Introduction to Brain Gym® and the Whole Brain Studio 

My introduction to Brain Gym came about in 2006 when I came across a book written by a neurobiologist entitled “Smart Moves; why learning is not all in your head.” In this wonderful book, Dr. Carla Hannaford taught about how movement literally grows the brain from birth throughout life. She made many references to Brain Gym; a movement based learning program that helps the visual, auditory, and vestibular (balance) systems of the mind and body. Developed by educational specialists Dr. Paul Dennison and his wife Gail, the various Brain Gym programs use simple movements and activities that educate the brain/body to function with greater ease and balance.

Wow!  With a few specific body movements we could all hear, see, balance, think and feel better?  This was indeed interesting. I was already imagining my violin students doing a few of these fun activities so that their arms and fingers and well, all of it - would cooperate better!

The more I read, the more intrigued I became. I soon enrolled in a Brain Gym 101 course and was hooked after the first day. I began using it right away, and when a student was feeling stuck at any point in their learning, we just stopped and did a few short activities which enabled them to hear better, track more efficiently or simply end the stress that was blocking their learning. It was easy to do, easy to remember for home use and amazingly effective. There are times when a student will benefit from a longer “balance” process that is more involved, and I will share about one such situation.

I met a young violinist from Taiwan a few years ago. He was staying with a family I knew in Seattle while preparing for competitions and studying here. An excellent player already at age 15, he was no stranger to auditions and competitions. However the latter were especially a source of great stress for him, sometimes causing hyperventilation. When he was quite young, an extreme event occurred while participating in one such competition. The incident was now long over, but it remained as emotional and muscle memory from that time. He never spoke about it to me, but knowing the cause for a stress related issue is not necessary to have a successful balancing process, and I offered to assist him with this and he agreed.

We set a goal for him simply to play with ease and comfort during any of those important schedules. A basic Brain Gym balance is usually a 5 step process, and I noticed in his pre-activity part of the sequence, that he ran through warm up scales in a very hurried and strained way, producing a sound that resulted from the stress he was experiencing. After we completed the balance, he played again (post-activity step) and he was able to perform with ease, accessing the training and ability he already had. He chose right away to play through parts of the Tchaikovsky Concerto; the fear and tension gone. I encouraged him to continue some of the activities to reinforce the learning, and was told by my friend that he went on to perform exceptionally well at auditions and competitions over the following months and to the present.

Of course, I have to say that Brain Gym activities have not enabled my students to leap into Tchaikovsky when they are in Suzuki Book 2, (although that would be fun!) but when applied; my students and I have experienced immediate changes in their access to the music. Continued at home with “home play” the entire process of learning, memorizing, and performing becomes even easier over time. There are many such stories, and the application of Brain Gym in the performing arts field is not new. There is an article written by a Utah teacher re: studies she did using Brain Gym to improve pitch recognition with high school and adult choruses.  Another by a private flute instructor discusses the changes she experienced in her studio using Brain Gym. 

One of the frequent statements I have heard from both young people and adults after doing even a few Brain Gym activities, is “I feel like my brain got switched on!”  So as a violinist and teacher, I believe that this is a most wonderful addition to any studio, class, or just one’s personal life. I would encourage any musician to learn about Brain Gym and add it to their repertoire of learning tools.

Previously published in 

The Chorda; newsletter of  the (Oregon) American String Teachers Association

Fall 2009

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