Brain Gym, Anyone? I Need Teachers…

February 21st, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, brain gym | 140 Comments »

I wonder if anybody remembers Brain Gym? I wrote about them a couple of times in 2003 (links below). They’re a strange bunch who seem to get into lots of UK state schools at the taxpayers expense, where they share pearls of wisdom such as: “Focus is the ability to coordinate the back and front areas of the brain…Centering is the ability to coordinate the top and bottom areas of the brain… Brain Gym movements interconnect the brain in these dimensions.”

There’s not a lot I could get hold of publicly, so I was relying on moles. One teacher who was horrified to find it in his school told me: “Brain Gym appears to comprise a series of simple hand-eye coordination tasks which allegedly improve learning. Before doing these tasks, children are required to take a swig of water and hold it in their mouths for a few seconds until the teacher tells them they can swallow. When I asked why, the teacher, who had been sent on a Brain Gym course by the school, informed me that the water was partially absorbed through the roof of the children’s mouths and was absorbed by the brain, improving learning.”

Another teacher was told by the Brain Gym instructor in a UK state school that after watching telly your brain goes to sleep for eight hours: “Very precise about that, she was. But don’t worry, as long as you sit with your ankles crossed and make a funny shape with your hands this will ‘protect you from the electro-magnetic rays’. She was even kind enough to post me the handouts detailing the Pace [positive-active-clear-energetic] which ‘increases and balances electrical energy to the neocortex _ allowing reason rather than reaction (choice)’ and ‘increases polarity across cell membranes for more efficient thought processing’.”

The hand out also featured a rather excellent exercise called “Brain Buttons”: “While holding the navel area with one hand, rub with the thumb and finger of other on hollow areas just below the collar bone on each side of the sternum.” Why? Because, you heartless cynics, “buttons above carotid artery supply fresh oxygenated blood to brain, helps lung/brain function … and brings attention to gravitational centre of body.”

Anyway, the trouble is, all this dressed up pseudoscience is peddled to the children too, by their teachers, science teachers too, as fact. One kid wrote in triumphantly to Bad Science at the time to say: “I’d like to submit the revision advice of my teacher. She claims that because the brain works by transmitting electricity through water, drinking more water will improve mental performance.”

Anyway, I just re-read my notes on the subject and got all annoyed by the dreadful injustice of it all all over again, hence the call to arms: I need more field reports on these people.

Are you a teacher? Have you encountered Brain Gym in UK schools? Do you know anyone who has? Are you a cheeky schoolkid? Please do ask around, it’s in a very good cause, you can email me assured of anonymity, or post below, to your taste. I’m chasing up a few leads, but I need… more… data…

Brain Gym.

Tell your friends.

www.badscience.net/?p=36

www.badscience.net/?p=43

www.badscience.net/?p=74


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140 Responses



  1. ANGRY BRAIN said,

    February 23, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    Alex (Maths Undergraduate).
    You are telling me that I can find these mathematical “proofs” by simply adding things up using a CALCULATOR?? Have you any idea what happens inside a calculator? You push the buttons on the outside, it spits out a number and this is your proof? You’ll have to do better than that.

    I have also been questioned as to how to measure the width of a child’s thoughts. It is measurable in the way that any normal person would measure things, with a tape measure. My method of measurement is to put paper tape measures (available from Ikea) around children’s heads held on with a paper-clip. After a series of Brain Gym exercises the tape nearly always shifts or even falls off indicating an increase in the size of the child’s head. Asking questions about the thoughts that the child is having before and after Brain Gym shows that although they may not have as many thoughts, they talk about them for longer so the thought is Obviously bigger.

    And, pv (post 76), you’re not very funny.

  2. guthrie said,

    February 23, 2006 at 7:59 pm

    I do western martial arts, and am quite handy with a variety of swords…

    (as well as a few years of karate and aikido)

    After any child has had something put on their head, it will probably fall off after 15 minutes, due to them moving about. Nice mickey take though.

  3. Melissa G said,

    February 23, 2006 at 8:19 pm

    I, too, am a black belt (Wado-Ryu karate) and would like to join the Bad Science Posse– no pseudoscience shall withstand our collective Geek Fu!

