It’s a Bonny Day for Dancin’!

St.PatrickDanceTop 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.

The Hopscotch

The Hopscotch

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! 

Author’s Notes:
*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

Re-educating Our Movement Toward a Goal

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-walking-family-image16811355This past weekend I enjoyed teaching a lively and exciting three-day Movement Re-education workshop here in Ventura, with warm weather the backdrop to our rediscovery of flexibility and ease. For 20 years, the Movement Re-Education work has proven its value as an effective tool for releasing postural compensations and reestablishing whole-brain (two-sided, whole-body) movement patterns.

Edu-K is a structure-function model, recognizing that learners sometimes compensate their bilaterally symmetrical human structure when doing one-sided tasks. We use integrated side-to-side, back-to-front, and up-down movement patterns to re-educate for such diverse activities as communication, organization, and focal attention.  In this course, I explore with students ways to notice and balance the muscles and skeletal alignment in terms of daily-life goals and functions. Learners are often surprised to experience how discomfort in one area can lessen when they balance for a goal, without directly working on the tension. As they discover how to use their muscles as a whole system to move in better alignment, their thinking, feeling, and actions can also work together more efficiently and effectively.

In the workshop, students chose such goals to balance for as more fluid dancing, creating a business network, more intimacy with friends, and walking with greater ease (after a surgery). During the course, the participants discovered how to use movement to relax and stimulate tight muscles, rediscover mobility and stability, and awaken their senses. As they worked with partners, I enjoyed hearing such comments as “I didn’t realize it could be that easy to regain agility,” “My feet feel more flexible,” “My hips feel really stable and integrated,” and “Wow! Now I have a butt!”

As students did a slow-motion version of the Cross Crawl, I could see a big difference in overall balance and in stability of the standing leg. And as muscle length was restored in the hips and posterior chain, some were able to automatically stand and walk with the outsides of their feet parallel, instead of pointing outward.

One participant said, “I can walk up and down stairs now without holding on to the banister. Wow!” After balancing with a goal to think clearly, another student commented, “I can remember what I’m doing when I walk into a room. It’s a miracle!” These are just a few of the results shared by the participants. At the end of the workshop, two of the students offered these testimonials:

Paul explained the muscles and how they relate to our body challenges. It was so easy to understand. When I started the course, I was ready for a nervous breakdown, yet I felt completely different afterward. When I left I felt light as a feather—happy. I stopped a couple of times today and did some Brain Gym® activities. I also took a very long walk at the beach, about an hour. It seemed like I was moving so fast, and my body felt very light. Walking felt fantastic!!! It was enjoyable, comfortable, and very inviting. I felt a huge desire to do it. I also jumped on the rebounder a couple of times. I noticed all day how easy it was to do my work. Then I started to notice other things, like when I went to bend down, it was so easy to do. Then, before I knew it, I was organizing my desk till I had everything in order. This course is so fantastic. Everyone in the world needs it. I feel like a new woman. —L. P., California

Paul’s careful demonstrations and explanations for each muscle were very clear and informative. And, of course, the balances and openings of the various muscles have been expansive and wonderful. I am taller, and I walk, sit, stand, and get up and down with much more comfort and ease. I’m going to tell others that chronic pain in neck, back, shoulders, and knees can be relieved by simple structural re-education. —R. L, Oregon

(C) 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.

A Fine Day for Dancin’

St.PatrickDanceTop o’ the morning to ya, and it’s a fine 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 Brain Gym® program’s Cross Crawl activity.

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.

How to: You can build your Cross Crawl jig from a common jig dance step—the rising step or rise and grind. Do this first with the right foot leading, then with the left foot leading. For the right side version: 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. Then shift your weight onto your right foot, leaving your left foot in the air. Pause slightly. 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. Dancers use the phrase “hop, hop back” for the first three movements. The complete step is called the “hop hop back, hop 1234”. Then repeat the pattern with your right foot. To make this a Cross-Crawl step, lift the arm opposite to the lifted foot.

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, (biomechanically speaking) 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 of human mobility!

 

*To read about the many benefits of the Cross Crawl, see Brain Gym® Teacher’s Edition, (C) 2010. 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.

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.

© 2013 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.

The Deskbound Brain

Frustrated Student WritingIn most school classrooms, children are too sedentary. Where their grandparents and great grandparents counteracted all that deskbound sitting by walking to and from school, working on the farm, or going out in nature to play, most modern kids come home from school just to sit indoors texting, doing homework, watching TV, or playing digital games.

