Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a yoga class or workout session wondering how you can get more out of the time you put in? You know a bigger bang for your buck? Or as a teacher of movement, have you ever wondered how you can help your students actually learn and retain better; possibly generating a bigger buck for your bang?
Whether you are in the “buck” or “bang” business, understanding just how malleable our minds are, should be at the forefront of your cerebrum. As a movement educator, your specific specialties, acquired skills and schooling are robbed of their use if it cannot be received. In contrast, as a student, your success is dependent on how well you can absorb and apply new information. Understanding the ABC’s of a brain that learns well can greatly increase your learning or teaching potential. You don’t have to be a neuro-nerd or have acquired decades of formal education to understand how basic cerebral awareness is enough to catapult you or your students into another level of motor mastery, mellow moods and magnified memory.
A is for: Associations & Assumptions
Located deep in our primitive brain, linked closely to our senses and lodging our most important memories; the hippocampus is responsible for storage of learned experiences and outcomes. Every memory (which was once a perception) is sorted and stored based on our individual biases and assumptions. The thing about assumptions is, they limit learning and often contaminate memories in the hippocampus. Conveniently, research is finding this deeply integrated memory mechanism can be strengthened through exercise and movement. Drawing attention to your senses while lessening your assumptions during movement further arouses the hippocampus to not only learn better but also commences a cascade of brain-building processes.
B is for: Brain-body benefit
The more motor skills we remember, the better we get at ___fill in the blank___. The more we start to train our brain to become an active learning and integrating machine; the more potential we unlock. The more we live our potential, the happier we become. The happier we become, the better we relate to others and ourselves. The better we relate, the more we contribute. And the more we contribute the better we feel. This learn good, feel good phenomena can be scientifically measured post exercise by spikes of “feel good hormones” like dopamine and serotonin, coupled with the release of “brain-building proteins” like BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) coined the “Miracle Gro” of the mind by neuroscientist John Ratey, MD. Practicing pieces and parts of complex movement provides a mental training arena that allows you to rehearse the learning process in a way that honors the body-brain connection.
C is for: Change-capable.
Your evolving brain remodels itself to adapt and integrate the most useful information in an attempt to improve neural coordination. When learning, it is advantageous to acknowledge the fact that our minds are moldable and capable of change. In neurophysiology, the term “use-dependent plasticity” is used to encapsulate the theory that synapses (the connecting-communicators that allow for the passage of information from one neuron to the next) will literally rearrange and prime themselves at the mere perception of learning. In other words it “lights their wick”, it “greases the wheel”, it “sparks their interest”. It is from this theory that the ageless saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it” was born. If you’ve lost it, the key is to reconnect those pathways or find new routes for synaptic synergy. Doing the hard thing and practicing the remote, the abandoned and sometimes uncharted territory of your capabilities actually grows your abilities. Ironically, uncertainty is one thing the brain has evolved to avoid. Despite the fact that it holds the space for our learning potentiality, and is the only place we can truly see things differently.
All of that which we learn, that actually sticks, becomes a habit. If you have habits you’d like to kick, it is far more beneficial to untangle a bad habit, than to just break it. Working with the mind rather than against it can reframe your setbacks as exciting chances to grow your potential. Push your boundaries of learning by putting these brainy ABC’s into action, in the follow-up blog Patterns of Potentiality. While healthy movement can be far more complex than you know, you have more built-in capacity than your think.
This article put into words a lot of thoughts and feelings I have around movement. As someone who did not participate in or enjoy sports / traditional forms of fitness, I fell in love with movement from a dance/yoga background. I care less about what my physical body looks like and how that is affected by my movement and I am instead interested in body-brain connection. It’s often hard for me to articulate what most resonates with me as far as movement because I enjoy challenging myself but not from a point of view that I have to max out my physical efforts. I am more interested in the nuanced connections between movement, instruction, listening, learning capacities, and how becoming a better student of movement improves your ability to be a better student of life and of self. And now whenever I need a little refresher, I can always come back to this article!
Also neuroplasticity is such a cool concept! Love that it’s mentioned here! It challenges the idea that we are ‘set in our ways’ and gives the student another opportunity to feel embodied and empowered!
Reading this makes me think of the saying: A comfort zone is a beautiful place to be but nothing ever grows there. People tend to want to stay in their comfort zone because they feel that not only is it a safe place to be but that they cannot change. It is great to know that science has proven that our minds are moldable and capable of change!
Wow. So much information in one short article! I will definitely share this information with my students.
Very interesting to read. I feel this is huge for kids also. Some kids who are extremely talented in their sport can not do some of the most simple movements because they have always assumed they were easy, but have been doing the movements incorrectly. Teaching them the right way to move is not only extremely challenging, but it also feels SO repetitive to the kids (as they usually roll their eyes). But with time the goal is always to have this new and improved movement become their natural way to do it and a habit.
Great topic, as the learning capacity increases, so does the quality of our life! Training our brain to learn something new, like a new way of moving or a musical instrument, or even taking classes in a new language, can be extremely beneficial for the health of our brain and can develop new pathways for neurons to travel through. And the learning doesn’t have to stoo with age, on the contrary, it is much more beneficial to continue until our final days, plus it makes life so much more spicy. Thanks for the great post!
This post is so empowering! I love the science backing up things we may have sort of known to be true. It is SO helpful to hear proof that we can continue to grow and expand.
Incredibly well written blog Baylea. I will definitely be implementing the ABC’s to better myself and my students when learning about their bodies and habits. Thank you!
I need to share this blog on the first day of my Movement for the Actor class. Some students come with this engrained learning capability and get SO much out of class, but most do not. We do so many exercises to experience movement and those who check out often don’t receive the full benefits. I think telling them the “why” they need to stay in an exercise, as your ABCs would help them connect more and give them a reason to stay in it!
This is exciting information I had no idea that a “memory mechanism can be strengthened through exercise and movement. ” It makes a lot of sense. Through my yoga practice I have been able to slow done my brain, calm anxiety, and I have noticed my memory has improved.
“…it’s far more beneficial to untangle a bad habit, than to just break it.” This hit home! I am absolutely going to incorporate the ABC’s of the brain in my movement practice and movement instruction. It seems that the meditative aspects of yoga are what really make it such a great physical practice – as we clear our minds and release assumptions and expectations, our brains become better prepped to receive information.
While currently in the midst of my 200-hour yoga teacher training, it’s great to understand the more physical/anatomical connection between the mind and body. There is a lot to be said about the spiritual unity, but it’s nice to also have science reenforce the value of mindfulness.
This is so true, Baylea. Educating yourself to expand the Brain is so imperative and useful.
I find the importance of the brain as it relates to movement rather fascinating and it’s a much bigger aspect than what people give it credit for, so I appreciate your post. A really interesting podcast that delves deeper into the element of assumption and bias of the brain is youarenotsosmart.
What a wonderful reminder of how powerful our brain is! It’s also reassuring our synapses have the ability to reconnect. Brain body connection is real!
I deeply appreciate the notion that we are more than our laundry list of bad habits, and that the ABCs of brain plasticity can be on our side in our quest for self-improvement. I particularly liked your breakdown of how unlocking our potential through learning leads us to being happier, more productive and collaborative members of the world.
Wow what a brilliant and wholistic approach to teaching and habits.
Thanks for the insights