me, assuming I was a clinician. After a while they'd ask, “What department are you from?" and I would say, "I’m a mother.” I said that deliberately because I think it’s a very high status, but not one that's always applauded. They would back off in terror then, because they’d had this in-depth conversation with somebody who was such an outsider.
Someone lent me a television — I didn’t have one — and one day I happened to catch a program on the brain featuring a scientist named Professor Patrick Wall. He was the head of Cerebral Studies department at the University of London (a department that is gone now). He was a powerful but often frustrated proponent of brain plasticity and had done a huge amount of work in this field. The neuroscience that Professor Wall was talking about was largely based on studies of adults with strokes, and adult rats. These subjects had already developed their respiratory systems, and when they were put in enriched environments where they could move and explore and exercise and stimulate the respiratory system-- this seemed to be enough to change the neuronal and synaptic development and help restore them. But brain-injured children haven’t had this chance to develop their respiratory systems— and I didn’t know this for sure, but by this time I had decided from my own observations, that the problem for people with brain injuries, was not so much the brain, but the failure of the respiratory system to supply the nutritional oxygen needs necessary to rebuild developmental processes adequately. I began to hypothesize about how as a result of this lack, other organs of the body might also be underdeveloped.
I sent Professor Wall a copy of my book and he was really charming and said, "Come and see me." And I paid him a visit and explained to him what I saw and he could have said, "Oh gosh you’re talking rubbish!" But instead he said, “It’s really interesting what you’re saying, and I think there’s another way of saying it which you might prefer..." and he began to put it in this very elegant language. Then he helped me set up a study with a neurologist from the Department of Child Health. I was in my early forties. Doran was about nine, and I had been at this stuff alone for a long time so it was a lovely opportunity.
The charming Professor Wall was a legend in his field. A pioneer in the science of pain and suffering, he was part of the duo who postulated the gate control theory. Under his mentorship, Linda became a PhD Qualifier at UCL-- this meant she was able to study three years in one and then embarked on research leading to a doctorate. The plan was to eventually incorporate her findings and the therapeutic approach emerging from them, into the NHS. In the midst of looking at oxygen as a possible epigenetic trigger, Linda also met Dr Phillip James who was pioneering hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Dr James was impressed enough by her knowledge to invite her to train in hyperbaric oxygen therapy management at Dundee University Hyperbaric Faculty. Over the years Linda traveled widely around the country, meeting and observing children with severe neurological injuries, and talking with their parents. She carried out numerous statistical studies whose findings all supported her hypothesis that abnormal brain development affects breathing quality-- that in turn adversely affects numerous other developmental processes, but she still had no therapeutic answer.
What is the connection between breathing and the brain?
For the first six months of life the diaphragm is the only muscle the baby uses to breathe. But even before that journey begins there is a four month period of what is called fetal breathing-- neurological signals from the respiratory center cause the diaphragm to move, it engages the lungs, and the diaphragm's pressure against the lungs switches on genetic material in the lung cells. Conversely these light pressures against the blood vessels in the diaphragm help to develop its fatigue resistant fibers-- because it has to go on!
Also the diaphragm’s movement acts as a pump, it helps pump deoxygenated blood from the brain back to the heart, and helps replenish it with oxygenated blood. The amount of oxygenated blood that can get to the brain is determined by the amount of deoxygenated blood that can be removed by your diaphragm pump. And the same occurs for the internal organs and the limbs. If there is a drop of oxygen before birth —a sacrifice of blood supply from the diaphragm and lungs (the oxygen reservoirs) will be made to save the brain. There are many people who have small vulnerabilities as a result of this, even if there is no obvious neurological concern. In more severe cases of oxygen deprivation this situation might result in a clear lesion in the brain and also a weakness in the respiratory pump— this affects movement one way or another (whether you have the lesions in an area of the brain directly responsible for movement, or an area that affects cognition.)
These things are so interconnected they really cannot be separated. Human development is a question of connection, connecting the physical systems inside and connecting all the external information outside. These interactions determine the infants health and capacities later in life.
Can you share more about the role of the diaphragm?
