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B is for Brain Gym

Author: null null Published: 19th May 2012 21:04

Good Mental Health Company logoBrain Gym is based on the idea that certain types of exercises and movements can stimulate the brain, specifically helping the ‘left' and ‘right' functions of the brain work better together. Brain gym has primarily been promoted in schools to help children with their learning and development, and the claim is that it benefits the following:


  • Concentration and Focus
  • Memory
  • Academics: reading, writing, math, test taking
  • Physical coordination
  • Relationships
  • Self-responsibility
  • Organization skills
  • Attitude

Some brain gym exercises are also said to help with anxiety and stress.

There are three main types of brain gym activities which are linked to the movements we make in our early years when learning to coordinate the eyes, ears, hands and whole body.

Midline Movements - these are exercises which focus on left right movement across the midline of the body. The bilateral movement helps with whole body coordination and learning. An example of one of these exercises is the Cross Crawl:

Stand or sit. Place your right hand across the body to the left knee as you raise it, and then do the same thing for the left hand on the right knee just as if you were marching. Do this for 2 - 3 minutes.

Energy Exercises - these help to re-establish neural connections between body and brain, facilitating the flow of electromagnetic energy throughout the body. This is linked to the principles behind acupuncture for example, where the need to keep the circuits (or meridians) of the body flowing is recognised. Energy exercises are said to be particularly helpful in reducing stress and anxiety by decreasing the release of adrenalin and increasing the electrical threshold across the nerve membrane. An example of an Energy exercise is Positive Points:

Lightly touch the forehead above each eye with the fingertips of your hands, halfway between the hairline and the eyebrows. Think of something you'd like to remember, like the spelling of a word, or concentrate on a potentially stressful situation like a test or interview. Close your eyes and experience the image, or experience the associated tension and then its release.

Lengthening Activities help to reinforce the neural pathways which make connections between what we already know in the ‘back' of the brain, and our ability to process and express that information in the ‘front' of the brain. These activities are said to relax and lengthen those muscles and tendons which tighten and shorten by brainstem reflex when we are in unfamiliar learning situations, helping us with comprehension and participation through accessing the whole brain-body system. An example of a Lengthening exercise is Gravity Glider:

Sit comfortably in a chair, crossing one leg over the other at the ankles. As you breathe out, lean forward and reach out both your arms, allowing them to glide forward and then up as you breathe in. Reaching forward from the rib cage allows the legs and back muscles to lengthen and relax. Repeat three times and change legs.

There are many other activities which claim to improve mental fitness through brain exercise - more than 5.5 million copies of Nintendo Co.'s "Brain Age" games have been sold in the U.S.since 2006! The scientific concept of neuroplasticity, underpinning the claims for brain exercise, is about the brain's ability to rewire itself throughout life by creating neural connections in response to mental activity. But the counter argument is that there's simply no robust evidence in the form of clinical trials to support any real cognitive or health benefits.

Having said that I use some brain gym activities in my own ‘fitness for the mind' classes - and they're great fun and easily adapted to all ages and levels of physical fitness. And just out of interest, here's a blog post I really liked on The 10 Habits of Highly Effective Brains - enjoy!


Find out more about The Good Mental Health Company

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