Even perfect strangers can make beautiful art together using the Double Doodle activity from Brain Gym, as in the mural pics below. Here’s what ten people from different cultures—each using their two hands in concert—created cooperatively.
Any kind of media works well: here, crayons, markers, and poster paint on butcher paper. As we negotiated space and boundaries, we held a joint sustained attention, each adding unique colors, shapes, expressions. In 20+ minutes of Double Doodling, we enjoyed deep visual relaxation, along with the delight of coordinating our two hands as we moved them over the page. Notice how the rhythm and high energy of the play shine through!
The Double Doodle is from Brain Gym(R) Teacher’s Edition by Paul and Gail Dennison (C) Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., 2010.
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It was something I’d never done before . . . holding chalk in each hand to make a variety of shapes. We followed dot-to-dot patterns, drawing both up and down, toward and away from the midline. It was the early 1970s and I was attending an in-service taught by a developmental optometrist* who explained that this “bilateral drawing” technique was used to help learners orient themselves spatially and improve eye teaming. Major improvements in math, reading, and cognitive abilities were said to follow.
I immediately added bilateral hand motions to the private reading sessions I offered at my eight Valley Remedial Learning Centers. Time and again, I saw students shift from the effort of one-handed drawing to smooth ambidexterity after doing a minute or so of bilateral drawing.
One student in particular comes to mind. Jose, age 8, would do cursive loops** with his left hand up to the middle of the page, then switch the pencil to his right hand to continue. His parents told me that he was not good at sports and was clumsy at home, always dropping things. Jose was demonstrating a lack of centralized kinesthetic awareness.
I noticed that after practicing the reciprocal hand motions, Jose’s hands became more lively and coordinated. He soon began to draw by leading with the right hand and following with the left, “mirror-image style.” After continuing to guide Jose in bilateral drawing for six weekly sessions, I was excited to see Jose now writing with the right hand only, easily crossing the midline of the page without changing hands.
Now, when I had Jose visually track a moving object, his eyes no longer quivered or jumped while crossing the midline; his eye-hand coordination was clearly becoming more skilled and adept. Around the same time, he began reading with greater ease and comprehension, and his father told me that they were now able to play catch together.
I continued to observe how my students were being freed up through bilateral drawing for better sitting, as well as more fluid writing and expression. When I met my future wife and partner, Gail, she started using the technique to create landscapes, animals, and faces. When one of our students suggested calling it the Double Doodle, the name resonated and stuck. Just think about what this answer means for education. of As they became more proficient at drawing with both hands simultaneously,
*Dr. Sowby, a developmental optometrist and close friend, had studied with Dr. G.N. Getman, the developmental optometrist who had discovered “bilateral drawing” and wrote about it in his classic How to Develop Your Child’s Intelligence. Getman’s bilateral drawing was accomplished dot-to-dot style. It was during Gail’s innovation, as we developed the Brain Gym activities, that this gave way to free-form drawings.
**At the time, I had all my students do a line of cursive loops (from the Palmer Method) before writing.
Pen-and-pencil marks can often be a visual representation of stress. What’s the antidote? For any age group, the Double Doodle offers a unique expression, and can also bring more ease and fluidity to drawing and writing.
In examples of students’ two-handed play on paper, you can see the centralization and imagine the fun and relaxation, all part of the signature of Double Doodle play.
Everyone can benefit from the relaxation possible with a few minutes of Belly Breathing.
Our breathing provides a continuous rhythmic exchange between our lungs and the ocean of air that surrounds us. It is said that humans can live for 40 or more days without food and perhaps as many as 4 without water. However, without oxygen to the brain, we cannot survive more than about 4 minutes.
