Thursday, December 19, 2013

Just for the Joy of It

At this holiday time, I thought I’d share a different perspective on using Brain Gym® techniques.

So much of what I’ve written regarding this amazing process describes means of using it to overcome major obstacles: some aspect of life that feels stuck, uncomfortable, hard.

Sometimes I forget that another wonderful way to use Brain Gym is simply to bring more joy to life.

The other day, I returned from my morning walk and realized that I had not really been engaged with my surroundings; I hadn’t been present with where I'd been, and what I'd seen. I’d been moving on “autopilot,” my mind busy listing details about this and that. Yes, I got some exercise, but my inner being hadn’t been refreshed.

Today, I did something different before my walk: I began with a very simple Brain Gym balance.

I started with the PACE warm-up: four simple movements to bring me back to my best learning state. I set the stage for change by recalling my previous experience of not being “present” during my walk, and noticed how that felt in my body as I took a few steps across the room (stiff, not breathing). Then I turned to the Brain Gym movement poster on my wall and noticed which movements caught my attention. I was drawn to do some Lazy 8s and Thinking Cap, and then held my Positive Points. My body now felt more flexible, and my breathing was deeper. I was interested to see how my walk would turn out.

My walk wasn’t just “better” – it was transformed. As soon as I set foot outside my door, I was noticing the pleasing pattern of bricks on my own front patio, and I stopped to smile at the geraniums in my front pots. Along the way, I found myself marveling at the light playing through tree branches, different textures of bark, all the different shades and shapes of green in the plantings in neighbors’ yards, and the sparks here and there of colorful flowers. I noticed all the hues of paint on the various homes. I heard delight in children's voices, calling out to each other as they laughed and played. I even noticed the variation in sound from different vehicles as I walked along the street, and the stillness when there was no traffic. All these sights and sounds brought out an inner smile as I walked.

My two-mile walk was finished in what felt like record time, and I returned home feeling refreshed inside and out. I had been nourished by the visual and auditory experiences of my time outdoors, even though I was walking along busy city streets. I felt truly contented. Not only that, but my day went exceedingly well, even without all that mental “rehearsal” time!

This had been a profound reminder that, while a remote, woodsy lane is lovely, I don’t have to retreat to a locale like that to have an experience of my surroundings that brings me closer to the stillness of my own heart. I can do it anytime, by coming back to the state of inner balance, so easily achieved through just a few Brain Gym movements.

What moments would you like to transform from “autopilot” to “joy” during this busy holiday season? Just take the time for a few Brain Gym movements, and allow yourself to be settled into the moment – that’s where the joy is.

With all best wishes,

Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of Brain Gym® International •
Copyright © Kathy Brown 2013. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tales of "English Language Learners"

Over the years, I’ve done “Residency” consulting days at various local elementary schools. I typically spend an entire day onsite, facilitating Brain Gym® balances with specific children identified as having challenges in various aspects of learning. Some schools have had me come regularly, perhaps once a month. 

These Residency Days have offered a particularly fascinating learning experience for me. I taught elementary school for 23 years, and so was familiar with many different learning challenges, but it wasn’t until after leaving teaching that I came across Brain Gym and became licensed as an instructor. Residency Days offered me a rich opportunity to see just what kind of impact Brain Gym balancing could have on a wide variety of learning issues, as I worked with children with diverse needs. 

One element of school experience that came up regularly at the schools I visited was that of “English Language Learning,” (ELL). Some ELL students truly struggled with their language lessons. It was rewarding to see how, in many cases, just a simple Brain Gym balance could go a long way toward unlocking the ability to learn English for these children. Here’s an example, that originally appeared in my newsletter: 

“Amanda” is a sweet, intelligent young girl, and she was about to be retained in third grade. She had come to this country speaking only Spanish, and had learned English over the last two years. By now she was fairly fluent in English, but somehow, she could not read easily in either Spanish or English, and the school director described her as being “language-confused.”

