Monday, September 11, 2017

The Magic of Brain Gym

Fart Neck Pose.
Would you do this with your boss?
I cannot believe I haven't blogged about Brain Gym yet!  That is absolutely bananas, and also sort of great because after a few years of incorporating the little bits and pieces I learned from Shari (founder & director of Karma Kids Yoga and the only boss I've ever had with whom I've also done crazy things like the pose on the right, which she named "fart neck"), I finally took the "Brain Gym 101" course this past weekend to learn more in depth about the what's and wherefore's.

Brain Gym is a lot of things, but what it is primarily is a way to facilitate better learning through movement.  Although it started in the field of education and helping children learn better, everyone can benefit from it.  You may be reading and writing just fine, but do you have a situation where you struggle to communicate your needs clearly to a partner, a friend, a co-worker?  Do you struggle with random bouts of unexplained anxiety that you struggle to release?  Or maybe you just want improved handwriting or fine motor skills (piano playing, knitting, etc).

Everybody has external and internal challenges in how they relate to themselves, others, and the world, and Brain Gym offers a simple, movement-based platform to help optimize our brain function, calm and ground our bodies, and prepare ourselves to learn new information or repattern old habits.

The foundation of the program is PACE - an acronym for Positive, Active, Clear, and Energetic.  We all learn at our own pace.  There are four actions/movements performed before beginning any Brain Gym session to help activate the body's electrical system (by drinking water), stimulate the reflex points of the eyes to find our visual center, activating both sides of the body to fire neural pathways in both the right and left hemispheres by crossing the midline of the body, and activating the vestibular system and balance related muscles, which helps to draw blood and attention from our periphery to our midfield to access our higher-order thinking and decision making.

Adorable illustration of PACE
Shari had shown me the movements of PACE and a brief overview of why we do it / how it works quite awhile ago, and I incorporated the movements into my morning routine simply trusting that, in a general way, it was helpful.  It made me feel more alert, awake, and focused, but I would always move through it in a rote, automatic, way - counting things out and doing it for the same time and in the same way, no matter how I was feeling physically or emotionally that particular morning.

My focus was drawn to a lot of my patterns and tendencies that I'd rather change this past weekend, and funnily enough, one was rushing through things and doing them just to do it - because it's on my list.  It felt wonderful to slow down, understand more, and listen to my body and be present for this movement I've been going through for ages and have a deeper understanding of it.

Our instructor, Mari Miyoshi, was lovely, kind, clear, and patient.  Having worked as an OT for many years, she had so many anecdotes to share about children (and adults!) who were helped through Brain Gym.  It was even more powerful to experience in real time the changes we all as a group and individuals experienced.

The best part is that the movements are ridiculously simple.  How many times have you tried to barrel through a frustrating task, only to easily accomplish it after walking away for a few minutes, getting some water, maybe talking to someone else and shifting your focus?  For me, I always know the only way to move through certain bad moods is to, as I call it, "Shake myself out of myself" through some sort of movement, change of scenery, or distraction.  That's what Brain Gym offers - a full toolkit to set you up for success, and to rebalance and reorganize your nervous system when the inevitable obstacles of life and work come up.

Brain Gym obviously doesn't turn us into perfectly functioning, neurologically balanced robots.  As Mari said, the course was the easy part - now the fun part and the hard part comes in with applying it to everyday life and to our teaching.  Like yoga, like with anything - the more you practice it with intention and consistency, the more benefit you receive.

This weekend was absolutely perfect to help support my goals and intentions for this upcoming "school year" - to cultivate calm, to stop overreacting or catastrophizing solvable problems, to engage more in stillness, to monotask over multitasking, and to truly pause and listen to myself.

Karma Kids Yoga will be hosting Brain Gym again next spring, and in the meantime, I highly recommend visiting their website for more information.

Happy Monday, everyone!

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