Aston-Patterning is an integrated system of movement education, bodywork, ergonomics, and fitness training. It assists individuals with using their bodies more efficiently to release tension and pain and to improve posture and movement.

The premise is that an injury or dysfunction in one part of the body causes the rest of the body to compensate in ways that reinforce the original symptoms. All movement is considered a three-dimensional, ascending or descending, asymmetrical spiral, due to the body’s asymmetries and the play of gravity and ground reaction force. For any activity, an optimal base of support comes from the legs while standing and the pelvis while sitting. The width, depth, and length of this base of support vary according to the task, ensuring an adequate foundation for the body segments above to prevent strain or injury.

Aston-Patterning teaches that the basic components of all movements are weight transfer, rocking across the hinge joints of the legs and pelvis, and matching flexion and extension of the spine, arms, and legs. Understanding these movements and how to combine and sequence them for a given activity results in added support for the whole body, better use of momentum, better shock absorption, and more stability and mobility.

In 1963, with a B.A. and M.F.A. in dance from the University of California, Los Angeles, Aston started a movement education program for athletes, dancers, and actors at Long Beach City College in California. Exploring the way movement communicates emotion, she worked with psychotherapists to develop a format of body consciousness to assist in the therapy process.

Needing rehabilitation after two car accidents, Aston sought treatment with Ida Rolf in 1968. Rolf’s myofascial treatment, called Rolfing, facilitated Aston’s recovery and expanded her understanding of how the body can change. Rolf asked Aston to develop a movement education counterpart to Rolfing to help patients preserve the changes they achieved. Aston taught students how to make patients aware of and change the ways they move their bodies in work and play and how to use their bodies with minimum effort and maximum precision. These contributions to Rolfing became known as Rolf-Aston Structural Patterning.

BY the mid -1970s, Aston had added environmental modification to her work. She maximize patient comfort by adding their chairs at work, using pillows in sleep postures, and modifying their use of sports equipment. This work devloped into a line of products designed to help maintain alignment while sitting or exercising.

Aston abandoned her linear viewpoint of bodywork in favor of three-dimensional spiral patterns, in which she perceived retained tension. She taught patients to release this tension by incorporating their asymmetries in to their movements, rather than resisting their nature by moving in straight lines. Increasingly aware that her paradigm differed from Rolfing, she dissolved the Patterning Institute associated with Rolfing in 1977 and continued to develop her work as Aston-Patterning.

There are three aspects to Aston­Patterning: neurokinetics, bodywork, and ergonomics. Neurokinetics, the movement education aspect, begins with learning more efficient and less stressful ways of performing the simple movements of everyday life and progresses to more complex activities. All aspects of the movement work aim to evoke easy and efficient activity.

The bodywork aspect consists of Aston massage, myokinetics, and arthrokinetics. The massage uses non compressive touch to help release functional holding patterns (patterns of tension that are maintained by the nervous system and have not yet created physiologic change in Connective tissue) from both superficial and deep layers. Myokinetics uses precise strokes to release structural (more strongly held) holding patterns in the fascial network. Arthrokinetics addresses structural holding patterns at bone and joint surfaces.

The ergonomics aspect of Aston-Patterning identifies environmental factors (such as seating conditions and shoe type) that may be compromising body structure. The practitioner then suggests ways of changing body usage or modifying objects to make them more body friendly:

Another aspect of Aston-Patterning is Aston fitness training, which includes vertical and horizontal loosening (self-massage techniques), toning, stretching, and cardiovascular fitness.

Aston-Patterning draws on all of these tools as needed. Patients are taught to be more self-aware, so that they can understand the source of their tension and movement. The diversity of techniques available helps them neutralize the negative effects of past history on their body and move into more knowledgeable and comfortable patterns.

Benefits And Uses of Aston-Patterning

Aston-Patterning is a noninvasive technique used in people with injuries involving the spinal axis, peripheral joints, and multiple pain sites. It can be an adjunct to physical therapy and medication or can be used in place of other treatment for an active rehabilitation approach. When the body’s segments legs, pelvis, spine, shoulder girdle, head, and neck are optimally aligned, movement becomes easier and more natural.

This treatment is considered useful in clients such as dancers or runners who encounter chronic overuse problems. It’s considered particularly helpful in individuals who have anterior knee pain

(chondromalacia), chronic piriformis syndrome, chronic adductor strains, and a variety of lumbar and sacroiliac joint problems. There may be potential for using Aston work for the prevention of pain, joint wear and tear, and so forth, caused by stressful body use.

How the treatment is performed

An Aston-Patterning session begins with a patient history (physical, psychological, and emotional), a review of everyday activities (work, home, sports, and leisure activities), and a discussion of when or where the patient feels fatigue or pain.

A baseline pretest follows usually a basic activity, such as walking, sitting, standing, reaching, bending, or lifting, or a particular problem activity such as using a keyboard. This enables the practitioner to visualize some aspect of the client’s movement abilities and potential for improvement. To make the patient aware of his movements during the activity, the practitioner may call attention to details, such as how the hand is held when keyboarding, what position the shoulders take as they move, or how the foot is planted on the ground. Movement education or bodywork is included in virtually every session to release unnecessary tension and make the new movement easier and more efficient. Continual emphasis on self-awareness gives the patient the knowledge to keep the changes as part of future patterns of movement. During pretesting, the practitioner makes a chart of the client’s postural alignment and tension holding patterns. A new chart is made at each session to document the patient’s progress.

Posttesting essentially repeats the pretesting movements, allowing the patient to see and feel the changes that have taken place and to integrate them into daily life. If the session focused on arm and shoulder movements, the client may apply the new movements to a golf swing or to computer keyboarding.

Side Effects of Aston-Patterning

Aston-Patterning drills and exercises can be extremely demanding. A client with a heart condition or respiratory problems should check with his health care provider before undertaking this form of therapy. The program can be adjusted to meet the needs of older adults, those in poor health, and patients with special rehabilitation requirements.

The deep massage employed in Aston­Patterning could be an issue if the patient has osteoporosis or a tendency to bruise easily. If the client has a bleeding disorder, takes anticoagulants, or is undergoing long-term steroid therapy, which can make the tissues fragile, Aston-Patterning may not be an appropriate therapy.

For people in good physical condition most complications are the result of overly intensive training. Exhaustion and pain are the principal problems.

Clinical considerations

  • Ask patient if he has a heart condition or respiratory problems before he begins this form of therapy.
  • Advise patient to voice any pain or discomfort during the sessions. The experienced practitioner will know how hard to push and when it’s best to stop.
  • Counsel patient with circulation problems, such as those resulting from diabetes or varicose veins, not to receive deep massage in the legs and feet.
  • The Aston Fitness Program may be a useful approach to physical fitness training for the elderly.
Research summary

The concepts behind the use of Aston­Patterning and the claims made regarding its effects have not yet been validated scientifically.