The diaphragm is the forgotten organ of western medicine. It's a dome-shaped, muscular structure between our thoracic and abdominal cavities, and the primary muscle for respiration. It is also a circulatory muscle. In addition to influencing the delivery to, and uptake of oxygen in the brain, the diaphragm helps maintain the body’s acid alkaline balance, it influences lymph flow promoting immunity and removal of toxins. It also modulates breath patterns in response to signals from higher brain centres. A strong diaphragm easily coordinates our varied and ever-changing oxygen needs. As a postural muscle, its strength gives the strong core needed to support movement and posture and keep internal organs healthy.
When you’re born the diaphragm is still flat and weak.The baby’s job is to develop this organ. It does this through small movements. With time, and healthy development, the diaphragm will change shape and position in the body, facilitating the strength and structural growth that allows us to crawl and stand and walk. The diaphragm is also vitally important for speech.
Diaphragm weakness can be caused by a wide-range of triggers-- among them -- stress to the foetus before birth, physical and emotional trauma, grief, surgery and anaesthetics, fevers, malnutrition in early life, mother's pre-respiratory illnesses, and stressful exercise. Regardless of cause, a weak diaphragm causes adaptations in breathing, circulation and posture creating many different problematic physical symptoms. It may trigger emotional breathing patterns that lock an individual into undesirable, misunderstood patterns of thought and behaviour.
As a spiritual and emotional organ, the diaphragm holds the power of connection between you and the physical world you perceive through your senses. Diaphragm breathing brings freedom from anxieties, and compulsions, it facilitates a balanced and resilient mind, enhances the feeling of connection and allows one to respond with love. This ability to trust in oneself and to reach out to others reflects the strength of the diaphragm’s ability to maintain and coordinate it’s amazing and complex roles. Oh-- and the diaphragm is also the main organ of laughter!
How did you come up with LST?
Everything I learned and observed was indicating that I needed to start directly engaging Doran's diaphragm-- but I still didn’t know how to do it. And then in the midst of looking at oxygen as a possible epigenetic trigger, the clarity of what to do suddenly appeared so obviously before me as if someone had just put it down on the desk as it were. All the puzzle pieces moved into place. I knew breathing pressures affect the switching on of genes, blood circulation and oxygen delivery to the brain. I also knew that the major source of these pressures come from the work of diaphragm. In trying to recreate that pressure, typical physical exercise wasn't going to be effective-- because in that mode of activity a great deal of the blood supply is diverted to the other skeletal muscles. I needed the diaphragm to take priority-- the way it does in a baby (such that the diaphragm is developed and strengthened before the other skeletal muscles.) The obvious thing to do then was to try and create a pressure on Doran's diaphragm that would be the equivalent of the kind of pressure a healthy baby would create through its natural movement and breathing patterns. This meant the therapeutic pressures I used needed to be soft and light like a breath -- and they needed to move round the rib-cage to enhance the quality of the diaphragm.
We know that the body is mostly water— so I had to think of a wave-like pressure that was very gentle and it had to work on the fluids rather than the tissue or organ or muscular mass. To be clear -- this is not a laying on of hands-- there is a specific movement that you’re engaging in. I began to play around with this with Doran and myself. Slowly I got to the point that the changes I was seeing were clear enough. The sensations I was receiving when applying the movement to myself, indicated that I was affecting blood volume in the diaphragm. And as the diaphragm became stronger it was able to work in so many other roles.
The Linda Scotson Technique (LST) is essentially a series of very light-touch, gentle, pulse-like massages to the diaphragm that increase microcirculation (blood flow through the tiny arteries and capillaries that serve our body tissues.) The pressures mimic the pulses made by the physical pressures of healthy breathing on these blood vessels, and the pumping activity of the diaphragm, to return deoxygenated blood to the heart. This strengthens capillary walls and adds new capillary structures, thus increasing blood-carrying capacity within the diaphragm and lungs making them stronger, larger, and more effective organs.
Doran who was in his late twenties at the time, responded impressively to the new approach. His height rose from five feet eight to six feet as his breath expanded his spine. His posture was straighter, his speech clearer and richer....eventually he began running two half marathons a year. He is now 41 years old, and a talented artist.
Can you develop your diaphragm through regular exercise?
