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A workout, mind it

Exercises that promise to stimulate both hemispheres of the brain are the new fad among the city’s children. Aasheesh Sharma notes.

health-and-fitness Updated: Jul 08, 2011 23:42 IST
Aasheesh Sharma
Aasheesh Sharma
Hindustan Times

On a muggy July afternoon, a roomful of children is busy visualising the monsoon. Eyes shut, they stand with ankles crossed, fingers interlocked and hands resting on the chest. “Imagine walking through a lush, green forest. Feel the raindrops on your cheeks,” instructs their teacher Suchi Bhatia and the kids follow suit.

The students, aged between six and 12, are flexing their cerebral muscle at a brain gym at East Delhi’s Dilshad Colony. They engage in exercises such as the brain button, lazy eight, hook-ups and cross crawl — part of a set of 26 workouts pioneered by American remedial education specialist Paul Dennison.

Social sensory experiences between the ages of 4 to 14, when the brain grows the most, boost a child’s capacity to learn, says Bhatia, an with SIP Academy. "The idea is to enhance the potential of both sides of the brain. The left side, which governs rationale thinking, is active when we use the right side of the body. The opposite is true for the right brain that governs our creativity, visual sense and memory."

Students at most Brain Gym institutes warm up with physical exercises before moving on to lessons in mental maths, speed writing and Abacus.

The brain buttons exercise, for instance, stimulates blood flow through the arteries to the brain to “switch on” the entire brain before a lesson begins, says Bhatia. Students make a ‘C’ shape with the thumb and index finger and place them just below the collarbone. They rub their fingers gently for about 20 seconds while placing the other hand over the navel. “The increased blood flow helps improve concentration skills required for reading and writing,” claims Bhatia.

The concept may defy convention and science, but it appears to have caught the fancy of thousands of parents in the city. DR Gupta, an officer with the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, enrolled his son Aitik, 11, a student of class six at St Xavier’s School, at a brain gym two years ago. “Since then, his calculations in mental math have become faster and so has his ability to remember facts,” he says.

The fundamental also drives the whole brain development programme of Brain-O-Brain, a chain of Abacus schools. “The cross crawl helps activate both hemispheres of the brain,” says instructor Deepa Ganesan, who runs three brain gyms in South Delhi. “Our cricketers do a similar exercise before key matches: with the left elbow touching the right knee and vice versa. When the exercise involves both sides of the body, it boosts the flow of information to both hemispheres,” elaborates Ganesan.

The Lazy 8 exercise, where one concentrates on one’s thumb and draws an eight shape with it, has helped children with learning disabilities “to centre”, says Geet Oberoi of the Orkids Multidisciplinary Clinic, which provides remedial intervention to children with special needs. “Centring, by enhancing the child’s attention and boosting connectivity between the left and the right brains, aids the student’s grapho motor skills such as handwriting and letter formation,” adds Oberoi.

Experts say mental math is a good way to delay disorders of the ageing brain. But the veracity of brain gyms, particularly in the long run, is a grey area. “There is a great deal of research that shows that using multiples languages also improves neuro-plasticity. Recent studies on adults even suggest that social networks keep the brain healthy but we don’t know how long the effects of brain gyms last — do they persist after one stops the exercises? We need more research to establish this,” says Nandini Chatterjee Singh, associate professor with the Manesar-based National Brain Research Centre.

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