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Real or Imagined?

I got a great question from a reader who wanted to understand better the phrase I have used many times…. “The brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined”.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into this. I was trained to use ideokinesis to change neuromuscular pathways. The reason why we move is that the brain sends a message through the nervous system to the muscles – they contract – and create movement. There is always cortical involvement in movement – always.

When a person has a spinal cord injury their brain is functioning, but the message isn’t getting through the nervous system to the muscles because of the injury at the spinal cord.

Ideokinesis (ideo… idea or image, kinesis… muscle) is just a fancy way of using your imagination, envisioning or using visualization and/or intentions. It doesn’t really matter what you call it – the response is the same.

There is much research out there showing that if you envision making a free throw in proper form, it will help your accuracy. Research at the Cleveland Clinic showed that subjects that imagined doing biceps strengtheners in fact tested stronger at the end of the study – and kept their results for 3 weeks. This was strengthening through thought alone!

Now… I am not promoting that we train our dancers by having them imagine class instead of taking class. But those who have to sit out because of injury or health reasons would do well to envision themselves doing the class even though they are resting on the side lines.

What we are thinking influences our emotional/chemical responses in our body… all the time! Similar to how our movement carves well-known neurological paths in the brain so we can move in the right way when we hear 2 demi plies then a grand… our thinking also carves neurological pathways and patterns in the brain. For example, there are certain negative (and positive) experiences from my past that if I allow myself to ruminate about will begin to shift my emotions.

As I think about a past experience it brings with it all the emotions I hard-wired with it. September 11th is one of those experiences. I can describe in exquisite detail where I was when I learned about the attack and if I continue to remember I can easily bring up the emotions that are connected with that day.

When we are envisioning or imagining a situation… our brain doesn’t know that it isn’t real in that moment… and sends out corresponding chemicals (our emotional responses) as if it was.

If it was a significant past experience the emotional charge will be stronger than remembering an event such as going out to dinner with friends, that may not be as noteworthy emotionally.

The power of the body/brain connection comes from when we are conscious of our responses and can make choices about what we want to do in response to the information the brain has gathered.

For example, if I can catch myself starting to feel my blood boil when I remember a confrontation I had (in the past) and how it is negatively influencing how I feel in the present moment (sitting at my desk) — then I can make a choice to switch my thinking and consequently switch off the stress response that happening.

Being aware that we have the ultimate responsibility and accountability for our thought patterns and habits is empowering! Not always easy to do but definitely a skill that should be encouraged.

The brain doesn’t distinguish between what is real (in the present moment) from what you are imagining (from the past or future). It responds to what you are thinking…. period. It responds by creating chemicals which get sent into the body (aka your emotions) which influences the health and well-being of our body.

I do think it is important to acknowledge that we get into patterns of thinking and feeling that become so ingrained into our lives that we aren’t even aware that we are responding by default – or in other words – the same way we always have responded – no matter whether it is healthy or an unhealthy response.

This is what I meant by the brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. Hoping that helps clarify…

To your success,

Deborah

How Quickly Can Change Happen?

The secret of CHANGE is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

Socrates

We are at that familiar time where many of us are reflecting upon the past year and pondering how we’d like 2019 to be. It started me thinking about how quickly can change really happen?

Generally, science says a mildly sprained ankle takes 5 days to 2 weeks to heal, and a moderate one from will take 4-6 weeks. A hip flexor strain takes between 1-8 weeks to fully recover. Changing an unwanted habit? Some say 21 days, a research study by Lally said anywhere between 2-8 months to adopt a new habit.

Is it possible to change a chronic injury or unwanted habit even faster than normal?

Science is starting to back up the above Socrates quote. We know that where you place your attention your energy goes. When you or your child is sick at home in bed a wonderful distraction is to pop a favorite movie in to watch. It’s pretty remarkable that for short periods of time they forget they’re sick and get wrapped up in the movie. This concept of where your attention goes your energy flows has been around for a while and is pretty straight-forward but often hard to use deliberately when we are trying to change our flexibility or results or negative patterns.

