Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Fitness for a creative mind
When pathways are not sufficiently stimulated, communication breaks down and is inconsistent or blocked altogether. This communication system, part of the central nervous system, is particularly vulnerable under stress, often resulting in performance anxiety or artist block.
Want to prime your brain for your favorite fine arts activities? All of the arts require very high levels of processing on both sides of the brain, plus very high levels of sensory-motor integration to perform or create. Base-level skills such as body awareness, spatial awareness, eye-hand coordination, and crossing the body’s midline are crucial in coordinating the muscles used by musicians and artists. Furthermore, the left and right hemispheres of the brain are polar opposites of each other, and it is easy to lose access to one side instead of coordinating them as a necessary team.
Compare the hemisphere characteristics in the table below. When we function in an integrated state, learning is fun and meaningful; performances are articulate, musical, and emotional; creativity has both structure and spontaneity; and our potential is reached by combining logic’s structure and discipline with gestalt’s talent. When we lose or cannot access an integrated balance, common results are frustration, mistakes, and procrastination.
While everyone has characteristics from both hemispheres available, dominance profiles largely determine which hemisphere characteristics are easily accessed or easily ignored. Fine arts activities are a great way to access, stimulate, and develop characteristics in both hemispheres, but many people struggle with the learning process because base-level skills are not sufficient to support the fine arts activity. Even successful musicians and artists struggle at times to keep a balance and maintain consistent productivity.
For persons whose access to hemispheres is equally balanced, often neither side of the brain will have consistent dominance over the other. While one hemisphere is slightly dominant and will take over during stress, this otherwise “dual dominant” atmosphere creates an internal battle and struggle over every move, action, response or decision, often resulting in procrastination or one-sided processing.
Consider some simple, physical activities to wake up both sides of the brain and stimulate base-level skills. Since each hemisphere controls the opposite side of the body, movement stimulates neural pathways that electronically relay information between the senses, the brain, and the muscles of the body. When pathways are sufficiently activated across midlines of the brain and body, messages can travel over 200 miles per hour. When pathways are not sufficiently stimulated, communication breaks down and is inconsistent or blocked altogether. This communication system, part of the central nervous system, is particularly vulnerable under stress, often resulting in performance anxiety or artist block.
When was the last time you drove through your neighborhood and saw children outside jumping rope? Yet this activity is great for developing neural pathways across numerous midlines of the brain and body which are necessary for basic memory, reading, and math skills. When done in the following way, it also trains each hemisphere to take the lead role, be the supporting role, or work as an equal team member. Coordination, rather than endurance, is the goal, although the cardiovascular benefits are a bonus. This is also a great exercise to help reduce procrastination or quickly expend nervous energy.
8 jumps in each of the following ways (start with what is easiest):
a. Both feet up and down together
b. Step over with one foot maintaining the lead
c. Step over with opposite foot maintaining the lead
When all of the above jumps are mastered, change from one to the next without stopping the rope for the following series of jumps. Stop when you feel winded and only work up to the full series gradually.
8 jumps each – 6 jumps each – 4 jumps each – 2 jumps each – 1 jump each for 8 complete sets (both, right foot lead, left foot lead = 1 set)
Ball activities stimulate spatial awareness, tracking, and midline skills necessary for maintaining focus and coordination for all eye-hand activities. It can also lessen test and performance anxiety.
With the hand you write with, bounce a ball exactly 6 times, then catch the ball with both hands.
a. Keep the ball in the center, directly on the vertical midline of the body
b. Keep the ball to the right side of the vertical midline of the body – aim for the ball to
bounce just outside and in front of the toes of the right foot
c. Keep the ball to the left side of the vertical midline of the body – aim for the ball to bounce just outside and in front of the toes of the left foot
Repeat all the above with the opposite hand.
Repeat all the above with both hands (as if double dribbling).
a. Eyes should always watch the ball.
b. When crossing the hand(s) to the opposite side of the body, do not turn the head or torso toward the ball. This maximizes the benefits by forcing each eye to do equal work and each hand to cross the vertical midline.
Tape a 7 foot or longer rope to the floor. The rope challenges balance and provides important sensory feedback. To increase difficulty, use a 9 foot curved rope or a 10 foot angled rope and place hands on head.
a. Walk the rope as if a tightrope walker, keeping each foot straight on the rope.
b. Stand with both feet either to the right or left side of the rope. With the foot furthest from the rope, step over the rope so that feet are crossed with the rope between them.
Continue down the rope with each foot crossing in front of the other and over the rope.
c. Stand with both feet either to the right or left side of the rope. With feet together, jump sideways over the rope landing with feet parallel to the rope. Continue jumping side to side for the length of the rope.
Cross Lateral Walks – Once each is mastered, connect without stopping.
With each step, swing opposite arm across body, placing hand on opposite shoulder precisely as each foot lands. Returning arm should stop straight at side of body, tapping thigh precisely as foot and opposite hand land. Continue for a minimum of 12 steps.
With each step, punch opposite arm forward. As each foot lands, arm should be fully extended with upper arm in front of torso.
Hopscotch is another great childhood activity that develops balance and jumping skills associated with long- and short-term memory. To also stimulate spatial awareness and midline skills, make hoops out of garden hose and hold ends together with a short piece of plastic tubing of the same diameter. The hoops give sensory feedback on the accuracy of foot placement. Once feet can consistently land in the center of hoops, drop a rock or bean bag in one hoop and jump over or around that hoop on the first pass. When returning, stop in the hoop beside or before and pick up beanbag before continuing. Be sure that only one foot lands in a single hoop while each foot lands simultaneously in a pair of hoops.
Go to the gym and work out – the mental benefits are equal to the physical ones!
For more information on the relationships between motor and cognitive skills, visit www.developmentalfitness.org