Top o’ the morning to ye, and it’s a bonny day for dancin’!
In spring or anytime, I find that dance is a lovely way to increase my vigor and celebrate my day. It’s difficult to dance and not feel happy and light-hearted, plus dancing a complex pattern is great for your memory. Dance may have evolved from people’s seeking a social way to make merry after a day’s work, or to mark the end of a season. Perhaps you enjoy, as I do, such fervent dances as the Irish or Highland jig, or more choreographed forms like contra dance, English Country Dance (perhaps driven by the lilting sound of a tin whistle!), or the festive grapevine or even modern Western square dance. Central to all such Western and European folk dances is a rhythmic and alternating left-right shifting of weight, similar to the Cross Crawl(1) activity from the Brain Gym program.
Once you’re familiar with the Cross Crawl, you can vary it to do many dance steps, including a version of your own Irish Jig. You just need the right music, or perhaps you’ll sing or whistle along. Let the children join in, and have a dance party!
How to: You can build your Cross Crawl jig from a common jig dance step—the rising step or rise and grind. Dancers use the phrase hop, hop back for the first three movements (#1). The complete step is called the hop hop back, hop 1234 (#1 – 3). Do this first with the right foot leading, then with the left foot leading.
For the right side version:
1. Put your weight on your left foot and lift your right foot (toe pointed) off the ground. Hop once on your left foot, then hop again, bringing your right foot back behind your left foot. (hop hop back)
2. Then shift your weight onto your right foot, leaving your left foot in the air. Pause slightly.
3. Now alternate with small hops, in place, from foot to foot in the pattern of left-right-left-right, ending with the weight on your right foot.
Now repeat the pattern for the left side. (To make this a Cross-Crawl step, slightly lift the arm opposite to the lifted foot.)
For a fun variation, you can do this same pattern while lifting the foot to the back, as in the Hopscotch (pictured above).
You might know that the real jig is done with the feet turned out, one in front of the other. However, I suggest keeping both feet pointed forward, hips-width apart, and parallel, as most of us who have been sedentary folks at some point in our lives don’t have the length and strength of posterior muscles (calves, hamstrings, hips . . .) to dance with toes turned out, which would then put a strain on our hips and back.
In all cases, according to biomechanist Katy Bowman(2), the feet need to be pointed straight during walking in order for the ankle to actually work like an ankle (in its correct plane of motion), for the knee to work like the hinge-jointed knee that it is, and for the lateral hip to be engaged. And especially without posterior strength, walking, dancing (or even running) with feet pointed forward helps to protect us from significant stresses throughout the posterior kinetic chain, which could otherwise over time result in frustrating conditions, such as flat feet, bunions, misaligned knee and hip, and the potential injuries these can cause.
May Saint Paddy’s Day (and everyday!) find you dancing and celebrating the wonder and joy of human mobility! ∞
*Paul and I have been teaching people to do the Cross Crawl for more than 40 years. Click here to discover more about the many benefits of the contralateral Cross Crawl on movement and learning.
(1)The Cross Crawl and other Brain Gym activities are from Brain Gym® Teacher’s Edition, (C) 2010, by Dennison and Dennison. If you have difficulty doing this movement (it does require some coordination), you can easily learn it through a brief repatterning, available from Brain Gym Instructors (see below). Further, many Brain Gym Instructors teach the Cross Crawl in a dance-like form, or you can enjoy a whole day with more than thirty variations of the Cross Crawl offered in the Movement Dynamics course that I developed in 1990 (see course listings at the same link).
Here are more tips on how to do a jig.
For more research on the benefits of moving together (interpersonal synchrony) and its effects on social bonds, see:
1. Cirelli, Laura K., Kathleen M. Einarson, and Laurel J. Trainor. 2014. “Interpersonal Synchrony Increases Prosocial Behavior in Infants.” Developmental Science: This study of 14-month olds “. . . support[s] the hypothesis that interpersonal motor synchrony might be one key component of musical engagement that encourages social bonds among group members, and suggest[s] that this motor synchrony to music may promote the very early development of altruistic behavior.”
