Movement-Based Learning at the 2013 Touch for Health Conference

Paul_Gail_0511_web5On Saturday, August 3, at the invitation of author and instructor trainer, Matthew Thie, the director of Touch for Health Education, the two of us had the privilege of presenting at the 38th annual Touch for Health Conference, held this year at the Serra Retreat in Malibu, California. Among the 100 plus participants we saw old friends and made new ones from near and far-flung areas of the world. What an honoring of the legacy of Dr. John Thie, who developed the Touch for Health program! We were inspired by chiropractor Sheldon Deal, who introduced valuable new techniques for calming the brain as he spoke of a life of service as the key to vitality and well-being. We were honored to be part of a panel discussion with Touch for Health colleagues on the future of teaching through movement, touch, and balance.

In our own presentation, we invited participants to experience their skill at balancing on one-leg, both before and after doing some Brain Gym® activities. Many thanked us afterwards for this simple yet surprising demonstration of the power of learning through balance and motor skills. We shared with the group how we’re realizing our dream of seeing movement-based learning unfold as a worldwide reality.

We explained that many people understand education as declarative only: the taking in of information. Yet without procedural knowledge, students are unable to put new learning into action. So one essential task of skilled teaching is to create harmony between declarative and procedural knowledge. Learners access declarative knowledge by use of words . . . by reading, thinking, and conversing.  Yet it’s the procedural knowledge that gives us the physical maps to carry out our thoughts and purposes. So while motivation provides the zeal to declare a goal or intention, movement gives us a map for applying the intention and following through.

Purposeful movements like the 26 Brain Gym® activities improve balance and coordination. For years, a growing body of research has related vestibular balance to school-readiness. Most recently (in 2005), researchers Stoodley, Fawcett, Nicolson, and Stein found an impaired balancing ability in dyslexic children. The One Leg Stand (Schrager, 2001) has been incorporated into a more extensive test battery to identify children who have, or are at risk of having, ADHD, dyslexia, and other specific learning disabilities. Balance beams and balance boards are being widely used by special education teachers to develop balance abilities, for the ability to keep one’s balance is known to be highly correlated with brain integration and reading-readiness. Katy Bowman, an expert on the science of biomechanics emphasizes that, to the extent that balance is lacking, the brain, visual system, and vestibular system have to work harder to compensate. In Edu-K we find that the integrity of the moving physical structure provides a context for the cognitive function necessary for focal attention and new learning.

Moving activates the brain. Dr. John Medina, director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, says in his book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, “Exercise boosts brain power. Humans adapted during evolution by constantly moving (both to get food and to avoid predators).” Medina further asserts that people think better in motion.

Movement educators understand learning as a process of using activity, focus, play, and practice to make things ever more real, certain, familiar, and functional. They guide children in moving through a learning cycle that begins with an experience of openness to novelty (a goal). The next step is, through play or imagination, to perform a new function with the intention to master it. The teacher assists the learner in making a match between his goal and a previously learned skill (or familiar context) from which to move. The cycle is completed as the new skill is coded through words and expression until it becomes familiar and easy to recall. Finally, celebration of the learning provides a successful context for ever further growth. At any given moment, the teacher can lead the learner to a happy medium between exploring on his own and connecting with the group; both essential elements to the learning process.

What holds meaning and interest for learners is what will claim their attention. The learner’s entire experience consists of the places to which he directs his attention and the resultant neuropathways created in order for him to physically, mentally, and emotionally convey himself to those places. Ideally, the focuses he selects—as a self-initiating learner—will enhance his world and influence him to feel at ease and connected with others. True education is not about deficit management. Any learning challenge is recognized as the effect of effort still in motion toward a skill that has yet to be fully learned.


This blog is adapted from an article: “Movement-Based Learning for Life” by Paul and Gail Dennison, published in the Touch for Health 38th Annual Conference papers.

For more about balance and learning, see Paul’s article: Stand Up . . . Sit Down . . . Can You Do It?

