Your brain is the most complex thing in the know universe. It is also the most important organ in your body. In it there are one hundred billion brain cells, each of which can connect to ten thousand others making an almost infinite number of connections. Without it, none of the system’s digestion, movement, senses, conscious and unconscious thought can work. Twenty five percent of the calories and a third of the blood your heart pumps is directed toward your brain.
In the last decade, there has been a growing recognition of the power of the brain. Doctors and scientists such as Daniel Amen, Norman Doidge, and Michael Merzenich, have shown that the brain is central to good health. Fifty years before these scientists, an Israeli physicist, Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, used movement as the language of the brain to help people perform better, cope with disabilities, and recover from injury. One of his proteges, Anat Baniel, used his ideas to help children suffering from cerebral palsy, autism, and a host of other neurologic issues. All of these scientists, recognized that movement is crucial to maintaining brain health.
In books such as Magnificent Mind at Any Age, the psychiatrist, Daniel Amen, M.D. shows how supplements and medicine can help the brain function better. Since 1991, his clinic has used SPECT scans, showing blood flow and brain activity, to develop both natural and medical treatments for ADD, depression, problems with memory, sleep disorders, and pain. Some of his basic recommendations for brain health are to avoid concussions, eat well, take fish oil with omega-3 fatty acids, avoid toxins, limit screen time, take a multivitamin daily, and exercise. Amen’s main concern is how you function socially, intellectually, and personally. For him exercise is important as a way to increase blood flow to the brain and, with a coordination component, to activate the brain. Dancing and table tennis are his favorite physical activities.
For a century, the medical community believed that the brain stopped growing at about age twenty. In his book, The Brain that Changes Itself, Norman Doidge, M.D., describes the discovery of neuroplasticity. In his second book, The Brain’s Way of Healing Doidge describes the way scientists, and some lay people, have used neuroplasticity, through exercise and movement, to cope with Parkinson’s disease, cerebellar hyperplasia, and blindness. “In terms of the way it functions, the brain is always linked to the body and, through the senses, to the world outside. . . . (W)hile a person who has had a stroke may not be able to use his foot because the brain is damaged, moving the foot can, at times, awaken dormant circuits in the injured brain. The body and mind become partners in the healing of the brain . . .” (The Brain’s Way of Healing, p. xx)
One of the people Doidge describes in The Brain’s Way of Healing, is Moshe Feldenkrais. After two severe knee injuries, Feldenkrais learned to walk by observing how he moved while lying down, out of the pull of gravity. He determined that it was impossible to move one part of the body without affecting the rest of the body. Feldenkrais concluded that brain and body were an “inseparable whole” and that organizing action was the primary function of the brain. He also determined that every action involved movement. Talking, thinking, and feeling are all forms of movement, forming the two-way communication between the body’s senses and the brain. The awareness of movement was the key to improving movement and therefore the function of the brain. For Feldenkrais, movement was the way to talk to the brain, a much greater connection to brain health than just physical fitness. The whole system could be improved by purposely using the two-way communication between the nervous system that carried messages back to the brain and the brain that sent out messages to the body.
From this experience, he developed a way of working with people both individually and in a class setting. He used attention as a way highlight the action in the brain and make the movement relevant to the student’s life. Students were able feel changes in the brain by feeling the difference in how they changed during the lessons and how they moved at the end of lessons. In her books, Move into Life and Kids Beyond Limits, Anat Baniel, one of Moshe Feldenkrais’s students, describes the conditions for learning in terms of Nine Essentials: Movement with Attention, the Learning Switch, Subtlety (Reduction of Force), Variation, Slow, Enthusiasm, Flexible Goals, Imagination and Dreams, and Awareness. These essentials promote vitality through the continuous improvement of the brain. For her the essential, Movement with Attention, is the avenue for information to travel from the body to the brain. By paying attention to the body parts involved in a movement, you become more aware of how you move and the new understanding is highlighted in the brain. Your brain will then take that information and integrate it into how you walk, or ski, or roll over in bed. The lessons Feldenkrais and Baniel created are brain exercise. Their focus is not increasing heart rate or building strength but strengthening your brain, making you more adaptable, more flexible, more resilient and allow you to move with greater ease, and confidence.
Movement with attention can be brought into your daily life. Most of your daily activities are done automatically. It is important to be able to brush your teeth or do the dishes without thinking about them. We don’t have time to pay attention to each movement. But movement without attention can drive your brain toward being less adaptable. Take some time to observe how your body moves when you are brushing your teeth or lie on the floor and scan the points of contact with the floor. This new attention will help you feel and become more aware of yourself and build more connections in your brain.
David Singleton has a passion for helping people learn and improve their lives. As a fully certified Alpine and Telemark ski instructor of twenty years, and now as an Anat Baniel Method (ABM) practitioner, he has taught complex movement skills to people of all ages, abilities, and physical conditions. He believes that NeuroMovement is a powerful way to increase your awareness of your body and how it functions. This awareness can lead to greater freedom, improved function, and enhanced performance.
To experience movement lessons contact David Singleton at 970-389-6480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About David R. Singleton:
Using the body to speak to the brain, NeuroMovement benefits adults and children with injuries, neurologic disabilities, and helps high performing people improve their abilities. In either an individual or class setting, David uses unusual, gentle, slow movements to promote the most optimal learning and help you feel and move better. He is the editor of Listen, Share, and Be Kind and is a fully certified alpine and Telemark instructor at Arapahoe Basin.