Amanda arrived for her Brain Gym session and we chatted a bit, and I went on to ask her what area she’d like to improve in. We talked about her learning of English, and she told me how difficult it had been to come to school that first day knowing only three words of English, and how hard it had been to learn. She showed me a book she had with her, and said she wished she could read more easily. She read one paragraph out loud – awkwardly, straining to recognize certain words, and stumbling over punctuation.

Somehow, the goals, “I know where to go in my brain for the Spanish,” and “I know where to go in my brain for the English” popped into my head. I asked her if this was what she wanted, and her whole face lit up. “YES!” she said. I told her that her two languages might be stored in her brain in ways that made them hard to get to, and that a Brain Gym balance might help her go more directly to the language she wanted. She was thrilled with that idea.

Amanda’s balance called for Dennison Laterality Repatterning. This made a huge shift in her Cross Crawl (very awkward before, and now very smooth). Her post-check reading sample didn’t seem much different to me, but Amanda said that reading was indeed a “whole lot easier.” Amanda returned to her classroom, delighted – and I wondered just what change had occurred, and how it would unfold.

Two weeks later one of the teachers at the school asked, “Did you work with Amanda Perez on your last residency day?” It turned out that Amanda’s mother was a close friend of this teacher, and had quite a story to tell. Amanda had come home from school that day and said to her mother, “You’re not going to have to follow me around and make me do my homework anymore! I have a brand new brain!”

And indeed, overnight, homework had gone from a battle, to something that Amanda did on her own, easily, every day. Not only that, both her ease in expressing herself in English, and her ability to write in either language blossomed overnight; and a recent check of her reading skill showed that in two weeks she had gone from reading at grade level 2.3 to 3.0. Amazing, what a “brand new brain” will do!

Six-month update:
The balance described above took place late in the third quarter of the academic year. At that time the school expected to have Amanda repeat third grade, as she was having such a challenge in showing competency in core areas of the curriculum. Up to that point she had earned almost all D's and F's, mostly due to incomplete work.

Her report card for the fourth quarter, following her Brain Gym balance, was almost all A's and B's! Needless to say, everyone was delighted, and this year Amanda is working beautifully in fourth grade.

“I know where to go in my brain for the Spanish. I know where to go in my brain for the English.” This is just one of many different goals that ELL students have balanced for in these Residency Day sessions. Other goals include...

“I hear the sounds of English.”
“I know how to say what I hear.”
“I easily use the English I’m learning.”
I remember all the new words in my lessons.
“I easily absorb English from the world around me.”
English makes sense to me.
“I’m comfortable speaking English.”

One of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had working with an ELL student was with 10-year-old “Enrique,” who balanced for “I’m ready to learn English.” There was a moment in the midst of his balance when Enrique was sitting quietly in Hook-ups, and I could tell he was processing deep emotion. Suddenly it all came tumbling out, as he began sharing how difficult it had been to come to the United States, how much he missed his native land and his friends there, how he hadn’t had a choice about coming, how he’d found himself in a school that expected him to know a different language. His tears flowed freely, then slowed, then stopped, as the tension unwound out of his body. He moved on to holding his Positive Points, and I watched his breathing slow to a more normal rate.

By the time his balance was finished, he could confidently say the words “I’m ready to learn English” – with a relaxed body and genuine smile on his face. And in subsequent visits to his school, I learned that Enrique was, indeed, learning English much more easily now. He caught up with me in the hallway one day, and gave me a big grin and a “Hello, Miss Kathy!” that spoke volumes.

I had always known that English was more than just “one more subject” for these children to learn, but this experience with Enrique brought home to me just how fraught with emotional baggage this particular learning process can be. How can a child learn a skill that is associated with disorientation, grief, anger, and frustration?