During one of Gail’s recent classroom presentations of the Brain Gym®  activities to some grade-schoolers, more than two-thirds of the students answered yes when she asked if they sometimes found it difficult to pay attention due to tension, stress, or discomfort from sitting too long. Another third raised their hands when asked if their eyes sometimes felt strained or tense when they were reading. Imagine the challenge of having to override those bodily signals in the midst of the learning process!

Regarding research on movement and learning, in the years that I’ve been developing and teaching Edu-K I’ve seen the pendulum swing back and forth. Since the 1940s, many researchers (Montessori, Getman, Gesell, Kephart, Barsch, Ayres . . .) have seen the movements of infant development as essential to school-readiness and have acknowledged the learning benefits of continued integrative sensorimotor activity. Yet others who’ve done research summaries on movement have questioned those findings as being inconclusive or unsupported.

Today, a growing number of experts are pointing out that movement is essential to learning. John J. Ratey, M.D., states in SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, that “When we exercise, particularly if the exercise requires complex motor movement, we’re also exercising the areas of the brain involved in the full suite of cognitive functions. We’re causing the brain to fire signals along the same network of cells, which solidifies their connections.” In A User’s Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain, Ratey says, ” . . . exercise raises the level of all kinds of brain chemicals . . . which make most people feel brighter and more alert. It also releases brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein I call ‘Miracle-Gro’ for the brain, which helps build and maintain the connections between brain cells.”

Educational neuroscientist David Sousa, author of How the Brain Learns, translates current research into strategies. He writes, “The more we study the role of the cerebellum, the more we realize that movement and learning are inescapably linked.”

In discussing the importance of movement to learning, Sousa says: “The mainstream educational community has often regarded thinking and movement as separate functions, assigning them different priorities. Activities involving movement, such as dance, theater, and occasionally sports, are often reduced or eliminated when school budgets get tight. But as brain studies probe deeper into the relationship between body and mind, the importance of regular movement breaks and alternatives to sitting passively must be taken seriously by educators.”

 

© 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.

 

Play: The Intrinsic Motivation for Childhood Learning

Randal A. McChesney

children

Everywhere I travel in my work in teacher education, serious questions arise about how to motivate children to learn and inspire them to treat each other with respect, regard, and dignity. Increasingly, these questions reveal helplessness and near desperation on the part of adults stymied in their contact with children. Whether wealthy, of moderate means, or disadvantaged, it seems we have somehow become bewildered, even afraid, when our children exhibit uneven or inadequate effort and motivation as they present themselves for schooling. What is most worrisome is that we seem to have reached for the most disparate and desperate of solutions, making any national approach to solving the problem nearly out of reach.

The problem is scarcely new. Tomes of information and opinion exist about motivation and effort. Alfie Kohn, Brafman and Brafman, Jane Healy, Joseph Chilton Pearce, Dr. Bruce Perry, Pintrich and Schunk . . . the list of those reporting the problem and posing ways to think about and solve the situation is lengthy and impressive. The views coalesce around three important and difficult-to-address conclusions:

1) The problem generally orients from the earliest years of childhood.

2) While such external rewards as over-praise, payment for achievement, or other coercive structures are alluring when immediately successful, these strategies can be ultimately addictive (Brafman and Brafman, 2009, et. al.).

3) External incentive can seriously undermine resiliency when children are faced with hard challenges or need to develop a life orientation other than one-upmanship or outright greed. Empathy, kindness, cooperation in group tasks, etc., constitute a more effective response to situations in which external reward cannot or ought not to be a goal.

The problem may be best revealed by those who are beyond schooling. I live in a high-density Microsoft/Amazon.com/Boeing/T-Mobile/Nintendo area of Seattle. It is not uncommon for me to attend seminars or engage in casual conversations at the University of Washington regarding the state of workplace ethics and behavior. Across the board in work environments where demand for team thinking and cooperation is high comes this complaint from managers, human resource directors, and hiring executives: more and more young workers expect higher pay for less work, overestimate their workplace effort, are too apt to cut corners to get ahead, and, when asked to spend extra hours of work in accomplishing tasks, often ask, “What will I get for doing so?”

One software giant’s upper-division manager recently opined (referring to his young new hires), “They come from school wanting to know: ‘How soon can I get to a top-dollar job, and who do I meet to start that process?’ It’s a remarkable and unusual person who asks, instead, ‘What value can I add to this company (which might produce the salary I’m seeking)?’”

Back in school, debates are now raging over paying children with food, points for rewards, or, in the extreme, money for basic, considerate behavior once expected as a matter of human interaction, impulse management, or effort on tasks and tests. More than a few families these days offer monetary rewards for grades. And, as a trusted colleague and teaching friend reported to me, a school psychologist recently asked her elementary school faculty, “If you would not go to work without being paid, why would you go to school?”

