Christine Bemko Kril
I first heard about Brain Gym from a young piano student who was attending an outstanding elementary school in our town. He’d had a test that morning and said how easy the test was. “The reason”, he told me, “was Brain Gym.” He said students at the school did a series of 'Brain Gym exercises' at the start of class every day, and also right before any tests or competitions. I knew the students at this school did exceptionally well academically and I was intrigued. My piano students performed regularly and I wondered if Brain Gym might be a useful tool for them.
I began researching Brain Gym and talking to people about it, and as it turned out my friend Susie had studied Brain Gym and was a certified instructor! Susie explained that Brain Gym was a movement system that worked to stimulate the left and right hemispheres of the brain to communicate with each other and to keep both sides active and alert. It was a program that focused on movements crossing the center of the body, the central meridian, in order to engage both sides of the brain. She said it worked especially well during times of stress.
"Under stress the dominant side of the brain tends to take over, while the other side 'goes to sleep' so to speak. Since each hemisphere controls different functions and different sides of the body it is vital to keep both sides working together."
I began incorporating Brain Gym into piano lessons with my students. We were getting ready for a recital - a perfect time to try it out. I was particularly interested in how my students with special needs would react to it. They loved it! Brain Gym made it easier to focus and concentrate during their lessons. Students with ADHD had a marked improvement and we often used it as a break time during lessons to move around and refocus.
Susie first showed us a basic readiness routine for alertness and focus called PACE. PACE stands for Positive, Active, Clear and Energetic. This is a simple and easy routine and can be done almost anywhere, and takes less than 5 minutes.
Watch a video here. Brain Gym - PACE on Vimeo
Here is a printable sheet with the 4 steps of PACE. PACE Sheet.
My students practiced Brain Gym at lessons with me and daily at home before piano practice. Two months later we all gathered early for the recital and for the first time did the Brain Gym PACE routine as a group. While it didn’t eliminate jitters, it helped students get centered and feel calmer and more focused. That day it was clear that they all were able to perform at their very best! Every single one was happy with their success and it was very heartening to watch.
In the many years since then, I have incorporated Brain Gym into lessons with many students. We start group lessons with Brain Gym, before students play for each other, and always before recitals and performances. We have all benefited. Memory lapses have become a thing of the past. Even if there is an occasional challenge during their playing, students are able to move on and keep their focus.
Of course, you have to practice piano to play well (LOL!) but the result of practicing Brain Gym is having everyone empowered to do their best.