Belly Breathing

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.

1) Andrew Weil, M.D., Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing, audio CD, Sounds True, 1999.
2) Dennison, Paul E. and Dennison, Gail E. Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., 2010.
3) The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Xiao MaZi-Qi YueZhu-Qing Gong, Hong ZhangNai-Yue DuanYu-Tong ShiGao-Xia Wei, and You-Fa Li. Front Psychol. 2017; 8: 874. Published online 2017 Jun 6. doi: PMCID: PMC5455070 

Photo Credit: ID 33052574 © Wavebreakmedia Ltd

Danny and the Birth of Brain Gym

Danny surprised himself by reading with fluency for the first time.

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, around the time we published our little orange book. This is a rare photo from that time of me without glasses.

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

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 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.

**Danny is not his real name. This story is excerpted from Brain Gym and Me: Reclaiming the Pleasure of Learning, by Paul E. Dennison,©1986.
***The Brain Gym activities are described in depth, along with suggested applications, in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, by Paul and Gail Dennison, ©2010, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA. Inspiration for the activities was drawn from many sources, including Developmental Optometry, dance, long distance running, child development, the postural work of F.M. Alexander, the Touch for Health process, and our own inventiveness. More and more, we realized the value of this collection of movements that so effectively facilitate learning, enhance the enjoyment of daily life, and help individuals attain more of their potential.


Photo Credits: Boy reading – ID 1158000 © Michal Bednarek |


© 2016 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.


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


You might also enjoy:

The Cross Crawl: A Remarkable Movement

Discovering the Reading Midfield

How Reading Is Like Playing Soccer


In Celebration of Handwriting

Brain Gym in Shanghai: A Photo Journal


by Amy CHOI Wai Ming, Hong Kong

I’m very happy to share with you that, after 16 years as a Brain Gym Instructor, last summer I taught my biggest course* ever—a five-day class held in Shanghai in July, 2015. There were 40-some people, and for the first time I taught the course for parents and children without using any Power Point! I taught by pure noticing*. It was a body-oriented, drawing-out experience, and one that I especially enjoyed teaching.

The Brain Gym Instructors who reviewed the class or served as teaching assistants also enjoyed it very much. We sometimes let the kids get up and run around, and they were happy to get involved in all the movements, activities, and balance* processes.

We also used the figure 8 graphic of the Learning Flow* Chart from Brain Gym Teachers Edition. With the Dennisons’ permission, I made two teaching posters: one about 1.5 meters wide (you can see it in the background of the group photo) and the other a big floor mat (photo 10, link below), so that participants could walk on it and notice when they were in integrated high and low gears and when they were in stress. The students appreciated these posters, which many reviewers and Brain Gym Instructors who attended the course said helped them really “get it” for the first time.

A group photo of parents and children attending the Brain Gym 101 course in Shanghai, July 2015. Instructor Amy Choi is in the 2nd row, center.

Amy CHOI (2nd row, center) with parents and children at a Brain Gym 101 course she taught in Shanghai, July 2015.

After the course, I put together some photos to share with this article (read on for detailed captions of these). (For those who don’t have a yahoo/Flickr account, you can see the photos at

