By Emily Eisen, M.Ed.
I’ve always been fascinated by the working of the miraculous human brain. It wasn’t until 1995 that I became personally interested in how my brain works—when I learned I had a benign brain tumor on my pituitary gland. It was detected while it was still small, and so it never interfered with my vision or other faculties.
Serendipitously, a colleague told me about a three-day course called Brain Gym® 101, being given at a local hospital. I registered for it immediately. Since Brain Gym is an educational (rather than medical) program, my focus consisted of creating challenging learning goals and activating more brainpower by choosing from “menus” of the 26 different Brain Gym activities.
I experienced extraordinary improvements, and went on to take more Brain Gym courses on brain organization, balancing brain dominance, and so on. At the time, I was teaching art in Hicksville, New York. I used the activities I was learning with my art students, and observed much-improved focus and concentration as well as greater freedom of verbal and visual expression.
Fast forward to the year 2000, by which time my tumor had shrunk to half its size. I flew to California, and was cured by an innovative neurosurgeon who took it out through my right nostril, allowing me to go to Universal Studios with my family just three days later!
I returned home to Northport, New York, where I went on to become a licensed Brain Gym® Instructor, teaching professional staff development to Long Island teachers, conducting private therapist trainings, and seeing clients for individual brain balance sessions. Also, in the town of Huntington I currently conduct senior citizen programs under a grant from the Alzheimer’s Association.
So why “Sudoku on My Brain”?
Let me begin by saying that I hated math—and failed it in the fifth grade.
My dad was a crackerjack mathematician. I marveled at how he could add a column of four-digit numbers out loud so fast. He told me he would teach me to be a math wizard and that I’d never fail a math test again. And that’s what happened! Although ever since I could hold a crayon I had been doing art all the time, I now fell in love with numbers. I actually started college as a math major!
Within the first year, I came to my senses and became an art major. In 1975 I received my B.A. and M.Ed. for Art Education from Queens College. For the next 34 years, I had the best time in my career as an art teacher in Hicksville.
I love doing Sudoku puzzles because of loving the numbers, and also because of the way my eyes need to track all the different boxes to determine which number is right for the nine-box grid. After doing a puzzle, I feel calm, energized, and focused.
Since the inner space of the brain is as much a mystery as outer space, for the “I See Me” Huntington Arts Council Self-Portrait Exhibit, April 2015, I chose to depict my brain on Sudoku in a 3-D manner. I made a 3-D shadow box, entitled “Sudoku on My Brain” (see the graphic at upper left). This is one result of a process I learned from my friend, colleague, neighbor, and mentor Beth Atkinson, a Hicksville High School art teacher and New York State Teacher of the Year award winner.
I learned in my training to become a Brain Gym Instructor that, most of the time, the eye muscles get fixed in habitual patterns of tracking. Did you know that eye tracking stimulates the different brain centers? When we move only our eyes, we take our brain for a walk! Yet people with 20/20 vision can have tracking challenges and may have difficulty with balance, reading, driving, writing, painting, drawing, sculpting, comprehension, organization, playing sports, doing eye-hand work, and anything else that the eyes are used for.
Yet, according to Brain Gym author Dr. Paul Dennison, “Movement is the door to learning.” The eyes are controlled by muscles that, just like all muscles, need exercise. They need to have a full range of motion as well as the ability to lengthen and shorten.
Four* Brain Gym exercises in particular give the eye muscles a great workout: Brain Buttons (for left-right tracking), Earth Buttons and Space Buttons (for vertical tracking), and Balance Buttons (for near-to-far tracking). I teach these to my art studio students, and they notice great differences in how they draw and paint before and after this learning menu of movements! Δ
*Lazy 8s and the Double Doodle are two more Brain Gym activities that engage the eyes, in both cases focusing on hand-eye coordination and directionality.
This article was originally written for the “I See Me” Huntington Arts Council Self-Portrait Exhibit, April 2015.
Emily Eisen, M.Ed., is a licensed New York State K-12 Art Instructor/educational consultant, a Brain Gym® Instructor, the Director/Instructor of BRAINWORKS PLUS, a brain-body fitness instructor for elders, a Language of Mastery® instructor, a Total Immersion® swim coach, a ChiWalking® coach, a repertory actor, a keynote motivational speaker, and a fine arts instructor. To contact Emily: P. O. Box 778, Northport, NY 11768; phone/fax: 631-651-9207; email: email@example.com; website: www.brainworksplus.com
The Brain Gym activities are from Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, by Paul and Gail Dennison, 2010.
Brain Gym® is the registered trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym® International, Ventura, CA, www.braingym.org. Click here for the name of an instructor in your area.