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.
Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D.
I recently taught a hundred parents, educators, and occupational therapists in Austria and Germany, and this month I’ll be teaching in Australia and Indonesia. Yet, when I started my career—as a public school teacher and certificated reading specialist in Los Angeles—I had no idea I’d ever teach abroad in a score of countries. As one who’d experienced many early learning challenges, I was aiming only toward a doctorate in education so that I could give support to struggling young learners.
Starting in 1968, I taught first- and third-grade classes at the Malabar Street School in East Los Angeles. There, I was privileged to be one of a select team of teachers doing daily in-service training as an assistant to Dr. Constance Amsden, a professor at Cal State Los Angeles, in her innovative three-year research program, “The Malabar Reading Project for Mexican-American Students.”
Joining the faculty at Malabar Street School was a pivotal experience for me. It was there that I first observed, while working with children, how true learning can always be identified by the satisfaction it brings. At Malabar, I saw the value of sensory learning. I also realized that the most effective teaching acknowledges learners where they are, and then fosters in them an intrinsic motivation to explore the new and unknown.
Later, drawing on my grounding in pedagogy from Cal State (thanks to my mentors there, Dr. Amsden and Dr. Roderick Langston) I arrived at the University of Southern California at the top of my class. My professor and doctoral advisor, Charles M. Brown, encouraged me, telling me: “Your understanding of the philosophy, psychology, and process of teaching is the best I’ve yet seen. Paul, you know more about reading and the reading process than anyone I have previously met. I love having you in my classes—love what you bring to the discussion.”
Under Dr. Brown’s guidance, I went on to complete my doctorate in education, and received an award for outstanding research on the relationship of covert (silent) speech, or auditory processing, to beginning reading achievement. Although auditory processing ability is important, my research suggested that other modalities were also essential for reading acquisition.
My advisors had recommended that I continue my research into early reading, and I at first considered doing so. Yet I soon saw that even important new research is rarely effectively applied in the classroom. I realized that I didn’t want to be stuck in an ivory tower, conducting studies whose findings might never be implemented. I wanted to make a more direct contribution to the lives of young learners.
A Big Aha!
In 1970 I opened a reading center in the San Fernando Valley, and, while completing my doctoral studies and continuing to teach at all grade levels, I met and worked with several developmental optometrists. I began reading the extensive research gathered by the Optometric Extension Program, and recognized how this clarified my own dissertation studies and findings. Thanks to my optometrist associates who used movement experiences in their vision-training work, I realized with a big aha! that it’s the lack of specific physical skills related to focal attention, rather than language development, that disrupts the early reading process. I saw that many learners are not able to move their eyes together into the left and right visual fields, or to move their eyes separately from the movement of the rest of the body. Movement is the missing link that prepares beginning readers to achieve.
Learners experience less stress and greater ease when they can work in the visual midfield, where the left and right visual fields overlap.
As I applied my studies in the classroom, I continued to see, from observing the children, that learning to read requires many abilities—not any one alone. The best beginning readers were skilled not only in silent speech, but also in the visual, kinesthetic, and tactile modalities. To verify that the skills of reading can be readily acquired through a multidisciplinary approach, I initiated my own “action research” with students of all ages and social backgrounds.
In this endeavor, I used each five-step lesson plan (called a balance) to convey the learning as something specific, relevant, measurable, and transferable. The students learned to ready themselves for learning (an early version of what is now known as the PACE process), and then noticed their baseline skills, determined for themselves the next appropriate steps in their learning process, experienced how movement provided them with more resources for accessing the learning, and enjoyed their immediate improvements.
The best advice I have for helping students to learn is to ask them what’s going on for them. For example, during that time I volunteered to tutor many youngsters—including eight-year-old Javier, who was in the ESL program at Malabar Street School and wasn’t yet learning to read. Everyone assumed that his reading delays were due to his lack of English language skills. Yet one day I asked him what was going on for him, and he answered that the words on the page were “jumping.”
I used the new Edu-K work I was developing to give Javier a balance for using both eyes together as he crossed his visual midline, a skill necessary for reading with ease. As he picked up his book a second time, only minutes later, he could point his eyes steadily at each word. He now read with fluency, and with an ease and comprehension that his mother and I hadn’t heard from him before.
As a classroom educator, I soon learned that two hands are better than one, two eyes are better than one, and a whole body moving is more ready to learn than one sitting and staring. I call this whole-brain integration.