Title Photo: July 7, 2015 Brain Gym 101 course – Students gather for a class photo!
Photos 1 & 2:
Teaching assistants in the Shanghai course make class posters using the Double Doodle activity, drawing with two hands at once.
Photo 3: Students notice what they emphasize or omit in their own learning as they refer to Edu-K’s three learning dimensions.
Photo 4: Class assistants prepare teaching aids for the class: Amy finds that rubber band ropes are excellent tool for noticing whole-body movement in the Dennison Laterality Repatterning*** balance.
Photo 5: Amy’s enlarged draft version of the Learning Flow chart makes discovery of high and low gears more visceral.
Photo 6: In the group circle, parents and children discuss what they notice about how they learn, and about the impact of stress on their sensory perception.
Photo 7: The children are exuberant in their play and explorations as they do a group balance for crossing the midline for whole-body movement.
Photo 8: A mother and son do Brain Gym Hook-ups together. In the background: Double Doodle drawings, Lazy 8s, a goal chart, and Brain Gym posters.
Photo 9: Participants do the Positive Points.
Photo 10: Doing pre-activities for an Action Balance for Focus; noticing whole-body focus.
Photo 11: A mother and son do the Footflex for ease of focus and attention.
Photo 12: Participants do the Owl to release shoulder tension.
Photo 13: The Grounder helps release hip tension and restore flexibility.
Photo 14: Art can be play!
Photo 15: Two teenagers from two different cities become friends after joining the Brain Gym 101 course.
Photos 16 and 17: Student’s notice their personal reference points within the Learning Flow, using Hook-ups to connect with a new learning response.
Photos 18 and 19: Discussion (left) and games (right).
Photo 20: Fun and playfulness during the class photo! Amy CHOI is in the second row, center.
Photo 21-23: Student drawings of the three dimensions: The Robot, The Swimmer, and The Penguin are the metaphors we use to describe three aspects of integrated learning.
Photo 24: a young man assists his mother in noticing her hearing/listening via her left ear.
Photo 25: Amy with two young students.
Photo 26: Participants note their learning process, then do the Elephant activity for relaxed listening.

Amy CHOI Wai Ming (center) and a group of kindergarten teachers share some results of their two-handed artwork from a Double Doodle Play course held in Hong Kong, fall of 2015.

Amy CHOI (center) and a group of kindergarten teachers share some results of their two-handed artwork from the course Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Learning, held in Hong Kong in the fall of 2015.

I’m grateful to my sponsor, Mr. Shi Jian Ping of Shanghai Sunflower Studio, who provided the space for this wonderful course to happen. I would also like to thank Gail and Paul Dennison for their visionary work, Glenys Leadbeater for guiding me to join the International Faculty, and my many wonderful Edu-K teachers, including my first instructors: the late Zale Giffin of California, Flo Johnasen of Hawaii, and my close friend and teacher Carla Hannaford of Utah. 

Amy CHOI Wai Ming, a Brain Gym International Faculty Member in Hong Kong, became a Brain Gym Instructor/Consultant in 1999. She uses Edu-K’s PACE (emphasizing rhythm and timing) and space (for proprioception and spatial awareness) activities to explore new ways to play and move. Amy says her best tools to support others in finding authenticity through whole-body movement are her Kinesiology training and listening to her own body and intuition. She teaches all the core subjects of the Edu-K curriculum, and especially enjoys facilitating the Double Doodle Play basic and Teacher Training workshops. To find out more about Amy and her work, visit 

* Students of Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life experience the 26 activities and 11 Action Balances related to basic functions, such as reading, listening, writing, moving. Participants explore the process of “noticing” in terms of the Learning Flow.
** The Double Doodle, the Footflex, and other activities mentioned here are part of the 26 Brain Gym activities detailed in Brain Gym: Teacher’s Edition © 2010, by Paul and Gail Dennison, which also describes how to use the Learning Flow.
***Dennison Laterality Repatterning is a short movement process that teaches learners how to shift from avoiding the visual and movement midline (and thus using one side of the body excessively) to functioning in terms of this midline and the two-sided midfield that it makes available.

© 2016 Amy CHOI Wai Ming. All rights reserved

Brain Gym®  is a trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of a Brain Gym or Double Doodle Play instructor near you.





PACE for Four-Year-Olds in Dhahran



I have for many years cultivated a strong interest: that of seeing people self-empowered in their living and learning by gaining a better understanding of their own unique learning process and behavioral challenges. As an educator (one who assists another person in drawing out that person’s full potential), I enjoy helping people discover their own solutions to learning or special-needs difficulties. I see how the work we do together helps lighten the negative impact of stress or trauma by supporting self-regard and the development of creativity, communication, conflict resolution, self-assertiveness, and performance efficiency through nurturing education and client-centered counseling.