  4. James said,

    February 23, 2006 at 9:09 pm

    I occasionally get a bit aggressive when I’m drunk…

  5. pv said,

    February 23, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    “And, pv (post 76), you’re not very funny”

    Ohhh, AB, how disappointing. And I was so hoping to break out of my boring, humdrum daily routine and start a career in the interesting, lucrative world of comedy quackery. I rather thought my suggestions for a “thickness” test were cutting edge you know.
    Hey, Angry Brain, you are really, very funny yourself you know (amongst other things). And I am in totaly awe of your massive intellect. It must take an absolutel gynormous Ikea tape measure to go round your bonce. What with those humungously wide thoughts of yours – must be really hard for you to get through the average 30 inch doorway. Your head is obviously ideally suited to groundbreaking work, don’t you think. You keep up the good work now AB – it’s very entertaining. Don’t let me down!!

  6. Yogini said,

    February 23, 2006 at 9:56 pm

    Nice Darwin cartoon!

  7. Natalie said,

    February 23, 2006 at 10:51 pm

    very off topic im sorry but help required from all you lovely people here. please go to www.medschoolsonline.co.uk and sign the petition about graduate entry medical students being denied a student loan to cover the £3000 top-up fees. we really need the support of as many people as possible!!

    granted not bad-science but potentially very damaging to the nations health!!!

  8. Paul said,

    February 24, 2006 at 6:36 am

    ANGRY BRAIN – nice one – you had me going there. That last post was pure gold

    An aside: as a cognitive neuroscientist, I would argue that small thoughts are better – there’s evidence that increased efficiency of neural processing may be reflected in sculpting and reduction of the size of neural populations subserving that processing. So brain gym ought to be making thoughts sleeker and slimmer rather than buffing/pumping them up.

    Hang on a sec – it’s 6:30am, I’ve got work to do and I’m sitting here arguing the toss over whether big thoughts are better than little thoughts. Time for my medication.

  9. andy brown said,

    February 24, 2006 at 9:36 am

    ha ha ! nice one angry brain, you had us all going !

    do i know you, what with you being in sheffield ?

  10. pv said,

    February 24, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    “I would argue that small thoughts are better – there’s evidence that increased efficiency of neural processing may be reflected in sculpting and reduction of the size of neural populations subserving that processing. So brain gym ought to be making thoughts sleeker and slimmer rather than buffing/pumping them up.”

    Paul, so that’s why the tape measure falls off. BrainGym is causing the head to shrink rather than expand.

  11. Paul said,

    February 24, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    Exactly, PV – which means that your thickness quotient is a potentially valuable measure of neural efficiency

  12. ANGRY BRAIN said,

    February 24, 2006 at 9:27 pm

    Bugger. Busted! I was rather enjoying trying to be someone of weapons-grade density but I suppose the tape measure test was a bit daft, though I am interested to see why the tape fell off. I will try to think of something else once the children get back out of the home.

    Andy. I don’t think I know you, I am in Architecture (where utter bollocks holds good currency and I am very very wealthy). Are you part of the University?

  13. pv said,

    February 25, 2006 at 12:29 am

    *weapons-grade density”

    Indeed, a very good impression of a Chobham armour plated nutcase. Nice one. :)

  14. Sceptic Mum said,

    February 26, 2006 at 10:27 am

    My children’s primary school is part of a group of schools involved in a Brain Gym trial.
    The exercises involve pressing their brain buttons (which as far as I can ascertain are either side of the collar bone?) and something called cross crawl and hook-ups.
    Whilst the teachers may have fallen for this hook, line and sinker, it didn’t take my children long to see through it and my 6-year-old describes it as “rubbish”.

  15. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 28, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    still no response from brain gym UK or US. i guess i’m going to have to start telephoning. amazing how difficult it is to see these people’s published research from the brain gym journal. hmmm… i guess that’s why people only pay attention to material published in proper journals…

  16. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 28, 2006 at 6:58 pm

    hmmm and it’s not available in the british library…

  17. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 1, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    just posted this on the official brain gym forum:

    hi

    i’m trying to get hold of some of the research papers that are listed as being in the brain gym journal, but i can’t get a reply from anyone at Brain Gym UK or US.

    has anyone here ever seen this research in its full published academic journal article form?

    if anyone knows where i can get hold of any of the research, by which i mean the full study, not the summary in the pdf you can download, please please do let me know,

    thanks,

    ben

  18. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 2, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    no reply from brain gym about getting their journal since feb 20th, but somebody from the organisation has been chatting to me here. he thinks the brain gym journal might not contain what i think it contains:

    www.braingym.org/bbs/read.php?6,1895,1902#msg-1902

  19. Ian said,

    March 3, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    I teach in Derby and, although I’ve heard of Brain Gynm, only heard the pseudoscience crap here. This inspired me to find some of their literature (Revised Teachers Edition from 94) which is held in the SEN department here.

