Tag Archives: teaching

Music as Therapy: Music, Movement, Cognition!

A number of my posts have dealt with my foray into teaching yoga and facilitating movement for folks who are dealing with movement limitations, the normal process of aging, or changes in cognitive functioning due to dementia or Alzheimer’s. I have also mentioned Daniel Levitin, the author of This Is Your Brain On Music, related posts being available here.

I am delighted to share that yesterday part 1 of two posts furthering the above conversations has been posted on the SharpBrains blog. My post is Music as Therapy: Music, Movement, Cognition! I hope you’ll pop over to read it, and if you have any feedback, please feel free to share, especially if you have related experiences that we can all learn from. Thanks!

This Is Your Brain On Music

This morning I was putting away the syrup that garnished the scrumptious french toast made by my husband, and as I closed the refrigerator door, some of the many tiles of magnetic poetry caught my eye. As our sons come and go on home visits, they alter the poetry, so I have no idea which one crafted this gem, but how appropriate given the book I am currently reading!

I am two-thirds of the way through Daniel J. Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music. When this book came out in 2007, I ordered a hard cover copy from amazon and eagerly awaited its delivery. When it arrived, I thumbed through the book and decided it wasn’t for me.

Rather than letting it languish on my book shelf, I gave it to a student – an accomplished high school musician who played (and still plays) clarinet and saxophone, who has studied at Julliard, and with who I had a close relationship developed over years of her assisting with faculty technology workshops and my being her advisor for her eleventh grade independent study project that resulted in her authoring and publishing this book. As her lulu.com bio states, she is “currently studying Music Education and Clarinet Performance at the University of Maryland, College Park.”

Now, five years later, guess what book I am reading? This time I have a paperback copy borrowed from my local library. And I am two-thirds of the way through Levitin’s book, absorbing his words and relating them back to my experience – in caring for my Dad, who had Parkinson’s and Alzheimers; in teaching yoga to people with mobility or other limitations; in teaching yoga to people who are at the upper realms of aging; in learning to teach dance to people with Parkinson’s. There will be much more about all of this as I continue to read, take notes, reflect and wonder, with a possibility of everything coming together in a blog post for SharpBrains.

But for now, I am just smiling at the magnetic poetry on my refrigerator door. Oh, and wouldn’t you know it – last night Levitin’s invitation to participate in a survey about music came across my Twitter feed. Of course, I participated! For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, I do not know Levitin but I “follow” him, so everything he tweets about shows up in my timeline. How fitting that the magnetic poetry and Levitin’s tweet both deal with music and mood.

The Tree of Yoga

I recently finished reading B.K.S. Iyengar’s The Tree of Yoga, which was given to me as a parting gift when I left my previous school. Iyengar wrote a bit about the art of teaching, and I enjoyed mulling over his ideas.

Iyengar stated, indeed, warned that you “teach only what you know. Do not teach what you do not know…” I have often heard it said that the best way to learn is to teach. Especially in my early years of teaching, walking into a room to teach something with which I was not familiar caused that butterfly feeling in the pit of my stomach, coupled with the hope that nobody would notice my lack of expertise.

In the many years since, I have learned that often times my students will have more knowledge or exposure to something than I have – not uncommon in the fast changing world of computers and technology. I learned that teaching is a two-way shared process between the “teacher” and the “student”. Those nouns are in quotes because, at any given time, the roles change between me, the teacher, and those in the class, the students. Indeed, I hugely believe in and have always tried to have students be part of the professional development sessions organized for faculty. Change up the role dynamics and the process of learning is enhanced for everyone.

So learn, do, re-learn, experience, and you will be able to teach with confidence, courage and clarity.

Teachers must always be learning. They will learn from their pupils and must have the humility to tell them that they are still learning their art.

Iyengar touched on another area of teaching, which is understanding who your students are, and realizing that we do not all learn in the same manner or at the same pace. It is important to try and differentiate instruction so that the learner can make meaning from the experience.

The art of teaching is also to know when to stop.

There are two types of teaching. One is explaining according to your intelligence. The other is knowing the weakness of your pupils, and how you have to explain in order for them to understand your meaning.

First published in 1988, Iyengar’s book deals with the teaching of yoga, but I think that just about all strong teaching follows a similar process. Yoga is, in some ways, similar to physical education and also to physical art. Phys ed and the arts are highly experiential and often touted as providing many examples of teaching that could (should?) be ported over to the academic classroom.

