Everyone can benefit from the relaxation possible with a few minutes of Belly Breathing.
Our breathing provides a continuous rhythmic exchange between our lungs and the ocean of air that surrounds us. It is said that humans can live for 40 or more days without food and perhaps as many as 4 without water. However, without oxygen to the brain, we cannot survive more than about 4 minutes.
Given that, it’s the quality of these respiratory movements that determines how pleasurable and beneficial breathing is to our wellbeing. Our rate of respiration shifts with our emotional state: while we might take about 6 slow, deep breaths per minute when we’re relaxed and at rest; breathing becomes fast and shallow with as many as 16 per minute when we’re frightened or anxious. Dr. Andrew Weil1, a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, believes that breathing is so crucial to the body’s ability to heal and sustain itself that he says, “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”
Let’s consider three habits of breathing: clavicular breathing, chest (thoracic) breathing, and belly (abdominal) breathing. Clavicular breathing uses the shoulders and clavicle to move the air, and is automatically called on most often when people feel stressed, panicked or are struggling for breath. Breathing centered in the chest, with chest and lungs expanding, is the most common kind of breathing; however, the expansion is often restricted by muscular tension around the ribs and abdomen, providing less airflow and more rapid respiration. Abdominal breathing usually needs to be learned and done with intention: Purposely empty your lungs of air, then, as you inhale, inflate the abdominal cavity (the belly) in a 3-D way, allowing it to expand without effort. It seems this deep breathing can activate the vagus nerve and result in a relaxation response from the parasympathetic nervous system; allowing the body to heal, repair and restore.
Belly Breathing is one of the 26 Brain Gym activities included in our “Midline Movements” category. We use Belly Breathing as a way to release stress, increase relaxation, and sustain focus of attention.2 We also use Belly Breathing in teaching students how to access vocal strength and expression for reading and phrasing. The slow expansion of the belly provides a pleasant deepening of inhalation and more complete exhalation, as well as a decrease in the frequency of respiration.
In a recent research study3, diaphragmatic breathing was highly correlated with sustained attention, decreased negative affect, and lower cortisol levels. It has also been associated with reduced fatigue and anxiety (Zeidan et al., 2010), and with the ability of children with ADHD to manage symptoms of inattention (Amon and Campbell, 2008). These studies build on many others connecting diaphragmatic breathing with significant and varied physiological benefits, from oxygenation (Bernardi et al., 1998), to reduced blood pressure (Wang et al., 2010), to states of calm and arousal (Krasnow et all, 2017), and more.
1) Andrew Weil, M.D., Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing, audio CD, Sounds True, 1999.
2) Dennison, Paul E. and Dennison, Gail E. Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., 2010.
3) The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Xiao Ma, Zi-Qi Yue, Zhu-Qing Gong, Hong Zhang, Nai-Yue Duan, Yu-Tong Shi, Gao-Xia Wei, and You-Fa Li. Front Psychol. 2017; 8: 874. Published online 2017 Jun 6. doi: PMCID: PMC5455070
Photo Credit: ID 33052574 | Dreamstime.com
Sip Water—a great way to support hydration.
In the Brain Gym program, since 1986, we’ve included drinking water as one of our key 26 activities. We’re advocates of staying hydrated, as we find that it strengthens so many markers of vitality, attention, and memory. According to the Mayo Clinic(1), “water is your body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 60% of your body weight….Every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to work properly.”
Research studies(2) are now finding that states of reduced water intake (dehydration) correlate with fatigue, mood swings, confusion, decreased alertness, increased headaches, weight gain, sleepiness, and more. Some of these effects were found to be reversed in just 20 minutes after drinking some water. In one study(3), half of American children were estimated to be dehydrated, with about one-quarter of them not drinking adequate water on a daily basis.
In Brain Gym: Teacher’s Edition (2010, p.54), we write: “Water is essential to the proper lymphatic function on which nourishment of the cells and removal of waste depends. The average daily water loss for humans through natural body processes (such as urination, respiration, perspiration) is about two and a half quarts (ten glasses). Psychological or environmental stress also depletes the body of water. Scientists have yet to reach consensus regarding the likely need to replace this loss by eating fruits and vegetables, avoiding diuretics and dehydrating food, and drinking a like amount of water. We consider Sipping Water to be an effective way to restore hydration. As with light rain falling on dry ground, water is best absorbed by the body when taken in frequent small amounts.”
Biologist Carla Hannaford, in her book Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head, explains that “Our bodily systems are electrical. Ultimately, it is the electrical transmissions within the nervous system that make us sensing, learning, thinking, acting organisms. Water, the universal solvent, is essential for these electrical transmissions and for maintaining the electrical potential within our bodies. (2010, p.151)”
The Mayo Clinic comments on water needs by saying: “You’ve probably heard the advice, ‘Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.’ That’s easy to remember, and it’s a reasonable goal. Most healthy people can stay hydrated by drinking water and other fluids whenever they feel thirsty. For some people, fewer than eight glasses a day might be enough. But other people might need more.(1)”
In addition, the American Optometric Association reminds us in an article on “Dry Eye” to blink and to drink plenty of water when we’re reading or working at the computer, as staring can be dehydrating to the eyes.
Finally, here’s a link to a terrific video with Thomas Myers, author of AnatomyTrains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists, on why even small movements—shifts in body positioning—can help us better utilize the water that we drink.
1. Mayo Clinic article “Water: How much should you drink every day?”
2. Effects of changes in water intake on mood of high and low drinkers, Natalie Pross, 2014. For additional research articles on hydration, go to Hydration for Health.
3. Prevalence of Inadequate Hydration among US Children and Disparities by Gender and Race/Ethnicity: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009-2012,” Erica L. Kenney, Michael W. Long, Angie L. Cradock, Steven L. Gortmaker, American Journal of Public Health, online June 11, 2015, doi:10.2105/AJPH.
