Movement and the Brain

Today we completed a rousing Optimal Brain Organization (OBO) workshop. A primary theme in the OBO course is how, when people are under stress, they lose their bilateral integration and become more one-sided. They are then unable to cross the lateral midline or access the processing midfield, where eyes, ears, and hands ideally work together. I theorize that such a one-sided imbalance is a compensation stemming from a lack of large-motor movement developmentally (prior to school age) or during the school years. In other words, kids are sitting too much. Therefore they’re not developing the muscle tone and integrated muscle systems that would let them access both sides as a balanced context for one-sided drawing and handwriting.

Another theme of this course is that the transfer of learning is not automatic and must be taught.  The course is built around playful balances that help students reconnect with their eye teaming, head turning, and two-handedness as well as symmetrical whole-body movement. Through balances, they learn to transfer learning from one area of expertise to another.

The first theme came into play with a young woman I’ll call Elizabeth, who volunteered for the Dexterity Balance. In the pre-activity she automatically wrote with a power grip, holding the pen tightly and experiencing a stiff right thumb and a painful ache in her right shoulder. I helped her notice that, as she wrote, she was placing her paper in her right visual field, avoiding the midline and midfield. Her goal for the balance was “to write with ease.” After the balance, she automatically picked up her pen with a precision grip and wrote comfortably in the midfield, exclaiming with surprise: “I can’t believe it! My thumb usually hurts when I write. I’m writing without straining my eyes and pressing hard on the paper.”

I explained that the reciprocal back-and-forth motion of thumb and fingers in a relaxed state is needed to form the fluid clockwise and counter-clockwise curves of handwriting. The students joined in a discussion about the importance of bilateral integration over one-sided processing and then eagerly explored this processing for themselves in their own balances.

Like all Edu-K courses, the OBO course is taught in an experiential, whole-to-parts approach. I have been teaching about dominance profiles since the 1970s, when I first tested for them in my learning centers. This particular course was originally built (in 1996) on the works of a number of leading-edge researchers such as Springer and Deutsch, who wrote Left Brain, Right Brain: Perspectives from Cognitive Neuroscience (1989; 2001); Edward Le Winn, author of Human Neurological Organization (1977; 1997),and Gerald Leisman, who authored Basic Visual Process and Learning Disability (1975),along with other researchers with whose books I became familiar in the early years at my learning centers, soon after completing my dissertation. These works have translated well into the practical application we use in this course.

In teaching the OBO course in more recent years, I draw from the wisdom of Frank Wilson’s definitive book The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture. I include discussion of neuroscientist Elkhonon Goldberg’s revelations in The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind, as I believe that it’s imperative for parents and educators to be aware of the executive brain functions that are maturing in their students and to know ways to nurture such functions. And all Brain Gym® Instructors are familiar with Carla Hannaford’s informative book The Dominance Factor: How Knowing Your Dominant Eye, Ear, Brain, Hand & Foot Can Improve Your Learning, which details the linkages between the side of the body we favor for seeing, hearing, touching, and moving and the way we think, learn, play, and relate to others. In her book, Hannaford recommends specific Brain Gym activities to cultivate each learning profile.

My latest reference for this course is the authoritative book on left and right brain: The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, by renowned U.K. psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist. In class, we watched the RSA Animate of a Ted Talks lecture by McGilchrist. Click here to find a summary of the animate, and a link to it.

© 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.


Verticality in Gravity: The Alexanders Are Coming Up!

Amazingly, four of my Alexander seedlings are sprouting. According to Wild Garden Seed’s 2012 catalog, the Alexander is “a biennial relative of celery and angelica, once widely cultivated in the Mediterranean for its fleshy petioles before celery became a well-domesticated vegetable.” The flavor is said to be similar to celery, but milder. And this veggie was supposedly a daily part of Alexander the Great’s diet. They grow through the spring and are eaten in early summer.


I had given up on them in late October (the end of the eight-week “wet chilling” incubation period), and didn’t even notice till today that their delicate double leaves and tiny vertical stems had broken through the soil in the egg carton planter I set out on the porch. I immediately transplanted the seedlings along the edge of the patio, where they’ll stay in the shade that they like.

Such strong verticality in nature reminds me to attend to my own alignment. All too often, I find myself sitting or standing in ways that don’t support my natural well-being. Then I can do some Energy Exercises from the Brain Gym® 26, or some favorite Vision Gym® activities, to restore a relaxed alignment, with my head centered over my torso and hips.

The name of these tiny plants also reminds me of the great movement educator F.M. Alexander (1869-1955), an Australian actor who developed the Alexander Technique of Postural Development. Alexander’s simple way of paying attention to movement habits and letting go of excessive tension has been an essential building block of Paul’s and my own work in Educational Kinesiology, and is also the inspiration for the Energy Fountain* activity from Vision Gym®.

© 2012 by Gail E. Dennison. All Rights Reserved.

*The Energy Fountain, an activity that connects learners with this verticality in gravity, is from Vision Gym®: Playful Movements for Natural Seeing, by Gail E. Dennison and Paul E. Dennison. 

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

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