Given that, it’s the quality of these respiratory movements that determines how pleasurable and beneficial breathing is to our wellbeing. Our rate of respiration shifts with our emotional state: while we might take about 6 slow, deep breaths per minute when we’re relaxed and at rest; breathing becomes fast and shallow with as many as 16 per minute when we’re frightened or anxious. Dr. Andrew Weil1, a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, believes that breathing is so crucial to the body’s ability to heal and sustain itself that he says, “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”
Let’s consider three habits of breathing: clavicular breathing, chest (thoracic) breathing, and belly (abdominal) breathing. Clavicular breathing uses the shoulders and clavicle to move the air, and is automatically called on most often when people feel stressed, panicked or are struggling for breath. Breathing centered in the chest, with chest and lungs expanding, is the most common kind of breathing; however, the expansion is often restricted by muscular tension around the ribs and abdomen, providing less airflow and more rapid respiration. Abdominal breathing usually needs to be learned and done with intention: Purposely empty your lungs of air, then, as you inhale, inflate the abdominal cavity (the belly) in a 3-D way, allowing it to expand without effort. It seems this deep breathing can activate the vagus nerve and result in a relaxation response from the parasympathetic nervous system; allowing the body to heal, repair and restore.
Belly Breathing is one of the 26 Brain Gym activities included in our “Midline Movements” category. We use Belly Breathing as a way to release stress, increase relaxation, and sustain focus of attention.2 We also use Belly Breathing in teaching students how to access vocal strength and expression for reading and phrasing. The slow expansion of the belly provides a pleasant deepening of inhalation and more complete exhalation, as well as a decrease in the frequency of respiration.
In a recent research study3, diaphragmatic breathing was highly correlated with sustained attention, decreased negative affect, and lower cortisol levels. It has also been associated with reduced fatigue and anxiety (Zeidan et al., 2010), and with the ability of children with ADHD to manage symptoms of inattention (Amon and Campbell, 2008). These studies build on many others connecting diaphragmatic breathing with significant and varied physiological benefits, from oxygenation (Bernardi et al., 1998), to reduced blood pressure (Wang et al., 2010), to states of calm and arousal (Krasnow et all, 2017), and more.
In the Brain Gym program, since 1986, we’ve included drinking water as one of our key 26 activities. We’re advocates of staying hydrated, as we find that it strengthens so many markers of vitality, attention, and memory. According to the Mayo Clinic(1), “water is your body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 60% of your body weight….Every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to work properly.”
Research studies(2) are now finding that states of reduced water intake (dehydration) correlate with fatigue, mood swings, confusion,decreased alertness, increased headaches, weight gain, sleepiness, and more. Some of these effects were found to be reversed in just 20 minutes after drinking some water. In one study(3), half of American children were estimated to be dehydrated, with about one-quarter of them not drinking adequate water on a daily basis.
In Brain Gym: Teacher’s Edition (2010, p.54), we write: “Water is essential to the proper lymphatic function on which nourishment of the cells and removal of waste depends. The average daily water loss for humans through natural body processes (such as urination, respiration, perspiration) is about two and a half quarts (ten glasses). Psychological or environmental stress also depletes the body of water. Scientists have yet to reach consensus regarding the likely need to replace this loss by eating fruits and vegetables, avoiding diuretics and dehydrating food, and drinking a like amount of water.We consider Sipping Water to be an effective way to restore hydration. As with light rain falling on dry ground, water is best absorbed by the body when taken in frequent small amounts.”
Biologist Carla Hannaford, in her book Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head, explains that “Our bodily systems are electrical. Ultimately, it is the electrical transmissions within the nervous system that make us sensing, learning, thinking, acting organisms. Water, the universal solvent, is essential for these electrical transmissions and for maintaining the electrical potential within our bodies. (2010, p.151)”
The Mayo Clinic comments on water needs by saying: “You’ve probably heard the advice, ‘Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.’ That’s easy to remember, and it’s a reasonable goal. Most healthy people can stay hydrated by drinking water and other fluids whenever they feel thirsty. For some people, fewer than eight glasses a day might be enough. But other people might need more.(1)”
In addition, the American Optometric Association reminds us in an article on “Dry Eye”to blink and to drink plenty of water when we’re reading or working at the computer, as staring can be dehydrating to the eyes.
Finally, here’s alink to a terrific video with Thomas Myers, author of AnatomyTrains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists, on why even small movements—shifts in body positioning—can help us better utilize the water that we drink.