Photo credit: ID 32546596 | Dreamstime.com
Glenys Leadbeater, RN, New Zealand
Glenys Leadbeater, RN
Brain Gym first came to my attention in 1984 when the younger of my two boys was having difficulty learning in the traditional school system. He was just age nine when he began to do the activities, and the changes in his attitude and his physical skills when reading and writing soon boosted his confidence.
I became interested in the idea that movement is important in helping people learn, and began taking Brain Gym courses and even teaching. By the time my son was aged 13, he enrolled himself in a speed-reading course. He has continued making self-directed choices about his ongoing education.
In 2003 I attended my first workshop in Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision*, and in 2007 completed my training to become a Teacher Trainer. I have been facilitating this amazing course worldwide since 2007, having now taught more than 30 courses. The Double Doodle Play workshop is built around play and games that engage both hands in drawing and tracing images, tactilely and kinesthetically, in the center of vision. The continuous up- down- in- and out- motions relax the eyes and enhance visual skills by supporting hand-eye coordination and sustained eye teaming in the visual midfield.
In 2009 I met Rod Dennis, the founder of the Rodney Aphasia Group, Inc.**, and he invited me to be guest speaker at one of their monthly meetings. Every year since 2010 I’ve given a Double Doodle Play workshop for the Rodney Aphasia Group, modifying the course especially for people who have been left with aphasia following a stroke. Aphasia literally means “absence of speech.” Aphasia is the term used to describe the loss of a previous ability to express or understand spoken or written language, due to disease or injury to the language area of the brain. In New Zealand, strokes are the major cause of aphasia, and head injury is the 2nd most common cause.
The members may attend as many times as they like, and usually do so for a couple of years in a row. New members are always joining. I have now taught Double Doodle Play to more than 50 aphasia students in the last seven years. I also attend the group’s monthly meetings, when able, to encourage them in using the Brain Gym activities.
Since many members of my aphasia group experience fatigue when concentrating, I usually offer the course in two half-day sessions, scheduled a week apart. I find that, in today’s busy world, one key to helping learners of any ability to become more attentive to their needs and gifts is to teach them the four Brain Gym activities that make up PACE.
Often, learners are simply overthinking, moving too fast, or trying too hard to notice what’s actually happening with their physiology. So in that first session, I spend a lot of time teaching PACE—an acronym for Positive, Active, Clear, and Energetic, and for four basic Brain Gym activities that support hydration, near-far range of visual motion, bilateral coordination, and balance. For each of the four activities, we do considerable “before and after” noticing*, to enhance student’s mindful awareness of their visual/sensory processes.
For this article, six of my students from the aphasia group have given permission for me to share their photos, their before and after drawings from this year, and a little about them.
Ruth, our group chair, explores use of both hands together on the midline.
Ruth, attending for the first time this year, says that doing Brain Buttons (one of the four PACE activities) helps her to slow down her thoughts. She finds that after doing the Brain Buttons she can speak in whole sentences, as long as she speaks slowly. She also uses the activity when chairing the meetings, to help her when searching for sentence structure.
Ruth’s Trees (Top: Before
Bottom: At course completion)
My students often tell me that doing the PACE activities gives them sensory cues to help them slow down, notice what they’re thinking and feeling, and connect with the natural rhythms and ranges of eye and body movement.
Des has been attending the group since 2010.
Often, a student’s partner will attend the workshop with them. Sometimes partners find it even more challenging to do the Double Doodle Play activities than those who have had a stroke.
For the first two years after his wife had a stroke, Des came to the meetings together with her. After she died in 2012 from yet another stroke, Des has continued to attend, saying that he greatly enjoys the playful experience. He appreciates the yearly up-date and learns something new every time. This time, he says, he learned how important it is to do PACE slowly and mindfully.
Des’s before and after trees
The experience of aphasia is different for each person. Many of the students I teach experience mild to severe difficulties finding words, reading text, or understanding what other people are saying. Some also have the physical signs of stroke with restricted movement on the right side of their body.
Karlene discovers the ease of Double Doodling as she orients each flower to her midline.
Karlene is new to the group. She finds that she gets easily frustrated. She often has tears as she speaks and, although she voices strong feelings, she sometimes has difficulty remembering. She says that, through doing the course, she has learnt to listen, and has much more confidence. She speaks of using the power of PACE in all her therapies (those that she is enrolled in as part of the Aphasia Group continuing support programme).
Karlene’s before & after trees
Jeannie, Karlene’s mum, also attended the course for the first time. Janelle has struggled to help Karlene, and is grateful for the positive change in Karlene in just the one week. Other members of the group at our most recent meeting expressed to me the changes they see in Karlene, as well, noting that she has become more centered and better prepared to interact socially with friends playing darts.
Jeannie, Karlene’s mum, is there for her daughter.
Jeannie’s before & after trees
When teaching, I use basic principles from Brain Gym 101: Namely, Noticing and the Dynamic Brain Model.** I explain briefly the anatomy of the brain and its corresponding sensory and motor pathways. I find this imagery helps to facilitate an experiential process of Dennison Laterality Repatterning*** with the whole group (usually done while sitting down, as balance is a concern). I keep the information simple, with diagrams to support their understanding. I speak slowly, monitoring each student’s ability to stay with me.
I follow this activity with either a Deepening Attitude Balance and /or a F.A.S.T. Action Balance, focused around each person’s sensory memory of the stroke experience. Through the years, many students have particularly shared with me that doing these two balances have provided a turning point in their ability to move forward.
Mal attends with his wife, Leoni.
Mal attends the courses and monthly meetings with his wife, Leonie. He says that he has learnt a lot about accepting that life has changed, now that his wife has had a stroke. He has done a lot of research on different methodologies to assist Leonie.
Mal’s before & after trees
The second week, in session two, we explore the Double Doodle Play process in greater depth, using five simple hand movements. We play with scarves in the air, Double Doodling the various shapes to music by Mozart. I am also lucky enough to have rolls of whiteboard-like material that we can use with whiteboard pens, which we erase and reuse. The before and after work shown here was done with markers on paper.
Most of these participants have now recovered from their strokes to the point where they show no visible signs of it until they attempt to speak.
Leoni is learning to write and draw with her left hand.