I support children (and adults) in experiencing how to “locate themselves” in space through proprioception. Spatial orientation is the ability to represent the location of objects with respect to oneself. I find that the inability to do so is evidenced by such signs as an avoidance of the body’s midline, where the left and right visual fields overlap. Imbalance also shows up as chronic difficulty in sitting in a chair, a twisting of the hips, an inclination to avoid using the non-dominant hand, a tilting of the head, and various reading and learning challenges.
Yes, youngsters can easily avoid the midline and still learn in a one-sided way. They can even get good grades that way, yet they’ll do so under needless strain. I see that, although not yet well recognized as such, the challenges that show up, now or later, in the form of stress or health problems often stem from an inability to maintain sensory integration during the learning process.
Students having difficulty in the classroom can develop their innate abilities by learning how to cross the midline and work in the midfield, using both left and right sides to process visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic experiences. I see daily how learners who reconnect this way with whole-body movement patterns discover a natural love of learning.
Realizing the importance of whole-body movement, I went on to develop Dennison Laterality Repatterning and Three Dimension Repatterning*, processes that have helped thousands to better coordinate whole-body movement with eye movement. I also used these processes to help integrate the asymmetrical and symmetrical tonic neck reflexes and other infant reflexes** that, when unintegrated, can otherwise pull us out of structural and focal alignment.
I believe that the visibility of my last thirty plus years of innovative work with learners worldwide has stimulated some good research*** supporting my move-to-learn premise as well as many other premises of my work, and that time will reveal the commonsense basis of Edu-K thinking.
Meanwhile, I see my consultation time as an opportunity to show each learner how to let go of fixed ideas he might have about his abilities and discover learning as an active process. I love being in the moment with students, helping them move, learn to play, and learn to learn.
As I reflect on my life thus far, I can say that I’ve never regretted not choosing a career of research design but following one of active, experiential teaching in which I’m privileged to make a difference in the lives of so many individuals. Δ
*The intention behind the Dennison Laterality Repatterning and Three Dimension Repatterning processes is to make habits of movement easier and more efficient, and so to free thought for choice, expression, and creativity. These simple processes are taught in Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life.
**The Edu-K work also addresses asymmetrical and symmetrical tonic neck reflexes in the Total Core Repatterning course.
*** See Research Nuggets. See also this landmark study on invented spelling by Ouellette and Sénéchal, 2017.
Credit for Boy Reading A Book Photo: ©Wavebreakmediamicro | Dreamstime.com
© 2015 by Paul E. Dennison; updated 2017. All rights reserved.
Click here for a translation of this article into Chinese.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you. Note: There are more than 100 action research studies, done independently (though not peer reviewed), on the effectiveness of various Brain Gym® activities. Click here to see years 1988 – 2000 in the Research Studies Packet, the balance are listed in the FAQs (same link) and Brain Gym Journal and Global Observer archives.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Last year at Thanksgiving time, Gail and I entered a new phase of our lives. We’d enjoyed thirty years of traveling and teaching in the real, sensory world of direct contact with learners, helping them let go of the stress reflex that shows up so visibly in the body and discover what it’s like to learn with more pleasure and ease, with engaged senses. Then, last November, at our family’s encouragement, we did something we never thought we’d do: we jumped into the world of social media and began exploring movement-based learning in a virtual space! And now, one year later, we’re so grateful that the social media have come into our lives.
Yes, we’re still traveling, teaching, and writing books. And we’re also giving back now in a new way—connecting with parents and educators from a new and expanded vision of movement-based learning, through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and our new website, Hearts at Play: Move, Learn, Bloom. What a joy it is to join virtually with Brain Gym® Instructors and like-minded parents and educators from around the world! We so appreciate these new means of growing, staying in touch, offering videos and skills updates, summarizing related research, and providing new thinking about how to cultivate innate intelligence and the pleasure of learning through the Edu-K, Brain Gym®, and Vision Gym® work.
In reflecting on my life during this time of giving thanks, I’m aware of so many people who have, through the years, reached out to me with generosity and support. I’m thinking back to the early 1970s, my USC studies, and the tribute I received for my dissertation on the relationship between thinking skills and beginning reading achievement; to the five developmental optometrists who mentored me, and with whom I shared office space at my nine Valley Remedial Group Learning Centers; and to the optometric in-service training I received that sparked my interest in learning through movement.
In 1979 I was blessed to study Touch for Health with Dr. John Thie and Gordon Stokes. Shortly after, I discovered Dennison Laterality Repatterning, the unique process that has benefitted so many people worldwide by drawing out innate intelligence through movement. As I envisioned a new way of teaching, my ideas on moving to learn continued constellating. During this time I offered my first Edu-K workshop for beginning reading to 15 private school teachers. Then, enthusiastic reception of my work by adults with learning disabilities prompted me to broaden my focus to include education of the adult population—work that, in time, has reached both adults and children of all ages and abilities. That year I studied natural vision improvement techniques with the late Janet Goodrich, who in turn studied with me and became a dear friend, wholeheartedly including a chapter on my work in her first book, Natural Vision Improvement.
