What is Unpredictable Command Technique and How can it be used in Aqua Yoga

brain illustration floating in water to illustrate unpredictable command technique

Unpredictable Command Technique, UCT, was developed by David Ogden, PT.  He developed these novel techniques to help a client with Parkinson’s disease.  Her condition dramatically improved after implementing this work and it was expanded to be used in group classes.  I took a workshop in UCT at the ATRI Symposium last year and was struck by the potential it offered my client population.  I have found ways to incorporate the principles into both my aquatic and land yoga classes, as well as teaching full Unpredictable Command Technique classes on occasion.

What is Unpredictable Command Technique

UCT is one person giving another or a group a set of verbal commands, to perform a variety of movements.  The movements should include familiar and unfamiliar exercises, they’re not done in any particular order, sequence, number, or repetitions.  The goal is to get clients to “improve voluntary control, awareness of movement and body in space, and enhanced mental concentration.”1

Practical ways to incorporate Unpredictable Command Technique into your yoga practice and classes

  • Change the order of your flow side to side.  For example, side number one would flow- Mountain, Extended Mountain, Crocodile, Warrior II, Exalted Warrior, Humble Warrior, Side Plank, Full Plank, Extended Mountain, Mountain.    So, on the second side you’d reverse the order – Mountain, Extended Mountain, Full Plank, Side Plank, Humble Warrior, Exalted Warrior, Warrior II, Crocodile, Extended Mountain, Mountain.
  • Start on the left side instead of the usual right side.  We tend to hold the postures longer on the side we start with so that helps break up our practice physically as well as organizationally.
  • Add elements of crossing the midline of the body.  We tend to work our yoga practice either on individual railroad tracks or on a pretend wall.     Examples of crossing the midline in aqua yoga can be instead of walking forward or backward in your warmup – walk sideways and grapevine.
  • Change the timing of your movements.  Instead of moving with a slow steady inhale and exhale, you can double time your movement.  That would be move a limb in and out on one inhale for example.
  • Ask people to remember things.  Give directions for a posture and then ask people to do it on the other side, or do it backwards without further verbal instructions.
  • Add asymmetry to your postures.  In Warrior I for example, instead of raising both arms up overhead.  One can go overhead and the other can go out in front or out to the side.
  • Combine holding some parts of your body still with isolated movement somewhere else.  For example, in Goddess Pose, on land you’d hold your arms still in the posture.  In the water, you can move your arms in a pattern you pick to challenge your core stability and arm strength.  Add in one arm crosses the midline and the other arm does something else totally different, and you’re lighting up lots of your brain.

UCT in action

In this video, you can see these principles in action.  We’re doing one pose with one side of our body, a different pose on our other side, and we’ve crossed the midline.  We incorporated 3 elements in one posture.

 

Benefits of adding elements of Unpredictable Command Technique to your aqua yoga classes

  • Adding Unpredictable Command Technique to your yoga practice keeps your practice social.  By UCT’s nature, it’s unpredictable.  You need another person to keep you on your toes.  By design, you can’t know what’s coming next.  So you’ll need a practice buddy or need to go to class.  If you’re not in a class, one of you can teach, and the other can practice and then you can switch.  Yoga wasn’t designed as a solitary practice, one at least had a guru they learned from.  It’s okay to make your yoga social sometimes.
  • It introduces variety to your movement.  Samskaras in yoga are our bad habits, but they are also are movement patterns.  You can break out of your ruts, emotionally, energetically, and physically with some novel movement patterns.
  • UCT keeps you focused on the present moment in the spirit of yoga sutra #1, “yoga starts now”.  It also helps you practice Dharana, the sixth limb of yoga. You could argue UCT is a moving meditation.  You can’t be anything less than 100% focused on what you’re doing because it takes all your concentration to stay with these unpredictable movements.
  • It adds humor – Incorporating UCT is hard for everyone. UCT keeps you on your toes by its vary nature.  The jumpiness of the patterns will cause everyone, students and teachers to mess up.  That’s actually part of what makes it fun, and consider it a fun change rather than a detriment.  There’s lots of benefits to humor, and yoga doesn’t always have to be serious.
  • It strengthens neural networks.  With Unpredictable Command Technique you’re challenging people to listen intently and then perform potentially complex movement patterns. Crossing the midline of the body forces the two sides of the brain to communicate with each other.  Remembering sequences builds short term memory.  Asymmetrical movement builds motor skills.  Faster reaction times decrease falls.  There’s so much potential…

 

More resources for Unpredictable Command Technique

How UCT fits in with other aquatic therapy styles.

  1. Buy David Ogden’s book, The Unpredictable Command Technique in the Aquatic Environment.

brain floating in water to illustrate unpredictable command technique

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Books purchased through these links cost you the same amount.  I will get a tiny commission that I use to support my yoga book habit.  Thanks for your consideration.

christa

I'm a yoga teacher who specializes in making yoga accessible for those with chronic health conditions in the pool and on land. My teaching style is engaging, responsive and fun. 

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