Since I began studying Educational Kinesiology in 2003, my work has given me many opportunities to assist children and adults in group programs and individual consultations in Saudi Arabia and other Arabic countries. For example, in 2013      I took the Brain Gym® activities(1) to a four-week summer program in Aramco involving seven high schools. Working with 1,800 high school girls in various cities of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, we used the activities to enhance skills of focus, reading, writing, vision, balance, listening, and self-esteem, and to share much laughter, fun, and play.

Early in 2014, over the course of two mornings, I taught an introductory Brain Gym workshop to a group of teachers at a small school in Dhahran, in the Eastern Province. As I usually do when giving a workshop or presentation using the four PACE activities (described below), I began with some easy and delightful games (2). I find that these games serve as a good icebreaker, while also showing the participants just how effective the four PACE activities from the Brain Gym program can be within the context of a goal. For example, we played games that involve skills of listening and attention, and then did PACE plus a movement called The Thinking Cap to see if and how those activities helped with our game skills. We also played “The Name Game” and “Simon Says” before and after doing the “PACE Plus” movements.

These 4-year-olds are beginning to integrate the rhythmic and reciprocal arm and leg motion involved in this complex motor skill.

These 4-year-olds are beginning to integrate the rhythmic and reciprocal arm and leg motion involved in this complex motor skill.

“The Name Game”

The teachers formed circles of about eight to ten players per circle. Each teacher chose a name of a flower (or city, country, animal, famous person, etc.). They threw a beanbag randomly from one person to another as they got to know each other, each time saying their chosen name. In the second round, to see if they had learned all the names, I had them again throw randomly, while calling out the name of the catcher.

Now came the real fun. In the third round, each thrower would stand as far away from a catcher as possible. This time, and in each following turn, each teacher would throw the beanbag to a certain chosen person and the sequence would be continued until each player had received and passed the beanbag once, and in the end the beanbag would return to the first person.

Then we added more beanbags into the game. The first teacher would call the second teacher’s name and throw her a second beanbag, adding a third and then a fourth as the second teacher passed the previous one. Thus there would eventually be five to seven beanbags in the air, being thrown simultaneously between the teachers! Each teacher would call out the “name” of the person they were tossing a beanbag to, so the air was also filled with the many different names. People had great fun trying to distract each other as they threw and caught the beanbags.

“Simon Says”

We also added a round of a classic old game, “Simon Says,” before doing a series of Brain Gym activities, again with the purpose of noticing improvements in skills of listening and attention.

Finding Our Best Rhythm and Timing

The four PACE activities are from the Brain Gym®  101 course, and are used to assist learners in experiencing, in the moment, their best (most easy and relaxed) rhythm and timing for learning.The PACE activities can provide an experience of visual-postural coupling and of whole-body movement as a context for learning. The underlying purpose of each of the four activities is to help learners with hydration (Sipping Water) and then give them an experience of centralizing the eyes (Brain Buttons) and of whole-body movement while crossing the visual midline (The Cross Crawl), followed by vestibular activation (doing Hook-ups calls for balancing while standing or sitting rather still).

When children are first learning to do the Cross Crawl, they often look down; as they discover how to automatically coordinate their arms and legs, they naturally look up and around.

When children are first learning to do the Cross Crawl, they often look down; as they discover how to automatically coordinate their arms and legs, they naturally look up and around.