Leonie, a talented writer and lifelong right-hander, has been unable to “un-claw” her right hand since the stroke. She can do large motor movement with her right arm; however, she doesn’t yet have fine-motor control with her right hand. So Leonie is exploring how to write with her left hand and has gained more confidence in her penmanship since taking the course. So far, she still struggles to do the Cross Crawl. She is fiercely independent, now walking with a stick.
Leonie is verbally challenged and looks to Mal to speak for her. At the beginning of the class Leonie only spoke in single words. By the end of the two sessions, she was able to speak a full sentence with confidence, sharing about how much she enjoyed the class.
I am so humbled to work with these courageous people. Δ
Leoni’s before & after drawings.
***Double Doodle and other Brain Gym activities are described in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, by Paul and Gail Dennison, ©2010, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA.
**Rodney Aphasia Group, Inc., is in Orewa, New Zealand.
“Before and after” noticing is described in Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Living Manual, (pages 59, 62 64).
**Brain Gym courses are based on the balance process: Five Steps to Easy Learning. Dennison Laterality Repatterning and other balances mentioned here are taught in Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life.
Glenys Leadbeater, Orewa, New Zealand, is a registered nurse with a post graduate diploma in Operating Theatre Techniques. A Brain Gym International Faculty member since, 1992, Glenys has done extensive training since 1985 with the founders of Educational Kinesiology, Dr. Paul and Gail Dennison. Glenys is one of the founders of Edu-K in New Zealand, and sits on the Board there. Brain Gym International recognized her in 2001 with the Outstanding Achievement Award for her contributions to Educational Kinesiology. She has worked tirelessly in promoting Edu-K to people from all areas of life, and traveled extensively, teaching in over 14 countries, as well as sponsoring many international Brain Gym instructors and courses in New Zealand.
Glenys has been teaching for over 35 years. Besides Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision, Glenys also teaches Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life, Optimal Brain Organization, Visioncircles, and the following advanced courses—Edu-K In Depth: Seven Dimensions of Intelligence, Creative Vision, Total Core Repatterning, Movement Re-Education, Brain Gym Teacher Practicum, Optimal Brain Organization Teacher Training, Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision Teacher’s Training, Visioncircles Teacher Training.
Glenys is a keen gardener and homemaker. She enjoys playing tennis, cycling and beach-walking, knitting and crochet. She also shares the interests and successes of her husband Roger, her two sons, Brendon and Gareth, daughter-in-law Marie, and grandsons Matthew and Joshua.
© 2017 by Glenys Leadbeater. All rights reserved.
Click here to read a translation of this article into Italian.
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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Double Doodle Play Brings Emotional Harmony Following a Stroke
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Jo Anna Shaw, author, poet, and Mind-Body coach, incorporates Brain Gym and other movements in her transformational work.
After doing a few Educational Kinesiology balances with Matt’s mother, which included Repatterning* and other activities from Brain Gym**, I was invited to her home to see what I might be able to do to help her six-year-old, Matt.
She wanted to take him off Ritalin, which had been prescribed to manage his hyperactivity. More importantly, she wanted him to be reading at grade level when he entered the first grade at the end of the summer. I made no promises and suggested she invest in several balances to see if he would be willing to do some Brain Gym activities.
An important factor in getting cooperation from a child, as well as the desired results, is the child’s willingness to be better at something.
Matt wasn’t interested in reading or sitting still. In spite of his taking the Ritalin, I had to follow him around the house and yard as I got to know him. Matt was climbing in a tree and I was sitting on the grass when I asked him what he thought I was there for. He responded with an “I don’t know” shoulder shrug. I told him I was there to help him grow a more powerful brain. Then I asked him what he would like to be better at. He said, “Gymnastics!” and came down to show me how he did cartwheels.
A sample of Matt’s artwork – April.
As part of our play, I handed him one of his books and asked him to show me how he reads. He looked at a page, put the book down and proceeded to show me some more of his gymnastics. We took turns doing activities. Mine were all Brain Gym activities and neurodevelopmental movements. Eventually, he was able to do a Three Dimension Repatterning process* with my guidance.
The Results were Remarkable. I played with Matt, once a week in the month of May, in much this same way. His mother played with him a few minutes every day as well, doing some of the Brain Gym activities I taught her—what we in Edu-K call “homeplay.” In a short time, he began sitting more comfortably for longer periods of time and sharing daily reading time with his mother as well.
In addition to this remarkable shift from April to June of the same year, his mother reported that she took him off his meds in the summer and never started him back on them. By the time he returned to school in the fall he was reading at grade level. Δ
Notice the before (above left) and after (below) artwork from Matt’s journal.
A sample of Matt’s artwork in June.
*In Edu-K, Dennison Laterality Repatterning and Three Dimension Repatterning—both processes taught in the course Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life—is used in teaching learners to notice and integrate side-side, up-down, and back-front movement skills.
**The Brain Gym activities are described in depth, along with suggested applications, in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition (2010), by Paul and Gail Dennison, ©2010, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA. Inspiration for the activities was drawn from many sources, including Developmental Optometry, dance, long distance running, child development, the postural work of F.M. Alexander, the Touch for Health process, and the Dennison’s own inventiveness. The Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition and Brain Gym activity cards can both be purchased at Brain Gym Bookstore.
About Jo Anna Shaw
Jo Anna’s joy is empowering adults and children to move through life and learning challenges into their full potential. The foundation of her Mind-Body Coaching® practice is Educational Kinesiology (Edu-K for short). An author and poet, Jo Anna published Design and Live the Life YOU Love: A Guide for Living in Your Power and Fulfilling Your Purpose (foreword by Paul Dennison, Ph.D., and Gail Dennison). This self-empowerment resource is designed to enhance a reader’s ability to see and communicate with love. Learn more by visiting www.joannashaw.net.
© 2017 by Jo Anna Shaw. All rights reserved.
* Brain Gym® is a trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you.
by Deborah Scott Studebaker
Deborah Scott Studebaker teaching a small-group poetry workshop to middle school youth.
