Book Review: The Genie in Your Genes: Epigenetic Medicine and the New Biology of Intention

The Genie in Your Genes: Epigenetic Medicine and the New Biology of Intention by Dawson Church, Elite Books, 2007, 362 pages

Paul E. Dennison

As I was studying for my doctorate in the 1960s, the debate in my educational psychology classes was that of the influence of “nature versus nurture”—the relative contributions of genetic inheritance and environmental factors to a child’s unfolding. Yet, as a mentor and educator, my definition of “nurture” is always to teach. All learners are unique, with varied gifts and strengths. I believe in the power of the learning process to bring out a person’s best, so my intention is always to nurture, no matter the circumstances.

On reading educator and researcher Dawson Church’s book Genie in Your Genes: Epigenetic Medicine and the New Biology of Intention, I felt a growing excitement as Church revealed recent scientific research showing the startling malleability of our genes, which can change from moment to moment according to our thoughts and feelings. In my own years of teaching, I have daily seen how new learning—which can occur in an instant—has a direct impact on vitality, motivation, and well-being. Church makes the case that we can influence our cells and bodies—our health—by “claim[ing] responsibility for the quality of thought and feeling we host, selecting those that radiate benevolence, goodwill, love, and kindness.” “Nurture” even affects and changes those genes that were believed to limit us!

In this book, Church asks some important questions, such as: “What can we teach every high school student, every worker, and every retiree that would maintain their bodies and their minds in the best possible condition for the longest possible time?” “How can we make the largest number of people as well as possible?” He then offers provocative answers to these questions by elucidating the new field of epigenetics, which links how we think and emote—our everyday consciousness—to genetic changes in our RNA and DNA.

Church’s well-researched work validates the premise that, for better or worse, our lifestyle choices do in fact affect our genes. “Nature,” our inherited genes, might play an important role in our genetic blueprint. However, “nurture,” the parental, cultural (including academic), and personal choices that influence how we think, move, eat, and self-calm, has now been proven beyond a doubt to make a critical difference in gene expression and even to alter our genes.

In this important book, the author reveals how our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions trigger the expression of DNA strands. Even the people we choose to have around us affect our genes. Church is intrigued by the early work on mirror neurons, said to fire in the brain when we witness an act done by another that calls on the same group of neurons in us. He focuses on a class of genes called immediate early genes or IEGs, which respond to life events within a few seconds. Many IEGs are regulatory genes that switch on other genes affecting specific aspects of the immune system. Distress or negative stress, whether sourced from within or mirroring another, can depress gene expression that enhances immune-system function. Thus epigenetics is explaining how thoughts and beliefs influence our health continuously, each and every day.

Church gives examples of interventions that can be used deliberately, in the moment, to shift thoughts, beliefs, energies, and perhaps ultimately one’s genes. He describes some remarkable healings done using Gary Craig’s Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which uses affirmation and meridian tapping in a way similar to Educational Kinesiology processes, with similar, often surprising, benefits. Church makes the case that emotions signify to the brain what things are important. By tapping or rubbing acupressure points, a soothing physiological signal can release stress or a catastrophic thought, breaking the conditioned association.

He further refers to the Energy Psychology work of Donna Eden and David Feinstein, and provides “how-tos” of the Cross Crawl and the Wayne Cook posture (two activities central to Edu-K, Cook’s posture being the origin of Brain Gym® Hook-ups).

The Genie in Your Genes cites hundreds of scientific studies that give a sound theoretical framework for understanding this new field. The book makes a compelling prediction that the insights of epigenetic medicine will, in the coming decade, dramatically advance not only medicine and psychology but also the vital field of education.

Your Brain Likes You Just the Way You Are

HAP_Edukinesthetics_Teaching_Paul

For the last four days I’ve enjoyed having six wonderful students, one from as far away as Korea, in my Ventura offices for a Brain Gym Teacher Practicum. A practicum is typically a hands-on course of study designed to prepare teachers, through supervised practice, to teach a specific discipline. In this case, these advanced students were fine-tuning to teach the course Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life and to offer Educational Kinesiology in Depth: Seven-Dimension balances in private consultations.