I look forward to the day when students everywhere are supported in smoothing out emotional reactions they may be experiencing in relation to any of their lessons, so they can be at ease, and ready to learn. (I'm comfortable learning math. Science makes sense to me. I understand punctuation. I'm ready to write my book report.) Could it be as simple as a bit of Brain Gym training for teachers, the awareness of benefits that are possible, and commitment to put it to use? 

With warm regards,


Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of Brain Gym® International •
Copyright © Kathy Brown 2013. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Learning as a Force of Nature

I was incredibly privileged today: I got to watch learning happen.

Lara, eight years old, had arrived at my office for her second Brain Gym® session, this time choosing to improve her handwriting. She said it was “hard” and she was “too slow” in her writing.

I invited her to write a sample sentence. She labored over each word; still, her letters had inconsistent spacing – big spaces between letters within some words, and no spaces between some of the words. Her letters were inconsistent in size: some tall letters, like “h,” were the same height as shorter letters, like “m,” and some floated off the line.

Throughout the 23 years I taught elementary school, I would remind children again and again about proper handwriting, and yet certain letter formation and spacing habits persisted. Now that I have almost 15 years of experience as an Edu-K instructor, there's one thing I know for sure: children cannot achieve any kind of alignment in their writing that they cannot experience in their body. How would Lara choose to experience internal alignment today?

I invited Lara to select activities from the big Brain Gym movement menu hanging on the wall of my office. First she chose the Thinking Cap, then Space Buttons, and finally Lazy 8s. It was at this point that I observed something truly remarkable.

Lara had never experienced the Lazy 8s activity before. I drew a sample Lazy 8 on the whiteboard at about her eye level, and handed her the marker, which she took up with her right hand. She began tracing the Lazy 8 over and over – slowly at first, and then with tremendous focus and drive.

Before I go any further with this story, let me back up and explain something about the Lazy 8s activity and its specific pattern.  

Typical Brain Gym practice is to begin the Lazy 8 in an "up the middle" direction, starting at the center and flowing initially up and around to the left, then up and around to the right. This movement pattern helps us practice the direction of flow of the circular letters that we write: a, b, c, d, g, etc. (See pages 32-33 of Brain Gym® Teacher’s Edition for instructions on the Lazy 8s activity, and pages 36-37 for Alphabet 8s. Here’s a letter “a” in its place on the Lazy 8, as an example.) 

Paul Dennison, Ph.D., co-creator of the Brain Gym program, has also explained that learners who are still exploring their sense of body and grounding will often choose to do their Lazy 8s in the "down the middle" direction.1 In my experience, children will not become truly fluid at the “up the middle” Lazy 8s pattern (and therefore correct letter formation) until they are integrated for the “down the middle” pattern, and the accompanying sense of personal grounding. (You may want to check out this link for an article I wrote for the Edu-K Update, about this whole topic, “Refining Lazy 8s." This article also exists as “Appendix E" in my book, Educate Your Brain.) 

Now back to Lara, at the whiteboard:

Lara had the marker in her hand, tracing her Lazy 8s over and over “up the middle,” with amazing focus and concentration. Then she made a rapid reversal of flow and began drawing them flowing “down the middle.” Then she reversed direction again - and then again. She must have done a good 40 tracings of the Lazy 8, switching back and forth between “up the middle” and “down the middle” after every four or five tracings. Very unusual!

When she finally slowed down and paused, I invited her to switch the marker to her other hand, and she repeated this same process. With great concentration, she flew through the Lazy 8 pattern again and again, reversing the direction of flow again and again.

Finally, holding the marker with both hands, she repeated this same process. She again flew through her 8s with total concentration, faster and faster, repeatedly reversing direction.

When she was done, the evidence of tremendous learning was left behind on my whiteboard. This may look like a Lazy 8s scribble, but as I watched Lara create it, I must say I was in awe: in that moment I knew I was observing learning taking place on a very deep level. Right before my eyes, she was absorbing a pattern – one that I expect would help her to write more easily (and do many other things more easily as well) for decades to come.

