The Neuro Mobility Assessment Procedure (N-MAP) was developed to:
- resolve the adverse impact of immobility upon physical capability,
- restart the lagging or stalled recovery of prior injuries from non-use,
- enable the positive effect of improved mobility upon physical performance,
- effectively communicate the brain-body changes which achieve the above,
- establish science-based professional licensure for assessing mobility issues.
Why do you hurt, ache and why can you not move as well as you once could? Why does this improve for some through physical exercise but worsen for others? How does this downward spiral of lost mobility become entrenched over time, so that the harder you work, the more dysfunctional your situation becomes?
Based upon the N-MAP Founder’s own recovery from childhood language impairment, joint disease and obesity, as “patient zero”, Scott B. Sonnon was forced to find a way to restore mobility, facilitate recovery and enable and sustain high functioning performance.
In the 1990s, he refined his approach working at the Center for Neurobehavioral Health helping children with brain damage and mental illness restore motor function through remapping their ability to think about movement, through one of the earliest forms of applied neuroplasticity.
Scott created N-MAP to address the holistic changes which occur in the brain and body due to immobility. His method, N-MAP, is essentially a chronicle of that journey, a distillation of “best practices” in the discipline he pioneered: mobility. N-MAP is also a refinement of his educational delivery of that method to tens of thousands worldwide.
Movement is a Map in your Brain
Your movement is determined by your thoughts. You are, quite literally, shaped by how you think; and further, you move exactly like you think.
Each of your thoughts are specific brain maps: neurological patterns which fire whenever you use that particular thought. Repeat a thought, and it becomes easier to repeat. You become “skilled” at a thought:
- The neural connections of that network become more “attractive” so they strengthen their specific activation over repetitive use.
- The thin-fatty coat around the network grows thicker, so they increase the speed and accuracy of firing.
- The more that you fire those networks, the more impervious they become to competing signals. The map becomes resistant to decay.
Muddy In - Muddy Out
Unfortunately, your brain’s mobility map is often imprecise, to no fault of its own. Your brain’s digital image of itself becomes skewed, by mis-use (inaccurate practice), and by over-use of merged patterns.
Since your brain is highly economical, it fires multiple patterns across the same pathways. It borrows highways to send signals to many destinations. Like highways, travelers are often driving at the same time, cause accidents, and create traffic jams. Like an unclearly defined trip, a signal can get confused when the map is blurry.
You brain doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. When you allow yourself to drive your car on auto-pilot, you arrive at the wrong destination because you were not paying attention and you took the most frequently traveled path. Your brain maps for movement are like this, too. When you don’t pay perfect attention (yes, perfect), you can make a wrong turn, and take the long way to your destination, or worse, get into an accident.
When your movement map is muddy, the path the signal travels when you call upon that map becomes muddy as well: muddy in - muddy out. This muddy movement is the product of a murky brain map.
Although in recent years, mobility as a discipline, has been diluted into a collection of physical drills intended to “magically” correct movement, in order for your brain to clean a movement, you must clarify the brain’s map.
Let’s discuss the muddiest map of all, the map which causes 80% of functional musculoskeletal problems: your posture.
The Quicksand of Changing your Posture Map
Although you began as a child with perfect posture, many factors cause your posture to change over time.
- Lack of education of correct posture
- Social and familial influences
- Environmental insults
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Occupational demands
- Joint stiffness from sitting
- Diet and Nutrition
- Decreased fitness
- Specialized / non-varied activities
- Muscle weakness and tightness
- Poorly designed ergonomic work stations
For the sake of conciseness, let’s address this in simple terms, as they all have a common problem: each of these influences muddy the brain’s map of your bodily posture. The most common issue is sitting.
You’re Sitting Yourself to Death
Recent research published in Diabetes Care revealed that increased sitting was independently associated with insulin resistance, diabetes, and impaired glucose tolerance. Research published in Diabetologia found those who sat for the longest periods of time were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease compared to those who sat the least. Sitting for more than eight hours a day has also been associated with a 90 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes. (Ann Intern Med. 2015;162(2):123-132) Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology also showed that those who sit for 10 or more hours a day may have a significantly greater risk of developing heart disease than those who sit for five hours or less.
Findings presented at the 2015 Inaugural Active Working Summit found sitting increases:
You’ve become Chair-Shaped - and Reinforce Dysfunction through Exercise
The seated position of your body is a map that fires in your brain: the more that you engage this map in your brain, the stronger, faster and more dominant that map becomes. This is simple adaptation.
When you stand up, and try to engage the map of your standing posture with dynamic locomotion, the map of your seated and standing posture merge: they stop being clearly distinct (in a process called de-differentiation). They become a little of one, and a little of the other. In other words, your posture has changed for the worse.
To your brain, the map of standing and the map of sitting have become muddy. When you try to fire one map, the other indiscriminately activates the other. Over repeatedly un-differentiated firing, the two maps merge: your standing posture begins to outwardly look like your seated posture. Your standing map becomes “chair-shaped.”