1. Mayo Clinic article“Water: How much should you drink every day?” 2. Effects of changes in water intake on mood of high and low drinkers, Natalie Pross, 2014. For additional research articles on hydration, go toHydration for Health. 3. Prevalence of Inadequate Hydrationamong US Children and Disparities by Gender and Race/Ethnicity: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009-2012,” Erica L. Kenney, Michael W. Long, Angie L. Cradock, Steven L. Gortmaker, American Journal of Public Health, online June 11, 2015, doi:10.2105/AJPH.
Brain Gym first came to my attention in 1984 when the younger of my two boys was having difficulty learning in the traditional school system. He was just age nine when he began to do the activities, and the changes in his attitude and his physical skills when reading and writing soon boosted his confidence.
I became interested in the idea that movement is important in helping people learn, and began taking Brain Gym courses and even teaching. By the time my son was aged 13, he enrolled himself in a speed-reading course. He has continued making self-directed choices about his ongoing education.
In 2003 I attended my first workshop in Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision*, and in 2007 completed my training to become a Teacher Trainer. I have been facilitating this amazing course worldwide since 2007, having now taught more than 30 courses. The Double Doodle Play workshop is built around play and games that engage both hands in drawing and tracing images, tactilely and kinesthetically, in the center of vision. The continuous up- down- in- and out- motions relax the eyes and enhance visual skills by supporting hand-eye coordination and sustained eye teaming in the visual midfield.
In 2009 I met Rod Dennis, the founder of the Rodney Aphasia Group, Inc.**, and he invited me to be guest speaker at one of their monthly meetings. Every year since 2010 I’ve given a Double Doodle Play workshop for the Rodney Aphasia Group, modifying the course especially for people who have been left with aphasia following a stroke. Aphasia literally means “absence of speech.” Aphasia is the term used to describe the loss of a previous ability to express or understand spoken or written language, due to disease or injury to the language area of the brain. In New Zealand, strokes are the major cause of aphasia, and head injury is the 2nd most common cause.
The members may attend as many times as they like, and usually do so for a couple of years in a row. New members are always joining. I have now taught Double Doodle Play to more than 50 aphasia students in the last seven years. I also attend the group’s monthly meetings, when able, to encourage them in using the Brain Gym activities.
Since many members of my aphasia group experience fatigue when concentrating, I usually offer the course in two half-day sessions, scheduled a week apart. I find that, in today’s busy world, one key to helping learners of any ability to become more attentive to their needs and gifts is to teach them the four Brain Gym activities that make up PACE.
Often, learners are simply overthinking, moving too fast, or trying too hard to notice what’s actually happening with their physiology. So in that first session, I spend a lot of time teaching PACE—an acronym for Positive, Active, Clear, and Energetic, and for four basic Brain Gym activities that support hydration, near-far range of visual motion, bilateral coordination, and balance. For each of the four activities, we do considerable “before and after” noticing*, to enhance student’s mindful awareness of their visual/sensory processes.
For this article, six of my students from the aphasia group have given permission for me to share their photos, their before and after drawings from this year, and a little about them.
Ruth, our group chair, explores use of both hands together on the midline.
Ruth, attending for the first time this year, says that doing Brain Buttons (one of the four PACE activities) helps her to slow down her thoughts. She finds that after doing the Brain Buttons she can speak in whole sentences, as long as she speaks slowly. She also uses the activity when chairing the meetings, to help her when searching for sentence structure.
Ruth’s Trees (Top: Before Bottom: At course completion)
My students often tell me that doing the PACE activities gives them sensory cues to help them slow down, notice what they’re thinking and feeling, and connect with the natural rhythms and ranges of eye and body movement.
Des has been attending the group since 2010.
Often, a student’s partner will attend the workshop with them. Sometimes partners find it even more challenging to do the Double Doodle Play activities than those who have had a stroke.
For the first two years after his wife had a stroke, Des came to the meetings together with her. After she died in 2012 from yet another stroke, Des has continued to attend, saying that he greatly enjoys the playful experience. He appreciates the yearly up-date and learns something new every time. This time, he says, he learned how important it is to do PACE slowly and mindfully.
Des’s before and after trees
The experience of aphasia is different for each person. Many of the students I teach experience mild to severe difficulties finding words, reading text, or understanding what other people are saying. Some also have the physical signs of stroke with restricted movement on the right side of their body.