Drawing a Lazy 8 helps coordinate the eyes for smoothly crossing the visual midline.
I love Lazy 8s! Tracing this simple, flowing infinity pattern connects the eyes to the hands to the hemispheres. As a poetry teacher, I have seen it encourage writers of all ages to release their ideas onto the page. As a Brain Gym consultant, I have watched the movement literally transform behavior. But I had never felt the extent of its physical power until I started working with a very unique young man.
“Vincent” is a 13 year-old who came to me for issues of focus and attention. He loved books and stories, and his imaginative drawings showed the mind of an inventor. Vincent’s inner life was his safe haven. His mother said she was looking for creative ways to help him manage his tasks and confidently interact with the world.
Creative writing tools (pen, notebook, and poetry magnets) are laid out to use as pre-checks for a writing balance. Selected Brain Gym activity cards provide the “learning menu,” intended to invite a sense of curiosity and choice.
At our first meeting, Vincent quietly explored my office, head down. He was polite and cooperative; willing to engage in all sorts of movement pre-checks. Sustaining eye contact or conversation was harder; “I don’t know” was his default response to any question. With verbal noticing* and goal-setting clearly unavailable in that moment, I turned immediately to the drawing out model: a magnificent Brain Gym method that engages both client and facilitator in curiosity and discovery.
Vincent used objects in my office to turn it into a construction zone.
My job was not to “fix” Vincent, but to empower his self-awareness. I would offer him choices, and follow his lead. I knew that Vincent’s mind/body system would chart our course. Where to begin? With movement and play!
Our first session took us into PACE**, onto the balance board, then over to observation and word games. Vincent was drawn to my wooden Lazy 8 track, and began to guide a marble around the pathway. He then chose a Dennison Laterality Repatterning from the learning menu (a process that invites core stability and contralateral movement.) After the balance, Vincent was newly aware of his hand position, and the pressure of his pen. He observed: “I’m usually going at a faster pace, but now I have more time for the ideas.” At the end of our first appointment, I noticed that he seemed taller. Were his eyes a bit brighter too?
Our work together had begun. Each week, I would offer Vincent his choice of movement games and activities. We tossed beanbags and bounced balls; we batted balloons around the room. He jumped on my mini-trampoline, drew fanciful characters, and arranged magnetic poetry tiles.
Vincent drew the Lazy 8s horizontally in the air, but always drew them vertically on the whiteboard, without creating a lateral midline.
When it came time to pick a Brain Gym movement, Vincent usually chose Lazy 8s. And while he could easily draw the horizontal pattern in the air, he would draw it vertically on my white board (see image at left). I resisted the impulse to correct him, waiting and watching his mind/body intelligence at work.
Vincent selected other Brain Gym activities too: Earth Buttons, Neck Rolls and Belly Breathing. I sensed that this young man was searching for physical grounding.
So we turned my office into a virtual construction zone! Vincent built dens, hideouts, and passageways using tables, chairs, blankets, buckets, blocks and anything else in the room that could be repurposed.
Vincent’s “hideouts” illustrate a grounding, self-organizing kind of play, calling on new spatial/motor skills.
I saw that, by arranging and moving around in his surroundings, Vincent was developing skills of grounding, centralized awareness, and self-organization (see Editor’s note).
“…he controlled the wooden Lazy 8 track with his hands, his knees, even his head.”
Over time, Lazy 8s continued to be Vincent’s go-to movement. He walked the pattern, enlarged, on the floor, drew it on paper, and controlled the wooden track with his hands, his knees—even his head (I’ve noticed that, when exploring sensory and motor skills, people are often led to do surprising things!)
On the day of our fifth session, as Vincent stood at the white board, his Lazy 8s became horizontal! With each loop of the marker, I saw a newfound ease and grace settle into his body: 8s made with one hand, then the other, then both hands. It was a breakthrough moment.
Suddenly Vincent began drawing horizontal Lazy 8s—a breakthrough moment!
Vincent’s growth has continued. Now, when he arrives, he comes in with a sense of purpose. He sits across my table, fills out a written pre-check form** and we chat. While I still initiate most of our conversations, I get a kick out of his quirky sense of humor. He draws his pictures, and frequently looks up and smiles. He seems happy and relaxed in his own skin.
A few weeks ago, we talked about school starting up again. Vincent said he was excited. I felt an opening in which to ask what he might like to work toward achieving in 7th grade. He told me that he’d “like to feel good about this year, and solve problems as they come along.” I was heartened by his wisdom—and the fact that he was able to articulate a goal.
Vincent’s Lazy 8s keep on evolving too. Recently, I asked him to draw a picture, do some 8s, and draw again. He created his horizontal 8 on the white board with a large, fluid, full-body motion. But it was the difference in his picture afterward that astonished me. Where his fanciful pre-sketch was cute and comical, his highly detailed post-sketch was drawn in a much more grounded and sophisticated style! And he wasn’t finished yet.
Vincent’s drawings before (left) and immediately after (right) doing some Lazy 8s.
Vincent then went back to the board and erased the center of the 8, leaving an empty space between the two sides. I wasn’t sure what he was doing. Moments later, he cross-hatched the opening, as if to build up a bridge between the two sides—just as we teach in Brain Gym, that the Corpus Callosum can be seen as a “bridge” between the brain’s two hemispheres. I was flabbergasted—it’s nothing Vincent and I had ever discussed.
A close-up of the cross-hatching marks he drew at the precise center of the 8.
Vincent’s Lazy 8s on the whiteboard, showing his crosshatching in the middle.
Perhaps Vincent’s most dramatic experience with Lazy 8s immersed him in the movement for a full 15 minutes. The rhythm, flow, and the sound of the marble on the wooden track took him into “the zone.” Slowly, it transitioned into a shared activity: we each held one end of the wooden track in the air between us. We operated it together, sensing the shifts in tempo, weight, and hand position required to keep the momentum going. I was literally “in the loop” with Vincent, a part of his creative process. I will never forget that moment of collaboration.
