Sudoku on My Brain: An Artist’s Statement

"Sudoku on My Brain," is an 8 X 10 shadow box, rendered in computer generated graphics, watercolor, and colored pencil.

“Sudoku on My Brain,” is an 8 X 10 shadow box, rendered in computer generated graphics, watercolor, and colored pencil.

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.

"Self-Portrait of EM with Words," a 16 x 20 multimedia portrait, made from a photo transfer, acrylic paint, and watercolor pastels using the batik wax resist method to create the neuropathway networks. I enjoyed collaging the word tiles to describe what I enjoy my brain for!

“Self-Portrait of EM with Words,” a 16 x 20 multimedia portrait, made from a photo transfer, acrylic paint, and watercolor pastels using the batik wax resist method to create the neuropathway networks. I enjoyed collaging the word tiles to describe what I enjoy my brain for!

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.

In a program I recently led for senior citizens, the presenter had just detailed a list of all the signs of Alzheimers! Oh my gosh . . . I perked them up with Arm Activation!

In a program I recently led for senior citizens, the presenter had just detailed a list of all the signs of Alzheimers! Oh my gosh . . . I perked them up with Arm Activation!

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.

Here, I lead seniors in doing more Brain Gym activities: The Energy Yawn, followed by some Belly Breathing. We then switched on our spirits by singing together, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning!”

Here, I lead seniors in doing more Brain Gym activities: The Energy Yawn, followed by some Belly Breathing. We then switched on our spirits by singing together, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning!”

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: balance@brainworksplus.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.

 

 

“Possibilities!” Brain Gym® International Conference 2014

Paul and Gail Dennison

Paul and Gail Dennison

Dear participants in the Brain Gym® International Conference 2014,

Congratulations on joining together to celebrate learning through movement and the Brain Gym program in beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado! We offer our deep appreciation to the Colorado network, Foundation staff members, International Faculty, keynote presenters, and all who will be contributing to make this year’s conference an outstanding event.

We’re excited that you’ll be meeting keynote presenter biomechanist Katy Bowman*, whose work has greatly influenced us over the last five years, and who will give you a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the sedentary, one-sided learner in the classroom, as well as some great options for addressing these. You’ll also meet a dear and heartful inspirer of play, longtime friend of Edu-K, Fred Donaldson, who is bound to take you into new and surprising play spaces. Author and consultant Patricia Lemer will support you in expanding your thinking beyond that of symptoms and developmental labels, and give you some simple options for supporting the whole person.

Our hearts are with you as you meet for the Welcome Reception on July 25 and continue celebrating through the three days of conference events and two days of post-conference courses and workshops.

Our own new way of working has allowed Paul so far this year to teach here in Ventura, California, as well as in Arizona, Puerto Rica, Canada, and in Europe–Verona, Italy; Lausanne, Switzerland; and Avignon, France. You can see photos of Paul’s courses on Facebook. Be sure to look for the picture of Paul fulfilling a lifelong dream to do the Cross Crawl on the bridge at Avignon! Later this year he’ll also be teaching in Coyoacan, Mexico; Innsbruck, Austria; and Damme and Kirchzarten, Germany. Meanwhile, Gail continues working on blogs and the latest book project. We are delighted with the continued growth of the Edu-K and Brain Gym work.

Now that we’re connecting with so many of you on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, we’re valuing the importance of developing a presence for Brain Gym® in the social media. As we read about and reflect on the rapid changes taking place in classroom environments worldwide, we are celebrating a growing awareness of the importance of movement, play, and structural alignment in one’s 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. We believe that 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. Neuroscience research continues to catch up with our commonsense recognition of the interrelationship of the human body and optimal brain function.

In today’s technologically driven world that requires both near-point focus and passive sitting, the Edu-K work is becoming more important than ever—not only for schoolchildren but for people of all ages. Please acquaint yourselves with our learning resource site, Hearts at Play: Move, Learn, Bloom, that continues to offer blogs and videos to answer many of the howwhat, 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 your lives be touched by the “Possibilities” of moving to fulfill your personal and professional goals, and may we all keep moving with joy!

Love to all, Paul and Gail

*For more about the 2014 Conference and keynote speakers, click here.

Reading Is a Miracle

Paul E. Dennison, Reading Specialist and Developer of Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym®

Paul E. Dennison, Reading Specialist and Developer of Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym®

In my 45 years as a reading teacher, I’ve never sat next to a child and listened to him decode symbols or sound out words. And that’s because, for me, this would be making the code more important than the language it represents.