Here are the PACE activities, with descriptions (1) of how to do them (click the link at left to see a video with teens doing the activities.):

  • Sipping Water: When drinking the water, hold each sip in your mouth for a moment before swallowing.
  • Brain Buttons: Make a “U” shape with one thumb and index finger and place them in the soft depressions just below your collarbone and to each side of your sternum; hold your other hand still over your navel. Rub the Brain Buttons for about thirty seconds as you move your eyes slowly to the left and right along a horizontal line, then switch hands and repeat the activity.
  • The Cross Crawl: Stand comfortably and cross the midline of your body as you smoothly and rhythmically alternate touching one hand or elbow to its raised opposite knee and then the other hand or elbow to its raised opposite knee. Can you feel this contralateral movement originating form the core of your body? Once you feel comfortable crossing the midline while doing the basic Cross Crawl, explore variations that call for you to use your body in new ways.
  • Hook-ups, Part I: While standing or sitting, cross your ankles. Next, extend your arms in front of you and cross one wrist over the other; then interlace your fingers and draw your clasped hands up toward your chest. Hold like this for a minute or more, breathing slowly, eyes open or closed. As you inhale, touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth at the hard palate (just behind the teeth), and relax your tongue on exhalation. Part II: When ready, uncross your arms and legs, feet flat on the floor, and touch your fingertips together in front of your chest, continuing to breathe deeply for another minute and touching the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth when you inhale.

The other Brain Gym activity we did to improve our listening and attention skills is called the Thinking Cap.

A 4-year old does the Thinking Cap

A 4-year old does the Thinking Cap

  • The Thinking Cap: Use your thumbs and index fingers to pull your ears gently back and “unroll” them. Begin at the top of the ear and massage down and around the curve, ending with the bottom lobe. Repeat three or more times.

After doing the Brain Gym activities, the teachers reported a noticeable increase in their attention. Some were joyfully surprised about the increased ease of hearing their name called among all the other noise during “The Name Game.” During “Simons Says,” they all followed my verbal cues without letting themselves be distracted by my different physical cues, and it was much harder for me to trick them into copying my body moves instead of following my verbal requests. When one teacher reported that she could hear the birds outside despite the noise from the AC and other sources in the building, others agreed that they, too, could hear much better than before.

Some Beautiful Sharing

As we gathered on the second morning of the course, the feedback shared by teachers was beautiful, touching, and motivating. One young teacher, on taking her experiences home the previous day, had shared just the PACE activities with her only child. This four-year-old boy had, until that day, never felt much need to show affection to anyone, and had a much lower level of emotional expressiveness than his peers. After his mum completed the PACE activities with her son, she went about her daily chores. Half an hour later, the son suddenly came running to her, gave her a big hug, and said: “I love you, Mummy.” This was the first time he had ever verbally expressed his feelings to her. As this teacher shared her experience with our group, we could feel the happiness and love in her story, and none of us could hold back tears of joy.

Another teacher had shared PACE at home with her two sons, grades one and three, and her husband. Before starting the activities, she asked each to do a two-minute pre-activity: the younger boy copied a few lines of text, the older one wrote a little story about a visit with his friends, and her husband made a to-do list for their next holiday. After the two minutes, she saw that the younger son had written just a few letters of the first line, the older brother had set down a few disconnected sentences, and the husband had finished a very sketchy to-do list with one-word bullet points.

After doing the PACE activities together, they repeated the writing challenge, and this time there was a big difference: the younger child copied all three lines completely and legibly, his older brother wrote a small story, each sentence meaningfully connected to the previous one, and their father wrote a new list and added some creative ideas—all written as short sentences and in greater detail. Also, each one finished before the two minutes were over.

A third teacher’s experience was a bit different. She had a nine-month-old baby at home, and did an extended version of pace with him, following up with the Thinking Cap. The baby seemed quite indifferent to what his mum did, and happily continued exploring his world, although he seemed a bit happier for the rest of the day. So when the evening came and they got ready for bed, the woman again did pace, including the Thinking Cap, with her baby, and then while the baby lay next to her playing with his feet, she started to fall asleep.

However, the baby wasn’t sleepy at all. He kept moving, making babbling sounds, and inviting his mum to join his play. Her attempts to soothe him to sleep didn’t work, and so after a while she again did pace and the Thinking Cap with him, hoping that this would help him sleep. However, he still showed no signs of being tired, and played for most of the night, rendering his mum somewhat tired the next day. When she told her story, she yawned repeatedly and looked as if she could sleep within a second if we let her.