In Educational Kinesiology, we learn that doing Lazy 8 is an opportunity to define the left and right visual fields and the point midway between them, where the two visual fields must overlap. Using both left and right sides of the body this way appears to connect the two hemispheres. We often see improved eye-teaming skills and a lessening of letter reversals and transpositions. I’ve also seen how doing the 8s can relax the muscles of the hands, arms, and shoulders, and support balance and coordination.
Working with Vincent in this organic, collaborative way has shown me that drawing Lazy 8s can have a profound social, emotional, and creative impact that grows alongside the physical skills of learning.
Before I came to Brain Gym, I thought that everyone had to live with struggle and limitation. And even though I had experienced blissful moments of mind/ body integration, I didn’t have reliable tools to help get me back there when I drifted out of sync. Now I understand that movement, self-awareness, and intention bring enormous gifts for positive change. This happy sense of possibility fuels the work I am lucky enough to do with Vincent and my other clients.
Vincent chose the Lazy 8s for a reason unique to his own mind/body intelligence. I can’t wait to see what he chooses next.
Deborah Scott Studebaker is a Los Angeles writer, educator and speaker who is deeply curious about the link between language and movement. She is a Licensed Brain Gym® consultant and a certified Touch for Health Kinesiologist. Deb serves as Poet-in-Residence at The Willows Community School in Culver City, and also holds a certificate in Social Emotional Arts Education through UCLA Arts and Healing. In her workshops with young people and/or adults, Deb presents the physical skills of learning as a powerful context for creativity and social/emotional development. Deb is the founder of Inner-Genius, a consultancy that helps clients of all ages imagine, achieve, and succeed. To learn more, contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org or read about her work at www.movedtowrite.com.
*Working with Vincent has inspired me to find alternatives to spoken noticing, a process we learn in Brain Gym 101. One fantastic way to elicit a client’s thoughts and feelings is with a written pre-check/post-check form. Karen Petersen uses this technique with seniors in her lovely book, Move with Balance: Healthy Aging Activities for Brain and Body. I modified her form to use with clients of all ages.
**PACE: An acronym for doing four simple Brain Gym warm-up activities that help connect with a state of feeling Positive, Active, Clear, and Energetic.
***The Brain Gym activities are described in depth, along with suggested applications, in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition (2010), by Paul and Gail Dennison, ©2010, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA. Inspiration for the activities was drawn from many sources, including Developmental Optometry, dance, long distance running, child development, the postural work of F.M. Alexander, the Touch for Health process, and the Dennison’s own inventiveness. The Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition and Brain Gym activity cards can both be purchased at Brain Gym Bookstore.
Editor’s Note: Author, educator, and researcher David Sobel, Antioch University, writes about children’s building of tents, dens, and hideaways as a way to expand their sense of self and their knowledge of the social and natural world.
© 2017 Deborah Scott Studebaker. Adapted from an article in the Educational Kinesiology Foundation Newsletter, Volume 1 Issue 6. Brain Gym® is a trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym International www.braingym.org.
“The notion that intellectual activity
Carla Hannaford, Ph.D., teaching one of her courses: The Physiological Basis of Learning
can somehow exist apart from our bodies is deeply rooted in our culture. It is related to the attitude that the things we do with our bodies, and the bodily functions,emotions, and sensations that sustain life, are lower, less distinctly human. This is also the basis of a lot of educational theory and practice that make learning harder and less successful than it could be.”
—Carla Hannaford, biologist and educator
from her book Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head
Children are often surprised to understand the words as they read them after doing some Brain Gym activities.
Learning is about doing. Children become self-initiating learners when they connect or re-connect with the movement patterns that call them into action. As a reading teacher once indoctrinated in the idea that learning is a mental activity, I first wrestled with this paradoxical point of view in the early 1970s. I saw struggling learners at my reading centers make their biggest leaps in reading, writing, and processing language, not through repetition and memorization, but by mastering physical (sensorimotor) skills related to the integration of perception and action.
Over time, I developed a system, Educational Kinesiology: Seven Dimensions of Intelligence*, based on a simple principle: Create learning opportunities so that students can connect with the physical skills.
I helped learners discover how to integrate their movement patterns in terms of left-right, up-down, and back-to-front directions. I further found that by prioritizing these dimensions I could more readily create a teachable moment for engaging skills of centralization, spatial awareness, holding a tool (like a pencil) effectively, and so on.
Gail and I in 1986, during our early days of co-teaching.
I asked my friend and colleague, Gail Hargrove (later to become my wife), to help me organize my processes into a course manual. We soon found that it was our great joy to teach the work together. In the early 1980s, Gail and I began teaching throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. We often stayed over for a few days in one location to give private consultations.
We would end each session by showing a few self-help activities from our repertoire that would take just minutes to do and serve as reminders of the goal, drawing stick-figure illustrations.
We chose movements that re-enforced any skills of balance, coordination, eye-teaming, and centralization learned in the session. We found that repeating these each day helped students to anchor new habits of movement, learning, playfulness, and self-calming.
Danny Discovers Reading
Our little “homeplay” book – Brain Gym: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning
One afternoon in the spring of 1986 we had the good fortune to work with a woman, her husband, and son Danny*. Danny’s mother expressed her goal for him to improve his reading. When asked what he would like to learn to do more easily, seven-year-old Danny said that he wanted to be able to catch a ball better (he had been diagnosed with a mild cerebral palsy, and his movements were somewhat restricted).
While we were doing the Edu-K in Depth menu with him, Danny improved his hand-eye coordination with his right, previously shortened and “useless,” arm, which through muscle-relaxing activities now extended to the same length as his left.
Along with his mom, we joked around with him as we played catch with a crumpled paper “ball” and asked Danny to write his name and draw a picture. By the end of the session, Danny’s eyes had come to life and he read fluently and with comprehension for the first time. His mother listened with tears streaming down her face. We laughed and chatted with Danny, confident in our good rapport, for we had become pals.
Then I mentioned “homework” and Danny promptly got up and left the room, not to return. It was at this moment that Gail and I, realizing that our movements deserved a more playful name, coined the term “homeplay.”