When You Get Caught in a Brain Trap
The quicksand of changing posture is that, if you don’t clean out and clearly distinguish the two merged maps, the harder that you try to change your posture, the more effort that you apply to stand and move around, the more embedded the muddy maps become.
In old functional fitness, this was called “strengthening dysfunction”. Exercise science didn’t understand neuroscience at the time, and to a large degree, still cannot, because it views the body and brain as distinct. But to your brain, your body is merely its own extended sensory information gathering system. If that information collection is skewed, then its self-image is distorted. Your body can’t change what your brain doesn’t recognize.
Those two maps - of seated and standing postures - become unrecognizably merged. They are not “differentiated” as separate maps, so they indiscriminately fire when you’re standing or moving. The more you fire it, the stronger, faster and more dominant it becomes.
This leads to greater physical dysfunction - even worse posture - and with downstream effects on all of your performance and well-being. It’s quicksand. The harder you try to exercise your way out of it, the stronger, faster and more dominant those un- differentiated merged maps become. The more you exercise without clear differentiation between seated and standing postures, the more it indiscriminately activates when you do anything, so the stronger the merged pattern becomes, and the faster the situation declines.
Until you’re injured, and you are forced to take a complete break. You lay down horizontally while ill or injured, and that shifts you away from your merged seated/ standing maps. So you recover, and begin to feel better, not in pain, and more functionally capable. But then, you return to your adopted seated posture, and muddy standing map, and the de-differentiation process re-starts.
You’re stuck in a brain trap, what neuroscientists call a Focal Dystopia - the harder you try to get out, the more complex your problem becomes. It’s feels like quicksand, because the more you struggle, the deeper you sink; so you resign yourself to a chronically slow, but inevitable decline. At least it’s not acutely painful and rapidly onset, you think.
Tabula Rasa: Cleaning the Map
As anyone knows who’s tried to “stand up straight,” you can't just change your posture by changing your posture. You have to re-differentiate the brain maps for sitting and for standing. Then you have to clean up the muddy boundaries of the seated position by exercising in a way opposite from sitting, and specific to the ways that your standing posture has become unclearly differentiated from your seated posture. That may sound simple, but it’s not.
The ability to “think” itself evolved specifically to enable and to observe complex movement, notes lead neuroscientific researcher Dr. Daniel Wolpert, in his TED Talk, ”The Real Reason for Brains: Movement”.
You are shaped like (not only, by) your thoughts. So you have to change how you think in order to change how you move.
Beginning in the early 1990s, at the Center for Neurobehavioral Health, N-MAP founder, Scott B. Sonnon, began teaching a method originally inspired by the philosopher John Locke, which he named Tabula Rasa - or “cleaning the slate.”
John Locke in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding stated the importance of the experience of the senses over speculation. Neuroscience has since confirmed this.
Recent trends in new fields of study, including exercise physiology, insist that there are “primal patterns” of movements that humans can perform as hard-wired engrams. Philosopher John Locke, and modern neuroscience, explain that the brain begins blank, and then remains plastic: it changes over time with sensory experience.
Locke set out the case that the human mind at birth is a complete, but receptive, blank slate (a “scraped tablet”) upon which experience imprints knowledge. Where in old neuroscience, it was supposed that the brain had a fixed state and could not change, and that regions of the brain held specific purposes (called “localization”), Locke introduced (and modern neuroscience has proven) that the brain, due to its plasticity, changes throughout life and that it can recover movement despite impairment at birth, or traumatic damage during one’s life.
Locke argued, in the late 1600s, that people acquire knowledge from the information about the objects in the world that our senses bring. People begin with simple ideas and then combine them into more complex ones. In other words, Locke, centuries ago, explained that, your maps start blank and can merge.
“Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper void of all characters, without any ideas. How comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from EXPERIENCE.”
(Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Hernnstein & Murray, 1994, p.311)
The Historical Influence of N-MAP
Fortunately, recent discoveries in neuroplasticity have shown that merged maps can be re-differentiated through specific mobility drills. Despite severe brain injuries such as from stroke, concussion, blast-exposure and over-pressure, lost movement can be restored through innovative mobility programming.
The founder of the original methodology, Dr. Edward Taub, developed his method, Constraint-Induced Movement (CIM), to his own professional detriment. During the 1980s, Taub identified his method of reversing brain damage, but became a professional pariah for his methodology. His funding was removed, his colleagues snubbed his approach, and he faced criminal charges. After years of personally appealing the charges, they were all reversed. The National Institute of Health reversed its decision to de-fund his work and, personally vindicated, CIM became a critical contribution to the field of neuroplasticity. He is now considered a father of the field.
Taub discovered that the brain develops impairment through a process of learned non-use. By restraining assistance from “helping” an affected limb, the brain is forced to restore function to the affected limb (through its neuroplasticity), despite damage to the brain. Through mobility drills, full function can be restored, which he has repeatedly proven in stroke victims.
N-MAP was heavily influenced by Taub’s CIM, and originally for the same purpose during Scott B. Sonnon’s work at the Center for Neurobehavioral Health in the 1990s working with brain damaged and mentally ill children. However, Sonnon had a different catalyst for his research due to his personal history: he sought to identify a method which could use mobility drills:
1. to restore cognition, creativity and memory in a language impaired brain;
2. to develop high functioning movement despite motor learning difficulties.