… The truth is, I watch learning happening every day in my Brain Gym practice, as clients experience new ways to accomplish their goals with ease and grace. Large and small aspects of learning are happening all the time as we take on new patterns and abilities through the balance process. But it's not often that learning involves so intense and obvious a period of "absorbing a pattern." 

Watching Lara in those moments had been like watching a force of nature at work. And, indeed, I believe that’s what true learning is: an innate force of nature. When the opportunity presents itself to take on a pattern our mind-body system has been crying out for, perhaps for years, we can become intensely immersed in such an activity, in just this way.

Lara finally said she was finished with her Lazy 8s, and was ready to return to her writing. She picked up her pencil and wrote her sentence with clarity and flow. Her letter and word spacings showed considerable improvement. We paused and chatted a moment, then I suggested she write her sentence again. This time, her letter and word spacings were correct, and all her letters were clearly based on the line. She perceived one small error, and tidily fixed it. I was also impressed with the confidence with which she now held her pencil, and the ease of each stroke as she formed each letter.

We celebrated her new ability and confidence, and she happily departed with her parents, leaving me wondering: What kind of interior change had Lara undergone in these few minutes? 

Enhanced spatial awareness (the two sides of the Lazy 8 are symmetrical and mirror-image to each other) and a newfound sense of grounding are just the beginning of what she may be experiencing. These are an important foundation for handwriting: letter formation and direction of flow, proportion, spacing, and letters firmly established on the line. 

Yet this foundation will support her far beyond handwriting. Now that she had this symmetrical, grounded pattern "in her body," what other opportunities are now open for her? 

Please share your comments, or your own experience of Lazy 8s! 

With warm regards,


1 - Brown, Kathy. "Appendix E: Refining Lazy 8s." Educate Your Brain. Phoenix: Balance Point Publishing, 2012. 223-224. Also –
Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of Brain Gym® International •
Copyright © Kathy Brown 2013. All rights reserved.
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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Refining the Fine Art of Noticing

It isn’t often that I hang on to an in-flight magazine, but an article by Nathaniel Reade in the March, 2011 edition of Spirit, from Southwest Airlines, totally captivated me. I read it thoroughly, twice, and brought the magazine home, where it lived rather buried in my office for quite a while (well, since about April of 2011). Recently it surfaced, and I was drawn to read the article again – and I remembered why I loved it so much: it’s all about noticing – in a very particular and important way.

Noticing is one of the foundations of the Edu-K work. In a Brain Gym® balance, we set an intention to open to new possibilities in how we operate in our world (often to eliminate a block or frustration, or develop a skill); we notice how we’re doing right now (how we experience that stuck-ness), and then notice which Brain Gym movements or activities we’re drawn to do, to come back into balance. After doing the movements or activities (our “learning menu”), we notice shifts or changes in how we feel, or how we’re now able to accomplish that target skill.

Part of my role as a Brain Gym consultant is to support others in observing these subtle cues within themselves. Throughout my years facilitating Brain Gym sessions my own sense of noticing has become more and more refined. But this article referred to noticing some of the most subtle behaviors of infants, as a key to understanding them, and – in particular  what may be causing their “fussy” behaviors.

The article describes the work of Kevin Nugent, a pediatric psychologist at the University of Massachusetts and the Harvard Medical School, and who directs the Brazelton Institute at the Boston Children's Hospital. You may know the name of T. Berry Brazelton, the renowned pediatrician and author about all things infant-behavior.

What truly captivated me about this article was the description of Nugent working with mothers of newborns that seem not to like to be loved and cuddled, but instead fuss and even push the mother away. As you can imagine, this is distressing to the parents, who’ve been looking forward to “magic moments” with their new offspring, only to feel rejected and hurt.

Nugent coaches the parents to observe the tiniest cues from their child, so they can clearly see her attempts at communication, and interpret them correctly.