In 1981 I published my first book: Switching On: The Holistic Answer to Dyslexia, and taught the first basic workshop in Educational Kinesiology (later to become the Brain Gym® 101 course). In July I presented Edu-K at the Touch for Health annual meeting, receiving warm encouragement for my work. Gail Hargrove was among the crowd giving me a standing ovation.
In 1982 my work was well received as I began teaching widely across the United States, while concurrently developing the Educational Kinesiology in Depth course. In each experiential workshop and private session, I saw adults and children alike make formidable breakthroughs in their goals, including improvements in reading, writing, math, whole-body movement, and pain relief. Parents and educators appreciated the specificity of the activities, the immediacy of results, and the knowhow to teach for transfer, along with the overall playful and celebratory nature of the courses.
Now, in this time of gratitude and thanks giving, Gail and I celebrate our 30-year creative partnership, which began just before Thanksgiving of 1983*. One year previously, on a September weekend, she and I happened to be the only Touch for Health instructors in attendance at a Live and Learn conference for local holistic health and bodywork practitioners. Our meeting and discovery of mutual interests initiated a deep friendship. That year, I had taught my first two Educational Kinesiology in Depth workshops, and Gail was a student in the second. In October of 1983 we two began a correspondence to create a language and body of literature that would make the Edu-K work more available to the general public. In December a friend in Germany, Wolfgang Gillessen, sponsored me in traveling to Berlin for the first of what has become more than 50 international lecture tours on five continents. That first Berlin class was attended by future International Faculty Members Alfred Schatz, Susanne Degendorfer, and Renate Wennekes.
Meanwhile, the readership of Switching On grew with its translation into Dutch in 1982, then into German, French, and Spanish. To my delight, this was followed in subsequent years by the further translations of what would become the Brain Gym® 101, Optimal Brain Organization (OBO), and Edu-K in Depth courses, the books Edu-K for Kids and Brain Gym®: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning, and, in 1986, the Creative Vision manual and the Movement Dynamics handbook, and so on. During this time, the children at my nine Valley Remedial Group Learning Centers were being mainstreamed into regular classrooms. Periodic balances and the Brain Gym activities were sustaining their learning so that they no longer required tutoring. I began to gradually reduce the number of my learning centers.
And so it has gone through the years:
1984 – Gail and I were falling in love, and entering a time of rich creativity and abundant work. We began writing, traveling, and teaching Edu-K together. With Gail’s contributions, the In-Depth work emerged as a beautifully interwoven system for honoring the learner and drawing out new learning. Combining our knowledge of dance and kinesiology, we developed the Integrated Movements. In September we co-taught in Germany, Holland, and Norway. In November we published the first edition of Edu-K for Kids. And in 1984 I closed the last of my reading centers.
1985 – In January Gail and I were both invited to join the Touch for Health faculty, and we both accepted. In July we published the book Personalized Whole-Brain Integration. Gail added her favorite moves, along with innovations on the Double Doodle and Belly Breathing, to mine, as the movements now known as the Brain Gym activities began to take on a character all their own. Together we refined these simple activities and begin teaching them in a two-part course that would later become Brain Gym® 101 and OBO. In the fall, we two taught our newly developed Creative Vision course in Germany and the Netherlands. In this course we introduced some innovative vision work with great success, including the Dennison Cover Test for Crossing the Optic Chiasm (“the Cover Test”) and Gail’s Homolateral Reflex Balance. On the last day of December, my birthday, Gail and I joined our lives and families in marriage.
