Tag Archives: movement

Sit? Stand? Move!

I have a standing desk in my office. Easily adjustable, it can be lowered to function as a sitting desk, but I only use it as a standing one because directly opposite is the counter at which I used to sit. That counter is now used as a staging area or as a place to sit for lunch.

After reading a NY Times article this past November, Stand More at Work, Sit More at Home, I decided to do an experiment. Initially, my experiment was going to run for a full week, but it quickly became apparent this would not be necessary.

I tracked my sitting and standing times on a typical weekend day, in this case Sunday, November 15 (my birthday!) I tried to avoid consciously changing behaviour in order to keep the results as true as possible, and here is what the result was: 6 hours 30 minutes spent sitting, 8 hours 5 minutes spent standing.

The next day, Monday, November 16, I tracked my sitting and standing standing desk at worktime at school. When teaching, I am typically on my feet in different classrooms. My office is on the second floor of a building, requiring me to use one long and one short set of stairs to go up and down, something that I do multiple times each day. Our school campus has four buildings, and my office, where all my supplies are located, is not in the same building as the classrooms in which I teach. The result: 6 hours 32 minutes spent sitting, 9 hours 50 minutes spent standing.

I stopped my experiment at this point, because the goal was to compare a weekend day to a work day, and all of my work days are similar in terms of standing, sitting, and walking around.

Of course, all of this made me wonder WHY is it better for humans to stand than to sit. According to James Levine of the Mayo Clinic,

The impact of movement – even leisurely movement – can be profound. For starters, you’ll burn more calories. This might lead to weight loss and increased energy. Even better, the muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall – and your health risks increase. When you’re standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action.

His full article is available here.

The operative word in Levine’s comments above is movement. Research has shown that it is movement, not simply standing, that makes a difference in our overall health. Thus, no matter how you slice it, sitting too long is a health hazard, as artfully depicted in this Washington Post infographic.

For reference, here are some past posts related to movement:

  • Move It!  – how exercise boosts brain power
  • Exercise Lights A Spark – the first of two posts about John Ratey’s book SPARK, provides background for the second post
  • Mostly in Ratey’s Words – explains the benefits of exercise on learning, particularly the Science of exercise’s impact on the hippocampus


Given all that I have written over the years about the brain and movement (both here and at my yoga blog), without knowing more about “neuromovement” I would have guessed it described the brain and how it manages movement.

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a free talk, Neuromovement for a Vibrant Life by Anat Baniel, at the Eileen Fisher Learning Lab in Tarrytown, NY. Anat is an entertaining presenter, injecting humor and a sense of “I know exactly what I am doing, and I am doing it as it should be done” into her talk. She is also the creator of the Anat Baniel Method, a neuromovement approach to helping people of all ages who have limitations imposed by a brain that is not functioning to its fullest. From her information-packed site:

NeuroMovement® is a holistic approach to human functioning and action, based in the understanding that movement is the language of the brain. Movement provides information the brain needs to grow and organize itself. And, in return, the brain organizes all movement, thought, feelings, and action.

Anat explained that her approach utilizes The Nine Essentials For Vitality®, and used her talk to describe the first three. (The free Friday evening talk was followed by a pay-to-attend workshop the next day, which I did not attend, and where the plan was to go into the remaining steps.)

These Essentials make use of brain plasticity, which I have discussed in multiple blog posts. As Anat describes, each Essential is useful for:

…creating new connections and avoiding rigidity and automaticity when needing to overcome pain and limitation to thus reach new levels of physical and cognitive performance.

The three she explained are Movement with Attention, The Learning Switch, and Subtlety. Movement with Attention is how I practice yoga, and I immediately equated it with moving with the breath, attentiveness to my body’s messages, and awareness and then dismissing of any thoughts that percolate during practice.

The second Essential, The Learning Switch, reminded me of Elkhonon Goldberg’s talk at a Learning & the Brain conference years ago. To quote from my blog post, this is what he had to say about keeping the aging brain healthy:

Goldberg employed us to “turn neuroplasticity to your advantage” by: 1. Welcoming novel challenges. 2. Beware of being on mental autopilot. 3. Remain cognitively active.

The Learning Switch necessitates the brain be in a ready-state for learning. As Anat notes, “repetition, drill, and everyday stresses, as well as habitual patterns of thought, exercise and emotions, all tend to turn the learning switch off.”

Subtlety is the third Essential, and was the most interesting to me due to being the area which provided the most ideas for ways to work with children and adults. It is the concept of “less is more”. As Anat explained:

For the brain to receive new information it needs to perceive differences. By reducing the force with which we move and think, we increase our sensitivity. With the resulting increased sensitivity we greatly enhance our brain’s ability to perceive the finest of differences. These perceptions give the brain the new information it needs to organize successful action and become more alive and vital in both body and mind.