    It’s scary how bad it is. In fact, I’m planning to put some of their explanations up on the board for my Year 9 kids to pick apart for their investigative skills programme next week. For example:

    “This back-and-forward movement of the head increases circulation tot eh frontal lobe for greater comprehension and rational thinking.”

    “While working with language-delayed children, Dr. Dennison discovered the relationship of the tendons in the calf to self-expression, speech and language development. Hyperactive children who did not talk were often able to pay attention, listen, learn and develop language after releasing the calf muscles.”

    Regarding water:

    “Other liquids are processed in the body as food, and do not serve the body’s needs.”
    “Processed foods do not contain water…”
    “Working with electronic equipment (e.g., computer terminals, TV) is dehydrating to the body.”

    Many of the comments in text about where he has learned the exercises etc refer to chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncture and other sCAM practices.

    In my lessons, I’ve had comments ask if I’m using BrainGym when I ask them to stand up and stretch during a lesson (nope, I just noticed they were getting sleepy) and will now be telling them no, because BrainGym is crap…

    Ian

  20. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 3, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    i demand copies of these excellent documents, please email me!

  21. pv said,

    March 3, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    Allies come dressed in all manner of guises!

    www.carm.org/features/braingym.htm

  22. Peter said,

    March 5, 2006 at 3:56 am

    Help! My local school district is looking at starting a pilot program of Brain Gym. I need help to debunk the pseudoscience of this crap. Please let me know of any publications or links I can use to discredit the Brain Gym before it becomes official policy.
    Thank you for your help.

  23. subbuteo said,

    March 5, 2006 at 9:34 am

    I am a primary school teacher. Imagine my surprise and delight at finding this page on Brain Gym. I had a near Brain Gym experience last year but didn’t get to go on the course- I was genuinely disappointed. This year we had a taster session. I had to turn my bullshit filter up to full and sit rocking quietly at the back humming to myself. I was polite and didn’t ask difficult questions. It didn’t seem fair, she really believed in what she was saying. Eight of my colleagues are paying their own money and doing the course on eight Saturday mornings following this.

    I am firmly of the opinion that too much science (or at least the wrong sort) is taught in primary schools. It should be left to those who know what they are doing in secondary school. My favourite primary school teacher science gem was goes something as follows (and this is genuine- I work with this person)

    Child: What is atmosphere?
    Teacher: It’s a bit like a feeling you get at a good party or restaurant.

    I hold yellow belts in several martial arts and would be honoured to join your posse.

  24. The Rev. Schmitt. said,

    March 6, 2006 at 2:37 am

    Not sure if you wanted our wee stories here or through your contact page and I’m not sure how helpful this will be – but I was a precocious British schoolkid not too long ago myself, and my geography teacher at secondary school wasted five or ten minutes of every lesson doing brain gym. One of the exercises was to massage the area of the skull just behind the zygomatic arch with one’s fingers, the idea being that it would induce yawning and thereby ‘get more oxygen to the brain’, making us more creative and awake. Similar exercises intended to get the brain more ‘active’ included standing on one leg, with the knee of the other lifted up to one’s chest, running on the spot, the aforementioned holding water in our mouths before swallowing it, and rubbing our stomachs while patting our heads. I’m not entirely sure the wasted time was worth the entertainment of seeing a 40+ year old man act very, very silly.

  25. Melinda said,

    March 13, 2006 at 10:12 am

    After reading the majority of your comments I’m wondering if you all have some experience with implementing the components of ‘Brain Gym’ with your own class of children? I have spent a lot of my life immeshed in some form of educating children. My Grandmother, my Mother and myself are, and have been all teachers, ranging across a vast number of years. Each generation of educators obviously have their own way of relaying what they want to their students. Yet myself , my mother and grandmother all have found the use of actions, involving using different sides of the body, following actions with eyes, listening to music and many of the other elements that are involved in the ‘brain gym’ method. The results that I have had with my own implementation , and that which have been relayed to me by my family, is notibly marked. A.D.H.D, aspergers and special needs, as well as with our fourtunate unchallenged children. My opinion is that maybe people get bogged done in the rather ‘airy-fairy’ talk of ‘openings and realignings’ and the like, but if you take the chance you find that these methodologies do seem to work on the level it needs to, with the outcomes for the children. More power to children who may not need to learn these offered tools, yet lets not limit what others may flourish in. Methods of Educating have changed dramaticly over years of helpng people learn. We must remeber we have gone from strict guide lines where we were all percieved as one. This moved thankfully in to achieving outcomes for individuals that as in line with their cognitive and physical abilities. Scaffolding allowed us to make every learner an individual. We teach Jolly Phonix, which would never have happened before, we teach THRASS, do the children laugh..yes they do…and they learn…yes. Learning through fun….Gosh No, would have been the cry from yester year. Lets not get caught up in the box….let’s see if the tool works.

