Taking Your Brain to the Gym

Do you or your children or clients have difficulty with:

  • Comprehending both the details and the “big picture” of what is actually happening in a situation.
  • Moving and thinking at the same time, right/left confusion or lazy eye.
  • Stage fright or writers block.
  • Lack or organization and direction.
  • Old tapes and blocked patterns clouding what you see, hear, think and feel.

These skills have a neurological basis that can be accessed by simple physical exercises from a program called Brain Gym™, a system of kinesiology developed by Paul Dennison, Ph.D., a California educator.

Through his work with chiropractors, applied kinesiologists and developmental optometrists, he began to see connections between subtle movement patterns and dysfunctional behaviors and learning habits. He realized that activities that we think of as completely mental, like reading, math, thinking and memory, actually have a physical component related to posture. Muscular organization is actually a prerequisite to thinking. Because of this, it’s important to get body mechanics in order before starting into a learning process.

Whether you are a kindergarten child learning the ABC’s, a cellist preparing for a concert, a golfer preparing for a game or a mediator settling a disagreement, the need for brain/body integration is present. These tasks are challenging when we have not integrated both sides of the brain. When you observe students and see them writing with their heads tipped down, one side almost to the table, they are processing information with only one hemisphere of the brain. This posture keeps them from activating the other side. Reading with reversed letters is another sign that hemispheric integration is not present.

Paul Dennison’s program created a solution to these and other thinking/ movement tasks. The Brain Gym™ uses exercises that create the conditions for; focusing, the ability to coordinate the back and front parts of the brain, centering, coordinating the top and bottom parts of the brain, and laterality– the ability to coordinate one side of the brain with the other. The ideal state for learning, playing and interacting is one of whole brain integration, in which we are able to access all of our resources. Dennison found that certain exercises have the effect of bringing us into balance so that we naturally have that integration. Then ease in learning and performance come naturally because the body is relaxed and the posture supports access to all parts of the brain.

The Brain Gym™ consists of twenty-six exercises which bring attention away from the survival centers in the brain and promote better functioning. The activities range from drinking water, which activates the whole brain, to tracking a horizontal figure-eight pattern with your eyes. The exercises are easy to learn and teach, non-aerobic, noninvasive and require very little time and no equipment. As easy as they are to incorporate into daily use, they add a dimension to every activity that is not accessible without whole brain integration.

The Cross Crawl exercise is useful for integrating the left and right sides of the brain and getting the creative and logical parts of the brain working together. It resolves test anxiety and brings about a clearer focus before beginning any mental or physical work. It stimulates the motor and sensory cortexes, increasing communication across the hemispheres of the brain.

To try this exercise, touch the right hand to the left knee as you raise the knee up to the hand. Then raise the left hand to the right knee as you raise it. (It looks a little like marching.) Do this for about one minute.

One of my favorite exercises, the Thinking Cap, consists of massaging the outer rim of the ear, with your hands moving slowly from top to bottom. It helps with inner language and thinking, auditory perception, hearing your own thoughts more clearly and listening comprehension. It would be a useful exercise to try before a lecture or a thinking task.

Using the eyes to track a figure-eight will activate the brain for binocular and peripheral vision (good for sports,) increase left to right brain communication in a visual fashion, and improve eye muscle coordination for reading and other visual tasks. It is done by moving your arm in front of you in a horizontal figure eight pattern while following it with your eyes. Keep your head still while your eyes follow your hand.

Drinking water improves the electrical and chemical action between the brain and the nervous system and allows for better storage and retrieval of information. Memory tasks and learning in general are enhanced by drinking water. It is useful to drink water any time you feel a lack of mental clarity. I know of one school that has every student keep a bottle of water on their desk at all times.

You can access brain gym materials at: www.braingym.org. Workshops are also available in Brain Gym™.

 

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