2. Shaw DJ, Czekóová K, Chromec J, Mareček R, Brázdil M (2013) Copying You Copying Me: Interpersonal Motor Co-Ordination Influences Automatic Imitation. PLoS ONE 8(12): e84820. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084820
3. Hove MJ, Risen JL (2009) It’s all in the timing: Interpersonal synchrony increases affiliation. Social Cognition 27: 949–960. doi: 10.1521/soco.2009.27.6.949 PubMed/NCBI
For the English country dancers among us, enjoy this lively Newcastle
version of ECD (popular in Europe and the American colonies from the mid-1600s to the late 1800s, and becoming popular here again today). Paul and I are always a bit tickled by doing the “figure of 8” sequence, in which one partner follows the other in a large Lazy 8 pattern around other dancers—you can see it at :40 sec. Also this: A lovely Scottish Country Dance
, eight-some Reel. And this: Galician (Spanish) traditional folk dance: Muiñeira de Fraga
See the video review “All About Your Knees” on the work of biomechanist Katy Bowman to learn more about the mechanics of foot position and how this can affect knees. See also Alignment Matters: The First Five Years of Katy Says, by Katy Bowman, M.S., 2013.
© 2013 and 2016 by Gail 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.
photo credit: istockphoto.com
Parents can support young learners in discovering their needs and gifts.
I often hear from parents who are discouraged about their child’s learning progress. Sometimes they’ll tell me that their youngster is bright, and that he or she shows interest in learning at home during weekends or vacation time. Yet at school, they say, that same child is bored or struggling, slower than others in completing work, looking for ways to avoid assignments, and—once home—often stalling on homework or forgetting to do it.
In any case, when parents make an appointment with me for a balancing session, I tell them that the ideal situation is for me to work with the whole family on the first visit. I explain that there will be “homeplay” for the whole family to do together. Homeplay, usually drawn from the Brain Gym® activities, is not something that the child does because he has a learning problem, or that he should be required to do. The purpose of these activities is for everyone to move and play together, becoming more balanced as a family, and research shows that synchronous movement is one vital way by which we connect with our surroundings and create social bonds.
Most parents understand, and are delighted to participate. Often, during that first balance for their child the parents themselves make profound shifts in their own ability to read, write, relate, or organize—shifts that exemplify for the child what learning can be like. Through such experiences, parents gain insight into the sensory skills actually involved in the learning process, and so develop empathy for the challenges their child is facing. Often a parent discovers that he or she has the same mixed-dominant(1) learning profile as the child, and discovers how to more effectively use this pattern. I might also share with them the finding that, in a study done with 461 high school students, 80% were found to be weak or inadequate in one or more of three key visual abilities(2). Now parents can better understand why moving and accessing the whole body is essential for addressing one-sided habits, and they can advocate for their child’s gifts and abilities, as well as their own. Nearly always, the whole family discovers how much fun it is to move together, lengthening muscles or dancing around with The Cross Crawl; mirroring one another with The Double Doodle, drawing soothing shapes on one another’s backs, or self-calming with Hook-ups or the Positive Points.
I’ve found that, when the parents are aligned and in balance, the children immediately do better—even before I work with them individually. I believe this is at least in part because stress contracts muscles and restricts movement patterns, and children imitate a parent’s body posture, whether that posture appears dynamic or stressed. Most often, in one to four sessions a child will no longer feel left behind in his classroom. At schools where I’ve served as a consultant, I’ve found that, when the teachers are balanced, the students attend and focus better. If the teachers are stressed, the students will act out.
A child can do his best when he knows his parents hold a neutral space for his learning.
For more than forty years, I’ve worked with those of all ages who have been diagnosed with such labels as dyslexia, dyscalculia, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and learning disabilities—and even with children as young as nine months who were “failing to thrive” or slow to crawl. I’ve worked with children one-on-one, with their parents or caregivers participating or looking on, and also during courses, teaching the children in front of a group of adult students.
While teaching in Europe, I’ve had parents talk with me about a son or daughter who, they said, was hopelessly far behind and completely unable to learn. I’ve done balances with these same young people, teaching them simple Brain Gym, Vision Gym®, and other Edu-K activities, and have seen them discover how to learn on their own—often in that single session. Movement is a language in itself, one that somehow communicates beyond culture and instructional translation. Once youngsters realize how they can bring attention and movement to their learning process—purposefully waking up their eyes, ears, and whole body to the joy of learning—they begin to transform not just reading, writing, and math, but also how they interact with family members and friends.
