Brain Gym exercises can enhance academic performance.
We may think we have a brain so we can think, while in fact we have a brain so we can move: 90% of our brain’s capacity is spent orienting and moving our body in space. Furthermore, only 20% of the information we process moves from brain to body while fully 80% goes the other way!
What this tells us is that there is a crucial relationship between the body, its movement and learning. Scientists first made this connection in the 1800s. In the 1970s, Brain Gym was created: a program based on a set of 26 movements specifically designed to optimize learning. Though the program was initially developed to address learning disabilities, over time it has expanded to support overall performance enhancement at any age.
Integrating Brain Gym into your family’s weekly physical activity is easy. It will almost certainly leave you feeling less stressed and a bit smarter too.
Move it or lose it
To get the information it needs to make good decisions, our brain requires constant input from all of the body’s senses: sight, taste, smell, touch, hearing and balance; our internal sense of pain; and our overall sense of orientation and motion. Right from the start we build a menu of reflexive actions which send raw data to our brain: rolling over, reaching for an object, hand grasping, or crawling are motor skills essential to the future development of ‘higher order’ thinking skills such as reading, writing, memory and social communication. A child’s repetition of these movements firmly establishes his required set of neural connections.
Over time, these information pathways are integrated into lower levels of the brain for connection to the whole body, and then reused to help sequence thoughts (sequencing is an essential feature of successful reading and writing). This dependence on movement for brain development and function continues throughout our life.
Through increasingly active play, children are naturally able to create the circuits they’ll need over time. However, if a movement sequence is interrupted or fails to develop due to a sedentary life style or dull environment, toxic exposure, immune deficiencies, poor nutrition, physical injury, etc., important neurological circuits also fail to develop. These simple building blocks become unavailable to support the development of more complex thoughts and actions in the future.
Just do it
Brain Gym is based on the principle that mind and body function as a unified system. Many international studies have confirmed that doing Brain Gym produces rapid, measurable, lasting gains in physical coordination, learning capacities and academic performance.
The 26 movements are divided into four categories: midline movements, energy exercises, deepening attitudes and lengthening activities. Each set serves specific purposes. Midline movements cross the centre of the body with actions like alternately touching one hand to the opposite knee to help integrate right/left brain communication. Lengthening activities help stretch the body to clear blocks. The postures in energy exercises and deepening attitudes include deep breathing to help re-establish basic neural connections between body and brain for our sense of directionality, sidedness, centredness and position in space.
We’ve all experienced how stress can affect our physical flexibility (e.g., a stiff neck), and consequently inhibit our ability to organize, communicate and even comprehend. Engaging in these brain specific movements helps signals cross the hemispheres of the brain, improving vision, coordination and behaviour because when actions originate from a balanced whole brain, the individual’s natural learning abilities are revitalized and performance becomes effortless.
Brain Gym in action
If you want to enjoy specific Brain Gym activities on a regular basis, just follow the simple diagrams in the Brain Gym manual (see Resources). In any event, many of the things you and your family already enjoy doing include Brain Gym-like components. For example, bicycling, swimming and hiking can mimic Brain Gym’s midline movements by focusing on the hand to opposite foot connection; martial arts and yoga also focus on the breathing and stretching aspects of deepening attitudes and lengthening activities. And natural practices such as Touch for Health, Emotional Freedom Technique [EFT], acupressure, shiatsu massage or cranial sacral therapy work with the same stress-relief points as the energy exercises.
So, the next time you ‘stop and think’, try moving to think instead. You and your kids will feel more relaxed and may be a bit smarter for it.
Brain Gym: Simple Activities for Whole Brain Learning, Paul E. Dennison Ph.D. and Gail E. Dennison, Edu Kinesthetics (June 1, 1992).
Hands on: How to Use Brain Gym in the Classroom, Isabel Cohen and Marcelle Goldsmith, Edu Kinesthetics (June 2002).
Catch A Brain Wave Fitness Fun (CD), RONNO & Liz Jones-Twomey, Energizing Movements to Stimulate Brain Development, Kimbo Educational.