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.


Thoughts on Randal McChesney’s Article on Play and Motivation

Boy with a Book

I have greatly enjoyed reflecting this week on the views expressed by educator Randal McChesney in his insightful article for Hearts at Play. In Edu-K courses and private sessions, parents often comment that they’d like to know how to better motivate their children to read and study on their own and otherwise apply themselves in school. In this regard I appreciate how, in the article, Randy weighs the shortcomings of using extrinsic rewards, such as money, to motivate young people, and points to research on intrinsic motivation that shows it to be the best way for children to learn. It’s also, he makes clear, the best way to encourage children to treat one other with respect, regard, and dignity.

In his essay, Randy encourages the development of intrinsic motivations—those behaviors that arise from within the individual, the fire that moves them to interact and to be at play with each new learning challenge before them. In the Edu-K work as in Education Through Music, we see how often movement itself, and especially moving playfully with others, invites intrinsic motivation and authentic learning.

I agree with Randy’s thoughts on how effective learners build their habits of sustained motivation. It’s my intent, when working with Edu-K learners, to help them discover how to initiate motivated behavior by making a personal choice to meet a goal. For a young child having difficulty with reading, this might mean choosing to bring a reading book home from school—even if just to look at the pictures. Intrinsic joy is experienced when the student takes each measured step toward such a realistic intention. The pleasure of learning comes as the child overcomes obstacles toward his goal; for example, when he looks up new vocabulary words as he reads, or asks for a parent’s help, instead of putting the book aside. Such efforts can be seen as the vigor and attentiveness that go into following through, as when he picks up the book again and again until reaching the very last page.

In Edu-K, as in Randy’s work, we celebrate new learning as its own reward. From the pleasure of getting it to the final attainment of got it!, seeing people access their intrinsic motivation for a task is thrilling to behold.


(To read an inspiring blog on how play can develop intrinsic motivation, see the guest blog with Randal McChesney.)

Getting it and got it! are part of the Learning Flow, from Brain Gym(R): Teacher’s Edition.

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

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International. Click here to find an instructor in your area.

Play: The Intrinsic Motivation for Childhood Learning

Randal A. McChesney


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2013 by Randal McChesney. All Rights Reserved.


Vision, Proprioception, and Tickling

I’m frequently reminded of how vision can be grounded through touch and movement. This morning I worked with a nine-year-old boy I’ll call Todd. His goal was to enjoy reading (he hadn’t yet learned how). The first part of the session centered around his learning the Cross Crawl to help him develop a sense of his whole body working as a unit as he walked and moved about. I used Dennison Laterality Repatterning, a 10-minute-or-so movement sequence, to help him become aware of his reciprocal movement and then distinguish that from stillness and the articulation of a single area, such as the hand needed for drawing and writing. Todd quickly made an improvement in his awareness of proprioception, what Paul calls the brain cells in the muscles, and seemed to settle more into his body.

Another important shift occurred when I traced Lazy 8s and the Double Doodle on Todd’s back. At first he pulled away as though he thought I was about to tickle him. So I asked him to trace circles on my back first, and showed him how by tracing lightly on his arm. Then I traced the Lazy 8s and Double Doodles on his back, and asked if he could tell what shapes I was making. Todd clearly enjoyed this activity, as he seemed to drop out of a mental space, quiet down, and relax enough to stop his fidgeting.

Todd then drew large Lazy 8s and Double Doodles on a flip chart. After that, he read with confidence and ease, even though I had given him no reading instruction per se. His mother commented that this was the first time she had heard him read with fluency.

The sometimes relentless tickling of children by parents and siblings is not uncommon, and I want to make a plea in this regard. Young children are still developing the proprioceptive awareness that lets them relax into their muscles and gives them spatial information about how different parts of their body relate. Tickling—especially when it’s unwanted—is now widely considered an unwise practice. It disrupts the steadiness given by the proprioceptive system and leaves a child ungrounded, as you can see when children pull away. Tracing the Double Doodle and Lazy 8s on a child’s back soothes and brings awareness to the muscles, developing trust and proprioception, as happened with Todd, and guiding the visual system into a relaxed state.

© 2012 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.



Reclaiming Confidence Post-Trauma

This morning I got an urgent message from a woman I’ll call Erika whom I first met at a workshop I taught in Long Island, New York, in the late 1990s. Having just survived Hurricane Sandy, she was now staying with family members in California. In her voicemail, Erika asked for a private balancing session with me, saying that she was quite stressed and had been unable to think, relax, or concentrate since the traumatic event.

When Erika came to my office, she shuddered as she spoke about how she was alone in her house all night long during the hurricane, as the wind howled and trees toppled all around the property. Now she set a goal of being able to move forward in her life.

In the balance, I first helped Erika notice how her movement patterns were not supporting her skills of communication, organization, or comprehension. We then chose a learning menu, including 3-D Repatterning, a process for coordinating the body’s three postural dimensions within the context of a goal. The menu also included Movement Re-education, a process for learning how to activate formerly misused muscles in order to shift out of movement patterns that are unsupportive of a goal, and Hook-ups (from the Brain Gym® 26) to support self-calming.

After the balance, Erika was, in her own words, able to relax, “let go of the storm,” and feel comfortable in her body once more. Ready to move ahead again, she expressed that she now felt calm, peaceful, and confident about the future.

© 2012 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.

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