  26. Naadir said,

    March 13, 2006 at 10:31 pm

    Thanks for the heads up on Brain Gym.

    As a dyspraxic, BG seems to be really popular on the Yahoo mailing lists for Autistic Spectrum Disorders.

  27. Lindsy said,

    March 15, 2006 at 4:31 pm

    I was enjoying reading these responses very much. I only made it to 50 and had to comment, so I don’t know what was said after that.

    For the last three years I’ve worked with freshman college students in a remedial reading class, where we are required by the director to lead a particular brain gym exercise at the beginning of each day. We do PACE. We drink water, rub our collarbone, touch our opposite knees with hands, and do “hookups,” which are basically breathing.

    The students hate it because they are 18-40 years old (adults!), and don’t take it as just a ‘fun’ break from class. It keeps them from taking the rest of the class seriously. If we could stop peddling this as “magic” and simply tell them it helps you relax (which it does) it would be a lot more useful.

  28. Christine Lowe said,

    March 17, 2006 at 5:27 pm

    Post number 125 – Melinda, are you sure you are a teacher? I know we don’t have the biggest brains on the planet but the whole point of the argument is not whether using “actions” in teaching works- it seems to – but whether there is any good evidence to support the brain gym stuff. I’ve been along to a course and it certainly energised me, but only because I was furious (and needing to go to the loo after drinking so much water!) Thanks, everyone, for an entertaining read.

  29. Nick Humphris said,

    March 18, 2006 at 9:13 am

    In today’s Guardian (18 March 2006) it points to this website for a list of schools using Brain Gym.

    I have searched for this list and cannot find it. It was said to be a long list.

    How can I view this list?

  30. Em said,

    March 18, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    Partially scientific stuff – on water – I would think that many primary age children are, to a measurable amount, dehydrated part way through the school day. Why? Unless they bring their own bottle of water/juice, the only sources of water are at drinking fountains – hygenically placed in toilets! or if they take school dinners – warmish water from a plastic jug.
    If the body is dehydrated, difficulties can develop – varying from headaches to urinary tract infections.
    Clean cold water should be readily available, on demand, in all classrooms.
    I’m sure the brain works at its optimum when the bodies hydration level is also at its optimum. No evidence, but sounds reasonable.
    Brain Gym. mmmmmm! As from previous comments, ‘tea breaks’ or any form of moving around rather than sitting still for long periods of time ( remember double maths!!) must do the child some good. Children I have taught have appreciated 5/10 minutes on the yard/field for a run about before going back to class and settling down to work.
    None of this is rocket science and needs no expensive training.

  31. DK said,

    March 22, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    #130

    Yes – dehydration causes problems but the body is designed (oops, evolved with only moderate divine intervention) to cope for long periods without water providing you’re not running round madly.

    So – the water they want you to drink is good, but probably not desperately necessary.

    What would worry me is a classroom full of kids with full bladders – doesn’t seem like an incentive to concentrate on learning to me!!

    Just a thought :-)

  32. trondhjem said,

    October 6, 2006 at 12:06 am

    Have you ever drawn a right triangle of 3cm x 4 cm x 5cm, then drawn 3 squares using the original sides of the triangle, and finally added up the resulting areas of the squares ( 9 + 16 =25) ? Nobody needs a calculator to do this!

    On the Barin Gym front, it sounds like “Amway” in disguise.
    At the start of a lesson or solo study session, settling in, having regular breaks, and not becoming dehydrated- which CAN cause headaches- helps all learners, but to apply remedial cognitive therapy as a “one-size-fits-all” classroom /learning practice is pedagogically bankrupt!

  33. dkny0007 said,

    October 24, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    Really, are you all happy to hear yourselves? Because you would like to bash the science of “brain Gym” and you havent even noted that there is peer review literature out there on this work and presently a neuroscientist is doing a world tour teaching the physiology of Brain Gym…..why dont you people do your damn research!!!!

    But hey…whatever…let your kids rot and suffer in school….what do I know.

  34. ithasgonetotheopera said,

    June 12, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    I went to Rainhill High School in Merseyside, they sent me on a brain gym day course four years ago, they sent my younger sister on it two years ago, just to add to your list!

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