The answer, obvious as it is, is not the subject of this article (although perhaps it ought to be). The benefits of social and work apprenticeship in societal status recognition are long-documented in anthropological research. When we examine the habits of the most effective learners (not necessarily the most gifted, talented, wealthy, etc.), it is apparent from the research that motivation is completely aligned with the habits of effective learning. Think of it as a sort of hierarchy, a pyramid.

Atop the pyramid is achievement. Whether in a grade, an ability to monitor one’s interactions with others, or the garnering of a coveted job, achievement for most of us is the result of sustained motivation over time and over distractions. Motivation is the sub-tier girder for transporting us in our achievement arc, whether it is to get home in a blizzard or find a way to get someone to be our friend. We succeed, we fail, we take a large step here, a small step there. The process can take hours, days, weeks, or years, depending on us, what we’re seeking to do, and how effective our strategies to get there are. Emotion, by the way, plays a very significant, and often ignored, prime-time role in our motivation, and is fascinating to explore and start to understand. Think of motivation as a sustaining wind blowing our attempts forward over the time we take to try to achieve any goal.

The infrastructure for effective achievement does not stop with motivation, however. Underpinning all sustained motivation is effort: the ability to add emotional, physical, mental, and willful “oomph” to our attempts to accomplish what we want. Sustained effort is the sure foundation upon which consistent motivation is built. And it is here, in the moment-by-moment, day-by-day orientation to tackling the tasks, distractions, failures, successes, and challenges of our lives, that we have the opportunity to build the “muscle” for our life-span achievement.

It is here that the brain-based research is perhaps the most clear on at least two points:

  • Motivation is most predictable, most assuredly available to us, when we most need it (as in those really hard-to-manage tasks and situations), and least roller-coastered when it comes from within us as an “interior locus of control” (Pintrich and Schunk). In simple terms, we are set up, from our earliest experiences of crawling around on the floor and reaching for everything in sight as we crawl, to do what we do for the sake of doing it first and being “paid” for it later—as a result of our effort and motivation not as a means of securing it. Again, we benefit from an abundance of life-span situations where appreciating experiences and achievements for their own intrinsic value is an assumption in our lives.
  • Our motivation is best supported when we believe that effort, rather than natural or innate talent, helps us accomplish things. If we learn from the earliest age that immediately adding effort to anything not easy for us to get is likely to get us through (“If at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up; you can do it!”), we are far more predictable and reliable partners when the going gets tough. It also tends to make us tougher when the going gets tough (resiliency), and more likely to act altruistically in situations where doing the right thing may, in fact, cost us something.

Achievement over our life-span is best assured—particularly in tasks that don’t lend themselves to being “paid” (leadership quality, teamwork, sharing and building on ideas, tasks requiring an emotional component or sympathy/empathy)—when we are used to feeling self-satisfaction that we did our best, that we will keep trying when things get hard, and that we can—and should—call on others for help when we can’t pull the load alone.

Where, then, does the research point us in securing this for our children from their earliest years? Play. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has encountered the play state in children. Every single, solitary characteristic of play (visible, by the way, in fMRI images, if you require such evidence) points to effective motivation and effort orientation. And play draws us inevitably into situations in which we “do stuff” simply for the reward of enjoying how it turned out (think: building a sand castle at the beach or your local sand-pile, hiking to the very top of that hill over there, walking around the block two extra laps, taking in the neighbor’s garbage can, saying “I’m sorry” first), time and time again. In fact, this is the very definition of play.

Many of us are bewildered by play: How do we do it? What good is play in teaching children anything? The answer to the first question is simple: observe a child who is at a beach or in a sand box, or who has just appropriated an unused cardboard box (TV turned off, please). Sit back, watch, and wonder . . .

Play is also, to a certain degree, a learned behavior. We actually get better at play by playing with others who really know their stuff. There are high-quality groups expert at promoting and provoking childhood play: I would start with the Brain Gym program and our own work with Education Through Music (www.richardsinstitute.org), among others. These resources are steeped in the understanding of play, provide high-quality experiences in genuine play for children across ages and cultures in America, and, most important for me, are nonprofit in their orientation. Think of it as “playing” even at business!

The second question, What good is play in teaching children anything? is highly common in a culture of quid pro quo such as ours increasingly becomes. This question, of course, generally misses the crucial developmental nature of play itself. Suffice it to say, for the moment, that the answer is also well documented (start with Stuart Brown’s Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul). The vast neural architecture each child is building for a lifetime of achievement and societal import demands a deeply respectful response to both its complexity and its enormous possibility. The role of play in this cannot be overstated . . . and is, for now, a conversation for another time.

© 2013 by Randal McChesney. All Rights Reserved.

 

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