My thoughts continued in this vein. In the context of the educational system of the ’70s and ’80s that referred to learning challenges as “minimal brain dysfunction,” and perhaps anticipating the ’90s and “the decade of the brain,” and further, given my understanding of cognitive science and the relationship between learning and movement, the name “Brain Gym” came to me. Gail and I both immediately liked the name.
“Brain Gym” clearly speaks of what our work is all about: bringing together the thinking intelligence and the coordination of the body.
Gail took this photo of me in Brisbane on our first trip to Australia and New Zealand.
Gail and I envisioned putting our best activities into a small book that we could give away to students as “homeplay” after a private session, and began working on that project. Our booklet, Brain Gym: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning included 26 easy-to-do physical movements that enhance learning.
A few weeks later, we sent our paste-up version to the printer, just as we boarded a plane to teach our first courses in Australia and New Zealand. A draft of the booklet went with us, and as we shared it with students, we suddenly saw that these quick and simple activities could become as important as our in-depth work. Soon after, we reworked some of our course material into what is now Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life, which included the activities.
We didn’t then imagine that our “little orange book” would eventually be translated into 20-some languages, used in more than 80 countries, and, thirty years later, still be bringing play and ease to the learning process for people of all ages and abilities. Δ
*Educational Kinesiology in Depth: Seven Dimensions of Intelligence, uses a priority system to explore left-right, up-down, back-to-front directional movements, as well as motivation, breathing, self-regulation, and cranial movement (habits of teeth and jaw). For more about how Paul chose the Brain Gym activities, see Freedom in Learning: The Gifts of a Child-Centered Education.
**Danny is not his real name. This story is excerpted from Brain Gym and Me: Reclaiming the Pleasure of Learning, by Paul E. Dennison,©1986.
***The Brain Gym activities are described in depth, along with suggested applications, in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, by Paul and Gail Dennison, ©2010, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA. Inspiration for the activities was drawn from many sources, including Developmental Optometry, dance, long distance running, child development, the postural work of F.M. Alexander, the Touch for Health process, and our own inventiveness. More and more, we realized the value of this collection of movements that so effectively facilitate learning, enhance the enjoyment of daily life, and help individuals attain more of their potential.
Photo Credits: Boy reading – ID 1158000 © Michal Bednarek | Dreamstime.com
© 2016 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you.
Gail and Paul do “The Give and Take” from the Integrated Movements menu.
Dear participants at the 2016 Annual EKF Conference,
Our thanks and congratulations to the board, staff, and all who are coming together to move, play, and share in this year’s 4-day June event in Portland, Maine.
The theme—“Port of Potential”—with its invitation of holding new possibilities for our lives and exploring “all things capable of becoming real,” is an invitation to explore the arts, wellness, movement patterns and sensory skills, business development, and much more.
As we envisioned an annual conference, we saw the value of developing the profession of Educational Kinesiologist. Our dream has come true as our language of learning through movement has been validated and recognized by educators, kinesiologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and many neuroscientists across the planet. Edu-K and the Brain Gym program represent excellence and professionalism. We’re proud of all of you and extend our humble gratitude for your steadfast loyalty over these many years.
The two of us, having attended 25 plus Edu-K conferences over the years—beginning in 1989 at Murrieta Hot Springs, California—know these gatherings as rich opportunities to connect with dear, longtime friends worldwide and to meet new ones, exchange Edu-K balances, and deepen our inner listening to the needs and desires for our own lives. We’ll be thinking of all of you as you call upon your dreams and visions and discover new ways to embody them; we are with you in spirit and we’ll be calling in our own.
Celebrating Keynote Presenters:
Carla Hannaford (presentation title yet to be announced), is an award winning biologist and educator, and an inspiring and knowledgeable speaker. The author of four books, all of which have been translated into many languages, her work is quoted in more than 1,000 books and journals. She is the creator of the Physiological Basis of Learning/Brain Gym series of courses and a Visioncircles Teacher Trainer. Dr. Hannaford is truly a pioneer of learning through movement, having taught in 48 countries world wide.
Rose Harrow, “Charge What You’re Worth – and Get it!,” is another longtime Edu-K trailblazer. An International faculty member of 30+ years, she has served many roles within the Foundation, including that of Network Coordinator and Executive Director. A certified business coach, Rose currently mentors Brain Gym Instructors to “take the lid off of their success, increase their income, joyfully create a sustainable business and expand their service to more people.”
Dionne Kamara, “Jamaica Brain Dance – Laying the Groundwork,” is a teaching artist in NYC, where she works with people of all ages. She began learning traditional Kumina dances, under her great-grandmother’s tutelage, as a child in Jamaica. A professional dancer for many years, she has toured internationally with the renowned dance company Urban Bush Women. She co-teaches with her mentor Anne Green Gilbert at the Summer Dance Institute for teachers in Seattle, Washington.
More Edu-K Pioneers
We’re thrilled to see that many other move-to-learn pioneers among the International Faculty members—some who have been faculty for 25 years or more—will also be presenting this year:
Don Wetsel, MA, LAc, BCTMB, Virginia – “From Stress to Creative Success”
Renate Wennekes, Germany – “Brain Gym Activities in a Developmental Perspective”
Colleen Gardner, Colorado “Come to Your Senses, All 12 of Them!”
Glenys Leadbeater, RN, New Zealand – “Port of Potential, Double Doodle Style”
Barbara Wards, New Zealand – “Working With Facial, Tongue, & Throat Muscles to Improve Communication”
Cindy Goldade, MA, Minnesota – “The Art & Science of Storytelling”
Sharon Plaskett, Utah – “Five Elements and Brain Physiology”
Paula Oleska, (Emerita), New York – “Your Secret Brain, the Key to Your Potential”
We were moved to read of the many other innovative professional development presentations and breakout sessions that have been scheduled—many of them being given by leaders who first became Brain Gym Instructors in the mid- 1980s. We would love to thank each of you by name; since the list is long, you can read it here. Click here for information on post conference events.