The major challenge to changing quickly is how our past habits and patterns of thinking, feeling and doing are hardwired in the brain. This is how learning happens. We do something over and over again until we don’t need to even think about it – our bodies automatically get ourselves ready for the day in the same way, we drive to work in the same predictable routes, and generally have the same thoughts and emotional responses to certain people in our life. These hard-wired patterns are not bad – they allow us to get a lot done without much conscious decision-making. Being such creatures of habit does have a downside, though, when it comes to wanting to change something about our life or body.

Awareness and knowledge is key to creating deliberate changes. The first step is to define what it is that you want. The second step is to become familiar with the patterns that are keeping you stuck in the current situation.

For example, let’s imagine a dancer who wants to increase their flexibility. They learn the appropriate stretches necessary to address their stiffness. That’s a good knowledge step for sure. They need to spend time becoming aware of all the negative statements they make about their body and flexibility and catch themselves when they start that self-sabotage loop. This goes beyond deciding on a positive affirmation to say to themselves. It might be a good mantra to say to oneself, “my flexibility gets a little bit better every day” but if immediately after saying that you feel discouragement or add a silent and sarcastic yea… right…, then chances are flexibility isn’t going to change as quickly as they’d like.

There is a concept in neuroscience called neuroplasticity which explains how the brain can hardwire new habits and create change. This short 2-minute video explains it beautifully.

Now getting back to our example of a dancer wanting to improve their flexibility. They need to catch their sabotaging thoughts and behaviors. Thoughts are pretty easy to define but let’s say they become aware that after eating a lot of sugar they feel achey and stiff. Once they become aware of that pattern they have a choice point when contemplating another serving of dessert. No judgment if they choose the extra dessert, but they are simply demonstrating that the sugar habit is stronger than their new flexibility patterns.

Being aware and knowledgeable of their flexibility patterns will streamline the change process. In other words, they need to ‘act as if’ they are already the flexible dancer they want to be… saying the things to themselves a flexible dancer would say, feeling emotionally how grateful they are to be flexible and acting and having the patterns of a person who honors their body’s flexibility. This seems pretty straightforward and simple – but challenging to put into practice.

Dancers are really good on the ‘doing’ part of the equation – but often not so good on the becoming aware of their thought and emotional patterns in response to their doing. There are strategies to help our students learn to become more aware of the complicated interplay between their body/brain and their results and it doesn’t require diving deep into their psyche or analysis.

Exploring the body/brain connection is the missing link in our training of dancers and one that I will be delving into this summer in both the Texas and France workshops. Understanding and exploring anatomy is still the foundation of these workshops with integrating the body/brain knowledge into your teaching.

Happy New Year, everyone! Now… back to journaling about who I want to be in 2019!

To your success,

Deborah

Improving focus

Today’s Q&A post includes an excerpt from Train Your Brain: A Teen’s Guide to Well Being. Enjoy!

I just found your web site and blog and it is really interesting.

I have an almost 7 years old ballerina at home, and I have some concerns.
She’s very lean, but she’s not so flexible and I don’t want her to get hurt while trying to improve her flexibility.

Another concern of mine is if she’s I’m the right age range to be at the RAD primary level. Unfortunately I don’t have the syllabus dvd available for her to practice at home (she goes to ballet and jazz classes twice a week). I’m asking this, because even though the teacher has told me that she has improved a lot in the 3 years of ballet class, I see that she has trouble following her older classmates, and gets distracted and looses motivation because she’s always at the back of the class.

My daughter loves ballet and dance I general, and I would love to see her blossom in what she loves, any tips for me so I can help her?

Best regards and congratulations on your wonderful work

Diana

Hi Diana,
You are asking some good questions, Diana! First, I want to say that her sometimes lack of focus and motivation is absolutely normal for an almost 7 year old. Has she tried any other type of movement classes besides ballet? It’s possible that trying a gymnastic class or creative movement, etc. might help her come into her body in a different way which then will help her ballet. How does she do in her jazz class?

There are some studios that don’t start their student in a ballet class until 7 or 8. I know students who didn’t start in ballet until 9 or 10 years old – and became beautiful ballerinas!

My personal bias might be coming out here which is dance classes for the youngest of our students should have a goal of making a student more comfortable in his or her body as well as improving their physical health and abilities.

Every young student will go through periods of being less flexible. That’s because whenever they go through a growth spurt their bones grow faster than muscles and that can be a very awkward stage.