Looking for help from readers, please.

I am fascinated by the brain. I have been practicing yoga since March of 2005. I have been a teacher of kids and adults since 1982 (teaching with and about computers). I saw how music and movement soothed my Dad as he dealt with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I know what my next act will be, and am looking for your help in coming up with a name.

WRITTEN on July 11 of this year:

I have a dream of blending yoga and movement with learning about the brain, and offering it to retirees, adults and kids, to help them nourish their bodies and grow more synapses and neurons in the process.

TWEETED this morning:

Combining yoga, dance & music for folks w/mobility, health or aging issues. Crowd sourcing positive upbeat company name for this. Ideas?

TEACH blended movement that incorporates:

  • yoga, be it in a chair, along side a chair or without a chair
  • dance
  • music
  • learning about stress and ways to manage it
  • learning about your brain and how you learn
  • learning about anatomy
  • relaxation
  • fun
  • community
  • self-care

LOOKING for an upbeat name that evokes the possibilities…

If you have a suggestion, please do leave it in a comment below. And thank you for helping me to come up with a name!

Dance for PD – where I was last weekend

This is where I was last weekend – attending the Dance for PD (Parkinson’s Disease) workshop in Waltham, Massachusetts. I had the wonderful opportunity to take this workshop with two of the founding teachers, David Leventhal and Misty Owens. Immersed in the workshop, I felt as much a student of dance as a student of learning how to teach dance to a specific population of people, those folks with Parkinson’s Disease.

Some 40 of us gathered Saturday and Sunday at the Jewish Family & Children’s Service center, an inviting two story complex that hosts a vibrant Family Support group coordinated by Nancy Mazonson for individuals with Parksinson’s, their families and caretakers. Of the many services provided, one is an ongoing series of dance classes that were begun in 2006.

The details of the workshop are on my yogajournal posterous blog. For now I want to focus on the benefits of dance for folks with Parkinson’s, and I would add that those same benefits accrue to just about anyone with limited mobility or dementia in its early stages.

Research into the impact of dance on people with Parkinson’s is ongoing, most recently noted in this November 11, 2011 article on Dr Sara Houston’s work examining “the benefits to quality of life for people with Parkinson’s taking part in dance classes run by English National Ballet.” The Dance for PD listserv provided a link to Study explores benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s, a summary of Dr Houston’s research.

My father had Alzheimer’s for many years. He also had a never-ending love of music and dance, with a heavy dose of Broadway musicals, music of the 40s and 50s, and folks like the Gershwins, Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, as well as Big Band tunes and songs from both world wars. He attended ballet and Broadway shows for the better part of his life, and danced up a storm (often with me) at family gatherings. Turns out, my Dad also had Parkinson’s Disease, something we did not find out until he died and it showed up on his death certificate. To be sure, I had an inkling, for he had the tremors in his hands, the arms that eventually stopped swinging when he walked, and a walk that turned to a shuffle (also common with Alzheimer’s).  But no matter his physical state, he LOVED the music, he loved singing along to songs, he loved dancing. When the words left him, he sang along with humming or the requisite “heh” in a well-known WWII ditty or Columbia College (his alma mater) song.

Among the many resources provided by Dance for PD is this list of ten points (noted below) extolling the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s. Reading them over, and having seen the impact of music and dance on my Dad, it’s difficult to say that only folks with Parkinson’s benefit from dancing! All of the Dance for PD classes have musical accompaniment, and the Brooklyn based home of Dance for PD has the benefit of live piano playing by William Wade.

  1. Dance develops flexibility and instills confidence.
  2. Dance is first and foremost a stimulating mental activity that connects mind to body.
  3. Dance breaks isolation.
  4. Dance invokes imagery in the service of graceful movement.
  5. Dance focuses attention on eyes, ears and touch as tools to assist in movement and balance.
  6. Dance increases awareness of where all parts of the body are in space.
  7. Dance tells stories.
  8. Dance sparks creativity.
  9. The basis of dance is rhythm.
  10. The essence of dance is joy.

A former student (who has written a book for other students that, like her, have a learning difference) tweeted a link to Cellist Memory Wiped Out From Virus, Doctors Stunned By Musical Memory. I read the article just after returning from the Dance for PD workshop. Towards the end of the article there are several references to “the link between memory and music”, specifically noting the impact of music on people with Alzheimer’s.

