How Movement Makes You Smarter

Today I went to a dance class in which we learned choreography using hula hoops as props. We practiced some graceful, flowing movements with and without the hoop, then progressed into dancing with the hoop, and moving across the floor. I was fascinated by the awareness I gained, holding the hoop high above my head as I turned and twirled. It reminded me of a Somatic awareness exercise I've given my Somatics students to help them stand taller. In order to hold something above your head you need to be aware of your length through the center of the body. You can't be bent to one side, or your movement will be thrown off.

Then came the "brain work:" when we moved across the floor, we had two tasks:

  1. Run in triplets (1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3)
  2. Twirl the hoop in one hand.

Neither task was difficult when done by itself. Adding the two together, however, and it was like walking and rubbing your belly at the same time! It took tremendous coordination, despite the fact that when done correctly it looked quite simple. After several times across the floor I began to grasp it. And I could just feel my brain working!

The latest brain research tells us that doing "brain teasers," especially those that involve physical activity, can help to prevent Alzheimer's, senility and memory loss.  Combine elements of timing, coordination, and balance and you have a recipe for a "brain teaser" - one that can help you get smarter as you age.

This is very similar to what Hanna Somatic Education teaches; you're deliberately paying attention to what it feels like to move your body in space - moving the shoulders one way, the hips another, the head yet another, like in the "seated twist" exercise photo. This introduces a similar challenge to dancing with the hoop: the movement looks easy on the surface, but in reality, doing it correctly and building mastery requires brain focus, attention to detail, and practice!

Challenge yourself with some physical brain teasers:

  • Stand on one leg and throw a tennis ball from one hand to the other
  • Skip and notice which muscles have to coordinate to do this
  • Walk normally, but slowly look to the right, then the left
  • Jump rope

Then take a walk and notice what your body feels like. You'll be surprised at how "awake" it feels!