New Years Resolutions: Tuning Up Your Brain
Natasha Thomas, MT-BC, Guest Writer
It’s hard to believe another year is almost over, taking with it my holiday break. I woke up late this morning and spent the day baking, cleaning, and doing other laid-back, but necessary chores to keep myself from becoming too adjusted to all the free time off of work, all while doing a little bit of shimmying to some Middle Eastern Dance music I had playing in the background. My brain needed the activity. And yours does too!
How do you know when your brain needs a tune-up?
I notice my brain needing a little boost when I find myself unable to focus on the little things, like throwing a scarf on before I go outside, or packing a lunch for the day – when I’ve forgotten to do those most basic things for surviving 8 (or more) hours of work in a day, I know I need a tuneup!
Why is it important?
Your brain is like a computer. It can get bogged down with information and emotions that will slow it down like a virus if you let it. Sleeping is one of the most basic ways we recharge our brains – formerly thought to be a time when your brain shut down, sleep is actually one of your brain’s most active times, when it processes all the events of the day, puts away what it can, and tries to make room for the new stuff you’ll undoubtedly pack into it tomorrow. But enough about sleep (for now)…
There are two main things you (or your child) can do to tune your brain while you’re awake:
1. Exercise your body. There’s a great quote from a Franklin Institute article on Exercising the Brain that I think really sums up the reason for this well: “a healthy human being is a human doing.” The Brain is not a solitary device that learns in a bubble. We learn through doing, through moving in our world. Movement is essential to enhancing your brain’s functioning.
2. Challenge your mind. The Franklin page has great info on this as well. If you think back to your childhood and all the wonder that came with discovering the world around you, that was a time when your brain was actively growing through learning. You can create that time again with activities as simple as changing which hand moves the mouse on your computer, and other exercises the Franklin page suggests. Here’s a great link to some Brain Gym moves for kids as well, though I like to do them too (“Hookups” are my favorite! I call them “Pretzels”)
So how can music help with all this?
Ah, here’s the fun part! Music is a multi-sensory experience. It naturally involves your ears as you hear it, but the more involved you or your child become in making music the more senses you activate, and therefore the more of your respective brains you “tune up.” For instance, in attending a concert you involve your eyes as well as your ears, and maybe your body and tactile senses if you move along with the music. If you play an instrument, you most definitely involve your tactile senses in addition to your eyes and ears. Note I’m really stressing an active involvement in music here. The Mozart Effect has been debunked: your child (or even you) aren’t going to get any smarter from listening alone (though here’s a fun link to a little Musical Brain Teaser that will engage your thinking machine a little more actively). The more involved you can get in the music making process, the more of your brain you will exercise and the more energized (both physically and mentally!) you will feel.
1. Team up your senses. Listen to music while you exercise (tactile and auditory) or while you cook (tactile, auditory, and olfactory – mmm!)
2. Go to a concert, and really engage yourself in the music – sing along if you can, or tap your foot to the beat. Anything to avoid just sitting and letting your brain enter “auto-pilot” mode! Again, active involvement is the key here.
3. Try learning a new instrument in private lessons, or take a dance class. This again links back to the “team up your senses” business. If you aren’t feeling like taking classes, get involved in your child’s classes if you can. Ask them about their instrument, go to their concerts (move and groove with the performance!), spend some play time in having them demonstrate their skills while you attempt to follow along. Laughter is good for your brain too! For younger kids, check out these fun musical instruments geared towards Early Childhood development. The Melody Snail is my favorite!
I encourage you to find some way to tune up your brain this week – check out the links on this post for more information on any of the topics covered, and feel free to post comments or ideas for future posts.
Happy New Year Everyone!
About the Author
Natasha Thomas is a graduate of the University of North Dakota (Bachelor of Music in Music Therapy) and Board Certified Music Therapist – serving the Grand Forks Public Schools through Music Therapy in Motion (owned by Emily Wangen) and individuals statewide through North Dakota Vision Services/School for the Blind (NDVS/SB), and ND School for the Deaf. She additionally sees private clients in the home and in settings like LISTEN Day Services and the LISTEN Drop-In Center.
You can contact Natasha by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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