For example, one desperately “fussy” baby named Jennifer finally was calm and making eye contact with Nugent – until he simply spoke gently to her. At that point, Jennifer turned her head. A very small movement, but very significant! Quoting from the article:

     It’s called “gaze aversion.” Most of us would miss it entirely, or assume that the baby had spotted something fascinating in the distance. Nugent knows better.
   “See that?” he whispers to Grace [the mother]. “She just disengaged. She’d had enough, so she decided to shut me out.” This baby’s tolerance for stimuli is so low that looking at a face is all she can handle; adding a voice pushes her over the edge. Nugent explains that this is Jennifer’s way of saying, “You’re beginning to overwhelm me.” It isn’t quite a cry, but it is an early warning that she is headed in that direction.1

What subtle noticing! And what a difference this made to the parents, as well! Rather than feeling rejected by their infant who was resisting the kind of attention they wanted to shower on her, they were given tools for noticing the kind of attention the child was ready and willing to receive. When the infant’s needs are seen and met in this way, she feels safe, and there’s a better chance for harmony all around.

Nugent says that when we notice the initial signs of overwhelm – averted gaze, wrinkled brow, color change in the face or around the mouth, stiff body, flailing limbs – and we back off, giving the child time to recover, the child says within himself “somebody here understands me.”2

What does this mean to me, in my Educational Kinesiology / Brain Gym world? I don’t often work with infants (I mostly work with their parents), but this article certainly boosted my intention to bring my own levels of noticing to an even more subtle level in working with my clients of all ages. 

Since the time of re-reading this article, I’ve recognized gaze aversion in three clients: a 12-year-old girl, a 28-year-old woman, and a 42-year-old man; in all three cases I saw it as a sign of overwhelm, due to the sensitive or challenging nature of the topic each learner was dealing with. I knew to slow down, and simply sit in quiet for a few moments, watching for other cues from the learner that said he was preparing to continue: a deep exhalation, taking a sip of water, returning to our conversation, or even making eye contact. Sometimes I even observed color returning to the person's face as he came "back" to himself after something that stressed him emotionally. 

All of this takes a great deal of slowing down and being "present" on my own part, and willingness to allow the learning process to unfold on its own, in its right timing. And I’m adding to my repertoire more subtle cues to look for, using Nugent’s writing as inspiration. (See the two books I mention, below.)

I have shared this article with parents of some of my young clients who seem so highly active, volatile, or contrary at home. And I've supported those parents with balances to "clearly see and interpret the behaviors my child is showing me," or to "accept that my child is sensitive to subtle stressors." They've shared that by noticing and correctly interpreting stress patterns in their child's behavior (and not taking it personally!), they've been able to intervene before tempers flared by redirecting activity in a positive way, keeping everyone on a much more even keel. 

Where can we all use such subtle noticing in our world, in general? Everywhere! In all our interactions with others, whether professionally or socially, noticing subtle stress-based behaviors, recognizing them as signs of overwhelm, and responding (or giving space) appropriately, can help us relate more smoothly and effectively – to everyone’s benefit. 

If you’d like to know more about Kevin Nugent’s work, here are some resources:

Online link for the article, which I found on Nugent's website:

Two books co-authored by Nugent:
Your Baby Is Speaking to You
Understanding Newborn Behavior and Early Relationships: The Newborn Behavioral Observations (NBO) System Handbook.
These are full of wonderful information! The first one, with the most basic information, is appropriate for the typical newborn. It would make a fabulous gift for any new parent. The second one explains the Newborn Behavioral Observation System, so it’s a bit more technical – it’s written for infant-care practitioners. That said, it would be very helpful for the astute parent of a very fussy child. I got a lot out of them both.

And Kevin Nugent’s entire website is well worth visiting:

Enjoy! And let me know what you think!

With warm regards,


P.S. You may also want to know that my book, Educate Your Brain, holds a section about noticing as a vital element of the learning process. It's titled "Honoring the Learner's Noticing," and you'll find it on pages 79-83, inside Chapter 9, "Brain Gym: Theory in Action."