1986 – Early in the year, Gail began writing the Visioncircles Teacher’s Training manual for a course in perceptual development that included the Vision Gym® activities she had created. In March we took the Educational Kinesiology in Depth course to Australia and New Zealand and begin training faculty members Glenys Leadbeater and Barbara Ward there. In April we published the book Brain Gym®: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning. Envisioned as a “homeplay” manual, it soon became a bestseller beyond our wildest expectations. In June, researcher Ji Khalsa presented the first experimental study on Edu-K: The Effect of Educational Kinesiology on the Static Balance of Learning-Disabled Students, with statistically significant results for the intervention of the Brain Gym activities. This quantitative research would be followed through the years by more than a hundred pilot studies and anecdotal reports.**
In July of that year, Patti Steurer and Colleen Carroll-Gardner of the United States joined us as Edu-K in Depth Faculty Members, while Barry Summerfield, Gillian Johnson, and Tania McGregor of Australia and Coby Schasfoort of Holland became overseas Edu-K in Depth faculty members. In August a group of creative educators joined us in establishing the Edu-Kinesthetics Advisory Committee to disseminate research, provide networking, and support professional growth. In November Gail and I taught the first Visioncircles workshop, with activities offered in an Action Balance format, in San Francisco. Gail and I also taught a basic Edu-K course in Pasadena, and I had the inspiration to teach a laterality balance and a three-dimension balance, which Patti and Colleen would later name the Wonder Balance and the X-Span Balance. In this year Patti and Colleen, along with George Gardner and Gabrell Carroll, begin working closely with us to follow the Visioncircles template and distill the basic Brain Gym material into easy-to-learn Action Balances.
1987 – To this day, I’m grateful that others recognized the value of my action research, and encouraged me. In January we established the nonprofit Educational Kinesiology Foundation (now Brain Gym® International), a 501(c)(3) public-benefit corporation. In April course co-developer (with Colleen Carroll-Gardner) Patti Steurer and new Faculty Member George Gardner taught the first version of a Brain Gym Teacher Practicum. In June the first edition of Brain Gym Magazine was published, with Gail Dennison as its editor. In July the first annual Educational Kinesiology Gathering was held at California’s Murrieta Hot Springs, with more than a hundred people from around the world in our opening circle.
1980 to 2013 – Through the decades, we’ve continued to be blessed to work together with many remarkable people who have shared our vision of a world where learners are free to move and discover sensory integration and self-initiated learning. I want to name some of these visionary educators: The late Dorothy H. L. Carroll, Azasha Lindsey, Marilyn Lugaro, Rose Harrow, Don Wetsel to cite just a few of the early pioneers, freely gave of their time and imagination to help build a community, to set up the Brain Gym® trademark and balance together for the qualities it would represent, to envision how the work might be carried forward, and to support me in opening the work to the world in more than 80 countries and forty-some languages. Our work was furthered by the the insight of biologist Carla Hannaford, author of Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head and several other books on learning and movement, who has been a long-time advocate, and taught us the physiology of Edu-K. Behind the scenes, John Hargrove is our art director and the graphic designer of our beautiful charts and posters. We thank him for designing our new Hearts at Play website and making it user-friendly. And for more than 20 years our editor, Sonia Nordenson, has helped polish and clarify our writings.
Now, in 2013 at this annual time of Thanksgiving, Gail and I give thanks for our partnership, the gift of this wonderful and eclectic work, and our many blessings. Most important, we’re thankful for the opportunity to use the balance process daily in our own lives, and with our grown children and our grandchildren. During this season of rest, restoration, and community, we join together with our dear friends, family members, and associates to remember, honor, and appreciate each other, and to commemorate the challenges and difficult times as well as the rewards and bountiful harvest of so many of our dreams and efforts.
The Edu-K work of movement-based learning has continued to be my mission for 40 years now, and has continually connected Gail and me with a higher purpose. What a life! We have joyfully held the vision, celebrating as people from a multiplicity of cultures have come together regularly in courses and at conferences to play and balance, sharing their enthusiasm for learning through movement. Gail and I are grateful for the hundreds of service projects that instructors have offered in their own communities through the years, projects that have touched the lives of so many—from Croatia to Ecuador, from Indonesia to Poland, from Russia to S. Africa, and also for the gift of time that we two regularly offer as volunteers, so that others who follow us may benefit from the joy possible through movement-based learning.
We invite each of you to join with us in a space of promise and gratitude. Let’s keep expressing our love, kindness, understanding, compassion, and playfulness—our authentic selves—through the gates of thanks giving.
Gail and I send a big thank-you to each one of you for your valuing and participation. We wish you an amazing Thanksgiving Day, full of love, laughter, and gratitude for all that is and can be.
*For more about the story of how Paul and Gail met, click here.
**These statistical and anecdotal studies were compiled primarily by educators—independently, voluntarily, and without benefit of grants. Few of these were peer-reviewed. The intent of making them available was to evoke interest from researchers to do more scientific studies. (To date, there is little research on the relationship between specific motor skills and/or alignment, and sensory ease for academic learning.) Click here to download the Brain Gym® Studies Packet; scroll down the FAQs on this page to read about additional, more recent studies; click here to see further newsletter reports.
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An experiential, movement-based approach to learning, including the Edu-K balance process and the 26 Brain Gym® activities, are taught in Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life.
© 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.