Serene formula: Gentle sounds, rhythmic beats and moving hands
A mother's resolve to bring clarity and focus to her daughter's life has led to the creation of a video that's being used in schools, hospitals, nursing facilities and homes across the country.
The 43-minute DVD is called "MeMoves."
The video is divided into categories called Joy, Focus and Calm that are formatted into 13 sequences that show people of all ages and colors, one at a time, making simple "geometric" hand gestures to the soothing, slow beat of various musical instruments.
The background is stark black. There's no narrative.
The video creators hope that as participants mime the simple gestures and absorb the sounds, they'll experience feelings of slowing down, relaxing and attentiveness.
"The beauty of using the video is that you don't just sit like a couch potato and watch it all the way through," said Roberta Scherf. "It can be done in segments of 10 or five minutes, even as little as two, and you are involved with what's presented. The movements are meant to engage users so that they connect to themselves and the world around them."
Engaging, calming, connecting, focusing: These are the physical and emotional states that MeMoves aims to bring out.
Scherf's daughter Rowan was born 18 years ago. In early childhood she was diagnosed with an array of medical terms that meant little to Scherf: Alpha child, pre-dyslexic, autism spectrum, sensory integration disorder, and tactile defensiveness.
"What all those things had in common was that they described (how) social interaction, communication and sensory processing were difficult for Rowan," Scherf said.
One thing Scherf knew was that she had to do something to make her daughter's life fulfilling.
"I had spent five years struggling with my daughter who was here, but not here," said Scherf, a long-time town of Troy resident with her husband John, and older son, Sam, a 2007 River Falls High School graduate.
"As a very young child, Rowan was not comfortable being held or making eye contact. She tried very hard to retain new pieces of information from one day to the next.
"I knew that she was incredibly bright, with tremendous receptive abilities, but she struggled to express herself and was socially isolated from her peers.
"School was a hard place for her because she was different. She was so smart and funny and sweet and gifted. But to be in a room full of children, and not really be able to learn and share, was devastating."
But Scherf was not a mother who gave up in despair. She did medical and academic research, much of it on the Internet, to familiarize herself about brain development, music and movement therapy.
"All of the research that I was investigating was based on the importance that rhythmicity, repetition, imitation, simple active movements and music have on learning," Scherf said. "Rowan and I did an activity that combined all those things.
"She went from not being able to read single letters to reading words and then chapter books. She started making eye contact, asking to be held, and spoke more fluently and easily. Her life changed. And that made me wonder if there was a way to take some of these ideas and put them into a simple format that might help other children as well."
Scherf said MeMoves evolved in stages.
"Over a period of years we worked on developing prototypes, testing them, and then released an early version which we licensed to another company," she said. "The whole time we kept working toward MeMoves. Everything about MeMoves was carefully designed to set up the core chemistry for a calm and attentive state.
"Our nervous system can respond in a stressful manner, activating 'fight or flight,' or respond with a calm state. Every single part of MeMoves uses rhythmic, slow, clean, simple, repetitive, uncluttered visuals, music and movements in a non-verbal program that activates and supports a calm and attentive state.
"MeMoves focuses on the emotional state of the child, rather than any specific behavioral outcome. At its core is the belief that a calmed and centered child, especially one with special needs, will be able to learn more easily and express themselves more clearly and directly.
Scherf eventually formed a company out of her home called Thinking Moves.
Her business partner and Thinking Moves president is Chris Bye of Hammond, who earned an MBA in marketing and strategy from UW-Madison.
Bye has taught business classes at St. Thomas University in the Twin Cities, managed the Small Business Development Center at UW-River Falls, and was a cofounder of the local business consulting firm the Navigator Group.
Bye listed three reasons -- the challenge, the right chemistry, and a product that matched his values -- for teaming up with Scherf: "Bringing an entirely new product originating in rural Wisconsin to national awareness was an extremely intriguing opportunity," he said. "Given a marketplace dominated by large corporations and big-box retailers, the odds of a new product starting in the proverbial garage and succeeding are remarkable slim. I felt very strongly I was supposed to work with Roberta to help MeMoves and the company Thinking Moves avoid the mistakes I have seen many startups make.
"Coming in while the product was still in prototype form in 2005, I felt there was a lot I could contribute to the look, feel and overall direction of MeMoves. Amazingly, Roberta and I have worked together in all phases of MeMoves' development and have agreed on everything every step of the way."
Most important, Bye said, was that their product had the potential to do immense good.
"Creating a new category of products to help kids, people really, of all abilities strongly resonated with my own values," he said. "Working in schools with kids, teachers and therapists aligns with who I am.
"In truth, I am much more comfortable in a classroom working with teachers and kids than an office or cubicle. With Thinking Moves and the creation of MeMoves, all the pieces of 'who I am,' 'what I believe,' and 'what I do' miraculously came together.
"At its very best, entrepreneurship allows people to change the world by creating something totally new that positively impacts the lives of others, and it is my hope that we are doing that with MeMoves."
The MeMoves video was released last January. In less than a year, Scherf and Bye said the MeMoves DVD has been sold to some 350 school districts in 47 states, including Wisconsin.
It is also being used in clinics, hospitals, households, therapy centers, assisted living centers, nursing homes, daycare centers, residential treatment programs and for counseling practices.
"The reason it's taken off is that the video is simple, authentic, affordable and it's easy to use," Bye said. "Anyone can play it on a DVD player, so it's old school, reliable technology and we can reach just about anybody with it. There's nothing like it around."
Here are options to either find out more about MeMoves or to make purchases:
--Call the business office number at 715-377-9827.
--Visit this website: www.thinkingmoves.com.
(Note: This article has been edited for the web. The full article is available in the Jan. 20 print edition of the Hudson Star-Observer.)