Kinesiology Student: Rose Stanton
When my husband Mike started doing Brain Gym to help himself get through the working day as an electrical technician on various building sites around the city, he had to choose a spot where he couldn’t be seen unfurling his ears or rolling his head from left to right.
Brain Gym has been enormously helpful to Mike (now 50), since a stroke and subsequent craniotomy in 2003 left him with limited sensation on his left side, neurogenic fatigue and reduced brain function due to scarring and medication to control his epilepsy, and very depressed.
About nine months after the stroke he had gradually worked up to two full days back at work and had been released from the support of his wonderful caring occupational therapist attached to the ISIS rehabilitation unit at Dunedin Hospital. We were then still learning to cope with our vastly changed lives and approached the local Stroke Foundation Field Officer who lent us some interesting self-help material including the Brain Gym Teacher’s Edition.
The book appeared daunting at first especially since Mike was suffering from lack of concentration and poor decision-making as a result of the stroke. However, he managed to make one decision which was to start with the section on how to understand and read things better. He noticed an immediate benefit and with new confidence felt the improvement enabled him to continue working with the book.
He started to practise Brain Gym at home daily with a basic routine called PACE, which involves drinking water to begin with because water is very important in order to lubricate the brain and body. This is followed by massaging (rubbing) points on the chest just below the clavicle whilst tracking the eyes from right to left and back again. Next is a cross-crawl movement alternating arms and legs from one side to the other, and then a relaxation to finish with.
He still does this routine before going to work and varies it with other exercises he has found useful.
Doing Brain Gym at work was a different matter. The first time he tried was at morning tea time on the sixth floor of an office building redevelopment. He had already been reprimanded by a stern and serious young foreman for not wearing his steel-capped shoes – his feet were quite sore from diminished limb control, but he knew his brain felt “fried” and had to do something. So while everybody else was sitting on their tool-boxes he sneaked into a vacant room and, carefully watching the door, unfurled one ear at a time slowly from top to bottom, not daring to do both at the same time.
The activity he did that first day was ‘The Thinking Cap’ one of the Energy Exercises which help to re-establish neural connections between body and brain. It focuses attention on hearing and also relaxes tension in the cranial bones. It is an exercise used in Touch for Health, Applied Kinesiology, and acupressure systems, and stimulates over 400 acupuncture points in the ears which helps to tune out distracting, irrelevant sounds. For some people excessive exposure to electronic sounds (e.g., radio, TV, computer) will switch off the ears. Interestingly Mike works with alarms, and building sites are always noisy!
Noticing when he needs to refocus has been important for Mike. “When I find myself getting a bit lost or a bit overwhelmed and flooded if I can sneak away and do a bit of Brain Gym, I find it helps get me back in the zone again,” he says. Noticing is one of the five learning principles in Educational Kinesiology (Edu-K), and as mentioned in a recent article by Gail Dennison, means “paying attention to the state of one’s mind, body and emotions, and to the changes, both subtle and profound, that enable one to become more comfortable, confident, and effective in skills and abilities”.
In November 2004, Mike and I were able to attend a Brain Gym workshop facilitated by Joanne Inder, a Dunedin-based physiotherapist and registered Educational Kinesiologist. The course covered an overview of the basic concepts and an introduction to the 26 Brain Gym movements.
The course was interactive, stimulating and experiential and helped to contextualise what we had already discovered about Brain Gym. We also became aware of its wider applications. In many ways it would have been better to do the course first, but strokes of course are unplanned and through trial and error Mike had found an excellent self-help tool which initially helped him to climb out of a debilitating depression. He was then able to focus on becoming more functional at work and at home.