Karlene discovers the ease of Double Doodling as she orients each flower to her midline.
Karlene is new to the group. She finds that she gets easily frustrated. She often has tears as she speaks and, although she voices strong feelings, she sometimes has difficulty remembering. She says that, through doing the course, she has learnt to listen, and has much more confidence. She speaks of using the power of PACE in all her therapies (those that she is enrolled in as part of the Aphasia Group continuing support programme).
Karlene’s before & after trees
Jeannie, Karlene’s mum, also attended the course for the first time. Janelle has struggled to help Karlene, and is grateful for the positive change in Karlene in just the one week. Other members of the group at our most recent meeting expressed to me the changes they see in Karlene, as well, noting that she has become more centered and better prepared to interact socially with friends playing darts.
Jeannie, Karlene’s mum, is there for her daughter.
Jeannie’s before & after trees
When teaching, I use basic principles from Brain Gym 101: Namely, Noticing and the Dynamic Brain Model.** I explain briefly the anatomy of the brain and its corresponding sensory and motor pathways. I find this imagery helps to facilitate an experiential process of Dennison Laterality Repatterning*** with the whole group (usually done while sitting down, as balance is a concern). I keep the information simple, with diagrams to support their understanding. I speak slowly, monitoring each student’s ability to stay with me.
I follow this activity with either a Deepening Attitude Balance and /or a F.A.S.T. Action Balance, focused around each person’s sensory memory of the stroke experience. Through the years, many students have particularly shared with me that doing these two balances have provided a turning point in their ability to move forward.
Mal attends with his wife, Leoni.
Mal attends the courses and monthly meetings with his wife, Leonie. He says that he has learnt a lot about accepting that life has changed, now that his wife has had a stroke. He has done a lot of research on different methodologies to assist Leonie.
Mal’s before & after trees
The second week, in session two, we explore the Double Doodle Play process in greater depth, using five simple hand movements. We play with scarves in the air, Double Doodling the various shapes to music by Mozart. I am also lucky enough to have rolls of whiteboard-like material that we can use with whiteboard pens, which we erase and reuse. The before and after work shown here was done with markers on paper.
Most of these participants have now recovered from their strokes to the point where they show no visible signs of it until they attempt to speak.
Leoni is learning to write and draw with her left hand.
Leonie, a talented writer and lifelong right-hander, has been unable to “un-claw” her right hand since the stroke. She can do large motor movement with her right arm; however, she doesn’t yet have fine-motor control with her right hand. So Leonie is exploring how to write with her left hand and has gained more confidence in her penmanship since taking the course. So far, she still struggles to do the Cross Crawl. She is fiercely independent, now walking with a stick.
Leonie is verbally challenged and looks to Mal to speak for her. At the beginning of the class Leonie only spoke in single words. By the end of the two sessions, she was able to speak a full sentence with confidence, sharing about how much she enjoyed the class.
I am so humbled to work with these courageous people. Δ
**Rodney Aphasia Group, Inc., is in Orewa, New Zealand.
“Before and after” noticing is described in Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Living Manual, (pages 59, 62 64).
**Brain Gym courses are based on the balance process: Five Steps to Easy Learning. Dennison Laterality Repatterning and other balances mentioned here are taught in Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life.
Glenys Leadbeater, Orewa, New Zealand, is a registered nurse with a post graduate diploma in Operating Theatre Techniques. A Brain Gym International Faculty member since, 1992, Glenys has done extensive training since 1985 with the founders of Educational Kinesiology, Dr. Paul and Gail Dennison. Glenys is one of the founders of Edu-K in New Zealand, and sits on the Board there. Brain Gym International recognized her in 2001 with the Outstanding Achievement Award for her contributions to Educational Kinesiology. She has worked tirelessly in promoting Edu-K to people from all areas of life, and traveled extensively, teaching in over 14 countries, as well as sponsoring many international Brain Gym instructors and courses in New Zealand.