Here are three of the reasons I believe the Edu-K work is so effective:
- I ask people what they want to improve. Human beings are natural learners. But when they are overwhelmed by what they can’t do, or by analysis and information, they often forget their own interests. When we can support a person in rediscovering her innate curiosity, she naturally regains the confidence and motivation to explore the world and reclaim her place as a ready learner.
- I teach from whole to parts, providing a personal, big-picture context (such as movement itself) with which to associate specifics. I engage learners through movement and play. It’s part of our innate intelligence, as seen in infancy, to learn through movement and exploration. Infants are tremendously motivated to take the micro-actions that, done repeatedly, will eventually become a visible movement such as rolling over, turning the head, reaching, or grasping. Toddlers continue to learn sensory and motor skills, best acquired with the support but not the interference of their caregivers. Pioneering educator Maria Montessori, MD, referred to such play as “the work of the child.”
- I help learners to identify a next learning step—the specific aspect of the learning process that is challenging to them, and to understand that aspect in terms of underlying physical skills. I help a child to focus on that aspect only, until it has been mastered and integrated into the child’s functioning. Learners’ joy and pride in learning a specific ability is exciting to behold. They can readily see the commonsense logic of developing the physical skills needed for learning. This approach helps alleviate the shame and blame—any perceived need for judging skills or their lack—that has so often become associated with learning. From this more neutral place, children are able to appreciate the simple movements that help them experience the physical skills of learning and that give them the time to integrate these into function.
Learning is a lifelong process. Yes, it has its accompanying frustrations and difficulties. The pleasure is in turning such challenges into capabilities. Every person has within himself all that he needs to experience success, happiness, and the joy of learning.
Through the years, I’ve developed many learning models, sequences, and protocols that support this movement-based approach. These include the Dynamic Brain (a working model of the brain), the Learning Flow (that makes visible “the high and the low gears” of learning), the 5 Steps to Easy Learning, and the 3 Dimensions and 5 Principles for Movement-Based Learning.
I love teaching parents and educators how to do what I do. There’s nothing more wonderful than seeing the light go on in a young person’s eyes—or in the eyes of any learner, at any age!
1Rowe A. Young-Kaple, MS. Eye Dominance Difference Connection to LD Learning Disabilities. World Journal of Psychology Research, Vol. 1, No. 1, September 2013, pp: 01- 09: (mixed dominance with left-eye dominant: n= 54 LD (15%); mixed dominance with right-eye dominant: n=12 LD (6%); all right side dominant: n=38 LD (12%); n=119 or 12% of the total population of n=998 were identified as having a reported learning disability (LD). Available online
2David Grisham, OD, MS, Maureen Powers, PhD, Phillip Riles, MA. Visual skills of poor readers in high school. Optometry – Journal of the American Optometric Association: Volume 78, Issue 10 , Pages 542-549, October 2007. © 2007 American Optometric Association. Published by Elsevier Inc.
For more research on interpersonal synchrony and its effects on social bonds, see:
Cirelli, Laura K., Kathleen M. Einarson, and Laurel J. Trainor. 2014. “Interpersonal Synchrony Increases Prosocial Behavior in Infants.” Developmental Science: This study of 14-month olds “. . . support[s] the hypothesis that interpersonal motor synchrony might be one key component of musical engagement that encourages social bonds among group members, and suggest[s] that this motor synchrony to music may promote the very early development of altruistic behavior.”
Shaw DJ, Czekóová K, Chromec J, Mareček R, Brázdil M (2013) Copying You Copying Me: Interpersonal Motor Co-Ordination Influences Automatic Imitation. PLoS ONE 8(12): e84820. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084820
Hove MJ, Risen JL (2009) It’s all in the timing: Interpersonal synchrony increases affiliation. Social Cognition 27: 949–960. doi: 10.1521/soco.2009.27.6.949 PubMed/NCBI
Photo Credits: ID 16450697 and 17770996 © Yuri Arcurs | Dreamstime.co
© 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.
Youngsters benefit when we listen for what really matters to them.
Zane, age 12, was an excellent reader whose mother brought him to my office for a Brain Gym® balance to be able to write more legibly.
When we discussed his choice of a goal for our session, Zane realized that what would really mean a lot to him—even more than writing better—would be improving his soccer game. I helped him refine his goal to: “To keep my eyes on the ball and see with my mind and body as one.”
