Most people who come to Beth Stoddard with concerns regarding their brain function are beginning to feel “a little off,” Stoddard says.
Through what she describes as simple exercises – standing, sitting or lying down – Stoddard has been able to help. From Madawaska to southern Maine, Stoddard has taught 600 Brain Gym classes since she became licensed in the practice in 1999. In 2000, she founded Train the Brain, with her office located at 222 St. John St. in Portland. Brain Gym International is committed to the principle that moving with intention leads to optimal learning.
Many of the people Stoddard instructs are professionals, such as doctors, nurses and teachers, who will pass the knowledge onto others.
“It’s not advertised because there’s no product,” said Stoddard, who lives in Portland. “There’s not a lot of money to be made. You get this from your own body. It’s just what nature intended.”
According to her website, www.trainthebrain.biz, the program is based on applied kinesiology that uses body movements “to integrate brain functioning for efficient learning and greater productivity.” Stoddard teaches small courses, and sees many baby boomers who have memory and/or balance issues, she said.
“Their faculties are slowing down in general, and they lose confidence,” she said. “That’s the worst thing. This brings up confidence and self-esteem. If you’re alert, your life is better. When you get brain and body coordinated, you’re not going to fall down.”
Stoddard, 75, worked directly with Brain Gym’s founders, Paul and Gail Dennison, to learn the techniques. A French teacher and soccer coach, she moved from Massachusetts to Maine following retirement.
“I’ve always loved movement, and I’ve always loved teaching, and I heard there was going to be this course on Brain Gym in Portland, in the mid-1990s,” she said.
Having taken a class, Stoddard, who holds an MBA, traveled the country taking Brain Gym courses, then became licensed in British Columbia.
“There’s no college for it,” she said. “There are just courses you take in different places.”
In addition to the 24-hour basic Brain Gym course Stoddard teaches, she also does two-hour sessions for institutions such as the Muskie School of Public Service, adult education and physical and occupational therapists.
“One woman introduced me as someone who has changed occupational therapy in Maine,” Stoddard said. “The occupational therapists now include (Brain Gym) in the work they do. They’re very simple movements.”
Stoddard cautioned that Brain Gym can help with brain ailments, but not cure them.
“You will last longer,” she said, “but it would be too much to say that you will absolutely cure it. People who do a lot of exercise can do well, but this is not a magic bullet.”
Conversely, a little bit of Brain Gym is a good thing, Stoddard said.
“This you don’t have to do very long,” she said. “The benefit is, it makes you more alert. It’s helpful for post traumatic stress disorder. It can help with autism and (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), too. It connects you up through your emotional brain to your rational brain. Every eight seconds you move, you get a new pathway to your brain.”
Baby boomers can pass on the benefits of these gentle exercises to others, as did Jean Rice of Bath. Rice took Stoddard’s Brain Gym 101 class in Falmouth 15 years ago to help her daughter, who is developmentally disabled. Rice took in the information from the class and taught it to her daughter at home.
Today, her daughter is 25, living on her own and holds a job. And Rice is a Brain Gym consultant and practioner.
Rice won’t say that Brain Gym is solely responsible for her daughter’s success. She integrated the exercises with other methods. But she’s positive that the routines have a positive impact on brain health.
“She’s a success story, definitely,” Rice said. “Everything was internal. She became aware of the environment and an active participant in her environment. A person needs to recognize they are receiving information, store it in the brain, retrieve it and express it, in a timely manner. What Brain Gym movements do is to make that happen. It’s just gentle movement to integrate the right side and the left side of the brain.”
Rice said she conducts group sessions for $125 an hour. The 26 movements that are part of the program can help baby boomers who are beginning to experience memory loss, she said.
“They forget where they put their glasses, or where they put their keys,” she said. “It clears the ‘monkey chatter’ – the clutter in your brain – so that you can actually focus.”
Exercising the body is one way to improve brain health. Exercising the brain itself is quite another. Deborah McLean of Freeport, principal of Maine Senior Guide, an online information resource, says that learning new things helps the brain function better. So do remembering names, playing instruments, learning a new language, knitting, painting and making pottery, she said.
“When you learn something new, that’s good for your brain,” McLean said. “That’s pretty well-established. Anything that involves motor skills as well as thinking about what you are doing helps.”
Boomers are at the forefront of learning new things, McLean said.
“A lot of the information I have is for boomers,” she said. “This generation is more inclined on how to do things differently, or better.”
Reading, playing cards, social media such as Facebook and computer games all can help one’s mental fitness, McLean said.
“Avoid isolation,” she said. “Social media is not as good as sitting across a table in a conversation, but it’s a whole lot better than being by yourself.”
McLean emphasized that people who are able can control their own well-being.
“Reading every day is as good an activity as brain games like math games, crossword puzzles and computer games,” she said. “The brain is not healthy in isolation. We should do something every day to help ourselves stay healthy.”
Larry Grard is a staff writer at Current Publishing.