Glenys has been teaching for over 35 years. Besides Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision, Glenys also teaches Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life, Optimal Brain Organization, Visioncircles, and the following advanced courses—Edu-K In Depth: Seven Dimensions of Intelligence, Creative Vision, Total Core Repatterning, Movement Re-Education, Brain Gym Teacher Practicum, Optimal Brain Organization Teacher Training, Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision Teacher’s Training, Visioncircles Teacher Training.
Glenys is a keen gardener and homemaker. She enjoys playing tennis, cycling and beach-walking, knitting and crochet. She also shares the interests and successes of her husband Roger, her two sons, Brendon and Gareth, daughter-in-law Marie, and grandsons Matthew and Joshua.
Jo Anna Shaw, author, poet, and Mind-Body coach, incorporates Brain Gym and other movements in her transformational work.
After doing a few Educational Kinesiology balances with Matt’s mother, which included Repatterning* and other activities from Brain Gym**, I was invited to her home to see what I might be able to do to help her six-year-old, Matt.
She wanted to take him off Ritalin, which had been prescribed to manage his hyperactivity. More importantly, she wanted him to be reading at grade level when he entered the first grade at the end of the summer. I made no promises and suggested she invest in several balances to see if he would be willing to do some Brain Gym activities.
An important factor in getting cooperation from a child, as well as the desired results, is the child’s willingness to be better at something.
Matt wasn’t interested in reading or sitting still. In spite of his taking the Ritalin, I had to follow him around the house and yard as I got to know him. Matt was climbing in a tree and I was sitting on the grass when I asked him what he thought I was there for. He responded with an “I don’t know” shoulder shrug. I told him I was there to help him grow a more powerful brain. Then I asked him what he would like to be better at. He said, “Gymnastics!” and came down to show me how he did cartwheels.
A sample of Matt’s artwork – April.
As part of our play, I handed him one of his books and asked him to show me how he reads. He looked at a page, put the book down and proceeded to show me some more of his gymnastics. We took turns doing activities. Mine were all Brain Gym activities and neurodevelopmental movements. Eventually, he was able to do a Three Dimension Repatterning process* with my guidance.
The Results were Remarkable. I played with Matt, once a week in the month of May, in much this same way. His mother played with him a few minutes every day as well, doing some of the Brain Gym activities I taught her—what we in Edu-K call “homeplay.” In a short time, he began sitting more comfortably for longer periods of time and sharing daily reading time with his mother as well.
In addition to this remarkable shift from April to June of the same year, his mother reported that she took him off his meds in the summer and never started him back on them. By the time he returned to school in the fall he was reading at grade level. Δ
Notice the before (above left) and after (below) artwork from Matt’s journal.
A sample of Matt’s artwork in June.
*In Edu-K, Dennison Laterality Repatterning and Three Dimension Repatterning—both processes taught in the course Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life—is used in teaching learners to notice and integrate side-side, up-down, and back-front movement skills.
About Jo Anna Shaw Jo Anna’s joy is empowering adults and children to move through life and learning challenges into their full potential. The foundation of her Mind-Body Coaching® practice is Educational Kinesiology (Edu-K for short). An author and poet, Jo Anna published Design and Live the Life YOU Love: A Guide for Living in Your Power and Fulfilling Your Purpose (foreword by Paul Dennison, Ph.D., and Gail Dennison). This self-empowerment resource is designed to enhance a reader’s ability to see and communicate with love. Learn more by visiting www.joannashaw.net.
Deborah Scott Studebaker teaching a small-group poetry workshop to middle school youth.
Drawing a Lazy 8 helps coordinate the eyes for smoothly crossing the visual midline.
I love Lazy 8s! Tracing this simple, flowing infinity pattern connects the eyes to the hands to the hemispheres. As a poetry teacher, I have seen it encourage writers of all ages to release their ideas onto the page. As a Brain Gym consultant, I have watched the movement literally transform behavior. But I had never felt the extent of its physical power until I started working with a very unique young man.
“Vincent” is a 13 year-old who came to me for issues of focus and attention. He loved books and stories, and his imaginative drawings showed the mind of an inventor. Vincent’s inner life was his safe haven. His mother said she was looking for creative ways to help him manage his tasks and confidently interact with the world.