What has remained with me is the content of a short video Anat showed highlighting her work with an infant who was born with an inability to move her left arm. Typical physical therapy dictated repetitive physical movement of her arm by a physical therapist. Anat explained that this would simply train the child’s brain that in order to move the arm it needed an external person to lift it. Then came the part that astonished me – in the video Anat simply blew on the child’s palm while seeming to apply stimulation to another part of her body at the same time. (Sitting in the second to last row, it was difficult to see all the video detail.) Within ten minutes she had successfully helped the child’s brain to recognize and move her left arm. Less was more, and the focus of the “less” was as simple as could be.

Another story Anat shared had to do with a boy who was having extreme difficulty with writing, beginning with the letters of the alphabet. This story highlighted her explanation that the brain needs to perceive differences in order to rewire itself. Well-intentioned experts had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get the boy to write the letter “A”. Anat concluded that the boy had no idea what a proper letter “A” should look like, so she asked him to draw his worst version of the letter “A” and then complemented him on drawing a truly poor version. She then suggested he draw a slightly less “worst version”, and he complied. When she requested an even slightly less “worst version”, he asked if she was kidding him, and then proceeded to draw a version that was getting close to a good version of a letter “A”. His ah-ha moment came when he realized what an “A” actually looked like.

The remaining seven Essentials are: Variation, Slow, Enthusiasm, Flexible Goals, Imagination & Dreams, and Awareness, and you can read more about them here on her website.

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!


Knowing that the Cerebellum contains 50 percent of the brain’s neurons, and those neurons focus on movement, cognitive patterns and novelty, we savvy educators might want to incorporate this information in planning our sessions.

Robert K. Greenleaf has spent years translating current brain research into practical classroom strategies. As President of Greenleaf Learning, he presents nationally on brain-based learning. In his May, 2003 article for Principals.org, Motion and emotion, [UPDATE 2-28-09 – Unfortunately, this site now requires a log in.] Greenleaf discusses various ways to “combine the notion of movement and space” to “tap into this powerful learning”. In particular:

When we combine the notion of movement and space, we can tap into this powerful learning by teaching a 10-minute lesson from the back of the classroom, asking learners to touch fingers together every time they hear a verb in a story being read aloud, having students stand while explaining a current event or cross their legs while reviewing for a quiz, or even conducting a discussion while walking about the building! Movement can be, but clearly does not have to be, a gross motor activity to supply additional or novel stimuli to the learning task at hand.

What types of movement are best suited to the learning spaces we have? The following suggestions are a few possibilities that may be practical in the classroom:
* Have students face the back of the classroom during a review for a quiz.
* Have the students sit sideways in their chairs during an activity or discussion.
* Have students write down the most important item of the day with their opposite hand.
* Ask students to turn their papers diagonally and complete an assignment that way.
* Have everyone cross their legs while you tell them about an important event. Or have them cross their legs and uncross them only to contribute to the discussion.
* Ask the class to stand up and sit down after each student question is answered.
* Make everyone move one seat for a five-minute explanation.
* Give everyone a pretzel to eat every two minutes during the review. Make pretzels available during test time.
* Ask students to stand behind their chairs while you read an important passage to them.

Incorporating some form of movement or novelty into any presentation, especially if the audience has been sitting still for quite awhile or listening to a monotone, can be

movement and
novelty can wake up the brain and give it a link for remembering.

As Greenleaf has noted:

Tag novelty and movement to the essential piece of a unit. The bimodal context of the visual and verbal greatly enhances recall and facilitates multiple pathways for retrieval. The type of movement can be completely arbitrary.


Please stand up.
Now say this out loud:

Never underestimate the part of the brain that contains HALF of the brain’s neurons!

Thanks. Now you may sit down. 🙂

Near the back and bottom of the brain, next to the brain stem, is the CEREBELLUM, a round, lumpy structure resembling cauliflower and about the size of a small fist. It handles motor patterns, coordinates muscle movement, and is responsible for maintaining bodily equilibrium such as posture and balance. It also handles cognitive patterns such as speaking, and automates certain repetitive tasks. Lastly, it is the section of our brains that responds to novelty. Like the rest of the brain, it has two hemispheres connected by a thick wad of nerves.

The Cerebellum, which means “little brain” in Latin, makes up just ten percent of the brain’s mass yet it contains 50 percent of the brain’s neurons. It has all those neurons for a reason, as it sends a lot of messages out to the rest of the brain. From fMRIs (functional magnetic resonance imaging) it appears that the brain spends a lot of energy thinking about how to move before actually initiating the movement. There is ample research that shows the relationship and importance of movement to learning. According to Eric Jensen, “movement can be an effective cognitive strategy to (1) strengthen learning, (2) improve memory and retrieval, and (3) enhance learner motivation and morale.” Jensen is a partner in Jensen Learning and the author of many books dealing with brain-based learning.

Brain-based learning refers to taking current research on how the brain functions, making it understandable in simple English, and applying it to the functions of teaching and learning.

For further elaboration on the Cerebellum along with research references, please see Teaching with the brain in mind, 2nd Edition, by Eric Jensen, Chapter 4: Movement and Learning, pages 60-67.

Based on the overwhelming number of neurons in the Cerebellum and its focus on movement, it kind of makes you wonder about having children – or for that matter, anyone – sit still for extended periods of time.