In the opening circle, the students talked about some wonderful transformations that have happened for themselves as well as their children as they’ve done the Brain Gym activities, action balances, and Seven-Dimension Balances with them, and this small group immediately bonded and became a community.

A powerful principle that I’ve used throughout my career is that energy follows intention. I shared with the Practicum group that I believe the only way humans can transform and grow the brain is by learning through movement . . . by putting their intentions into action. “Your brain likes you just the way you are,” I told them. “Even if you’re unhappy or not doing good things for yourself, your brain does its best to keep you just as you are.” I said how I believe that this basic understanding is the key to teaching a transformative Brain Gym 101 course, and, through their experiences in doing balances in the workshop, the students came to better understand how this principle works.

I enjoyed watching and supporting the students’ creativity as they facilitated the 12 Action Balances and other various parts of the course, including the Brain Gym activities. With Belly Breathing, we slowed down, breathed together, and settled in. With the Energy Yawn, we laughed together and let go of tense habits of speaking. We cross-crawled, double-doodled, and balanced together in a variety of ways. In light of recent world events, the Action Balance for Comprehension (which helps release back-to-front tensions) held special meaning as we balanced together. We included the Footflex activity to release the tendon guard reflex and discover a new ease in walking. We enjoyed the Arm Activation, finding that when we relaxed the ribs down, our breathing automatically deepened.

I found it heartwarming when, in the closing circle of the final day, the participants talked about some of the many systems of self-improvement they’d explored, and concluded that few really deliver on their promise of true growth and learning the way the Brain Gym program does.

One student commented on how she felt that the context provided by the Brain Gym balance sequence called Five Steps to Easy Learning was the key to her having been able to make changes. I would add that we also need the specificity of the 26 Brain Gym activities . . . for seeing, listening, moving with proprioception . . . to make the shifts that, in Edu-K, we refer to as learning.

© 2012 by Paul E. Dennison. All Rights Reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym®  International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.

Verticality in Gravity: The Alexanders Are Coming Up!

Amazingly, four of my Alexander seedlings are sprouting. According to Wild Garden Seed’s 2012 catalog, the Alexander is “a biennial relative of celery and angelica, once widely cultivated in the Mediterranean for its fleshy petioles before celery became a well-domesticated vegetable.” The flavor is said to be similar to celery, but milder. And this veggie was supposedly a daily part of Alexander the Great’s diet. They grow through the spring and are eaten in early summer.

HAP_Edukinesthetics_Alexanders

I had given up on them in late October (the end of the eight-week “wet chilling” incubation period), and didn’t even notice till today that their delicate double leaves and tiny vertical stems had broken through the soil in the egg carton planter I set out on the porch. I immediately transplanted the seedlings along the edge of the patio, where they’ll stay in the shade that they like.

Such strong verticality in nature reminds me to attend to my own alignment. All too often, I find myself sitting or standing in ways that don’t support my natural well-being. Then I can do some Energy Exercises from the Brain Gym® 26, or some favorite Vision Gym® activities, to restore a relaxed alignment, with my head centered over my torso and hips.

The name of these tiny plants also reminds me of the great movement educator F.M. Alexander (1869-1955), an Australian actor who developed the Alexander Technique of Postural Development. Alexander’s simple way of paying attention to movement habits and letting go of excessive tension has been an essential building block of Paul’s and my own work in Educational Kinesiology, and is also the inspiration for the Energy Fountain* activity from Vision Gym®.

© 2012 by Gail E. Dennison. All Rights Reserved.

*The Energy Fountain, an activity that connects learners with this verticality in gravity, is from Vision Gym®: Playful Movements for Natural Seeing, by Gail E. Dennison and Paul E. Dennison. 

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym®  International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.

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