Creative writing tools (pen, notebook, and poetry magnets) are laid out to use as pre-checks for a writing balance. Selected Brain Gym activity cards provide the “learning menu,” intended to invite a sense of curiosity and choice.
At our first meeting, Vincent quietly explored my office, head down. He was polite and cooperative; willing to engage in all sorts of movement pre-checks. Sustaining eye contact or conversation was harder; “I don’t know” was his default response to any question. With verbal noticing* and goal-setting clearly unavailable in that moment, I turned immediately to the drawing out model: a magnificent Brain Gym method that engages both client and facilitator in curiosity and discovery.
Vincent used objects in my office to turn it into a construction zone.
My job was not to “fix” Vincent, but to empower his self-awareness. I would offer him choices, and follow his lead. I knew that Vincent’s mind/body system would chart our course. Where to begin? With movement and play!
Our first session took us into PACE**, onto the balance board, then over to observation and word games. Vincent was drawn to my wooden Lazy 8 track, and began to guide a marble around the pathway. He then chose a Dennison Laterality Repatterning from the learning menu (a process that invites core stability and contralateral movement.) After the balance, Vincent was newly aware of his hand position, and the pressure of his pen. He observed: “I’m usually going at a faster pace, but now I have more time for the ideas.” At the end of our first appointment, I noticed that he seemed taller. Were his eyes a bit brighter too?
Our work together had begun. Each week, I would offer Vincent his choice of movement games and activities. We tossed beanbags and bounced balls; we batted balloons around the room. He jumped on my mini-trampoline, drew fanciful characters, and arranged magnetic poetry tiles.
Vincent drew the Lazy 8s horizontally in the air, but always drew them vertically on the whiteboard, without creating a lateral midline.
When it came time to pick a Brain Gym movement, Vincent usually chose Lazy 8s. And while he could easily draw the horizontal pattern in the air, he would draw it vertically on my white board (see image at left). I resisted the impulse to correct him, waiting and watching his mind/body intelligence at work.
Vincent selected other Brain Gym activities too: Earth Buttons, Neck Rolls and Belly Breathing. I sensed that this young man was searching for physical grounding.
So we turned my office into a virtual construction zone! Vincent built dens, hideouts, and passageways using tables, chairs, blankets, buckets, blocks and anything else in the room that could be repurposed.
Vincent’s “hideouts” illustrate a grounding, self-organizing kind of play, calling on new spatial/motor skills.
I saw that, by arranging and moving around in his surroundings, Vincent was developing skills of grounding, centralized awareness, and self-organization (see Editor’s note).
“…he controlled the wooden Lazy 8 track with his hands, his knees, even his head.”
Over time, Lazy 8s continued to be Vincent’s go-to movement. He walked the pattern, enlarged, on the floor, drew it on paper, and controlled the wooden track with his hands, his knees—even his head (I’ve noticed that, when exploring sensory and motor skills, people are often led to do surprising things!)
On the day of our fifth session, as Vincent stood at the white board, his Lazy 8s became horizontal! With each loop of the marker, I saw a newfound ease and grace settle into his body: 8s made with one hand, then the other, then both hands. It was a breakthrough moment.
Suddenly Vincent began drawing horizontal Lazy 8s—a breakthrough moment!
Vincent’s growth has continued. Now, when he arrives, he comes in with a sense of purpose. He sits across my table, fills out a written pre-check form** and we chat. While I still initiate most of our conversations, I get a kick out of his quirky sense of humor. He draws his pictures, and frequently looks up and smiles. He seems happy and relaxed in his own skin.
A few weeks ago, we talked about school starting up again. Vincent said he was excited. I felt an opening in which to ask what he might like to work toward achieving in 7th grade. He told me that he’d “like to feel good about this year, and solve problems as they come along.” I was heartened by his wisdom—and the fact that he was able to articulate a goal.
Vincent’s Lazy 8s keep on evolving too. Recently, I asked him to draw a picture, do some 8s, and draw again. He created his horizontal 8 on the white board with a large, fluid, full-body motion. But it was the difference in his picture afterward that astonished me. Where his fanciful pre-sketch was cute and comical, his highly detailed post-sketch was drawn in a much more grounded and sophisticated style! And he wasn’t finished yet.