Publishing the first mobility books and videos in the mid-1990s, Sonnon’s initial approaches established the discipline of Mobility as a fitness industry sub-discipline, and traveled the country and world speaking at universities and institutions on the field. However, it wasn’t for over another twenty years that his original catalyst for pioneering the field of mobility gained traction.
As he continued to provide mobility doctrine and programming for exercise science, he simultaneously continued his advocacy of children with learning disabilities, traveling internationally as a keynote speaker, including at the United States Capitol.
N-MAP was officially formalized in 2017 as a professional certification for physical and athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, and physical therapists to aid those, like himself, who desire more than merely traditional rehabilitation, who seek high functioning movement which enhances the ability to think, recall and innovate.
After training tens of thousands of professionals across the planet, having already developed five multi-tiered nationally-recognized certification courses in various expressions of mobility, he launched N-MAP as his specific mobility assessment method for restoring and augmenting movement.
You Do More than Sit: Other Muddy Maps
Your seated posture brain map merging with your standing posture map is only the most common issue. Anything you do, becomes stronger, faster to fire and more dominant. It could be your exercise selection, your job repetitive positions, or your recreational activities that cause maps to become muddy and merge. For this reason, there are many N-MAP Post-Certification Professional Follow-Ons courses for specific issues beyond the most common. Review the Elective Course list.
There’s even a distinct course to correct the problems which are arising due to Mobility and Movement Programs (because they lack a brain-mapped focus), and to use N-MAP to augment positive results while preventing negative effects of over- use and mis-use.)
Uncoordination is learned.
Like Taub discovered through CIM, “uncoordination” is learned non-use. In order to restore function to muddy movement, N-MAP uses a specific process of extracting the unclear brain map, and through a “constraint-induced” application of mobility drills, creates a clearly differentiated brain map for the movement.
Specific, fine and complex movement can be regained and refined throughout age, and with any individual, by N-Mapping a new route in the brain with mobility drills. Trainers, coaches and therapists can learn how to use this approach for all forms of deficits and limitations.
Firstly, they learn how to identify deficits and limitations. Then, they learn how to extract the exactly impaired movement, how to use mobility drills to restore function through a new brain map, and how to plug that reclaimed mobility into the over-arching movement for improved and high function. Finally, they learn how to use moderated exertion in order to lock in the re-differentiated maps.
Historically, Sonnon described this as “Compensatory Movement” as early as the late 1990s, to suggest that because of a deficit, the brain compensates for a limitation by over-reliance on different movements. This compensation results in learned non-use, and progressively worsens and weakens the deficit, while over-developing the compensatory actions. This, in turn, develops functional imbalance, as one thing affects all things in human movement and physique.
Functional fitness approaches have been at a loss as to the brain-origination of this phenomenon, until Sonnon introduced the approach of “Functional Opposite” training, the earliest form of constraint-induced movement in exercise science using Sonnon’s approach to mobility drill progression.
After assessing a deficit motion, the immobility or uncoordinated movement is isolated, extracted, and compelled through a progression of mobility drills, to high function. Training in the opposite direction of the body’s compensations for deficits, creates “new wrinkles in the brain” - new brain maps.
Sonnon’s unique and pioneering approach has become the most sought after mobility assessment method in the world.
With N-MAP he has established a professional certification in his technique for trainers, coaches and therapists in order to facilitate and augment their services and success in their clinics and clubs.
N-MAP can be understood through 3 Principles of Neuroplasticity, originally set forth by Dr. Donald Hebb in 1949 (and as such are referred to as Hebb’s Theory, or Hebbian Rules).
1. Neurons that fire together, wire together.
Brain maps merge, due to unclear differentiation. The more that they remain unclear, the stronger that merged, or muddy, map strengthens, grows faster and more dominant, until one cannot be fired without activating the other. N-MAP teaches how to observe movements deficits, and how they are compensated by other movements, so that they can be extracted and corrected. Specific assessments of movement, posture and breathing are practiced in the core course load.
2. Neurons that fire apart, wire apart.
N-MAP identifies and extracts the prior maps, and re-differentiates them, through a specific procedure of mobility drills in the functional opposite of their compensations. In this procedure, the new maps become clearly distinct, and discriminately fire apart. As they fire separately in isolation, they separate as two distinct maps in the brain. Specific “muddy” movements, postures and breathing patterns are isolated in separation, and the core course load will practice this approach and have experienced trainers offer solutions.
3. Neurons that fire in sync, link.
N-MAP plugs the newly re-separated maps back into the originally assessed movement to observe the decrease in compensation, and then tracks the effect upon the stress systems of the brain. Breath changes as movement re-differentiates: from bracing against pain, to holding in fear, to forcing through limitations, to relaxed re- differentiation. New mobility can be “rejected” because the learned non-use and compensations had become such dominant brain maps. N-MAP teaches how to observe, intervene and correct the effect, so that high functioning movement becomes the new dominant brain map.