I said, “Thank you for sharing your story! And, ladies, here you see an excellent sample of the beautiful power of these simple and easy-to-do Brain Gym movements. This story reminds me to add a possible benefit I forgot to share with you yesterday. It’s something I repeatedly noticed myself after doing the Thinking Cap, and others have told me about similar effects. For me, the Thinking Cap works like a big cup of strong coffee: it makes me awake and alert. So maybe, just maybe, you don’t want to do the Thinking Cap at night, ladies, right?”

The whole group burst out into laughter, and a merry tone was set for the rest of the day. We were together in this workshop for only two mornings, yet at the end of the workshop our hearts were heavy, and some had tears in their eyes when we said goodbye.

Those are just three of the stories the teachers shared, and at the end of the second morning they all were eager to use the Brain Gym activities in their classes. (I had given them a sample list for how to gradually add new activities over a period of 10 weeks.)

After the Workshop

Following the workshop, the teachers enthusiastically incorporated the Brain Gym movements in their daily schedules, modified each day’s academic content, and added more play time. The teachers had enjoyed this playful break from their daily routines; it improved their relationships with each other, with their students, and even at home. Their increased cheerfulness created a serene and joyful atmosphere for all concerned, and some previously shy and quiet students came out of their shells.

Within the next two weeks, many parents noticed changes in their children and called the school to ask what was going on. They noticed that the children had become calmer and more joyful, showed more social skill, and exhibited increased emotional intelligence. One parent reported that her child was speaking in longer, more meaningful sentences, even making up eloquent stories that had a beginning, a middle, and an ending—while before the Brain Gym course he would have recounted a story in short, unrelated sentences, the meaning becoming clear only after some clarifying questions had been asked. The parents of children who had previously spoken very little said that their children would now suddenly open a full conversation. Some parents observed much less sibling rivalry and better emotional expression among their children.

The teachers would send out to the parents little videos (like the one above) and photos of what the children were doing at school, and this increased the feeling of connection between the school and the parents. The teachers also reported that, although they now spent less time covering academic content, the children showed increased progress in getting ready to read and write.

I enjoy supporting people in groups and one-to-one settings in the areas of special needs, learning challenges, neuro-developmental delay, self-development, and mental health care. I offer more than 30 different courses and workshops like this one, tailored to the particular needs of schools, hospitals, companies and social groups, and centers for special education.

So this is the story behind this little joyful video.


Mona K. Al-Fajem is a German kinesiologist and educator for mental health who has lived with her family in Saudi Arabia for 30 years. A licensed Brain Gym®  Instructor/Consultant, she also teaches the Visioncircles and Brain Organization Profiles courses. She trained in Germany and North America with Brain Gym founder Dr. Paul Dennison and other international faculty members of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. She teaches in English, German, and Arabic. Mona is also a licensed Touch for Health®  instructor of Synthesis Levels 1-4 and an instructor for Touch for Health®  Metaphors as well as Top 10 Pain Releasers® . She holds an international training license for Rhythmic Movement Training® , Levels 1 and 2. A certified instructor for Reality Therapy/Choice Theory/Lead Management®  and a faculty member of the Dr. William Glasser Institute (USA), Mona counsels people in the area of mental health, with a strong emphasis on the educational component. In her work, she combines the above therapies with the following modalities to offer a comprehensive program for optimal results. She holds a diploma in advanced clinical hypnotherapy and psychotherapy. She also uses her skills and knowledge in the area of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, specifically in cases of eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Editor’s Note: For many youngsters, Brain Gym is their first experience of self-organizing movement. In most situations, Brain Gym®  teachers lead the activities while children follow along and have fun doing them; we find that children gradually work out any mix-ups on their own.

(1) The 26 Brain Gym activities are from Brain Gym® : Teacher’s Edition, 2010, by Dennison and Dennison; the descriptions of the PACE activities are from page 27.