At my learning centers, the children were always busy making books—telling stories that I wrote down for them that they then drew pictures for. Sometimes they would listen to these books, or to other descriptive literature and poetry, as I read aloud. Or they might be learning cursive handwriting while writing down their own life stories for themselves. These children were actively exercising their visual, auditory, motoric, and tactile skills, and constructing ways to integrate these into their own functioning.

A big part of what makes us human is our desire to tell stories and otherwise express ourselves. Language is something not to take apart, but to put together—something by which we create connections with our world. Through our planet’s long history, our ancestors drew pictures that later became an alphabet, in order to record, recall, and communicate their experiences. Reading is the miracle that resulted from these marks and symbols. Codes were created and agreed upon that could later be decoded by others in order to pass on the culture to the next generation. Every child who learns to read and write recreates this miracle.

Yet humankind has long assumed that reading capability is inherent to all children. We forget that reading isn’t a natural function to which we’re born, but one that must be learned. A child identified as having dyslexia, a perceived difficulty in learning to read, doesn’t have a medical problem—he has simply not yet experienced the relationship of language to his own drawings or marks on the paper. He hasn’t yet discovered how to invent his own reading and so create his own miracle.

Reading, the decoding and neural encoding of written alphabetic symbols for their meaning, is a human invention that reflects how the brain rearranges itself in order to process written speech. “Human beings were never born to read,” writes Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist and child development expert, in her remarkable book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, who goes on to explain how reading evolved over millennia—from the decoding of cave drawings, to symbols that became an alphabetic code, to the complex sentence forms that we read today.

Wolf understands reading as we do in Edu-K—as the creation and mastery of a lexical symbolic code that represents experience for later recall or re-imagination. Reading, a totally man-made ability that has helped create the human brain of today, entails much more than focusing on linear input, one word or phoneme at a time. Wolf suggests that “the evolution of writing and the development of the reading brain give us a remarkable lens on ourselves as a species, as the creators of many oral and written language cultures and as individual learners with different and expanding forms of intelligence.”

The brain has no center or location for the function of reading as it has for seeing, listening, moving, and touching. The miracle of reading requires the interconnection of many separate and specific neural locations. Through an engaged exploration of symbols, each child teaches himself as his brain automatically makes these connections.

Not all children learn in the same way, and learning to read seems easier for some than for others—just as methods to teach reading work better with some learners than with others.

Xavier, age 8 and in the third grade, appears bright and curious, yet was not keeping up with his classmates at school. When his parents took him to be privately evaluated, he tested as being more than a year behind grade level in reading, writing, and spelling. On a referral, they brought Xavier to see me. Reading for me at my office from his school reading book, he pointed to one word at a time and sounded it out, pronouncing each syllable carefully as his classroom teacher had instructed him to do. When asked to recall and relate what he had read, he was able to remember only one or two isolated words.

An 8-year old boy discovers how drawing, writing, and moving to learn can help him read more easily.

An 8-year old boy discovers how drawing, writing, and moving to learn can help him read more easily.

During his session, Xavier chose from a wall poster the Brain Gym activities he wanted to do. Together we did the Cross Crawl, Lazy 8s, the Calf Pump, the Footflex, Arm Activation, and the Gravity Glider. In the process, his parents and I watched him shift from a passive posture to a more active way of carrying himself and speaking.

To help make reading more meaningful, I invited Xavier to make friends with 15 of his own favorite words. His parents and I shared his excitement as he thought of the words and I wrote them down for him on index cards: elephant, popcorn, airplane, zebra, and so on. Xavier agreed that every day he would trace the letters for each word with his fingers as he said the word aloud and thought about its meaning. By the time he said goodbye that day, he already recognized the words elephant and zebra by sight.

After two weeks of tracing his words and doing Brain Gym activities with his parents, Xavier returned to my office ready to read for me again. I could see by the way he sat and held his book that he was now experiencing a better sense of balance. He was now able to move his eyes to track horizontally across his visual midfield without excessive head movement. He was reading fluently, in the same way that he spoke, rather than focusing on separate phonemes, without effort and with enthusiasm and full comprehension—my definition of reading comprehension. We celebrated a miracle, as Xavier was now able to report back what he read in his own words. How, his parents wondered, did a few simple movements and activities help Xavier to read so much more effectively?

