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 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.

 

My Struggle as a Second Grader: How I Learned to Notice

I now ask children to help me by being “world class noticers; by taking note of and collecting the wisdom that lies around them.”
                                                                            —Angela Meiers, educator and author

Paul at age 6 1/2.

Paul at age 6 1/2.

My fingers shook and my eyes ached as I tried to print the letters of the alphabet and stay on the line, as the other kids were doing so successfully.

As she walked around the classroom, my second grade teacher, Miss Murphy, would make quiet comments about each student’s work. “Stephen is making beautiful, round o’s. I like how Sylvia is holding her pencil. What perfect, even, neat circles Nathan is making for his o’s.” Miss Murphy never commented on my work, though, and I knew that this was because my o’s were never round enough, no matter how hard I tried.

I felt bewildered during writing lessons. Everything went so fast; I couldn’t seem to slow time down enough to master and control the pencil. When I tried to coordinate my eyes with my hand movements, I would often get stomachaches and double vision.

I wondered how the other children moved so quickly. They made it look so easy! What was wrong with my o’s? My work just didn’t come out the way I wanted it to. In my mind’s eye, I could see the o’s as smooth and round; yet, on the page, each one I drew came out jerky and uneven.

Observing My Own Experience
I tried to shut out much of what I experienced in school, for it didn’t seem of any use. My wooden desk, too big for me, was uncomfortably hard and awkward to sit in. I felt lost in it, my feet barely able to touch the floor. Things and people in the room felt far away, and I longed to move and use my muscles. My stomach often hurt, and the most I could hope for was that no one would notice me.

As a left-hander in a right-hander’s world, I always felt that I was swimming against the tide. In my inner listening, I could sense Miss Murphy and the other children moving together in a rhythm all their own—one that was foreign to me. I felt myself falling behind, and tried to move more rapidly to keep up.

I still hold vividly in my memory that long-ago struggle with the pencil. As that particular second-grade lesson transpired, I suddenly began to notice myself and my anxious situation with the detachment of a kindly observer. This was a pivotal, living-dream memory that I sensed would stay with me, like a jewel in a treasure chest, for the rest of my life. Although I still felt alone and helpless in my awareness, this moment was a gift.

As each new lesson took place, I now began to experience my situation and notice the whole scene taking place before me. This ability to self-observe was my prefrontal cortex—the brain’s center of self-awareness—in action.

The brain’s prefrontal cortex holds the essence of our humanness and is an integral part of every learning experience. When we can witness our behavior and evaluate it, we can act on it and change it. Otherwise, we keep repeating the same behavior ad infinitum and never learn. These frontal lobes of the cerebrum develop simultaneously with the rest of the brain as we grow through childhood, through our teenage years, and on into adulthood. As we learn to sense, move, feel, and think for ourselves, thanks to the prefrontal cortex we’re able to notice and code our experience of these various functions.

I couldn’t know, back in Miss Murphy’s class, what I know now—that, when I picked up the pencil, I was focusing too hard on that one fragmented piece, unable to sense or feel the whole spatial context of my body and hand motions, unable to stop and think. I was still in a stressed state—withdrawing and contracting as if I were trying to become invisible in the room.

I was experiencing common stress responses: Dizziness, muscular tension, breath holding, increased heart rate, a sense of accelerated time, and, as the pupils of my eyes dilated, an inability to access peripheral vision.

As my tension increased, I remember tightening my grip on the pencil. I was seeing more and more of what stressed me—the pencil moving on the page—and experiencing less and less of myself. Everything seemed reduced to a fast moment—one with which I could never catch up. I repeatedly felt the sense of something rushing toward me—the teacher; noisy, pushy classmates; or a test—yet I could never work quickly enough to feel ready for what was coming. Years would pass before it occurred to me that I could never, ever go fast enough to get ready for learning, and that what I really needed was to slow down. My attention was too much on time and not enough on space.

Until that first moment of self-aware noticing, I had felt completely overwhelmed and unable to follow what was going on in classroom. Soon after my new experience of self-reflection, I began to examine my abilities, plan my own learning steps, and take responsibility for teaching myself. And this was only the beginning: within the next three years I would discover how to connect this noticing with my sensory processes. For instance, such things as the movement of my hands and my tactile experience as I formed letters would eventually help me with my handwriting, and there were innumerable other instances of such useful new connections.

 

Paul Dennison, author, movement educator, and authority on reading instruction.

Paul Dennison, author, movement educator, and authority on reading instruction.

Author’s note: Some forty years later, in the early 1990s, I developed the four-step PACE process that students in more than 80 countries use today to help them notice, experience their spatial awareness, and feel ready to learn.

Excerpted from Brain Gym® and Me: Reclaiming the Pleasure of Learning, © 2006 by Paul E. Dennison.

© 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.

Meeting the Young Learner’s Needs

Parents can support young learners in discovering their needs and gifts.

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.

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 AssociationVolume 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.

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.

A New Year’s Transformation: From Survival to Freedom of Learning

Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D.

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.

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