(2) In Edu-K, we commonly use these and similar games from the New Games books, including Best New Games by Dale LeFevre, 2001.

(3) The music CD used on the video is by Tessarose Productions: Brain Gym®  Music for Encouraging Young Children to Complete the PACE Activities. The playful song is offered in six musical styles. It’s fun to do PACE to many different kinds of music. For a list of our favorite folk, classical, and children’s music, see Brain Gym® : Teacher’s Edition, pages 117-118. You might also like “Come and See My Rainbow,” Barb McIlquhamk; “Dance With Me: Songs for Young Children,” Sharon Novak with Sarah Waldron; and for more ambient rhythms, “Music for Movement and Imaginations,” Richard Maddock.

© 2014 Mona K. Al-Fajem. 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.

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:

The Cross Crawl: A Remarkable Movement

HeartsatPlay_ResourceSite_HomePage_workinaction_cross-crawlWatch someone do her first Cross Crawl* and what do you see? For people of any age, doing this activity inevitably brings a smile as they begin to experience the natural ease and rhythm of this integrating movement. Often someone doing the activity will break into a broad grin, pleasurably surprised to be coordinating the whole body at once in a complex movement pattern.

Paul first learned about the possible benefits of doing contralateral movement in the early 1970s during his studies at the University of Southern California, as he reviewed the research literature on the effect of crawling on academic achievement. The experts of that time had concluded that there was no learning advantage to having children replicate the crawling stage by crawling in the classroom.

Yet Paul had been included in several optometric assistant in-services in which he had observed children making immediate improvements in both visual skills and motor coordination after doing a standing contralateral motion that involved hitting a hanging ball. He described discovering firsthand the academic importance of the Cross Crawl in his first book, Switching On: the Whole-Brain Answer to Dyslexia, in the story of teaching this motor skill to a 10th grader who had been diagnosed as dyslexic and who was a student at one of his learning centers: For weeks now, in her tutoring sessions, Judy had been getting coaching in phonics and vocabulary building, yet she continued to struggle, word by word, to decode a fourth-grade level reading book.

The Hopscotch

The Hopscotch

On this day Paul had Judy pause in her reading so he could teach her the Cross Crawl version that he had recently learned. In the few minutes that it took Judy to internalize this contralateral pattern, Paul saw her unsteady and inconsistent motion become smooth, stable, and regular. He then asked her to read again, and heard her voice resounding with confidence, effortless phrasing, word recognition, and comprehension. Judy read like a different person.

How had doing a physical activity made such an immediate and apparent difference in that individual’s cognitive process? One hypothesis Paul formed then has since become more valid for both of us based on similar experiences with thousands of our students: For fluency, readers must be able to cross the visual midline where the left and right visual fields come together, and from where eye movement in any direction is available. The Cross Crawl’s contralateral movement pattern seems to help learners to experience coordinated physical integration as the left and right sides of the body work together. In a basic Cross Crawl or DLR, the hands cross the midline, connecting the tactile, visual, and kinesthetic midfield, where the two sides overlap.

In contemporary literature, it’s also become better understood that the brainstem modulates patterns, and locomotor movements are built on patterns. John Ratey, M.D, postulates that when information is arranged in patterns, it is neurologically more easily processed, retained, and retrieved. We further posit that rhythmic, coordinated movement restores the natural equilibrium lost when learners overfocus on symbols and phonetic elements—the decoding aspect of reading—thus inhibiting encoding and the ability to hear the story as whole language with meaningful words and phrasing. Ideally, the encoding of language provides a context for decoding—not the other way around.

The Monkey

The Monkey

The human body (muscle, bones, nerves, and blood vasculature) is largely bilaterally symmetrical. The sensory organs of eyes and ears function best when accessing the midfield where left and right sensory input overlap, providing a supportive whole-body context for one-sided activities and allowing the two sides to work together instead of inhibiting one to access the other.