Vincent’s drawings before (left) and immediately after (right) doing some Lazy 8s.
Vincent then went back to the board and erased the center of the 8, leaving an empty space between the two sides. I wasn’t sure what he was doing. Moments later, he cross-hatched the opening, as if to build up a bridge between the two sides—just as we teach in Brain Gym, that the Corpus Callosum can be seen as a “bridge” between the brain’s two hemispheres. I was flabbergasted—it’s nothing Vincent and I had ever discussed.
A close-up of the cross-hatching marks he drew at the precise center of the 8.
Vincent’s Lazy 8s on the whiteboard, showing his crosshatching in the middle.
Perhaps Vincent’s most dramatic experience with Lazy 8s immersed him in the movement for a full 15 minutes. The rhythm, flow, and the sound of the marble on the wooden track took him into “the zone.” Slowly, it transitioned into a shared activity: we each held one end of the wooden track in the air between us. We operated it together, sensing the shifts in tempo, weight, and hand position required to keep the momentum going. I was literally “in the loop” with Vincent, a part of his creative process. I will never forget that moment of collaboration.
In Educational Kinesiology, we learn that doing Lazy 8 is an opportunity to define the left and right visual fields and the point midway between them, where the two visual fields must overlap. Using both left and right sides of the body this way appears to connect the two hemispheres. We often see improved eye-teaming skills and a lessening of letter reversals and transpositions. I’ve also seen how doing the 8s can relax the muscles of the hands, arms, and shoulders, and support balance and coordination.
Working with Vincent in this organic, collaborative way has shown me that drawing Lazy 8s can have a profound social, emotional, and creative impact that grows alongside the physical skills of learning.
Before I came to Brain Gym, I thought that everyone had to live with struggle and limitation. And even though I had experienced blissful moments of mind/ body integration, I didn’t have reliable tools to help get me back there when I drifted out of sync. Now I understand that movement, self-awareness, and intention bring enormous gifts for positive change. This happy sense of possibility fuels the work I am lucky enough to do with Vincent and my other clients.
Vincent chose the Lazy 8s for a reason unique to his own mind/body intelligence. I can’t wait to see what he chooses next.
Deborah Scott Studebaker is a Los Angeles writer, educator and speaker who is deeply curious about the link between language and movement. She is a Licensed Brain Gym® consultant and a certified Touch for Health Kinesiologist. Deb serves as Poet-in-Residence at The Willows Community School in Culver City, and also holds a certificate in Social Emotional Arts Education through UCLA Arts and Healing. In her workshops with young people and/or adults, Deb presents the physical skills of learning as a powerful context for creativity and social/emotional development. Deb is the founder of Inner-Genius, a consultancy that helps clients of all ages imagine, achieve, and succeed. To learn more, contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org or read about her work at www.movedtowrite.com.
*Working with Vincent has inspired me to find alternatives to spoken noticing, a process we learn in Brain Gym 101. One fantastic way to elicit a client’s thoughts and feelings is with a written pre-check/post-check form. Karen Petersen uses this technique with seniors in her lovely book, Move with Balance: Healthy Aging Activities for Brain and Body. I modified her form to use with clients of all ages.
**PACE: An acronym for doing four simple Brain Gym warm-up activities that help connect with a state of feeling Positive, Active, Clear, and Energetic.
Editor’s Note: Author, educator, and researcher David Sobel, Antioch University, writes about children’s building of tents, dens, and hideaways as a way to expand their sense of self and their knowledge of the social and natural world.
Carla Hannaford, Ph.D., teaching one of her courses: The Physiological Basis of Learning
can somehow exist apart from our bodies is deeply rooted in our culture. It is related to the attitude that the things we do with our bodies, and the bodily functions,emotions, and sensations that sustain life, are lower, less distinctly human. This is also the basis of a lot of educational theory and practice that make learning harder and less successful than it could be.”
—Carla Hannaford, biologist and educator from her book Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head
Children are often surprised to understand the words as they read them after doing some Brain Gym activities.