Since the writing was also important to him, we included pre-activities for handwriting. As he sat and wrote a sentence, Zane mentioned that his hand was hurting, as it often did when he wrote. I could see that he sat uncomfortably in his chair, and that he didn’t yet know how to easily hold a pen between his fingers and thumb for a precision grip, using more of a power grip(1) instead.
Most people observing Zane as he sat and stood might think, from his laid-back posture, that he was very relaxed—perhaps disinterested and not really engaged in what was happening. I could see, though, that he was struggling to accomplish the simplest movements, actually pushing forward against his own muscle response to hold back.
An example of the power grip. The hand remains static; movement is from the shoulder.
Zane’s mom had told me that his teacher included some Brain Gym activities in her classroom, so Zane had been doing the Cross Crawl and Lazy 8s daily for a while. Yet these Midline Movements(2), by themselves, were apparently not getting to the cause of Zane’s challenge.
In the late 1970s, when I began developing the 26 Brain Gym activities, I wanted to offer them in a way that would support all three of the anatomical dimensions: left-right, up-down, and back-front. Over time, I organized the Brain Gym activities into three categories for that intention: The Midline Movements, The Energy Exercises/Deepening Attitudes(2), and The Lengthening Activities, envisioning how this would give learners, whether sitting, standing, or playing sports, options they could easily use to keep themselves active and engaged. So I explained to Zane and his mother that, when we’re playing, fully participating, and doing our schoolwork, we move in three anatomical dimensions that all work together synergistically.
In those early days I knew from the research on vision(3) how important the left-right dimension is for classroom success. I’d seen (as I continue to see) that, for some people, doing only a few simple Midline Movements for this lateral dimension can be enough to integrate the physical skills and improve performance for a particular academic task. I’ve come to fully trust that, as learners do the Brain Gym activities and experience the body’s geometry, they will naturally gravitate to moving more in terms of it.
Through the years, as school routines have generally become more sedentary, I’ve seen the other two dimensions become even more important for learners to know how to access. For example, until the back-front dimension is available for mobility and forward movement, the left-right skills as taught in the Midline Movements category may not be readily accessible.
Observing Zane as he did his pre-activities, I could see that his back-front body movement (what I call the Focus Dimension) wasn’t available to him. Zane seemed to be walking and moving with his brakes on, in a casual posture that actually required great exertion on his part for any forward movement. When he lay on his back, he could experience the shortness and tightness of his hamstring muscles. He could hardly bend at his hip joints, and could barely lift either leg six inches. After doing a short series of Lengthening Activities for his Focus Dimension with his mom and me (The Footflex, The Calf Pump, The Grounder, The Gravity Glider, Arm Activation, and The Owl), Zane was able to lift one leg nearly perpendicular to the other, then repeating on the other side, now accessing hip flexibility.
The next priority was the Midline Movements. Zane chose The Double Doodle and Alphabet 8s, which I often use to help teach skills of eye teaming, fine-motor coordination, and letter formation for cursive writing.
What a difference! By the time we did the post-activity for seeing and kicking the ball, Zane was standing and moving spontaneously in three dimensions. He seemed delighted to be having an experience of trusting his body to see and move at the same time. He commented that he now felt he could move so much more quickly—that he seemed to know where the ball would be next. I could see that, with his muscles now more flexible and more organized in terms of his vision, Zane was moving with greater ease and agility.
An example of the precision grip. The thumb and fingers work together; the hand’s position is dynamic.
I noticed that, when he now sat down to write for his post-activity, Zane sat more upright and showed greater muscle tone and fine-motor dexterity. He automatically placed the paper on the desk in his center of vision, picked up the pen with a relaxed grip, wrote with ease and coordination, and, without being told how to do so, used a precision grip. His mother looked eagerly over his shoulder as he wrote and exclaimed, “I can actually read it!”
It’s sessions like these that make my work so fulfilling.
1) The Power and Precision Grip:
Hertling, D., & Kessler, R. M. (1996). Management of common musculoskeletal disorders: Physical therapy principles and methods. (3rd ed.).Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, pp 259-260.
Smith, L.K., Weiss, E.L. & Lehmkuhl, L.D. (1996). Brunnstrom’s clinical kinesiology. (5th ed.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis., pp 216-219.
