I’m still quite enthusiastic about using movement exercises to rewire the brain for more resilience and well-being. The excerpt and exercise below are adapted from Anat Baniel’s book Move into Life using the learned skills of enthusiasm to increase our vitality at any age.
The exercise is so simple, and the point is to use our attention to and interest in the smallest details, and to generate enthusiasm for increased potential in a way that rewires our brain for more energy and rewarding engagement with the world.
- Sit at the edge of a chair and lean the elbow of your dominant arm on a table or desk in front of you. Bend you elbow so that your forearm is up in the air with your hand and fingers pointing to the ceiling. You are holding your wrist and fingers straight and with the least amount of tension.
- Slowly begin bending your wrist, letting your hand and fingers go forward and down. Do this extremely slowly and gently. Imagine that your whole arm with its hand and fingers is immersed in thick honey or molasses so that your hand goes forward with the palm down, real slow, and your wrist bends; then bring the hand back up – do not bend the hand backward -with the fingers pointing in the direction of the ceiling. Your elbow stays bent and your forearm stays vertical the whole time. The movement is in the wrist and hand only. Repeat this movement seven or eight times.
- Bend your wrist and let your dominant hand go down and stay down in that position. Very slowly and gently begin moving the index finger of this hand, down toward you palm and up, away from your palm, three to five times. As you move your index finger, can you feel some movement in the palm of your hand and perhaps your forearm? Make sure that you breathe freely through these movements. Stop moving your index finger.
- Still leaning on your elbow with your forearm vertical and your hand bent down, very gently and slowly (remember the honey) lift and lower your middle finger three or four times. Then do the same with your ring finger three or four times. Feel how as you move your ring finger up and down, your other fingers tend to go along with it. Simply note this. Then do the same with your little finger three or four times. Finally, move your thumb out, away from your palm, and then toward your palm three or four times.
- Resume lifting your hand, straightening your wrist, and lifting your fingers to point toward the ceiling, and then lowering your hand down. Does your wrist bend a bit easier? Does it bend a bit farther? Are your fingers a little less tight, not so close to one another as at the beginning of this exercise? Bring down your hand and forearm and rest for a moment.
- Remember to get interested and enthusiastic about the changes you feel, even if they seem small to you. In your brain they are very big changes. Help to intensify these perceptions of differences, which help your brain discover and create new possibilities for you.
- Again, lean on the elbow of your dominant arm, with your forearm up and vertical, and let your hand sink down, bending your wrist and staying there as before. Gently touch your thumb and little finger to form a circle. As you hold them like this, gently and slowly rotate your forearm so that your hand is coming toward your face and then away two or three times. Then touch your thumb and ring finger, again forming a circle, with your hand down all the time, and again rotate your forearm two or three times. Move your thumb to form a circle with your middle finger and repeat the movement of rotating your forearm so that your hand turns toward you face and away from your face. Do this two or three times. Finally create the circle with your thumb and index finger and rotate your arm two or three times. Stop.
- Again, life and sink down your dominant hand while still leaning on the elbow with the forearm in the air. Does the wrist bend better and more easily? Does the hand sink lower? Is your breathing deeper? Are you enthusiastic about these changes yet? Are you able to make them important to you?
- Bring both arms down to your sides. Does your dominant hand and arm feel different from the others? Perhaps longer, or lighter? Does your dominant hand feel larger and fuller? Lift your dominant arm up and feel how you do this movement; put it down, and then lift the other arm in the same way. Can you clearly feel the difference between your arms? Does one shoulder feel lower or wider than the other, with less tension?
Take a book and follow its contours with your dominant hand. Notice the sensations in your hand. Now do the same with the nondominant hand. Does it feel different? Is your nondominant hand, clunkier, rougher, perhaps less “intelligent” and sensual than the dominant one? Which hand to you like better? With which hand would you rather type, cook, draw, and love? Are you ready to get enthusiastic about these seemingly small changes, and know that you are bringing yourself more into life in this way?
Modern neuroscience is discovering that presenting new information to the brain and calling attention to it is a key factor in waking up the brain’s ability to create new connections and patterns. When we can perceive even small events in our lives, amplify their meaning, and engage our attention to them with interest, the brain forms the billions of connections that allows it to refine and differentiate its patterns, making it possible to us to learn accurate and effective skills. Anat illustrates this process with many moving examples from her work with people dealing with chronic pain and neurological disorders. [See Anat Baniel method for more information].
Essential Steps to Generate the Skill of Enthusiasm
- Pay Attention. Pay attention if you are feeling disappointed, discouraged, frustrated, or in pain, or if you simply experience a loss of energy or vitality. Be aware of these feelings and any others associated with them. Notice yourself when you are blaming, venting, complaining, or feeling helpless or victimized.
- Define and Name. Identify what you are feeling and give it a name. Recognize what your unfulfilled expectations are and know that these feelings are normal and to be expected.
- Seize the Opportunity. Realize that your disappointment is a reflection of your vitality and life force and represents an opportunity. The gap between where you presently are and where you want to be is telling you that there is a life force in you that wants to come out and express itself. It is pointing you toward a fuller, more vital life.
- Be Committed. Find out what it is that you want and choose to care for it. Bring it to the foreground and choose to make it important. Commit yourself to what you have chosen and stick with it for at last a while.
- Get into Action. Look around and discover at least one action you can take that will match your commitment. It can be a large or small action. Keep taking more actions and correct your course as necessary.
- Stay Focused. You will have moments of regression when you drift from your course or encounter obstacles. You may occasionally feel anxiety or uncertainty. Stay focused on what you chose to care about, independent of your moods.
- Amplify. Make sure to recognize and appreciate small changes, not just what you consider bog or important ones. Be willing to be bold and express your delight with small gains, knowing that this is the way large changes come about.
- Allow for the Miraculous. Allow for the unknown and seemingly impossible to happen. The most common thing people tell me when the transformation occurs is, “I can’t believe it. I never would have dreamed it possible.”