Don’t Blame the Lettuce!

By Lisa Marcovici, Brain Gym® Consultant, International Faculty Brain Gym International – July 2020

“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce.

You look for reasons it is not doing well.

It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun.

You never blame the lettuce….”

Thich Nhat Hanh – Thiền Sư; (Zen master)

As adults, we would expect ourselves to be capable of making decisions during times of crisis. Yet, how many of us are feeling confused and emotionally fragile as we desperately try to figure out how to stay afloat, navigate saving businesses, careers, wearing masks, (or not), and sending children to school?

Blomberg Opinion, 2020, Closing School May Cause Some Kids a Lifetime of Harm, Published March 20th, 2020  https://assets.bwbx.io/images/users/iqjWHBFdfxIU/if6Z7Y_6N5iw/v1/-1x-1.jpg

All this is highly stressful and exhausting! Neuroscientist, Hilke Plassmann, and her colleague, Benjamin Kessler, coined the phrase “Covid brain” to describe our current experience. Interestingly, it puts adults into a remarkably similar situation to what our children face every day at school.

Physiologically, the Prefrontal Cortex (the area of the brain responsible for higher executive functions like planning, working memory, and analytical reasoning) is being flooded right now with ambiguous and at times conflicting signals. In addition, our brain is desperately seeking comparable experiences in our long-term memory in an attempt to figure out what to do. And since not much is available, we tend to seek external guidance.

Does this sound painfully familiar? Has your child similarly struggled with planning schoolwork, or memorizing lessons and solving problems? Perhaps struggling with the incongruency between visual and auditory input (Zoom, online classroom situations) and being physically alone at home in front of the computer? Since lessons are not quite integrated, where is the frame of reference the young student may attach the new learning to as the lessons continue?

“There are as many causes and ways to express stress and anxiety as there are kids.”                                                                    – Jennifer Cohen Harper, Little Flower Yoga  

Jennifer Cohen Harper (Little Flower Yoga) says, “There are as many causes and ways to express stress and anxiety as there are kids.” She does mention two broad categories they tend to fall into overstimulation and lack of connection. When we no longer have the resources to meet a challenge, we too fall back into patterns of overwhelm and disconnection. Our instinctive, survival-driven, “fight / flight” response kicks in.

Little Flower Yoga, 2020, Navigating Anxiety In Children: Meeting Stress with Inner Strength, Published July 2020  https://www.littlefloweryoga.com/event/navigating-anxiety-in-children-meeting-stress-with-inner-strength-online-course/
“Never in the history of calming down has anyone calmed down by being told to calm down.”                                                                                      – Author unknown  

As adults, we develop coping mechanisms (sometimes) and hopefully can access them as needed. As parents, we aim to model self-regulation and stress-management to our children. It is our responsibility to first become aware of and regulate our own state of being and then teach our children how to notice when they need to do the same. We also know that the ever-popular concept of “calming down”, has proven time and time again to be completely ineffective.

Dr. Carla Hannaford is a neurophysiologist who has spent her lifetime studying the impact of survival dominance profiles on our behavior and ability to function. When our survival response is activated, we transform into a finely-tuned instinct-driven survival machine. Our physiology changes to make this possible. Positron Emission Tomography Scans (PET scans) demonstrate this clearly, especially at the hemispheric level.

Mayo Clinic 2020, PET Scan of brain for depression, Published April 25, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pet-scan/multimedia/-pet-scan-of-the-brain-for-depression/img-20007400

In a stressful situation, notice how little activity occurs in the frontal lobes of the brain, exactly where the higher executive functions reside. The non-dominant hemisphere shuts down by nearly 85% (the large blue area of the stressed brain), indicating extraordinarily little to no activity. No wonder we struggle with making sense of things, evaluating information, and making decisions easily!  The left hemisphere (the active one in this case) specializes in analyzing detail and the logical aspects of things; including things like the coding and decoding of reading, syntax, and grammar. However, it is the right hemisphere that keeps track of the big picture (so we do not get lost in the details) and the context to put the details into. To be at our best, express our full creativity, and access optimal potential both hemispheres need to be active and accessible.

“Move to Learn. Learn to Move.”   – Dr. Paul E. Dennison  

Dr. Paul E Dennison, and his wife Gail, began creating Brain Gym®, Educational Kinesthetics in the 1980s. A specialized reading and writing teacher, Paul Dennison realized that the students in his learning centers could not function at all until the stress response had been released.  “Movement is the door to Learning” is the underlying principle of this movement-based learning program.