Because learning means adding the new to the old, the natural flow of learning to read begins with the recognition of what we already know. It requires simultaneously holding what is already familiar (stored as a verbal code) and relating new information, coming in, to that associated experience. Reading is first and foremost a flow of communicative language. Visual skills such as pointing the eyes to each word are, though important, incidental to the mental process of reading, and need to be so automatic and stress-free that the auditory-language processes can proceed without inhibition. Meaningful speech must always lead—never follow—the visual analysis of the code.

Effective reading of the code for meaning requires, just as it did for our forebears, the skillful integration of the auditory (say it), visual (see it), kinesthetic (write it), and tactile (feel it) areas of the brain, as well as the ability to interpret such received information as meaningful by relating the new to prior experiences.

When students like Xavier seem dyslexic, analyzing a linear progression of disconnected sounds one word or syllable at a time, and not yet able to immediately recognize those symbols within an expressive language context, they’re lost in the details of deciphering the code and are not even hearing the content. In my work with children diagnosed as dyslexic, I emphasize that reading (and, in fact, all of the language arts skills, including writing and spelling) be experienced on the visual midfield, where the left and right brain hemispheres can be accessed at the same time, for both immediate recognition of the new and the subsequent, almost simultaneous, neural breaking of the code to make it into familiar language.

The miracle of reading requires an instant recognition of new information in a meaningful context, followed by confirmation of the symbols or code, not the other way around as it’s usually taught. Thus the natural flow of learning requires a fresh perception within a context of previous experience. We learn the symbols so well that we hardly ever notice them.

As stated by psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist in his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, “the first apprehension of anything is by the right hemisphere while it remains new . . . soon taken over by the left hemisphere where it becomes familiar. Knowledge of the whole is . . . followed by knowledge of the parts.”

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolfe, © 2007, HarperCollins.

I Already Know How to Read: A Child’s View of Literacy, Prisca Martens, 1996, Heinemann. This valuable little book offers Marten’s insights as a professor of language education on her three-year observation of her daughter Sarah’s self-initiated exploration of reading and writing from ages two through five. This view can help us recognize the ways children (in our modern world, surrounded by written media) are naturally literate, and how they will “invent” writing and reading on their own, when given the opportunity. Informative reading and writing samples present Sarah as a natural inquirer who actively constructs symbols.

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, © Iain McGilchrist, 2012, Yale University Press.

Editor’s note: Through his review of the literature of approaches to teaching reading, Paul is well versed in the work of Russell G. Stauffer: The Language-Experience Approach to the Teaching of Reading©1970 and Teaching Reading as a Thinking Process,©1969, Russell G. Stauffer.  

*In Edu-K we keep phonics separate from experiences with reading. For more about our whole language and move to read approach, see: 5 Minutes to Better Reading FluencyIndependent Reading: A Path to Self-Initiated LearningDiscovering the Reading Midfield

To read the Italian translation of this article, La Lettura è un Miracolo, click here.

© 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.

Reclaiming the Big Picture: How I Improved My Vision

Paul Dennison, reading specialist.

Paul Dennison, reading specialist.

The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. —Hellen Keller

I received my first pair of glasses after repeating the fourth grade because I’d failed to learn how to read. The eye doctor told my mother and me that my nearsighted vision was hereditary, and that I could expect it to get worse every year. My mother, an artist with excellent vision, didn’t understand the prognosis, as no one in our family had ever worn glasses. She said she suspected that it might have something to do with my long-time struggle in learning to read.

After I got my glasses, I did finally learn to read. The stronger lenses helped me to point my eyes on words, one at a time, and to focus primarily at near point (what I now refer to in my work as overfocus). In order to read with my corrective lenses, I inadvertently tuned out my “big picture” distance and peripheral vision. Years later, to improve my eyesight, I would need to relearn these and other important visual and motor skills.

Wearing glasses to school wasn’t easy. Other children taunted me, calling me “Four Eyes,” and I daily dreamed of seeing without my glasses. In high school I bought The Bates Method for Better Eyesight without Glasses,©1940, by Dr. William Bates, which inspired hope and gave me a view of vision that was more oriented to relaxation and process. I did the suggested exercises as best I could, yet didn’t perceive any changes, as I still needed my glasses to see.

At age 12, Paul was unsuccessful in improving his eyesight.

At age 12, Paul was unsuccessful in improving his eyesight.

Throughout my school and university career, I needed stronger and stronger glasses, as predicted by that first optometrist. In 1967 I became a reading teacher, and in 1975 I completed my doctorate in education. Around this time, I came in contact with several developmental optometrists who further influenced my understanding of vision as dynamic, rather than static.