Our Current Focus
This year we celebrate the thirty-year anniversary of our little orange book, Brain Gym: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning, written initially as a “homeplay” handout for Edu-K students. Paul continues teaching local courses here in Ventura, California, and taught this spring in Belgium, France, and Switzerland. This fall, he’ll travel to Japan for the third time. Click here to read about his course last year in Dubai. Meanwhile, Gail continues working on blogs, digital product updates, and our latest book project.
Gail and Paul Dennison
As we continue to grow the presence of Brain Gym and Educational Kinesiology in the social media (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), we appreciate these avenues as a grassroots opportunity to update parents and educators with the latest research on movement, play, and learning, as well as a way to connect with so many of you. Thank you for your support!
In today’s technologically driven world that teaches both near-point overfocus and passive sitting, the Edu-K work is becoming more important than ever—not only for schoolchildren but for people of all ages. Research daily calls each of us to action by way of bringing increased movement, play, and structural alignment to our everyday activities, and especially in the learning environment. |
Where Edu-K once pioneered the field of movement-based learning, there are now many “move to learn” programs. The 26 Brain Gym activities, the Brain Gym 101 course, Seven Dimensions of Intelligence, and our other fine courses remain unrivaled in scope, simplicity, and a regard for the learner through self-actualizing activities. Research in neuroscience continues to catch up with our commonsense recognition of the interrelationship of the human body and optimal brain function.
Please connect with us through our learning resource site, Hearts at Play: Move, Learn, Bloom, that offers blogposts and videos to answer many of the how, what, and why questions about the Edu-K work that you’ve asked us throughout the years. We trust you’ll find this site useful in creating immediate interest in your courses and private sessions. May we all keep finding balance as we progress in our personal and professional goals, and may we all keep moving with joy!
Love and hugs to all,
Gail and Paul Dennison
For more about the Edu-K approach to whole-brain learning, see Paul’s article: Why I Chose Research Over the Ivory Tower.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym® International. Click here for the name of an instructor in your area.
Anna Mitchell, a licensed Brain Gym Instructor and course sponsor in Dubai, volunteering to help me demonstrate the partner version of the Calf Pump for ease of focus and attention.
The amazing Ski Dubai—a snowy indoor ski lift and slope within the Mall of the Emirates—one of the world’s largest shopping malls.
My photo of the tallest building in Dubai—the Burj Khalifa, which rises an imposing 2,717 feet to hold 209 floors.
Imagine a faraway, almost mythic place—an enormous global city with impressive skyscrapers and urban landscapes, unbelievably built in the middle of an arid desert. This growing, dynamic environment cries out for exploratory thinking and a belief in new possibilities. Now imagine a group of inspired adult students coming together to discover what it’s like to “move to learn”—to set new life goals and embody vital new ideas and habits through balance and play.
This was the context for two of my fall 2015 courses: A gathering of eager learners and leaders coming from across the Arabian Peninsula to the mysterious city of Dubai, one of the seven United Arab Emirates, situated on the southeast of the Persian Gulf coast.
Behind me, a small glimpse of the Dubai Mall Aquarium, one of the largest tanks in the world.
At the Dubai Mall—like something I’d never seen before—a sculpture of divers as part of a waterfall.
The Dennison Approach to Whole-Brain Learning was attended primarily by parents and educators, including some participants who were new to Brain Gym*. We enjoyed moving, playing, and balancing* together as students learned the 26 Brain Gym activities and experienced how each supports centralization of eyes, hands, and body on the midfield for such varied tasks as sitting, standing, walking, and academic work.
A student and I enjoyed the benefits of the partner Calf Pump.
Here, we positioned ourselves to anchor one another in the partner version of the Grounder.
Drawing on my studies in child growth and development, as well as my clinical experience, I demonstrated how each Brain Gym activity supports specific physical skills basic to ease of functional learning.
Participants then experienced for themselves how crossing the lateral midline connects the body’s left and right sides for the mechanics of communication, such as reading, listening, and writing. We next explored the relationship between up and down movements and our ability to be organized and grounded, and to manage stress. Lastly, we crossed the focus midline, moving both forward and back, to experience how our focal and ambient awareness can impact our ability to plan ahead for ease of comprehension.
Participants were delighted to discover processes that they could immediately implement for themselves, as well as with youngsters and oldsters at home and at their schools.
We did the Elephant to relax neck and shoulders, and connect with our depth perception.
We enjoyed the rhythm and flowing motion of the Alphabet 8s activity. This kinesthetic, whole-body experience of the alpha and beta letters as more alike than different also highlights letter distinctions.
Students noticed differences in their reading fluency before and after doing each balance.
Course photo for Dennison Whole-Brain Learning; I’m in the back row center; Anna is far right.
After a day off and more touring, we continued with Total Core Repatterning**a post-graduate Edu-K In Depth course focusing on integration of early motor skills. The group was made up of advanced students—some chiropractors, physical therapists, Touch for Health instructors, and numerous Brain Gym instructors who were already familiar with the educational model of creating a “big picture” context through which to draw out new learning. As a group, we identified some basic one-sided habits of movement (such as reading, writing, texting) and noticed how these interfered with eye-teaming, as well as how they diminished our work skills and structural alignment in general. We then integrated these through the repatterning process, experiencing the ease and facility possible when whole-body movement provides context and centralization for near-point activities.
During the three-days, students chose goals, partnered up, and facilitated the 5-step balance* process with one another. Our in-depth activities emphasized structural alignment. We saw the impact on centralization of the Symmetrical and Asymmetrical Tonic-Neck Reflexes, as well as TMJ misalignment. The students were delighted after each balance to experience improved postural integration, a new ease of movement, and the possibility to live into their goals with greater awareness.
What a joy to share the Edu-K work with such eager and hospitable people. There was a strong feeling of love in the room as we worked and shared together.
Our Total Core Repatterning workshop graduation photo—from our multicultural backgrounds we emerged as a cohesive community. Anna, front row center; me in the back row center.
*Brain Gym courses are based on the balance process: Five Steps to Easy Learning. The Brain Gym activities are described in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, by Paul and Gail Dennison, ©2010, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA.
