Youngsters benefit when we listen for what really matters to them.

Youngsters benefit when we listen for what really matters to them.

Zane, age 12, was an excellent reader whose mother brought him to my office for a Brain Gym® balance to be able to write more legibly.

When we discussed his choice of a goal for our session, Zane realized that what would really mean a lot to him—even more than writing better—would be improving his soccer game. I helped him refine his goal to: “To keep my eyes on the ball and see with my mind and body as one.”

Since the writing was also important to him, we included pre-activities for handwriting. As he sat and wrote a sentence, Zane mentioned that his hand was hurting, as it often did when he wrote. I could see that he sat uncomfortably in his chair, and that he didn’t yet know how to easily hold a pen between his fingers and thumb for a precision grip, using more of a power grip(1) instead.

Most people observing Zane as he sat and stood might think, from his laid-back posture, that he was very relaxed—perhaps disinterested and not really engaged in what was happening. I could see, though, that he was struggling to accomplish the simplest movements, actually pushing forward against his own muscle response to hold back.

An example of the power grip. The hand remains static; movement is from the shoulder.

An example of the power grip. The hand remains static; movement is from the shoulder.

Zane’s mom had told me that his teacher included some Brain Gym activities in her classroom, so Zane had been doing the Cross Crawl and Lazy 8s daily for a while. Yet these Midline Movements(2), by themselves, were apparently not getting to the cause of Zane’s challenge.

In the late 1970s, when I began developing the 26 Brain Gym activities, I wanted to offer them in a way that would support all three of the anatomical dimensions: left-right, up-down, and back-front. Over time, I organized the Brain Gym activities into three categories for that intention: The Midline Movements, The Energy Exercises/Deepening Attitudes(2), and The Lengthening Activities, envisioning how this would give learners, whether sitting, standing, or playing sports, options they could easily use to keep themselves active and engaged. So I explained to Zane and his mother that, when we’re playing, fully participating, and doing our schoolwork, we move in three anatomical dimensions that all work together synergistically.

In those early days I knew from the research on vision(3) how important the left-right dimension is for classroom success. I’d seen (as I continue to see) that, for some people, doing only a few simple Midline Movements for this lateral dimension can be enough to integrate the physical skills and improve performance for a particular academic task. I’ve come to fully trust that, as learners do the Brain Gym activities and experience the body’s geometry, they will naturally gravitate to moving more in terms of it.

Through the years, as school routines have generally become more sedentary, I’ve seen the other two dimensions become even more important for learners to know how to access. For example, until the back-front dimension is available for mobility and forward movement, the left-right skills as taught in the Midline Movements category may not be readily accessible.

Observing Zane as he did his pre-activities, I could see that his back-front body movement (what I call the Focus Dimension) wasn’t available to him. Zane seemed to be walking and moving with his brakes on, in a casual posture that actually required great exertion on his part for any forward movement. When he lay on his back, he could experience the shortness and tightness of his hamstring muscles. He could hardly bend at his hip joints, and could barely lift either leg six inches. After doing a short series of Lengthening Activities for his Focus Dimension with his mom and me (The Footflex, The Calf Pump, The Grounder, The Gravity Glider, Arm Activation, and The Owl), Zane was able to lift one leg nearly perpendicular to the other, then repeating on the other side, now accessing hip flexibility.

The next priority was the Midline Movements. Zane chose The Double Doodle  and Alphabet 8s, which I often use to help teach skills of eye teaming, fine-motor coordination, and letter formation for cursive writing.

What a difference! By the time we did the post-activity for seeing and kicking the ball, Zane was standing and moving spontaneously in three dimensions. He seemed delighted to be having an experience of trusting his body to see and move at the same time. He commented that he now felt he could move so much more quickly—that he seemed to know where the ball would be next.  I could see that, with his muscles now more flexible and more organized in terms of his vision, Zane was moving with greater ease and agility.

An example of the precision grip. The thumb and fingers work together; the hand's position is dynamic.

An example of the precision grip. The thumb and fingers work together; the hand’s position is dynamic.

I noticed that, when he now sat down to write for his post-activity, Zane sat more upright and showed greater muscle tone and fine-motor dexterity. He automatically placed the paper on the desk in his center of vision, picked up the pen with a relaxed grip, wrote with ease and coordination, and, without being told how to do so, used a precision grip. His mother looked eagerly over his shoulder as he wrote and exclaimed, “I can actually read it!”

It’s sessions like these that make my work so fulfilling.

1) The Power and Precision Grip:
Hertling, D., & Kessler, R. M. (1996). Management of common musculoskeletal disorders: Physical therapy principles and methods. (3rd ed.).Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, pp 259-260.

Smith, L.K., Weiss, E.L. & Lehmkuhl, L.D. (1996). Brunnstrom’s clinical kinesiology. (5th ed.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis., pp 216-219.

2) The 26 Brain Gym® activities are described in terms of the three categories of The Midline Movements, The Energy Exercises/Deepening Attitudes, and The Lengthening Activities in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, © 2010. The Energy Exercises and Deepening Attitudes are both part of the Centering Dimension, involving up and down movement for stress release through improved organization/stabilization. While the Energy Exercises help develop a sense of vertical orientation, the Deepening Attitudes support awareness of boundaries. 

3) A few references on vision and learning:

Maureen Powers, PhD, David Grisham, OD, Phillip Riles, MA. Saccadic tracking skills of poor readers in high school. Journal of the American Optometric Association; Volume 79, Issue 5 , Pages 228-234, May 2008 American Optometric Association. Published by Elsevier Inc. 

David Grisham, OD, MS, Maureen Powers, PhD, Phillip Riles, MA. Visual skills of poor readers in high school. Journal of the American Optometric Association: Volume 78, Issue 10 , Pages 542-549, October 2007. © 2007 American Optometric Association. Published by Elsevier Inc.

Solan, H.A., Shelley, Tremblay, J. Larson, S. Mounts, J. Silent Word Reading Fluency & Temporal Vision Processing Differences Between Good and Poor Readers. JBO – Volume 17/2006/Number 6/Page 151.

Streff, John W. The Cheshire Study: Change in Incidence of Myopia Following Program Intervention. Frontiers in Visual Science; Springer Series in Optical Sciences Volume 8, 1978, pp 733-749.

Clare PoracStanley Coren. Monocular asymmetries in recognition after an eye movement: Sighting dominance and dextrality. Perception & Psychophysics. January 1979, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 55-59.

Photo Credits:
Boy with soccer ball: ID 22343505 © Spotmatik | Dreamstime.com
Example of power grip (thumb in inactive): ID 2028508 © Kateleigh | Dreamstime.com
Example of precision grip: ID 16095751 © Robbiverte | Dreamstime.com

© 2013 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you.

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