It was the optometrist Gerald N. Getman(1), a remarkable man I had the pleasure to meet, who said that vision is “a learned skill of attention.” Dr. Getman made the distinction for me between eyesight and vision, noticing that such skills as identification, association, spatial relationships, and the ability to derive meaning and direct our thoughts or movement to act on that meaning, all occur in the brain, not the eyes.

In 1978 I attended classes with author and natural vision improvement teacher Janet Goodrich(2), who taught the Bates method that I had attempted, years earlier, to do on my own. Janet wanted her students to remove their glasses, yet I couldn’t do this because it made me dizzy.

While working with children and adults who had reading challenges, I found myself focusing on the physical skills of learning, such as eye movement, head turning, pencil holding, and sitting comfortably. I discovered specific physical movements (later to become the Brain Gym®(3) activities) that helped students to organize information in terms of their body’s midline (the sternum), and so learn to read and write without neck tension or visual stress.

Since the early 1980s, when I began to develop my Educational Kinesiology (Edu-K) work, many students have made spontaneous improvements in visual acuity after experiencing Edu-K balances(3) and such Edu-K processes as Dennison Laterality Repatterning. Yet, when I first met my wife and partner, Gail, I was still dealing with severe myopia.

To give you a sense of what this means, the healthy eye can instantly adjust to either a small or an extended focal length (using what’s called the power of accommodation), and so has the ability to view objects at great variances in distance. At that time, my prescription was -8.00 diopters, which meant that without my glasses I could see clearly only at a distance of up to 0.125 of a meter, or about five inches (at -3.00 diopters, a person would be unable at 20 feet to read any line on the Snellen Eye Chart, the traditional method of measuring acuity). Put more simply, my loss of visual acuity was considered severe.

Paul, from the inside cover of his first book: Switching On: The Whole-Brain Answer to Dyslexia.

Paul, from the inside cover of his first book: Switching On: The Whole-Brain Answer to Dyslexia.

In order to see distant objects, the ciliary muscles of my eyes would need to relax so that each lens could return to a flatter shape, yet the muscles no longer had that flexibility. At that time, I never removed my glasses and didn’t feel comfortable eating or even talking without wearing them (see the photo of me, at left, wearing that prescription).

I told Gail that I didn’t believe I could improve my eyesight. Although I was helping many people discover ways to improve their visual acuity, I believed that any such help was too late for me. Gail encouraged me to become an explorer of my visual experience, and we did a balance for the goal “To succeed in life with my natural vision.” The learning menu was what we now call Total Core Repatterning, and included pre-activities that challenged my acuity at various distances. We followed the body wisdom and also did some vision training from the course Educational Kinesiology in Depth: The Seven Dimensions of Intelligence.

Standing after the balance, I couldn’t believe that I could see without my glasses! I had an immediate vision improvement that was quite profound, and my habits of moving also went through a remarkable shift for the better. Gail and I ran up and down the street—me without my glasses, excitedly reading to her as license plates and street signs came into focus.

The challenge then was how to continue work when my eyesight had improved but it wasn’t yet clear enough to let me read or work comfortably without any lenses. Luckily, I had an old pair of glasses with a lesser prescription that I could wear to function. Meanwhile, I did Brain Gym activities every day, as well as Positive Point Palming and other Vision Gym® activities(4). Within two days, I was seeing clearly enough through my old glasses to put the newer ones aside for good.

Through the years, I’ve continued to balance, sometimes using the In Depth or Creative Vision work. Each time, there’s a substantial improvement, after which I use my older glasses (I’ve kept them all in a box!) or go to a developmental optometrist for new 20/40 glasses, for which I then balance until my vision is further improved. In other words, I use the old glasses as a pre-activity for “learning” to see clearly at that prescription level. I nearly always make an immediate leap in motor skills as well, and usually feel completely at ease with the older glasses prescription within a day or two.

Today, my vision continues to improve. I wear glasses for night driving, but for most daily-life activities, including reading and looking at horizons, I can see without any lenses or glasses.

Achieving the perfect visual acuity of 20/20 or 6/6 (the metric measurement) isn’t my goal. Just as shifts in movement habits can affect the visual system, every small vision improvement supports shifts in my ease of movement, also relaxing and expanding my thinking. When I notice myself thinking in too linear a way, I can now call on the more naturally integrating whole-to-parts approach to problem solving.