My initial thoughts on how to help her blossom into a confident, beautiful woman would be to teach her to focus on what she wants. When you talk to her why does she like ballet class? Does she dream of dancing on stage? Does she like how dancing makes her feel? Does she feel good when she’s dancing? That’s so important!

Wanting to help our young children gain confidence in their abilities is why I wrote the Train your Brain book for the 8 – 12 year old. It has exercises in it to help the young child learn how to follow their own guidance and become confident – following the same guidelines that I have for my own life.

I’m going to do something that I haven’t done before and that is share one of the chapters with you. Each chapter follows a child’s challenge – and while the book is not just for dance students – I will share the chapter that talks about Chelsea, a young dancer.

Train Your Brain: A Teen’s Guide to Well Being
Chapter 3

If you saw Chelsea playing with her brothers or talking in class, you’d think she was always happy and carefree. But, if you saw Chelsea walk into her ballet class, you’d see a whole new girl.

For some reason, Chelsea got nervous when dance class rolled around. She didn’t know why and didn’t want to quit because she loved dancing…and had been doing it since she was three. But for the last few months she’d become so nervous-everyone was improving it seemed, except for her. Chelsea’s body started feeling stiff and her feet felt like lead. She was clumsy and her dancing wasn’t smooth at all. Even stretching was hard for her…she felt as if her muscles were too short for her body.

Chelsea wasn’t sure what to do but she knew that she didn’t want to keep going to class if it was going to be like this. Was it time to quit doing something she loved?

This may sound confusing but it’s really easy. Before I tell you how to do, let me share a little brain secret. Your brain if full of little paths, like roads, that are formed whenever you do something or think something. So, let’s say you eat 10 hot dogs and then you throw up. Well, you created a path. So then, the next time you eat a hot dog, your brain will return to the path that goes with hot dogs. Along that path is also throwing up. So, now, when you think hot dogs you also think throwing up. And when you think throwing up, you think hot dogs. And each time you think those thoughts, the path becomes stronger…kind of like putting new cement on the road so it’s stronger.

The cool thing about these paths is that we can purposely create paths that help us. That is what Create a Feeling is all about. We’re going to connect a simple action (like making a fist or curling your toes) with positive, confident thoughts. That way, you’ve created a path. And you know that positive, confident thoughts create positive, confident feelings. So, when you need those positive, confident feelings, you’ll be able to do a simple action that is connected to those good thoughts and BAM, positive, confident feelings come along.

Let’s Rewind and Replay Chelsea’s dance problem and see if Create a Feeling can help her out…

If you saw Chelsea playing with her brothers or talking in class, you’d think she was always happy and carefree. But, if you saw Chelsea walk into her ballet class, you’d see a whole new girl.

For some reason, Chelsea got nervous when dance class rolled around. She didn’t know why and didn’t want to quit because she loved dancing…and had been doing it since she was three. But for the last few months she’d become so nervous in class that she could barely move.

Chelsea wasn’t sure what to do but she knew that she didn’t want to keep going to class if it was going to be like this. She needed to find a way to start enjoying dance class again.

She decided to get her brain to help her find a way to get her confidence and joy back. She decided to create a path. First, she came up with a small action. She decided she would take a deep breath in and slowly let it out. At the same time she thought of her past dance recitals. She remembered how comfortable her body felt dancing, how loud the clapping was when she bowed, how her legs moved to the music.

She practiced taking a deep breath in and slowly exhaling while thinking these positive thoughts a few times everyday.

By the time dance class rolled around, Chelsea was ready. When she felt her body start to freeze up at the dance studio doors, Chelsea took a deep breath. Automatically, her body relaxed and the confident, positive feelings of past recitals flooded her body. Chelsea smiled; she’d created a path that would help her look forward to dancing again!

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The doors will close on the Inner Dance of Success 3 – month coaching program to create a healthier you…. through changing your body/brain connection to diet and exercise.

Email me at Deborah@thebodyseries.com if you’d like more information. I only sent information to the people who took the survey and left their email address for me to contact them – but if you want to learn more about it – and didn’t fill out the survey– act fast and email me – because the program will close on midnight, Monday, February 1st. That’s tomorrow!!

Warmest regards,
Deborah Vogel