Learning is about doing. Children become self-initiating learners when they connect or re-connect with the movement patterns that call them into action. As a reading teacher once indoctrinated in the idea that learning is a mental activity, I first wrestled with this paradoxical point of view in the early 1970s. I saw struggling learners at my reading centers make their biggest leaps in reading, writing, and processing language, not through repetition and memorization, but by mastering physical (sensorimotor) skills related to the integration of perception and action.
Over time, I developed a system, Educational Kinesiology: Seven Dimensions of Intelligence*, based on a simple principle: Create learning opportunities so that students can connect with the physical skills.
I helped learners discover how to integrate their movement patterns in terms of left-right, up-down, and back-to-front directions. I further found that by prioritizing these dimensions I could more readily create a teachable moment for engaging skills of centralization, spatial awareness, holding a tool (like a pencil) effectively, and so on.
Gail and I in 1986, during our early days of co-teaching.
I asked my friend and colleague, Gail Hargrove (later to become my wife), to help me organize my processes into a course manual. We soon found that it was our great joy to teach the work together. In the early 1980s, Gail and I began teaching throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. We often stayed over for a few days in one location to give private consultations.
We would end each session by showing a few self-help activities from our repertoire that would take just minutes to do and serve as reminders of the goal, drawing stick-figure illustrations.
We chose movements that re-enforced any skills of balance, coordination, eye-teaming, and centralization learned in the session. We found that repeating these each day helped students to anchor new habits of movement, learning, playfulness, and self-calming.
Danny Discovers Reading
Our little “homeplay” book – Brain Gym: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning
One afternoon in the spring of 1986 we had the good fortune to work with a woman, her husband, and son Danny*. Danny’s mother expressed her goal for him to improve his reading. When asked what he would like to learn to do more easily, seven-year-old Danny said that he wanted to be able to catch a ball better (he had been diagnosed with a mild cerebral palsy, and his movements were somewhat restricted).
While we were doing the Edu-K in Depth menu with him, Danny improved his hand-eye coordination with his right, previously shortened and “useless,” arm, which through muscle-relaxing activities now extended to the same length as his left.
Along with his mom, we joked around with him as we played catch with a crumpled paper “ball” and asked Danny to write his name and draw a picture. By the end of the session, Danny’s eyes had come to life and he read fluently and with comprehension for the first time. His mother listened with tears streaming down her face. We laughed and chatted with Danny, confident in our good rapport, for we had become pals.
Then I mentioned “homework” and Danny promptly got up and left the room, not to return. It was at this moment that Gail and I, realizing that our movements deserved a more playful name, coined the term “homeplay.”
My thoughts continued in this vein. In the context of the educational system of the ’70s and ’80s that referred to learning challenges as “minimal brain dysfunction,” and perhaps anticipating the ’90s and “the decade of the brain,” and further, given my understanding of cognitive science and the relationship between learning and movement, the name “Brain Gym” came to me. Gail and I both immediately liked the name.
“Brain Gym” clearly speaks of what our work is all about: bringing together the thinking intelligence and the coordination of the body.
Gail took this photo of me in Brisbane on our first trip to Australia and New Zealand.
Gail and I envisioned putting our best activities into a small book that we could give away to students as “homeplay” after a private session, and began working on that project. Our booklet, Brain Gym: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning included 26 easy-to-do physical movements that enhance learning.
A few weeks later, we sent our paste-up version to the printer, just as we boarded a plane to teach our first courses in Australia and New Zealand. A draft of the booklet went with us, and as we shared it with students, we suddenly saw that these quick and simple activities could become as important as our in-depth work. Soon after, we reworked some of our course material into what is now Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life, which included the activities.
We didn’t then imagine that our “little orange book” would eventually be translated into 20-some languages, used in more than 80 countries, and, thirty years later, still be bringing play and ease to the learning process for people of all ages and abilities. Δ
*Educational Kinesiology in Depth: Seven Dimensions of Intelligence, uses a priority system to explore left-right, up-down, back-to-front directional movements, as well as motivation, breathing, self-regulation, and cranial movement (habits of teeth and jaw). For more about how Paul chose the Brain Gym activities, see Freedom in Learning: The Gifts of a Child-Centered Education.