2) The 26 Brain Gym® activities are described in terms of the three categories of The Midline Movements, The Energy Exercises/Deepening Attitudes, and The Lengthening Activities in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, © 2010. The Energy Exercises and Deepening Attitudes are both part of the Centering Dimension, involving up and down movement for stress release through improved organization/stabilization. While the Energy Exercises help develop a sense of vertical orientation, the Deepening Attitudes support awareness of boundaries.
3) A few references on vision and learning:
Maureen Powers, PhD, David Grisham, OD, Phillip Riles, MA. Saccadic tracking skills of poor readers in high school. Journal of the American Optometric Association; Volume 79, Issue 5 , Pages 228-234, May 2008 American Optometric Association. Published by Elsevier Inc.
David Grisham, OD, MS, Maureen Powers, PhD, Phillip Riles, MA. Visual skills of poor readers in high school. Journal of the American Optometric Association: Volume 78, Issue 10 , Pages 542-549, October 2007. © 2007 American Optometric Association. Published by Elsevier Inc.
Solan, H.A., Shelley, Tremblay, J. Larson, S. Mounts, J. Silent Word Reading Fluency & Temporal Vision Processing Differences Between Good and Poor Readers. JBO – Volume 17/2006/Number 6/Page 151.
Streff, John W. The Cheshire Study: Change in Incidence of Myopia Following Program Intervention. Frontiers in Visual Science; Springer Series in Optical Sciences Volume 8, 1978, pp 733-749.
Clare Porac, Stanley Coren. Monocular asymmetries in recognition after an eye movement: Sighting dominance and dextrality. Perception & Psychophysics. January 1979, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 55-59.
Boy with soccer ball: ID 22343505 © Spotmatik | Dreamstime.com
Example of power grip (thumb in inactive): ID 2028508 © Kateleigh | Dreamstime.com
Example of precision grip: ID 16095751 © Robbiverte | Dreamstime.com
© 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.
Watch someone do her first Cross Crawl* and what do you see? For people of any age, doing this activity inevitably brings a smile as they begin to experience the natural ease and rhythm of this integrating movement. Often someone doing the activity will break into a broad grin, pleasurably surprised to be coordinating the whole body at once in a complex movement pattern.
Paul first learned about the possible benefits of doing contralateral movement in the early 1970s during his studies at the University of Southern California, as he reviewed the research literature on the effect of crawling on academic achievement. The experts of that time had concluded that there was no learning advantage to having children replicate the crawling stage by crawling in the classroom.
Yet Paul had been included in several optometric assistant in-services in which he had observed children making immediate improvements in both visual skills and motor coordination after doing a standing contralateral motion that involved hitting a hanging ball. He described discovering firsthand the academic importance of the Cross Crawl in his first book, Switching On: the Whole-Brain Answer to Dyslexia, in the story of teaching this motor skill to a 10th grader who had been diagnosed as dyslexic and who was a student at one of his learning centers: For weeks now, in her tutoring sessions, Judy had been getting coaching in phonics and vocabulary building, yet she continued to struggle, word by word, to decode a fourth-grade level reading book.
On this day Paul had Judy pause in her reading so he could teach her the Cross Crawl version that he had recently learned. In the few minutes that it took Judy to internalize this contralateral pattern, Paul saw her unsteady and inconsistent motion become smooth, stable, and regular. He then asked her to read again, and heard her voice resounding with confidence, effortless phrasing, word recognition, and comprehension. Judy read like a different person.
How had doing a physical activity made such an immediate and apparent difference in that individual’s cognitive process? One hypothesis Paul formed then has since become more valid for both of us based on similar experiences with thousands of our students: For fluency, readers must be able to cross the visual midline where the left and right visual fields come together, and from where eye movement in any direction is available. The Cross Crawl’s contralateral movement pattern seems to help learners to experience coordinated physical integration as the left and right sides of the body work together. In a basic Cross Crawl or DLR, the hands cross the midline, connecting the tactile, visual, and kinesthetic midfield, where the two sides overlap.
