Children in NJ are not playing outside enough. Typical elementary school students stay in the building all day except for 20 min. recess outside. When I visited my daughter (then 7YO) at her school, I was very impressed that her teacher was incorporating brain gym activities in between lessons. Brain gym is not just for children but the application can be limitless.
The below article was written by one of our graduate students, Valerie Dietz as a partial fulfillment of the HH501 Foundations of Holistic Health at Georgian Court University. Enjoy it!
Brain gym is an exercise that enhances the integration of right and left brain hemisphere. It creates equilibrium between the two and strengthens areas that may be weak in one hemisphere. Brain gym exercise is intended to remap or create neural pathways through positive self-talk, exercise, repetition, and stimulation. Prior to the exercise there are muscle and breathing relaxation exercises that are suggested as preparation so the brain and body connection can work more efficiently. Stress is a big obstacle when trying to learn a new skill or override an old pattern with a new skill (Tennant, 2005). Many hormones, neurotransmitters and chemicals are released in the brain which seems to guide our decisions, behaviors, emotions and feelings. It is suggested that prior to brain gym exercise one needs to do breathing exercises and stretching to relax the mind, brain and body and set the occasion for optimal learning. The objective is first to reduce stress. Stress can inhibit the learning and remembering process. Being calm with a positive mindset is an important condition to facilitate learning. Brain gym stimulates the regions of the brain for cross communication with the opposite side of the brain or areas of the brain that are not normally utilized in everyday activities. This gives neurons a specialized function to actually perform and be utilized (Ratey, 2008). There are several regions of the brain that are underutilized and less frequently stimulated. Exercise and mental activity play an integral role in bringing to the forefront aspects of the brain that require stimulation and attention. There are twenty-six exercises that are involved in brain gym (Tennant, 2005).
A Psychologist, therapist or Licensed Professional Counselor can incorporate brain gym therapy into a session which may cost upwards of $65 to $70 dollars an hour. The session may begin with breathing and relaxation exercises initially and then further strategies are introduced to reduce stress prior to the specific brain gym exercises. The sessions can be performed in an office or gymnasium or even outdoors. Private counseling or one on one session can even be performed at the client’s home. Brain Gym training and certification can be obtained in addition to a Master’s degree or other advanced training in counseling. Brain Gym workshops can be obtained on-line or face to face. CEU’s, and credit hours are offered for certification and advanced training. The Brain Gym Organization offers workshops in specific cities throughout Canada and the United States. The Brain Gym Organization headquarters is located in California and workshops are offered in specific States. The session typically consists of classroom lecture followed by brain gym exercises. A workshop in the Cherry Hill area charges $500.00 for three days of brain gym training.
According to Healthy Exercise World website and Student Services Prevention, while twenty-six exercises have been identified only ten are going to be considered at this time. The brain gym exercises chosen to be featured include: cross crawl, brain buttons, lazy 8’s, arm activation, hook ups, thinking caps, calf pumps, the elephant, energy yawn, and positive points. Each exercise has been identified as working on specific parts of the body and brain. The cross crawl exercise works with the right and left brain hemisphere to stimulate particular regions (Tennant, 2005). These exercises strengthen spelling, reading and writing abilities as well as listening and comprehension. The brain buttons exercises increase circulation of blood flow, oxygen and water to the brain (Student Services Prevention n.d.). It is involved in learning and movement. The lazy eights improve visual responsiveness for reading, eye movement, and attention from right and left hemisphere of brain. The arm activation increasing lengthens time of attention/focus. Hook Ups tends to improve moods, decreases anxiety, and improves motor coordination, balance and anger management (Tennant, 2005). The thinking cap assists with facilitating improved quantity in spelling, short-term memory, attentive listening skills and nonconcrete thinking. The calf pumps trains the mind and body for stamina, attentiveness, focus, comprehension, creativity and imagination. The elephant exercise activates all regions/parts of the mind and body. The energy yawn is a relaxation technique that alleviates stress that can alter and change learning and optimal over-all performance. The positive points exercise reduces stress and improves short and long-term memory (Student Services Prevention, n.d.).
A number of disorders have been shown to benefit from brain gym exercises. Brain gym has been used with children or adults that have ADHD, Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder or ADD, Attention Deficient Disorder and Autism. People with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson ’s disease, dementia, and multiple sclerosis can benefit from brain gym. Brain gym strengthens the different parts of the brain through physical and mental exercise and cognitive skills. Addiction disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and a wide variety of mental health disorders can benefit from brain gym in order to stop old maladaptive habits and stimulate new neural pathways and a positive mindset. There are no contraindications unless a physician deems the physical part of the exercise prohibited due to physical limitation or a declining or debilitating disease or illness that may be worsened by physical exercise. Brain gym can also be used as a passive range of motion exercise for patients who suffered from a stroke, memory loss, paralysis, traumatic brain injury and even may be beneficial in comatose patients. This technique allows the brain to make connections, spark memories, learning and new pathways. The brain often compensates when an injury occurs as other parts of the brain develop the function of the damaged area as reprogramming occurs due to the flexibility and plasticity of the cells (Ratey, 2008).
