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How to Sync The 2 Hemispheres of Your Brain for Better Protection and Performance

by DailyHealthPost Editorial

Imagine you’re in the groove—ideas flow, obstacles dissolve, everything clicks—all the time. Most of us have been there at least once in our lives: our flow state, where everything seems to effortlessly fall into place and your mind creatively works to build cohesion among all factors of the environment (both internal and external). It’s a marvelous place to be. Some psychologists say it’s the key to a happy life

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What if we told you that there’s a way to put yourself in a flow state at will? It’s easy to imagine how much more productive, effective, and content you would be in every part of your life. Well, there is a type of brain exercise you can do that can get you there if you practice it regularly.

Strengthening the Brain Bridge

We know that the brain is separated into two halves (hemispheres) and that each area is primarily responsible for certain functions. The left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and vice versa. The halves are connected at “the midline” primarily by a thick bundle of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum, the vehicle by which a constant stream of information crosses between the left and right brains.

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Some of the body’s functions are stimulated in both hemispheres (with one side predominant) and some in only one. For those functions that are bilateral, it therefore makes sense that the stronger the communication between the hemispheres, the better your brain will perform. This is known as “cross-crawl”. 

Certain physical activities like crawling, swimming, and walking force the halves of the brain to work together toward a common goal; an example is moving your left leg and right arm at the same time while walking. Regularly exercising this type of cross-brain activity has been found to improve attention, concentration, and brain processing speed. It does this by stimulating neurotransmitters to move back and forth between the hemispheres.

Link Between Cross-lateral Physical Activity and Mental Function

Carla Hannaford, PhD is a biologist, neurophysiologist, educator, and learning consultant. She explores the scientific evidence that movement is critical to learning in her book Smart Moves – Why Learning is not All in Your Head:

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“Cross-lateral movements, like a baby’s crawling, activate both hemispheres in a balanced way. These activities work both sides of the body evenly and involve coordinated movements of both eyes, both ears, both hands and both feet as well as balanced core muscles. When both eyes, both ears, both hands and feet are being used equally, the corpus callosum orchestrating these processes between the two hemispheres becomes more fully developed. Because both hemispheres and all four lobes are activated, cognitive function is heightened and ease of learning increases.”

 In Smart Moves, Dr. Hannaford describes a case study in cross-crawl with a student she calls Todd. At sixteen years old, Todd couldn’t read and his physical co-ordination was difficult. This was heartbreaking for Todd’s family because he was an intelligent boy whose future options were severely diminished by his inability to read. Todd’s parents learned about Hannaford’s “Brain Gym” and cross-crawl exercises and began to perform them twice a day as a family. The results were nothing short of astounding: in six weeks, Todd was reading at grade level! Furthermore, Todd joined the basketball team (he couldn’t dribble a ball before he started brain exercises!) and went on to graduate from college with a degree in biology.

This story provides evidence to the theory that not only is physical movement directly related to mental/cognitive ability but that improving cross-lateral communication between brain hemispheres has a profound effect on even the most basic body functions at any age. We can no longer consider the mind as separate from the body, as Hannaford finds:

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“Through the advances of science we are realizing the importance of whole body/mind integration and the effect of coherent functioning not only on learning and memory, but also on all the people we come in contact with, and on the world at large…we are finally coming to grasp that movement and sensory experiences are the fertile soil for continual brain development and growth for a lifetime—and that these experiences actually cause the brain to constantly transform itself in unimaginably plastic ways.”

“Plasticity” is used to describe the brain’s ability to learn and create new neural pathways. Until fairly recently, it was thought that this kind of development slowed after adolescence and then stopped entirely. Not so. In fact, creation of new brain cells (neurogenesis) can occur at any age. 

In addition to the correlation between brain activity and brain health, we know that physical exercise is important for optimal physical health.

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Brain Exercises You Can Do Without Breaking a Sweat

Exercises like cross-crawl can help to reduce stress while they improve brain function.

Here are a few to get you started—mix ‘em up! No need to do these for more than one to two minutes or thirty repetitions at a time; these aren’t intended to be a work-out but a physical reset and brain stimulator. Start with one set in the morning before work or school and one set in the evening after dinner and before bed. Feel free to add reps during the day, as needed.

1. Cross-crawl Exercises

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2. Hand Touch

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms straight out at the shoulders, parallel to the floor. 
  2. Shift your weight to your left foot, lift your right knee, and touch your right knee with your left hand while moving your right arm backward. 
  3. Return to the starting position and switch to the other side. 

3. Elbow Touch

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms straight out at the shoulders, parallel to the floor. 
  2. Shift your weight to your left foot, lift your right knee, and touch your right knee with your left elbow while moving your right arm backward. 
  3. Return to the starting position and switch to the other side. 

4. Behind-the-back Ankle Touch

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  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms straight out at the shoulders, parallel to the floor. 
  2. Shift your weight to your left foot, lift your right foot, and bring it behind your left leg. Touch your right ankle with your left hand while keeping your right arm straight out at the shoulder for balance. 
  3. Return to the starting position and switch to the other side.

With each version:

  1. Alternate between left and right and repeat in a rhythmic way—try flipping on some music. (Music also enhances cognitive function and improves mood!)
  2. Breathe fully and evenly through the exercise.

You can find more cross-lateral exercises found to be specifically beneficial for improving children’s attention and focus at the Integrated Learning Strategies Learning Corner here.

If you’re up for a bit of a challenge, try doing an everyday task with the opposite (not dominant) hand or foot, like brushing your teeth, using a computer mouse, or putting on your pants with the opposite leg first. Not all activities to promote a bilateral brain are easy! 

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Daily stress can impede your ability to perform at your best. When there’s a free exchange of information between your brain’s hemispheres, you can achieve levels of creativity and mental acuity you might have previously thought impossible. Try these exercises alone, with your family, or with your remote work team on a regular basis to clear the interference, get the midline highway flowing and move into the fast lane!

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