What is the Vestibular System?
The vestibular system is the first sensory system of the human being to fully develop during the first six months of pregnancy and it is the system that controls the sense of movement and balance. It is considered to be the system with the greatest influence over all the other sensory systems and over our abilities to function well in our daily lives. In a direct or indirect way the vestibular system influences everything we do. It regulates and coordinates the information received by all other systems and acts as a traffic warden that tells each sense when and where it needs to move or not to.
You might be wondering how this system’s smooth function affects our daily lives. In this case you might want to know that it is part of our autonomic nervous system. This would explain why some people might have problems with their breathing, their heart beats or nauseas when this system is overworked.
Did you know that almost all learning that takes place during the first 15 months of a baby’s life is centered around the development of their vestibular system?
The functions controlled by the vestibular system include:
• Hearing functions through the vestibule-cochlear nerve (that transmits the information to the brain through the inner ear)
• Seeing functions
• Muscle tone, balance and proprioception. Proprioception is part of the vestibular balance system.
Both learning and attention depend on our ability to assimilate and organize the information we take in through our senses. We are all familiar with our basic five senses. There are however, other, less known senses that include that of movement (vestibular system) and the sense of muscle awareness (proprioception), the knowledge that is of where our body is in space and how it moves in it. This awareness comes through the information the brain receives from the muscles, the tendons and the ligaments. Our proprioception cannot work on its own and it needs the constant information it receives from our haptic and vestibular system.
Someone that has problems with their vestibular system is often clumsy, trips over a lot or might be overly aggressive, always chewing gum or stepping on others and might have a difficulty organizing his movements. Someone that unconsciously worries where their body is when they sits on a chair or if they might walk by the table without bumping on it will not be able to focus on what they are being told.
A disorganized sensory information input creates a short circuit in the brain and makes learning and focus difficult. When the various senses work well and harmoniously between them both learning and focus become easy. The basis for the smooth functioning of the senses is the organization of the information that the brain gets from the haptic, the vestibular and the proprioception system.
A disruption or damage of the vestibular system creates serious learning difficulties. For example, research shows that over 90% of children with dyslexia and learning difficulties have two or more neurological parameter falling outside the norm something that points to a dysfunction of the vestibular system.
I would strongly suggest you read the excellent book by Dr Carla Hannaford, “Smart Moves, why learning is not all in your head”. In this book Dr Hannaford gives the reader a complete picture on the importance of movement for learning and explains why complete movements that are done in a consistent and intentional way – like those we use in the Center of Kinesthetic Intelligence – activate the totality of our vestibular system.