© 2013 by Paul and Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.

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






Stand Up . . . Sit Down . . . Can You Do It?

Paul_0511_web3Michael had heard about my work helping people achieve improved balance and coordination, so he brought his father, Joe, to see me. In the last few years, Joe, 85, had become almost completely sedentary. His recent fall had prompted increased concern about his condition. Whenever he got up to walk, he was using two canes to keep his balance.

When Joe arrived at my office, he seemed tired and preoccupied, and made little eye contact. He needed assistance to seat himself. As Michael and I began to talk with him, Joe immediately closed his eyes, lolling his head sleepily to one side.

With Michael’s help, I facilitated the setting of a goal with Joe: “To move, laugh, and enjoy life.” From the learning menu we chose Dennison Laterality Repatterning (DLR), a simple movement process at the heart of my work.

Lying back on a massage table, Joe was at first unable to raise his arms or legs without assistance. So I asked him to look up to the left as we helped him do the contralateral Cross Crawl movements, alternating in the lifting of each leg and opposite arm. At first the process was difficult for Joe. Yet after some repetitions he suddenly began to lift each leg and opposite arm by himself. “Good job!” we said, as Joe reclaimed the movement pattern and participated with increasing vigor.

When the repatterning was complete, we all three laughed as Joe looked around the room, boldly slid off the table, and walked across the room without reliance on his canes, moving in a rhythmic gait and swinging his arms reciprocally. I asked if he could seat himself without help, and he did so. “Now stand up,” I requested, and he easily rose to his feet.

I told Joe that the best exercise he could do for himself was to stand up and sit down again often throughout the day, finding his balance, walking from place to place, and looking into the distance for destinations to move toward. I also gave him a few Brain Gym® homeplay activities to help him integrate the new movement patterns.

Michael and I were happy to help Joe “wake up” to more movement, laughter, and enjoyment. For the restoration of his whole-body movement map, Joe’s repatterning seemed a strong beginning. He now seemed better able to keep his balance, locate himself spatially, and hold up his head as he moved his eyes to look around.

Scott McCredie, in his book Balance: In Search of the Lost Sense, hypothesizes that the sense of balance is so essential to human survival and functioning that we have evolved with three distinct balance systems: (1) the visual, for locating ourselves in space; (2) the vestibular of the inner ear, for monitoring our head movement as we turn left and right; and (3) that of muscular proprioception, for continuous awareness of body movement in space. Good balance, says McCredie, depends upon the interrelationship of these systems.

When, in 1981, I had the inspiration to create the DLR process, I was focused not on how to activate vestibular balance but on helping an adult nonreader learn to read. Yet today I believe that one reason DLR is so effective is that it helps coordinate vision, proprioception, and vestibular balance for cross-motor as well as one-sided movement. I also see how, after doing DLR, people are better able to access coordinated movement, visual flexibility, and clarity of cognition. It makes sense to me that organized sensorimotor programs help free the eyes and mind to seek new information, rather than be always seeking balance.


See more about Scott McCredie’s book.

© 2013 by Paul Dennison. All rights reserved.

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


Re-educating Our Movement Toward a Goal past weekend I enjoyed teaching a lively and exciting three-day Movement Re-education workshop here in Ventura, with warm weather the backdrop to our rediscovery of flexibility and ease. For 20 years, the Movement Re-Education work has proven its value as an effective tool for releasing postural compensations and reestablishing whole-brain (two-sided, whole-body) movement patterns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(C) 2013 by Paul E. Dennison. All Rights Reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.

Where Am I? Moving to Discover the Body Map

Man's hand pointing on street mapAs an educator, I’ve long been interested in how simple movements can be used to prepare an individual for successfully learning specific academic or sensorimotor tasks. I developed the Optimal Brain Organization course (OBO) out of work I did with laterality in the 1970s at my learning centers. The course provides a safe place for people to notice how they’re using their eyes, ears, hands, and whole body for everyday functions, and discover greater ease and specialization for such sensorimotor skills.