Click here for a link to my website for
Educate Your Brain
Baby image Copyright © Canstock Photo
1 - Reade, Nathaniel. "Baby Gaga." Spirit (March 2011): 118.  
2 - Ibid. 119. 

Copyright 2013 by Kathy Brown. All rights reserved. 

Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of Brain Gym® International, Ventura, California •

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Teeter-Totter Blues

I love the comics section of the Sunday newspaper, and Baby Blues is one of my favorite strips. This one, from June 9, 2013, really got my attention.

What could be so significant about a fruitless search for teeter-totters? 

This is a topic I care a lot about, and one I discuss in my book, Educate Your Brain.  For this blog entry, I’m going to quote from Chapter 7, “Move Into Learning.” You’ll see what I mean about teeter-totters, and more. It’s all about the vestibular system (part of the inner ear), and its direct link to eye-teaming (without which we will be unable to easily read). New to these concepts? Read on:

Movement and reading

Every moment of the day, as we move, sit, lie down, or stand, the experience of gravity activates a special sensory apparatus in our inner ear: the vestibular system. This body-balance mechanism helps us to always know where up is, so we can maintain equilibrium as we shift from one position to the next.

An important aspect of the vestibular system is that it’s always communicating with our eyes, sending the information they need to maintain a steady view of the world even when we’re moving. When our vestibular system is well developed, our eyes are happy to track across a line of print as we read and work together for other tasks. Without good vestibular development, eye-teaming and tracking, and therefore reading, can be challenging—or exhausting.

Effective vestibular training comes from the kinds of whole- body movement that should be common in childhood: running, hopping, dancing, tumbling. If children aren’t inclined (or allowed) to do those things, next best would be playing on merry- go-rounds and teeter-totters—except for the fact that this equipment has vanished from our playgrounds. Children who are uncoordinated, overweight, or otherwise disinclined to run and play have lost these more passive means of vestibular training.
The only remaining opportunity for passive vestibular stimulation on most playgrounds today is on the swings. Children with the very natural desire to tightly twist up the swing so they can experience the vestibular activation of rapid untwisting are often reprimanded: “That’s not what swings are for! Swing straight!” Maybe we should be lining kids up to twist on the swings.

Vestibular activation is one of the reasons we encourage people to Cross Crawl slowly (s-l-o-w-l-y!), because it leaves them balancing on one foot so much of the time. Doing Hook-ups while standing is another vestibular challenge, with big benefits:

A teacher I know invited her first-grade students to decide when they were ready to “graduate” from doing Hook-ups sitting to doing it standing—and then to standing with their eyes closed. They loved the vestibular challenge, and she was astounded at the difference it made in their learning. She said, “As soon as a child could stand in Hook-ups with eyes closed, he or she made rapid growth in reading and overall ability to focus and attend. I never knew a healthy body-balance system was so necessary for learning.”1

This chapter goes on to describe movements that can improve body-balance, and much, much more about the relationship between movement and learning. 

In the meantime – want to read more easily? Get moving, and see what a difference it makes!

With warm regards,


P.S. Ok -- you may say that the playgrounds in the comic strip do indeed show some more modern balance-oriented equipment. I'm using this comic strip as a conversation starter about the whole topic of playgrounds offering less and less equipment that promotes vestibular activation (teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds were fabulous for this). Plus -- some playgrounds I see have nothing on them at all that moves. I understand the liability issues behind these decisions -- but still -- Oh, for the 1960s! 

1 - Educate Your Brain - p. 50-51. Copyright © Kathy Brown, 2012. All rights reserved. 

• I submitted the appropriate email asking for permission to use this Baby Blues strip in my blog, and never heard back. I’m taking the chance that it’s OK, copyright-wise.
• Photo of girl standing in Hook-ups: Copyright © Laird Brown Photography. All rights reserved. 

Copyright 2013 by Kathy Brown. All rights reserved.