These days it takes a lot of effort to let go of stress from work and daily obligations. Let’s face it – just driving in traffic for a quick errand can raise adrenaline to high heights. By the time I get to my studio for creative play and painting, I am often too tired to even begin. The variety of ways to de-stress often require time and money. Common remedies include a massage, counseling, alcohol, drugs, meditation, long hot baths and (my personal addiction) chocolate. Is there a better way? YES! Read on for my quick trick to get painting!
With a few key exercises from a system called The Brain Gym, I can quickly relax and re-energize, move into creative right brain and get painting. Yep – it works every time! Just minutes to perform and costs nothing. Even for non-artists or times you aren’t headed to the studio, this worthwhile quick series of exercises will bring you to your best mood fast.
WHAT’S THE BRAIN GYM?
I first heard about this system at my son’s elementary school. A visiting counselor was demonstrating exercises from the Brain Gym method, meant to help children improve learning by coordinating right and left brain sides. I decided to use these same exercises in my art classes and noticed a huge improvement in student’s focus, stamina and quality of work. The book is available at BrainGym.org/, however this article offers what I feel are key exercises for an excellent short list.
MY TOP PICKS FROM THE BRAIN GYM
Perform the following six steps in order. Start with your main or favored arm – right handed persons start with their right arm, lefties start with their left. Accomplish while standing if you can. This should only take about five to seven minutes to complete.
1. Lazy Eight
Start with your main arm straight out in front of you, main hand in a fist, with your thumb pointing up and level with your nose. Draw a lazy eight (aka an infinity sign, or the number eight on its side) as large as you can, as if your thumb were drawing it in front of you. Your whole arm remains straight, extended outwards, moving from the shoulder. Begin the first loop of the lazy eight heading sideways towards the left (same movement for both right handed and left handed) and then up, curving to the right and down to make the left side loop of the 8. Continue down and curving towards the right then up and around a curve heading left to form the right side loop. You should have completed one full 8 on its side.
OK, that was just practice. Now for the important part. You will repeat the above 3 times with the following addition: fix your eyes on your thumb and do not let your eyes move faster than your thumb. Your thumb will always be in your direct vision. Do not move your head to favor one eye over the other. BOTH eyes need to track the thumb for the whole lazy 8 loop cycle. After completing 8 Lazy 8 cycles with your main arm, don’t switch arms yet. Instead go right to exercise #2.
This exercise helps sharpen perception and focus. Don’t forget to breathe during this and all the remaining exercises.
Use the same arm as in the previous exercise, and with the same position – fist with thumb up, extending the arm straight out parallel with your nose as before. Stare hard at your thumb. Continue staring, don’t move your gaze, as you bend your elbow down and move your thumb to your nose, almost touching. Your eyes will feel slightly crossed. Now extend your thumb back out to original position straight in front of you parallel with your nose. That’s the movement. Now here’s the exercise. Breathe in when you pull your thumb towards your nose, and breathe out when extending your thumb back out to straight, so it feels like you are playing a trombone. Do a total of three in-out cycles. This strengthens your “near-far” perception, greatly improving art making abilities. Remember to keep your eyes on your thumb the whole time.
Repeat the first 2 exercises (Lazy 8 and Trombone) for your other arm
3. Hot Dog
Make both hands into loose fists. Extend both pointer fingers straight out. Lift elbows outwards, so that your pointer fingers touch at the fingertips, as if you were demonstrating making a straight line in front of your face. Position fists about 7” distance from your face, with your pointer fingers parallel with your nose. Stare at the fingers where they meet for a few seconds. Remember to breathe. Then look beyond the fingers about ten feet or more in front of you. Now you are focusing outwards but can still see your fingers (even though a bit blurry) in your lower peripheral view. Continue staring outwards until you notice a small hotdog – or illusionary third finger – created in between your real two fingers, where they touch. Move your focus back to your fingers and the third mini-finger disappears. The exercise involves these two different focus lengths, keeping your fingers touching the whole time. In summary, first you look at the fingers and see where they touch, then look outwards to refocus on something in front of you. Wait for the hotdog to appear. Then repeat these two changes of focus near and far three times total. This exercise will sharpen your eyes ability to focus near and far.
4. Energizing Brain Points
We have two points at the top of our rib cage, slightly left and right of center, which when pressed deeply will activate our brain power. These are beneficial acupressure points to wake us up when we need the extra boost. Use your thumb and third finger of one hand, and gently but firmly press both points simultaneously. Move in small circles while gently pressing for about 30 seconds to a minute. While your one hand is doing the pressing, place your other hand, palm touching your body, gently over your abdomen. Continue to breath deeply. Repeat with opposite hands.
5. Energy Release
Wrap your right foot over your left foot at the ankle. Your weight will be all on your left leg now. Wrap your right hand over your left at the wrist. Fold fingers together like you are holding hands, and bring the clasped hands towards you moving under your elbows as they fold. Stay in this position for 30 seconds to a minute. Keep your mouth lightly closed, while tongue touches the roof of your mouth. Breathe deeply and continuously while holding. This exercise will balance your energy and release tension in the body. No need to repeat this for your reverse side. Also, lefties or righties will both position your body as instructed.
6. Drink a whole glass of water immediately. This is an essential part of the process not to be omitted!
That’s it! Happy relaxing – or painting!