A woman I’ll call Christy, a student in a recent OBO course, was a volunteer for the Dexterity Balance. Christy’s goal was to be able to find her way home. Christy explained that her husband doesn’t like to let her use the car, as he’s afraid she’ll get lost. For example, when she parks at the mall, she often can’t find her vehicle after shopping, and has had to get security to drive her around looking for it. More than once, it’s been on the other side of the mall from where she thought that she had left it.

In a pre-activity, Christy sat in a chair and pretended to drive back to her hotel from the course venue. As she thought about driving, she became confused about whether to turn right or left. In additional pre-activities for this balance, she had difficulty facing someone and pointing to their right ear, left eye, right foot, and so on, which she says commonly happens, making it difficult for her to work with students on their directionality.

I explained to the course participants that knowing left from right is more than memorizing which is your right hand and which is your left, and that finding one’s way is more than following directions or reading a map. In order to easily follow external directions, we need to have an internal map. This internal map is built through our proprioceptors—what I call the brain cells in the muscles—that give us the location of our head, hand, or eyes in relationship to other areas of the body.

Extrinsic clues or strategies can help us in finding our orientation. Yet once a person is able to feel her center from within—to identify where she is in terms of the proprioceptive map, she can feel herself moving in space, actually making an extrinsic map also more readable. Consider how an infant that is free to move spends most of his time exploring this map. Through micromovements he nourishes his 650 some muscles (with oxygen, blood, electricity), experientially coding them for further ease of movement. Yet when he (or anyone) is sedentary for long periods, the ability to distinguish features on the map may be lost.

The balance I had the privilege of facilitating for Christy included doing The Cross Crawl and The Lengthening Activities from the Brain Gym® 26 to help her sense the movement of her whole body and also activities to specialize for her one-sided (asymmetrical) movement, such as using one hand or foot at a time. After the balance, Christy suddenly discovered that she could separate the signal from her left side to her right, relaxing one side as she activated the other, which she had previously been unable to do. She could now tell her right from her left without thinking about it, and could follow directions involving one hand or foot without automatically using the other hand or foot.

Christy said she had never imagined that she could know where she was from inside her own body. I asked her to now pretend to drive to the local health food store: She turned left, right, left, right as if she were moving from a familiar, intrinsic map—aware of her body moving within the big picture of the city. What a thrill to celebrate with her and the other students this new learning about moving in space!


Note: The theme of locating oneself spatially, through the proprioceptors, is explored in all Brain Gym® courses. 

© 2013 by Paul E. Dennison. All Rights Reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.


Listening to the Body

The three-day Language of Movement course has long been an important one for me. The thesis of the course is that the body’s nonverbal language is as potent as words—sometimes more so—and benefits from finding acknowledgment. This graduate level course gives learners the opportunity to notice the layers of expression in their body language and see how these impact their goals and functioning.

To simplify this important concept: I find that the reasoning part of the brain can easily set a goal, yet for achievement such a goal needs to be aligned with the needs of the brain stem and autonomic nervous system. Otherwise a personal intention can activate the fight-or-flight or fight-or-freeze mechanisms of one’s most hardwired movement patterns, such as thrusting the ribs in aggression or tucking the tailbone to hold back in a “freeze mode.” In class, participants balanced daily and experienced the release of patterns they had hardly been aware of beforehand!

I enjoyed building community with these active, curious, and enthusiastic learners. I’ve have often thought that the phenomenal changes that can occur for people in a course like this are possible because of the high level of safety created in community.

Gail and I have long included in our courses forms of interactive play from The New Games Book: Play Hard, Play Fair, Nobody Hurt (New Games Foundation). In the late 1980s, borrowing from activities that our children were doing in the progressive Culver City schools, we expanded these games to include some of the cooperative learning methods. Later we learned firsthand about Spencer Kagan’s Cooperative Learning work when we took a two-day workshop to deepen our understanding of how playful collaboration supports learning.

© 2013 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

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