**Total Core Repatterning is an in-depth movement process (based on the Dennison Laterality Repatterning process taught in Brain Gym 101), for integrating primitive reflexes that interfere with learning and mature motor control.
© 2016 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.
You might also enjoy these articles by Paul Dennison:
Why I Chose Action Research Over the Ivory Tower
Learning Calls for Physical Skills: The Role of Movement-Based Teaching
In Celebration of Handwriting
by Amy CHOI Wai Ming, Hong Kong
I’m very happy to share with you that, after 16 years as a Brain Gym Instructor, last summer I taught my biggest course* ever—a five-day class held in Shanghai in July, 2015. There were 40-some people, and for the first time I taught the course for parents and children without using any Power Point! I taught by pure noticing*. It was a body-oriented, drawing-out experience, and one that I especially enjoyed teaching.
The Brain Gym Instructors who reviewed the class or served as teaching assistants also enjoyed it very much. We sometimes let the kids get up and run around, and they were happy to get involved in all the movements, activities, and balance* processes.
We also used the figure 8 graphic of the Learning Flow* Chart from Brain Gym Teachers Edition. With the Dennisons’ permission, I made two teaching posters: one about 1.5 meters wide (you can see it in the background of the group photo) and the other a big floor mat (photo 10, link below), so that participants could walk on it and notice when they were in integrated high and low gears and when they were in stress. The students appreciated these posters, which many reviewers and Brain Gym Instructors who attended the course said helped them really “get it” for the first time.
Amy CHOI (2nd row, center) with parents and children at a Brain Gym 101 course she taught in Shanghai, July 2015.
After the course, I put together some photos to share with this article (read on for detailed captions of these). (For those who don’t have a yahoo/Flickr account, you can see the photos at https://www.flickr.com/x/t/0092009/gp/brainbodycentre/MqT7R2/)
CAPTIONS FOR THE PHOTOS AT THE LINK
Title Photo: July 7, 2015 Brain Gym 101 course – Students gather for a class photo!
Photos 1 & 2: Teaching assistants in the Shanghai course make class posters using the Double Doodle activity, drawing with two hands at once.
Photo 3: Students notice what they emphasize or omit in their own learning as they refer to Edu-K’s three learning dimensions.
Photo 4: Class assistants prepare teaching aids for the class: Amy finds that rubber band ropes are excellent tool for noticing whole-body movement in the Dennison Laterality Repatterning*** balance.
Photo 5: Amy’s enlarged draft version of the Learning Flow chart makes discovery of high and low gears more visceral.
Photo 6: In the group circle, parents and children discuss what they notice about how they learn, and about the impact of stress on their sensory perception.
Photo 7: The children are exuberant in their play and explorations as they do a group balance for crossing the midline for whole-body movement.
Photo 8: A mother and son do Brain Gym Hook-ups together. In the background: Double Doodle drawings, Lazy 8s, a goal chart, and Brain Gym posters.
Photo 9: Participants do the Positive Points.
Photo 10: Doing pre-activities for an Action Balance for Focus; noticing whole-body focus.
Photo 11: A mother and son do the Footflex for ease of focus and attention.
Photo 12: Participants do the Owl to release shoulder tension.
Photo 13: The Grounder helps release hip tension and restore flexibility.
Photo 14: Art can be play!
Photo 15: Two teenagers from two different cities become friends after joining the Brain Gym 101 course.
Photos 16 and 17: Student’s notice their personal reference points within the Learning Flow, using Hook-ups to connect with a new learning response.
Photos 18 and 19: Discussion (left) and games (right).
Photo 20: Fun and playfulness during the class photo! Amy CHOI is in the second row, center.
Photo 21-23: Student drawings of the three dimensions: The Robot, The Swimmer, and The Penguin are the metaphors we use to describe three aspects of integrated learning.
Photo 24: a young man assists his mother in noticing her hearing/listening via her left ear.
Photo 25: Amy with two young students.
Photo 26: Participants note their learning process, then do the Elephant activity for relaxed listening.
Amy CHOI (center) and a group of kindergarten teachers share some results of their two-handed artwork from the course Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Learning, held in Hong Kong in the fall of 2015.
I’m grateful to my sponsor, Mr. Shi Jian Ping of Shanghai Sunflower Studio, who provided the space for this wonderful course to happen. I would also like to thank Gail and Paul Dennison for their visionary work, Glenys Leadbeater for guiding me to join the International Faculty, and my many wonderful Edu-K teachers, including my first instructors: the late Zale Giffin of California, Flo Johnasen of Hawaii, and my close friend and teacher Carla Hannaford of Utah.
Amy CHOI Wai Ming, a Brain Gym International Faculty Member in Hong Kong, became a Brain Gym Instructor/Consultant in 1999. She uses Edu-K’s PACE (emphasizing rhythm and timing) and space (for proprioception and spatial awareness) activities to explore new ways to play and move. Amy says her best tools to support others in finding authenticity through whole-body movement are her Kinesiology training and listening to her own body and intuition. She teaches all the core subjects of the Edu-K curriculum, and especially enjoys facilitating the Double Doodle Play basic and Teacher Training workshops. To find out more about Amy and her work, visit www.brainbodycentre.com. ∞
* Students of Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life experience the 26 activities and 11 Action Balances related to basic functions, such as reading, listening, writing, moving. Participants explore the process of “noticing” in terms of the Learning Flow.
** The Double Doodle, the Footflex, and other activities mentioned here are part of the 26 Brain Gym activities detailed in Brain Gym: Teacher’s Edition © 2010, by Paul and Gail Dennison, which also describes how to use the Learning Flow.
***Dennison Laterality Repatterning is a short movement process that teaches learners how to shift from avoiding the visual and movement midline (and thus using one side of the body excessively) to functioning in terms of this midline and the two-sided midfield that it makes available.
© 2016 Amy CHOI Wai Ming. All rights reserved
Brain Gym® is a trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of a Brain Gym or Double Doodle Play instructor near you.