Consider that children today engage in few activities, besides walking, running, or swimming, that emphasize contralateral motion, and even these three they do less than their parents did. Yet they take part in many activities that are one-sided. The one-sided activities, such as handwriting or using scissors, are important for developing dexterity and specialized skills, yet the use of one side at the expense of the other is quite different from the use of one side while resourcing both. It is this latter way that we teach in Edu-K.

Today’s most common whole-body activities are sitting at a computer or in front of a TV, neither of which is movement-rich. From eating to drawing, writing, moving a mouse, or riding a scooter (for adults, driving), one-sided motions predominate.

The Ice Skater

The Ice Skater

Doing the Cross Crawl supports a number of the elements that benefit a healthy human gait**:

  • alternating left/right movement of both sides of the body
  • a rhythmic shifting of weight between the left and right sides
  • standing balance on one foot as the other leg is lifted (especially when the activity is done in slow motion)
  • strength of quadriceps and hamstrings
  • foot stability (plantar connection to the ground)
  • alternating motion of the arms (in the walking gait, this reciprocal arm motion ideally focuses on the backswing, not the forward swing, which is a refinement that can be taught with such Cross Crawl variations as the Hopscotch, in the above illustration)
  • dynamic whole-body relaxation while in motion
  • keeping the toes pointed forward, outsides of the feet parallel
  • the awareness of moving the legs in their proper left/right tracks (at pelvic width)

The Cross Crawl additionally provides a whole-body context to foster:

  • crossing of the midline, as required for eye teaming when reading
  • movement from the body’s midfield, where the left and right hemispheres work together, instead of inhibition of one side to access the other
  • muscle proprioception of the body’s weight and motion in gravity, needed to develop a spatial map and orientation for movement in all directions

This dance-like movement, when done within a group, can help build social bonds:

  • people doing the Cross Crawl together most often begin to do the movement in synchrony
  • Cross Crawl variations allow for personal invention and expression
  • physical movement within a group is one vital way by which we connect with our surroundings and ground ourselves in a social environment.

For many years the dance-like Cross Crawl has been Paul’s and my daily practice. We also enjoy doing it as we do the four PACE activities, for work, teaching, or simply before a long walk. We hear that, worldwide, more and more children are enjoying the Cross Crawl as they, too, take a quick break from sitting to rediscover their whole-body movement. What a wonderful way to celebrate our movement and aliveness!

Note:  In the late 1970s, Paul and I also learned more about the Cross Crawl through our studies of the Touch for Health book and courses, developed by John Thie, DC. However, it was the optometric work and crossing of the midline that initially inspired Paul to develop Dennison Laterality Repatterning and to discover how to use the Cross Crawl activity to teach more effective movement and reading skills.

* The Cross Crawl is one of of the 26 Brain Gym® activities described in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, © 2010.

* Some people initially find it a challenge to access the complex coordination required for doing the Cross Crawl activity. If so, you may want to find someone who knows Dennison Laterality Repatterning (DLR), a simple process used to teach this level of integration so it becomes automatic. The DLR process is included in the course, Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life and is also offered by instructors through private session work. Click here for the name of an instructor near you.

**The Movement Dynamics course, © Dennison and Dennison, 1990 and 2006, includes 30 Cross Crawl variations, accessing three movement dimensions and taught in improvisational and dance-like sequences. The illustrations included in this article are from the manual, © Gail E. Dennison.

***References on the human gait:
Katy Bowman. Alignment Matters: The First Five Years of Katy Says. Propriometrics Press, 2013.

Michael Whittle. Gait Analysis: An Introduction. Butterworth-Heinemann, 4th edition, 2007.

Guertin, Pierre A. Central Pattern Generator for Locomotion: Anatomical, Physiological, and Pathophysiological Considerations. Frontiers in Neurology. 2012;3: 183. (Research on generation and modulation of rhythmic locomotor patterns.)

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/Breakthroughs International 

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