Have you been doing lots more with your eyeballs in recent PIH classes? Have you caught yourself thinking, “what’s with all the eye stuff?” or “I wish they’d stop with the eye stuff already…this is so much harder!” or even “how can moving my eyeballs down and to the side help me feel and use my obliques better?!?”
I hear you. And I have two words for you: Trent McEntire.
Trent is the inventor of the BrainSpeed Ball that we’ve used for years at PIH. As research has flourished on neuroplasticity (the capacity of nerve cells to adapt to different circumstances) and its relation to movement, his work has become more focused on creating and sharing whole-brain exercises that incorporate our proprioception, vision, and vestibular systems. These three systems work together and are organized by the brain, but some are more in charge than others.
Proprioception: Proprioception, otherwise known as kinesthesia, is your body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location. It’s present in every muscle movement you have… proprioception allows you to walk without consciously thinking about where to place your foot next. It lets you touch your elbow with your eyes closed. (WebMD) It is what you normally think of as what we do in Pilates. We move our bodies through space.
Proprioception is at the bottom of the prioritization of what the brain is taking in. It is vitally important (sometimes described as the “sixth sense”), but cannot give our brains enough information on its own.
Vestibular System: The vestibular system is a complex sensory system that regulates our balance and spatial orientation. It is located in the inner ear and is responsible for providing our brain with information about motion and head position. It cues motor functions that allow us to keep our balance, stabilize our head and body during movement, and maintain posture.
The vestibular system is a step up in the brain’s priority list. It gets deeper into our brains by supporting that sense of spatial awareness and helping us know when we’re off-kilter AND how to fix it. But the main boss is still to come.
Vision: Vision is seeing where we are in space and tracking movement. Vision is at the top of the priority chain. To improve movement, reduce pain, and have better coordination, the eyes are where we need to go.
Layering on the “higher” links of the chain can seem to increase the difficulty of what may otherwise be an “easy movement.” Want to really shake while doing swan? Raise your eyes to your eyebrows as you rise up and look at your cheeks as you lower back down.
In reality, the vestibular system and vision (together the vestibulo-ocular reflex) can improve our strength, coordination, and range of motion during movement. The inner ear and eyes play into spinal problems, core issues, and how that manifests with low back pain, mid-back pain, and then everything related to movement in life. But by influencing muscles all along the spine, they can make work more possible. For example, using the BrainSpeed ball as a focus when extending your arm out to the side during short-box abs can cause the whole body to align and move better. That’s because the eyes lead the body. So watching one spot (like on the ball) gives them something to do. The ball becomes a guide for the movement.
Here’s another example. If you keep getting “stuck” in one spot during rollup/rolldown (I’m raising my hand), try leading the motion with your eyes to help the rest of your body work in better coordination. Giving your eyes something to do or focus on can help to bring everything else online and lead to a much smoother motion.
Having the brain be the solution to bettering our movement is incredibly powerful! Instead of ticking off a list of adjustments they’d like a client to make, our teachers can give us a brain tool. It could be having us focus on a spot in the distance or following the BrainSpeed ball during movement, allowing the brain can lead the body in recruiting the needed muscles. Using a VOR chart and moving the eyes in the sockets or simply turning the head during an exercise can be an amazing way to level up a skill that’s been mastered without moving anything else.
Mandy has been learning all about this in Trent’s Neuro Leadership Program for almost a year. Over this time she has been sharing her knowledge with the whole staff. So like it or not, and hopefully you LOVE it, we’ll all be seeing a lot more whole-brain action at the studio.
The benefits are immense in terms of physical gain, as well as in closing the movement gap. Wondering what the movement gap is? I’ll have more on that in the next blog! And if you want to take a deep dive into neuroplasticity, you can watch this documentary, The Brain That Changes Itself based on the book by Norman Doidge. Trent also recommends The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.
Until next time,