Studying and teaching vision has awakened both Gail and me to the need to make lifestyle changes by way of daily habits. Some of the important shifts we’ve made are:

  • making vision a priority
  • using Brain Gym or other activities to provide a whole-body context for movement of the eyes
  • relaxing the eyes and enjoying beauty
  • crossing the visual midline and centralizing in the midfield
  • looking near, far, and all around
  • taking more vision breaks, all day long, to do the above

I love my eyes and vision, and I take care of my eyesight as I would a precious gift. Having reclaimed the joy of good vision and the multi-dimensional perspective that goes with it, I wouldn’t want to return to corrective lenses that limit my range of focus and my flexibility to move and play. Cultivating my vision is an ongoing process, and I invite all who want to see without glasses and to see the big picture to explore that process with me.   

 

(1)    Gerald N. Getman, O.D., Your Child’s Intelligence.

Note: The optometric research over the years has consistently shown, for better and lesser readers alike, a relationship between reading difficulties and vision challenges (which are not always hereditary); a connection that I validated time and again using my own work with students. Another clarifying point, a person is considered legally blind if their vision is 20/200 (or worse) in the best eye with the best available correction.

(2)  Janet Goodrich, Natural Vision Improvement.

(3)  The 26 Brain Gym activities are described in Brain Gym: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, © 2010. The 26, Dennison Laterality Repatterning, and the Balance process are taught in Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life.

(4)    The video “Move to See with Vision Gym®” offers descriptions of the 34 activities we do regularly to maintain and improve our vision. A Vision Gym kit is also available.

A translation of this article into Italian is available here: LA LETTURA E’ UN MIRACOLO DI PAUL DENNISON

A translation of this article into Chinese is available here.

© 2014 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.

 

A New Year’s Transformation: From Survival to Freedom of Learning

Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D.

Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D.

It’s New Year’s Day again—that time of year in which so many of us reflect on what’s working in our lives, then making a list of promises to ourselves about how we will live better in the year to come. Did you ever notice that we make resolutions every year that soon are forgotten as we live our lives today the same way that we lived them yesterday and the day before that?

I was recently reminded of this when a young man I’ll call Steve came to me for an Edu-K balance*. He explained that he had been trying over the last couple of years to shift out of the stresses in his life. He was concerned that, in order to keep up with his job, he was becoming a workaholic. He kept promising himself that he’d soon slow down and begin taking care of his health, and take a vacation to spend time with his wife and children. Each January he had resolved to do this, beginning the year with new health goals, exercise routine, and so on, resolutely resetting his intentions throughout the year. And each year, he said, he had continued down the same old path of anxiety, exhaustion, and self-neglect.

I explained to Steve that, most often, we cannot create change by simply making a resolution; we must actually transform ourselves. The way I understand it, when we’re in a cycle of fear and stress the brain is hard-wired to keep doing the old familiar things, not to seek change. Our habits, patterns of movement, and learned modes of functioning are deeply interconnected in a long-term survival-based system that works to keep us alive and safe. The deep, older, part of the brain (in the brainstem) works by automatic pilot. Under perceived stress, it repeats the routines that keep us doing the same thing again and again. Our thinking mind, the frontal lobes of the new brain might see a logical solution to our search for something better, and resolve to make a shift. Our limbic emotional brain might feel good about the lifestyle change we envision; however, if the old brain, by default, is continuing to keep us safe—we must stay the same. Survival, at the level of the brainstem, is the only priority.

I shared with Steve that there’s also good news out there for folks like us who really want to do things differently. It’s called neuroplasticity. In the cycle of fear and stress, we react from default movement patterns of fight-or-flight. In order to make change, we need to engage imagination to create specific new movement patterns for daily life, via the frontal lobes, which can shift us from a stress cycle into a learning cycle.

In the learning cycle, the old brain can learn new habits, new patterns, and new ways of being. The old network of survival habits can dissolve and fall away as a new intentional neural network replaces it. The key is to do more than to state a resolution with words alone. Building new neural patterns requires a goal that is informed by personal experience, by feelings, and by the body physically moving and sensing in new ways.

I asked Steve, as a pre-activity, to describe what he would be doing day-to-day if he were taking better care of himself.  He replied that he would be walking more, going to the gym, maintaining a better diet—planning ahead rather than always feeling overwhelmed and falling behind, then being irritable with his wife and kids.