Typically what happens is, people say, “My breathing isn’t quite good-- let me go to the gym or yoga.” There are benefits here-- but also some problems, because if you have habituated alternative ways of breathing [as many of us have], and your diaphragm is weak, then the stress that is created on a respiratory system can’t quite comply with the demands being made on it. If you are not breathing and moving in a way that’s enhancing your diaphragm then physical exercise is going to be draining. There are many signs that can tip you off on this -- if your diaphragm isn't strong enough your posture shifts — for example maybe the head tilts to one side, or the shoulders are rounded.
Simply put it is more oxygen-demanding to move and think in uncoordinated ways. The more disorganized your movement, and breathing, the more problematic your joints are going to be because they aren’t flushed out, and the more likely you are to feel panic.
Because breathing is so central to all our life functions- the respiratory system is constantly juggling diverse needs [respiratory, circulatory, postural, emotional etc] and compromising in little ways. Over time this gradually degrades our health. And then you forget that it could ever be as it was before. The health of your respiratory system connects you to the joy of life —it enhances your sense of taste, it results in better vision, it puts a spring in your step-- and so much more.
In 1996, Linda founded a charity, Advance Centre, to support children with neurological issues and she has since expanded her work to support thousands of people with a wide range of physical and mental health conditions. The website hosts a rich repository of stories shared by grateful parents, as well as telling before and after photographs of many of Linda's young clients. The story of her center and its connection to her son's journey are beautifully captured in this 2-minute video.
Can you share some of the typical benefits people without acute conditions experience?
Adults report almost immediate improvement in sleep after starting LST. There are also benefits to digestion and mobility of their body, and release from tension and anxiety. People who tend to be stressed out feel the effects of LST almost instantaneously. Simply by focusing on the diaphragm they feel calmer and better. Other effects take slightly more time. If for instance your ribs are flaring, or if the shoulders are placed forward, and you can see the plumb line of the body isn’t quite right-- within three to six months of practicing LST you’ll begin to see a shift in these things— or other people will notice because you carry yourself better and you enjoy movement more— you’re not doing it because it’s a duty. Nobody stands over a baby and says-- no pain no gain— you have to do all these developmental exercises! The baby does it for pleasure. This technique is pleasurable — it is lovely to have it done for you, but even when you do it for yourself it can feel like a caress when you need it. It is important to enjoy life. And it is amazing what you can enjoy. We all potentially have so much-- that's the generosity of spirit we possess.
What do you mean by that generosity of spirit?
The generosity of spirit means you don't blame yourself and you don't blame others. You look for the creative way out of the situation, you look for where the light is and you find yourself being nourished by this. Humor is very very helpful -- that's also a kind of generosity of spirit. As soon as you laugh you forgive the person everything. I always had this capacity you know to see the energy in fields of beauty -- in the sunlight through the leaves, and the countryside. I wouldn’t define myself as belonging to any religion as such. But there's this word Love... this gentle open non-critical force that goes out and we seem to receive back from life through it. You can feel it around you even where it is not supposed to be.
What is your vision for your work at this juncture?
Parents today whose children experience challenges-- they are alone and afraid in a world that isn't offering them any direction or affirmation of hope. Our education and our systems teach and affirm disempowerment. It's how we are trained. We have forgotten how to trust our own judgement -- we have forgotten how the smallest inflections are meaningful, and communicating to us. There is so much that I would like to share with people-- but out of it -- the central idea is of being able to be empowered to trust your own judgement-- to trust your intelligence of heart and to trust the practicalities that emerge from the heart's direction. This is what love offers.
When I hug a mother who comes to me, I am saying to her, "I will walk with you on this journey as far as you want me to." That's what I have to offer. And they understand that, they can feel it. Fathers are wonderful -- but there is something very singularly wonderful about women. They have access to a love for their child that is not selfish, and from this can stem a huge empathy and respect that spreads out. This is a fundamental truth that we have not sufficiently recognized in our world. Behavioral Psychologists do not do it justice. It's such a tremendous power that hasn't been allowed into its fullness. We can't all be in the refugee camps and in the places of dire need, but...my sense is that what we can do is empower that mother, that woman who is full of love, recognize her dignity. Give her that little nudge that allows her to step into her power-- and imagine if we do this everywhere-- then we can all hold hands -- and everything that is common rushes between us.