Reclaiming the Big Picture: How I Improved My Vision

Paul Dennison, reading specialist.

Paul Dennison, reading specialist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

(2)  Janet Goodrich, Natural Vision Improvement.

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

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

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

A translation of this article into Chinese is available here.

© 2014 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

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

 

Active Learning Calls for Movement in Three Dimensions

Youngsters benefit when we listen for what really matters to them.

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.

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.

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 PoracStanley Coren. Monocular asymmetries in recognition after an eye movement: Sighting dominance and dextrality. Perception & Psychophysics. January 1979, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 55-59.

Photo Credits:
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.

Going Outdoors with Your Child to Share Visual Beauty

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-child-observing-tulips-garden-image9054535Vision is a learned skill of attention. It happens not in the eyes alone, but in the brain. Children don’t automatically know how to interpret the visual world. As parents, we can draw their attention to what excites and interests us. Discovering the beauty in the multitude of colors and shapes in nature brings joy to the early years and allows for much parent-child bonding. Even a few minutes in the outdoors, with its lovely trees, flowers, and growing things, provides many more near/far images, variations in color, and ambient shapes and surfaces than are seen indoors.

When we explore the endless nuances of motion and form in our nature experience, letting ourselves be surprised by what we see, we access different visual skills than when we look by habit alone. In his insightful book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Dr. Richard Louv* reports on some of the benefits of outdoor play to children’s sensory and visual development, as well as ways that nature ignites an innate sense of awe and curiosity.

As you step outside with your children, play, move, and spend time with them discovering the wonders of nature, you can guide them in a matter of minutes to develop many skills of attention, including these 7 often overlooked visual skills:

  • centralized focus as they gaze at the center and radiating petals of a flower
  •  following movement with their eyes, as you point out a flock of birds taking flight
  • enjoying distance vision by looking at mountains and horizons
  • discovering ambient shapes, like cloud formations . . . could it be a puppy, a lamb, a giant?
  • using depth perception: by measuring off the steps between near and far objects, like the distance between stones along a garden pathway.
  • distinguishing variegated color: admiring a plant and seeing how many colors you can notice in its stalk and leaves . . . if you were to paint it, what color combinations would you use?
  • identifying similarities: play identification games to help them see things and also build their vocabulary, as in playing “I Spy” with shapes (triangles; circles) or colors (sometimes, we can better see what we can name!).

According to the Journal of the American Optometric Association, 80 percent of classroom learning is based on vision. Yet much of this learning is oriented to left-right, near-point focus on a flat plane—a book, iPad, or writing paper. In a study done by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, researchers found that time spent outdoors correlated with a reduction in children’s risk for nearsightedness. Being in nature calls on less well-known attributes, as well as the skimming and scanning so essential to reading. And, as children explore the world, their eyes develop many further valuable skills that will bring joy and delight for a lifetime. Yours will, too!

 

* Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Algonquin Books, North Carolina: 2005. Louv cites research showing children’s gains in emotional, attentional, sensorimotor, and other abilities in the presence of the natural world.

**American Academy of Ophthalmology. “More time outdoors may reduce kids’ risk for nearsightedness, research suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111024084639.htm>

***The Edu-K Visioncircles course, developed by Gail, offers play and exploration along with 34 Vision Gym® activities to experientially develop these 7 visual abilities along with many other visual and sensorimotor skills. Click here to visit Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation for the name of a Visioncircles instructor in your area.

© 2013 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.

Photo © Skoric | Dreamstime.com

 

Sensorimotor Learning Creates Memory Associations

baby_beach

Parents may not realize that infants and toddlers are already building their brains by developing an orienting system and movement skills that later support their more focal academic abilities. Skilled mentors use movement and play to help youngsters of any age access their inborn intelligence. Movement bestows a natural, lifelong adventure of learning. This is why a preschooler is capable of globally taking in the world, finding its meaning, and recreating it, and school-age children easily integrate the movement-based learning (with its multisensory rather than abstract orientation) that will be their entryway to linguistic facility. In contrast, when the muscles prepare for a fight-or-flight reaction, tension or restraint leads to stress, lack of new associations, and diminished learning.

Memory processing involves three levels: The human brain is designed to take in new information through memory and the senses. As the learner creates a field of associations, he interacts with each new event, sorts and identifies it, compares it to past associations (using short-term memory), and integrates it, through application, into his structuring of the world (using long-term memory). This ordering of the world in memory needs movement and sensory input for stable references. In this regard, the visionary educator Maria Montessori said that “The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge.”

Educational psychologist Jane Healy confirms that sensory data is the first to be taken in by children for processing. This is the precursor to all other memory, and is, as she says,” the only part of the memory system that operates as efficiently in young children as it does in adults.”

Meaning is fundamental to memory. The greater the meaning of new learning, the more likely it is to be stored in long-term memory. And new learning, to be retained, needs to be meaningfully associated through the senses with what has already been learned. Healy describes the process by which all experience is internalized: “Children use many channels to store many little pieces, but meaning is the cement for the system.

So memories that are movement- and sensory-based—tied meaningfully to such specific senses as vision, hearing, and touch—are more likely to be retained. And, the more an impression is kept current in working memory by sensory review and rehearsal, the more readily it can be recalled.

 

Excerpted from Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition © 2010 by Paul and Gail E. Dennison, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc.: Ventura, CA, p. 3.

© 2013 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.

 

Vision Organizes Whole-Body Movement

October 26: Today, the last day the Creative Vision course, participants explored using the balances with one another, applying the activities for such daily-life skills as to see and hear at the same time and to distinguish the diverse visual elements of color, form, shape, and contrasts. The Brain Gym® and Vision Gym® activities, as well as other menu items provided a spirit of play and synchrony. I find that setting goals and doing the balances and activities provides balance and restoration for me, as well. Many of the students had immediate vision improvements, and three people discarded their reading glasses as no longer necessary.

© 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.

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