Music! Dance! What a combo this can be for anyone, and especially those whose bodies are no longer as resilient as they once were. For more about Dance for PD, read or listen to this 2008 NPR story, Parkinson’s Patients Find Grace In Dance.

The Love Affair between Music & Movement and Mind & Body

Listening to music with others causes the release of oxytocin, a chemical associated with feelings of trust and bonding. … Plus the nucleus accumbens – the brain’s well-known pleasure center – modulates levels of dopamine, the so called feel-good hormone.
Daniel J. Levitin, neuroscientist 

My Dad loved music, especially Broadway tunes, Sinatra songs, and Ella Fitzgerald, plus Columbia University ditties and tunes from World War II. My Dad also loved to move – dancing to music, shuffling and running to tennis and, when younger, sprinting short distances as well as longer cross country running. In his waning years, my Dad co-existed with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. While he lost the ability to move, his love of music and his ability to mimic a tune never left him. Indeed, I believe that music and song provided sustenance for him as he navigated those last five years of his life.

My Mom also loved music, being an avid and accomplished pianist, with a Masters of Music Composition earned when she was in her forties. She composed the music for our wedding ceremony. She nourished her Steinway piano until the last months of her life, playing magnificently up till a few weeks before a stroke left her paralyzed on her right side, taking away her ability to nourish herself through piano playing.

No surprise, then, that I, too, love music and dancing and playing the piano. And perhaps no surprise that the yoga I most want to teach is yoga that incorporates music, the marrying of movement and music.

Dance for PD is based upon the premise that dancers are skilled at understanding the fluidity with which their bodies move through space, and this is exactly the issue that people with Parkinson’s are trying to deal with – maintaing their balance and coordination despite their brains lessening lack of bodily control. Let Your Yoga Dance is an approach to yoga that meshes music with movement, and when doing this form with special populations, massages the two Ms to bring smiles and sensory stimulation to folks with Parkinson’s or folks needing to participate from the vantage point of sitting in a chair.

In Happy Birthday iPod!, an article in today’s Sunday Times, Daniel Levitin speaks of the positive impact that music has on the brain. Music, like exercise, causes good things to happen in our brains, which often translates to good things happening in our bodies!

Falling into my lap

Things fell into my lap today due to the kindness of friends.

Thanks to @MartiWeston for sharing Time.com’s interactive timeline of an encapsulated history of trying to understand the human brain. The timeline looks at the brain through the lenses of ancient beliefs, anatomy, psychology, disorders and neuroscience.

And thanks to my new colleague, a Science teacher of 6th and 9th graders, for inviting me to join her class in November to tour the Cushing Center at Yale. The center houses the brains, notes and research findings from Dr Harvey Cushing, often referred to as “the father of modern neurosurgery”. I suspect this will be a hugely interesting exhibit and wonder if our 70 minutes will whet my curiosity or if a return trip will be needed!


Entangled and entwined. The brain and the body. They need and feed upon each other. So it is with the meshing of my interests.

I began this blog as “the graduate course I’d love to take if it existed as a program and was local to where I live.” My plan was to learn as much as possible about the brain, beginning with its physiology, as compiled in Brain 101.

The more I learned about the brain, the more I began to associate ideas and information with the practice of learning and teaching. After all, I had been teaching children and adults for many years (this is the start of my 30th year!) and it seemed about time that I consciously considered the underpinnings of those processes.

From there my interests morphed into professional development and, specifically, adult learning and keeping the aging brain healthy, creative and stimulated. I thoroughly and emphatically enjoy planning and providing learning opportunities for adults. This is quite selfish, actually. I feel good when I can help empower others. I feel good when I have a creative challenge (to plan and provide the PD). I feel good when I can help adults enhance their brain health.

However, the brain does not live in a vacuum, so it was simply a matter of time before my interest in the human body – the receptacle housing the brain and very much involved in a co-dependent relationship – manifested itself. Seven years of practicing yoga (for stress relief, for comfort, for physical and mental well-being) collided gently and smoothly with my interest in the brain and human anatomy. More selfishness. I feel good when I can help kids and adults understand their brains and their bodies, and improve their overall health.

Meshed. Meshing.

And wouldn’t you know it…this is my 400th Neurons Firing post. Gotta’ love those round numbers!

Hanging out at YogaJournal.posterous.com

I’ve been focused on my yoga since July’s FAMI workshop. Actually, it’s not so much my yoga practice but my desire to teach yoga that has caught my focus.

