Learning to Move Spontaneously

Three Boys Holding Sports BallsAlthough Wyatt’s mom brought him to see me because of his learning difficulties, he wasn’t interested in working on that topic. And when I asked this nine-year-old what he would like to work on, he came close to tears.

“Today we played softball,” he explained. I can’t catch the ball, and the other kids never choose me for their team. But I don’t care. I don’t even want to play. I can never think fast enough to know what to do.”

Together, Wyatt and I formulated his goal, for him to play and have more fun with his friends. I explained that, when we’re playing, sometimes our body moves even faster than our brain and we know what to do without thinking.

Wyatt agreed to an experiment: to see if he could learn to trust his body to move without his having to think about what to do next. From a static standing position, I threw the ball to Wyatt with a moderately easy toss. First I threw it in a somewhat high arc, then in a low underhand, and finally in a straight line. He caught the ball awkwardly the first time and missed the next two catches, becoming more discouraged each time.

Wyatt and I were working on developing two kinds of intelligence that are central to Edu-K, as they’re important to a learner’s physical ease and connection with his environment. Educator Thomas Armstrong calls these the Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence and the Spatial Intelligence*. Playing catch, along with doing some Brain Gym® activities, is a great way for both children and adults to awaken attributes associated with these intelligences.

I told Wyatt he was probably analyzing too much and that, as he relaxed, he might discover some new ways to use his eyes and body together as he caught and threw the ball. I let him choose some Brain Gym activities from a poster in my office, and then he and I did the movements together to help him trust his physical responses. We did the Cross Crawl, then Arm Activation, the Footflex, Lazy 8s, and Hook-ups. When Wyatt felt ready to play, we did a post-activity so he could experience his new learning.

This time Wyatt easily caught the ball all three times. I then moved around a bit as I continued throwing it, and he moved in anticipation of catching it. I began to make the throws more challenging. He seemed to know where the ball would be without thinking. He was so excited. We danced around together, jumped up and down, and celebrated the joy of his new accomplishment.

I find that many children, and adults, too, overthink and try too hard instead of trusting their innate movement patterns. I love seeing these learners make the shift from trying too hard to spontaneously doing their best. And I’m confident that a happy and exploratory learner like Wyatt, who knows how to learn, will do well with whatever subject matter is presented to him.

*Educator Howard Gardner did pioneering work on the theory of multiple intelligences in the early 1980s. Thomas Armstrong has interpreted this work in several of his own books, including Seven Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Multiple Intelligences, Plume, 1999, and Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Achieve Success in School and Life, Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2011. Besides the two intelligences named here, Armstrong identifies six others.

 The Brain Gym® activities are from Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, ©2010. 

© 2013 by Paul Dennison. All rights reserved.

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



Extrinsic Discipline or Intrinsic Self-Control?


A 12-year-old middle school student I’ll call Aaron had several times been sent to the principal’s office for hitting his classmates and otherwise causing disruptions in his sixth-grade classroom. After repeated warnings, Aaron had been suspended for two weeks. This incident was related to me by  a Brain Gym® Instructor, who learned of the episode shortly after it happened, when she was invited to teach the Brain Gym program in the boy’s classroom.

In each of the hour-long sessions, the instructor led the youngsters through the PACE  activities, ending with Hook-ups. She added a new Brain Gym activity each visit—for reading, handwriting, and other academic skills—and the kids did these while either sitting or standing next to their seats. At the end of each session, she asked the students which activities they liked, and why.

The Brain Gym Instructor said that Aaron at first just sat in his chair passively and observed, refusing to do the activities or to share. She said that she emphasized to the children that they could use the activities, especially Hook-ups, to develop choice-making skills and the ability to stop and think, rather than  losing self-control and being at the effect of their stress or anger.

As the six weeks of sessions went on, Aaron began joining in to do the movements, and eventually started commenting on various activities. During the last session, he said, “I like doing Hook-ups. It helps me stop and think, and I don’t get angry over nothing.” Aaron’s teacher told the Brain Gym Instructor sometime later that, as the school year continued, Aaron went on to become a model young citizen at the school, one who took pride and pleasure in helping others to learn the Brain Gym activities.

Through the years, I’ve heard hundreds of similar reports, from parents and educators alike, and in some cases even from formerly difficult children themselves. One teacher said that the Brain Gym activities had replaced use of the rod at her school. In some juvenile detention centers, Hook-ups has been offered for years as an alternative to “take down.” Many classroom teachers have told me that they use Hook-ups to address discipline problems, freeing them to do the quality teaching for which they entered the profession.

I believe that children are naturally loving and cooperative. It’s been my experience that few people of any age enjoy losing control of their feelings or actions. Most people would rather have self-control and talk things over, instead of lashing out (either physically or verbally) without thinking and then having to deal with the unhappy consequences of their actions.

While it isn’t a subject area in most schools, the nurturing of self-discipline underlies the whole development of a child. What if Aaron had continued being punished by being blamed or shamed in front of his classmates, or even spanked or otherwise physically reprimanded? Would he then have learned self-restraint and how to calm himself? It’s unlikely.

In many public and parochial schools, the practice of hitting students is still seen as an acceptable form of discipline; in many states, it’s actually still legal for teachers and school administrators to paddle children. The latest report by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights showed that in 2006 (the last year data was available) more than 200,000 students received some sort of physical punishment at school. Fashion designer Marc Ecko has initiated a campaign to end school spankings, or, more precisely, corporal punishment. Ecko makes a good point: in all 50 states, it’s illegal to hit a prisoner or an animal, but in 19 states it’s allowable to deny children due process before they go over a teacher’s knee.

For more information, see Ecko’s Unlimited Justice website.

Photo credit: © Greenland | Dreamstime.com, used with permission.

© 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.

When Nothing Can Be Said

There are no words for today’s heartbreaking event in Connecticut. We’re staying in a reflective state by cocooning as we hold space for all the feelings that arise in and around us. Thank goodness for Hook-ups and the Positive Points as we send our prayers to everyone touched by the tragedy. -Paul & Gail Dennison

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.

An Eye at the Center of the Storm

It’s beautiful, sunny, and clear here in Ventura after last night’s drizzle. It’s good to have Paul home again—for a few days now, he’s been resting and readjusting after his long tour of courses.

News reports of the recent struggles for so many people on the East Coast have left me feeling somewhat dazed and vulnerable. I notice that the sweeping news images of nature unbound have shaken my trust in the natural world and made me aware of the way we are all connected, taking me back even to natural disasters that I heard my parents talk about from their childhoods. At the moment, the planet seems small and fragile. Doing Hook-ups, the Positive Points, and other Brain Gym® activities has helped. Relaxing into Hook-ups, I find that I quickly become attuned to any negative undercurrents in my mental and emotional spheres and am able to release them.


Walking in our garden last night at dusk, Paul and I were filled with gratitude for all that we have—our family, health, home, and so much love. As we walked and talked, we were surprised to see the first purple iris just beginning to bud—a promise of the spring that can come so early in Southern California. The thriving loveliness of this delicate flower stimulated and held my centralized focus, and I felt truly grounded in my body for the first time in days. The natural world can seem relentless, yet it also offers simplicity and healing. I’m still holding in my mind and heart the surprising contrast of two very different natural experiences. Nature’s resilience, and my own ability to rebound so readily (after all, I’m part of nature, too), is soothing my sense of loss.

© 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.

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