Some pros and cons with brain gym have been cited in research and studies are still being conducted. It is a therapy that has been viewed as a bit controversial in the main stream psychoanalytical field. There are numerous theories and perspectives on the mind, body and brain and which therapeutic technique is considered the best. With the emerging fields of holistic health, alternative therapies and complimentary treatments there are diverse therapies designed to connect the mind, body and spirit and do not merely focus on the mind. These systems are all working together often supporting one another as a single mode of treatment may not optimize the outcome. Brain gym uses a variety of different techniques to enhance brain and body connections.
According to Ratey (2008), Neuro-aerobics are physical exercises that stimulate the brain. Neuro-aerobics also produces hormones; and activates neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. The exercises also send out signals that impact specific brain functioning associated with moods and feelings. The stimulation of glutamate and GABBA affect mood, emotions and feelings. Different sections of the brain are activated during exercises as chemicals, hormones, and neurotransmitters are all released in predetermined patterns and amounts. During exercises a feeling of well-being is experienced. The circulation of oxygenated blood travels throughout the body during exercise which gives the physical body and brain a sense of aliveness, alertness and energy. Neuro-aerobics include exercises that require precise muscle coordination in accordance with intergration of both brain right and left hemispheres. Examples include: tennis, martial arts, Pilates, yoga (asanas), cycling, hiking, biking, and dancing.
According to Katz and Manning (1999), Neurobics is an exercise to enhance memory, create new neural pathways, change old patterns, and modify the structure and function of the brain. The exercises in this program are geared to stimulating the five senses and expand the plasticity, and function of the brain. It enhances memory, learning, and makes positive connections through the synapses. Neurobics can also be used as a passive range of motion exercise for patients that have had a stroke or brain injury. With the assistance or accommodations of a support person, mentor, friend or family member, body parts are manipulated and stimulated to facilitate neuronal firing. Some of the exercises utilized during this program are thought-provoking, stimulating, with absolutely no routine in order to make one stray from his/her comfort zone. Some examples of the activities include: “blind ambition” (Katz & Manning, 1999 Kindle) – feeling without looking, take a detour – don’t drive the same old road, park your car in a different place in the parking lot, brush hair and teeth with opposite hand, sensory stimulation – aromatherapy, try different foods -have an educated palate, mixing things up, a new hobby or activity, taking a new road or path, or new exercise (Katz & Manning, 1999 Kindle).
Overall brain gym, neuro-aerobics and neurobics are interventions to improve cognitive functions, utilize neurons and alter the neural structure within the brain. The long term benefits from these inventions are quite remarkable thus forging new neural pathways that can stimulate different regions of the brain. These types of inventions can be used to restore brain functioning or modify and remap areas to make positive connections. The cognitive functioning of individuals who practice exercise within the brain tend to have less deterioration of brain cells because neurons are being utilized to a wider variety of novel tasks. Adults can enhance brain functioning through specific exercise and children can benefit from brain gym during their development to strengthen areas that may be under-developed or under-utilized. There has been an emergence of synthetic drugs to change the chemical receptors of the brain and to address numerous mental and neurological disorders. These drugs are not without significant side effects and dangers. Brain Gym and similar interventions can achieve the same results, only naturally and without the same level of risks and dangers. The results are also more permanent. The trend of brain gym and emphasis on cognitive stimulation seems to be emerging in specific locations in the United States. In recent years people have come to realize the significance of exercising the mind in addition to the physical body in their quest for self-optimization.
Katz, C. & Manning, R. (1999). Keep Your Brain Alive. 83 Neurobic Exercises to Help Prevent Memory
Loss and Increase Mental Fitness. Workman Publishing Company, Inc. New York, NY [kindle]
Retrieved from Amazon.com
Ratey, J. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (Your Coach in a Box)
Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. Gildan Media Group, Audiobook, Unabridged
Retrieved from Amazon.com
Student Services/Prevention, Ten Free Brain Exercises (n.d.), (n.a.)
Retrieved from http://sspw.dpi.wi.gov/files/sspw/pdf/sascevanshandouts.pdf
Tennant, V. (2005). School of Education at John Hopkins University. The Powerful Impact of Stress
Retrieved from http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/strategies/topics/Keeping%20Fit%20for%20Learning/stress.html
Valerie Dietz is currently a student in the Master’s program at GCU in the Holistic Health Studies, Reiki Master in the Usui Shiki Ryoho natural healing certification, AA in Psychology and AS in Associate of Science from Burlington County College, NJ, Graduate of Colorado State University in Pueblo, CO with a BS major in social science and minor in sociology and psychology. Studied nursing curriculum for two years at BCC. Worked at day treatment centers with Dually diagnosed and brain injured clients utilizing a holistic intervention approach. Background in computer software and hardware areas with several certifications. Background as a Fitness trainer at Curves.