In contemporary literature, it’s also become better understood that the brainstem modulates patterns, and locomotor movements are built on patterns. John Ratey, M.D, postulates that when information is arranged in patterns, it is neurologically more easily processed, retained, and retrieved. We further posit that rhythmic, coordinated movement restores the natural equilibrium lost when learners overfocus on symbols and phonetic elements—the decoding aspect of reading—thus inhibiting encoding and the ability to hear the story as whole language with meaningful words and phrasing. Ideally, the encoding of language provides a context for decoding—not the other way around.
The human body is bilateral, and the sensory organs of eyes and ears function best when accessing the midfield where left and right sensory input overlap, providing a supportive whole-body context for one-sided activities and allowing the two sides to work together instead of inhibiting one to access the other. Consider that children today engage in few activities, besides walking, running, or swimming, that emphasize alternating bilateral motion, and even these three they do less than their parents did. Yet they take part in many activities that are one-sided. The one-sided activities, such as handwriting or using scissors, are important for developing dexterity and specialized skills, yet the use of one side at the expense of the other is quite different from the use of one side while resourcing both. It is this latter way that we teach in Edu-K.
Today’s most common whole-body activities are sitting at a computer or in front of a TV, neither of which is movement-rich. From eating to drawing, writing, moving a mouse, or riding a scooter (for adults, driving), one-sided motions predominate.
The Ice Skater
Doing the Cross Crawl supports a number of the elements that benefit a healthy human gait**:
- alternating left/right movement of both sides of the body
- a rhythmic shifting of weight between the left and right sides
- standing balance on one foot as the other leg is lifted (especially when the activity is done in slow motion)
- strength of quadriceps and hamstrings
- foot stability (plantar connection to the ground)
- alternating motion of the arms (in the walking gait, this reciprocity ideally focuses on the backswing, not the forward swing, which is a refinement that can be taught with such Cross Crawl variations as the Hopscotch, in the above illustration)
- dynamic whole-body relaxation while in motion
- keeping the toes pointed forward, outsides of the feet parallel
- the awareness of moving the legs in their proper left/right tracks (at pelvic width)
The Cross Crawl additionally provides a whole-body context to foster:
- crossing of the midline, as required for eye teaming when reading
- movement from the body’s midfield, where the left and right hemispheres work together, instead of inhibition of one side to access the other
- muscle proprioception of the body’s weight and motion in gravity, needed to develop a spatial map and orientation for movement in all directions
This dance-like movement, when done within a group, can help build social bonds:
- people doing the Cross Crawl together most often begin to do the movement in synchrony
- physical movement is one vital way by which we connect with our surroundings and ground ourselves in a social environment.
For many years the dance-like Cross Crawl has been Paul’s and my daily practice. We also enjoy doing it as we do the four PACE activities, for work, teaching, or simply before a long walk. We hear that, worldwide, more and more children are enjoying the Cross Crawl as they, too, take a quick break from sitting to rediscover their whole-body movement. What a wonderful way to celebrate our movement and aliveness!
Note: In the late 1970s, Paul and I also learned more about the Cross Crawl through our studies of the Touch for Health book and courses, developed by John Thie, DC. However, it was the optometric work and crossing of the midline that initially inspired Paul to develop Dennison Laterality Repatterning and to discover how to use the Cross Crawl activity to teach more effective movement and reading skills.
* The Cross Crawl is one of of the 26 Brain Gym® activities described in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, © 2010.
* Some people initially find it a challenge to access the complex coordination required for doing the Cross Crawl activity. If so, you may want to find someone who knows Dennison Laterality Repatterning (DLR), a simple process used to teach this level of integration so it becomes automatic. The DLR process is included in the course, Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life and is also offered by instructors through private session work. Click here for the name of an instructor near you.
**The Movement Dynamics course, © Dennison and Dennison, 1990 and 2006, includes 30 Cross Crawl variations, accessing three movement dimensions and taught in improvisational and dance-like sequences. The illustrations included in this article are from the manual, © Gail E. Dennison.
***References on the human gait:
Katy Bowman. Alignment Matters: The First Five Years of Katy Says. Propriometrics Press, 2013.
Michael Whittle. Gait Analysis: An Introduction. Butterworth-Heinemann, 4th edition, 2007.
Guertin, Pierre A. Central Pattern Generator for Locomotion: Anatomical, Physiological, and Pathophysiological Considerations. Frontiers in Neurology. 2012;3: 183. (Research on generation and modulation of rhythmic locomotor patterns.)
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.