We role-played each of his desired activities as best as possible, as if he were already doing them everyday. I then asked Steve to tell me about how he pictured his quality time with his kids. Steve imagined playing ball with his son, reading a bedtime story to his little girl, and playing games together with his wife and children. We role-played these scenarios, as well. This was a difficult moment, as Steve could now see that, although he was committed to having good experiences with his body and his family, such behaviors weren’t yet comfortable or easy for him to imagine or physically access. That is, he hadn’t really internalized the physical habits of relaxation and engagement that he could call on when the time came to put these intentions into action.

Steve was now clearer about his goal, and I had him state it in first person: “I take care of myself and spend quality time with my family.” As he spoke the goal aloud, he was able to recognize that it wasn’t yet quite true.

I coached Steve by explaining, “Your movement system gives you access to your innate intelligence, the part that is hardwired for survival. Can you get that, by experiencing what’s working and not working about this goal, you’re already beginning to realize it? As you physically experience each part of your goal, you’re already creating new neural networks along which to move and interact as you live into your future. As you notice and affirm through action your successful use of these pathways, the old habits will let go of their former hold on your lifestyle.

I used Edu-K’s priority system to facilitate Steve’s goal balance; the first learning menu called for in the balance was Dennison Laterality Repatterning1. At first, Steve was unable to coordinate the left and right sides of his body. As always, I found it an honor to watch learning take place at the level of whole-body awareness. I used the repatterning process, in this case, to help Steve further deepen his awareness of, and then to integrate, the polarity he had been experiencing not only between his physical, lateral sides, but also between what he did everyday and what he wished he was doing.

Through priority, the learning menu next called for doing Hook-ups and the Positive Points2 while reviewing a situation he had experienced when he was only age 7, when he wasn’t able to make choices for himself. On hearing the age and the word choice, Steve immediately remembered having difficulty keeping up with his schoolwork. At the time, he couldn’t understand why his parents insisted that he give up outdoor play with his friends in order to first complete his homework. Not grasping the possible consequences of school failure, he had continued to resent their discipline of him regarding his homework throughout his school years.

Now, in the security of the Hook-ups activity and with the simultaneous pulsing of the Positive Points at his frontal lobes, he took only a minute or so to revisit those years of constant push-pull around sitting still to work and think, and revision himself as someone who now chooses to balance work with movement and play. He quickly relaxed, his shoulders dropping and his ribs expanding as he began to breathe deeply. He opened his eyes and said to me: “It’s funny: I started to see myself taking the time to be with my friends and family in a different way: moving and playing, then getting my work done. I realized that what happened back then wasn’t anybody’s fault—my parents just wanted what was best for me.”

The Cross Crawl showed up as the next priority. Steve now did this whole-body activity with rhythm, confidence, and fluidity, and with none of the downward stare of stressful trying that I had seen during the repatterning.

As we did the post-activities for exercising, taking a walk, and making plans to move and play with his family, Steve was calm and connected with each detail. As he role-played catching a ball and reading with his children, this time he was present and even teary-eyed. He was connecting with himself and his feelings—even with his thoughts about his family—in a new, relaxed way. By focusing on specific physical and sensory skills, Steve had connected his goal with a sense of autonomy, physical competence, and increased relatedness to his family and experiences–all basic elements of intrinsic motivation. 

This completed the balance. As Steve restated his goal, his words now rang true. We revisited the different role-playing experiences, which he now did with a hearty laugh and a spirit of play. “I think I got it!” he said.

Steve called me a week later to express a genuine gratitude for our work together. As I had suggested, he was doing his Brain Gym homeplay, and had been keeping a celebratory list of each time he made a positive choice for himself and his family, letting go of the old, self-bullying behaviors that had caused him so much anxiety. I’m grateful to be able to facilitate such transformation in my work.

And for those who are setting their New Year’s goals for this year, I encourage you to call in your imagination and make them physical, as Steve did, and as I do also. The more we can embody new learning through movement, the more we can experience the freedom, fulfillment, empowerment, and mind-body congruency that comes from accessing our sensory and movement patterns in support of our best intentions.

 

Photo Credit: ID 2349814 © Elena Elisseeva | Dreamstime.com

1An experiential, movement-based approach to learning, including the Edu-K balance process, Dennison Laterality Repatterning, and the Learning Menu of 26 Brain Gym® activities, are taught in Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life. 

2Hook-ups, the Positive Points (click to see description), and the Cross Crawl, are three of the 26 Brain Gym® activities described in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, © 2010. 

© 2013 by Paul Dennison. All rights reserved.

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

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