Last weekend I took a two-day Chair Yoga workshop with Julia Hough, and this weekend I will be assisting her and her colleague with their Preventing Burnout workshop at Mala Yoga in Brooklyn Heights.

Having made two momentous changes in our lives, my husband and I left our school of many years (27 for him, 14 for me) to pursue new creative endeavors. While he is taking a gap year to focus on sustainable architecture and teaching AP Computer Science online, I am teaching at a school in New Haven and pursuing my yoga teacher training.

This is taking shape in a number of ways. I am now the delighted owner of an Apple iPad2 (thanks to my husband :-) and have been making yoga movies using iMovie. The movies (available on vimeo and youtube, as well as at yogajournal.posterous.com) let me see what I look and sound like when doing and teaching yoga.

I have been blogging more at yogajournal.posterous.com.

And I am investigating Let Your Yoga Dance. LYYD provides teacher training to teach special populations, particularly folks with Parkinsons and mild dementia.

Over a year and a half ago, I determined to become certified to teach Chair Yoga. To help me be a better teacher, I also thought it would be helpful to take the 200-hour yoga teacher training. I began that process in April, completing the first 100 hours, but circumstances precluded my completing the second 100 hours.

Since then, I have taken the FAMI workshop, last weekend’s Chair Yoga workshop, all the while continuing the search for a program that would provide the training for me to switch careers. I think I have found that program! In two weeks I will be observing a Let Your Yoga Dance for Special Populations class taught by Andrea Cashman. Next probable step: sign up for the training!

FAMI: You have some nerve!

I’m not talking about being audacious! I’m talking about the roughly 7 trillion nerves in the human body, though come to think of it, you could describe the nervous system as one audacious mechanism. Nerve roots get their start in the intervertebral foramen (IVF), a place Dr Jeffrey Laitman calls “one of the most sacred places in the body”. What does this impressive sounding set of words mean? Inter is Latin for between, vertebral refers to the vertebrae, and foramen is Latin for opening.


Each of the 33 vertebrae is referenced by a number, which relates to its position in the spine. Recall that there are 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 or 6 fused sacral and 3 or 4 fused coccygeal. Place your fingers on the back of your neck and gently feel for your backbone. Now run them up to where your backbone meets your skull. That’s where you’ll find  C1, which holds up your head and is known as the atlas, named after that famous Greek who held the world upon his shoulders. Turn your head left-right, as if shaking your head to say “no”. C2 is the axis and, combined with C1, provides you with that rotation ability. Now feel for the slightly larger bump roughly in the middle of your neck. That bump is C7, your 7th cervical vertebrae.

Continuing with the tour, your spinal cord stops around L1-L2. Put your hands on either side of your body and slide them to your pelvis, the first strong bones you run into south of your waist. The top of your pelvis forms your iliac crest, and those bones meet around L4-L5. If you run your fingers along your entire backbone, the bone you are feeling is called the spinas process.


Nerves come pouring out of the IVF with a mission to innervate the body, i.e. supply the body with nerves. The nerves are referenced by their root value, the level in the vertebral column at which the nerve is born. Hips are innervated by L3, knees by L4, feet by L5, foot flexors by S1. Several times we were given the analogy of a nerve being like a telephone cable, with fibers inside. The job of the phone cable is to carry information in the form of messages; a nerve has the same job. Nerves are made up of fibers; if a nerve is broken it can likely be reattached, but not always so for the fibers within. As Dr Laitman described them, the fibers are the functional elements of the nerves.

Dr Laitman went on to explain that there are two types of nerves: afferent and efferent. Afferent nerves are sensory nerve fibers that bring signals back to the body from the skin and the gut. Essentially, they tell your body how it is feeling. Efferent nerves are motor nerve fibers that send signals to muscles. These nerves help you initiate movement, and in many cases let you respond to information received from the afferent nerves.


Our nervous system is continually monitoring the world inside and outside of our bodies. Nerves provide the feedback mechanism by which we know what is going on internally and externally. At FAMI I was awed to see the internal intricacy of the human body. We are strong, we are complex, we are graceful. We have teeny tiny parts, and massive, large parts.

For an eloquent description of FAMI, I refer you to Breaking the Body Out of the Box, a post by one of the FAMI participants who is also involved in a six-month intensive Advanced Mentor Program at Kinected.
Additional references:

If you have a favorite online reference about the spine or nervous system, please share it in a comment!