Hearts at Play 2020, Paul E. & Gail Dennison, Published May 2020 https://heartsatplay.com/

By physically activating the feet, hands, eyes, and ears the communication between the two brain hemispheres can be re-established, in addition to calming emotions, regaining stability, and improving the ability to focus. The Brain Gym® program addresses the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of learning.

So, What Can We Do?

The following simple and fun activities are designed to bring us out of survival mode as we activate both feet, both hands, both eyes, and both ears. To learn more about Brain Gym® and related courses please visit: braingymcanada.ca

For overall Energy and to begin calming the Fight /Flight response

* Sipping water helps to keep us hydrated and is particularly important in learning situations. Simply sipping water is an easy way to energize our system.

Eyes: To begin activating both hemispheres and prepare to cross the midline

* Brain Buttons The Brain Buttons are acupressure points linked to vision. Stimulating these points supports crossing the midline and prepares us for contralateral movements.
* Lazy 8s  Holding one thumb at eye level, draw a large 8 lying on its side in the air in front of you in your midfield, moving counter-clockwise first – up, over and around – and complete the 8 by then moving your thumb clockwise on the right side. Do this three times, then switch hands and move your other thumb in the same pattern three more times. Finally, hold both your thumbs together and follow the pattern three more times.

Feet: To activate both hemispheres and encourage bilateral coordination

* Cross Crawl Doing the Cross Crawl, a contralateral movement, activates the two sides of the body (and the brain). These movements stabilize and mobilize the hips and shoulders.

Ears: To activate both ears, memory, and the auditory processing centers

* Energy Yawn  (Lubricates eyes, gives energy, improves reading, writing, and speaking) Pretend to yawn. Put the fingertips of each hand on any tight spots you may feel along your jaw joints. Make a deep, relaxed yawning sound, gently stroking away any tension.
* Thinking Caps (Helps to better hear our inner voice. Allows us to think more clearly.) Gently « unroll » your ears, three times from top to bottom.

Emotions: To calm emotions, physical tensions, and mental state

* Hook Ups Releases excess energy and effort. Diffuses stress and enables a positive attitude.

Part I: Cross your ankles. Next, extend your arms in front of you and cross one wrist (on the same side as your top ankle) over the other; then interlace your fingers and draw your clasped hands toward your chest. Hold this position for a minute or more, breathing slowly through your nose, (option to close eyes if feeling solid) and place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth.  

Part II: When ready, uncross your arms and legs.  Put your feet flat on the floor and bring your fingertips together in front of your chest, continuing to breathe deeply for another minute while placing the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth.

*From: Brain Gym® 101 Handbook, Balance for Daily Life by Dr. Paul E. Dennison and Gail E. Dennison, published by Edu-Kinesthetics, inc. (2007).  Photos courtesy of Sun Ergos, A Company of Theater and Dance (sunergos.com)

So perhaps we may gain a deeper understanding of our own struggles to focus during interminable Zoom meetings, or with our students and children who may have difficulty processing their feelings and sensations. Though they may never have been taught these fundamental skills, like the lettuce, they are expected to learn and grow. Brain Gym® activities can help cultivate the resources we all need to meet the challenges of these uncertain times with easy, joyful resilience.

Bibliography

Dennison, Paul E. and Gail. (2010).  Brain Gym® Teacher’s Edition: The Companion Guide to Brain Gym®: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning, published by Hearts at Play, Inc, a division of Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA.

Dennison, Paul E. (2006). Brain Gym and me, Reclaiming the Pleasure of Learning, Published by Edu-Kinesthetics, inc. Ventura, CA.

Hannaford, Carla Ph.D. (2011). The Dominance Factor: How Knowing Your Dominant Eye, Ear, Brain, Hand & Foot Can Improve Your Learning, Published by Great River Books, Salt
Lake City, UT.

Hannaford, Carla Ph.D. (2007). Smart Moves: Why Learning is not all in your Head, Published by Great River Books, Salt Lake City, UT.

Harper, Jennifer Cohen (2013). Little Flower Yoga for Kids, A Yoga and Mindfulness Program to Help Your Child Improve Attention and Emotional Balance, Published by New Harbinger Publications, November 2013, Oakland, CA. (online programs: http://www.littlefloweryoga.com)

Stillman, Jessica, Inc.com 2020. Neuroscientist: Covid Brain Is Real. Here’s How to Deal With, published July 10, 2020 https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/neuroscientist-covid-brain-is-a-real-thing-heres-how-to-deal-with-it.html

No copyright infringement is intended with this article. It is written to inform and share knowledge with the public. The author is responsible for the information within. 

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