Can reducing the fight or flight response make learning easier?
There are many states of being that affect the learning (and living) process for all of us. Some of these states are desirable and make learning easier and even fun. Other states are not so desirable and can significantly impede the learning process ~ for all of us.
Whether we are willing to admit it or not, most of us, to a greater or lesser degree, live in a semi-frozen state of what anthropologists call the ‘fight or flight’ state. The physical and psychological state that once served our primal ancestors, protecting them from fierce creatures and other unsafe situations.
It is in this state of being where an unhealthy set of physical chemicals and active motor functions are active and actually prevent us from healthily moving forward in our lives. In fact, they can immobilise us.
Some of these states are ‘learnt,’ some of them come with us from the womb, and others are activated in the physical birthing process.
Regardless of their origins, this “Flight or Fight” state is rampant in our society in general and in many of the children that we have worked with over the years.
When is this undesired state active within you?
Some of the signs are:
- Breathing in short/ sharp breaths.
- Fingers and toes are slightly clenched and the knuckles in both feet and hands are in a slight ‘claw’ position.
- Difficulty in focusing and general concentration levels.
- Difficulty staying on task
As tutors, an important part of working with each of our students is to attempt to deactivate this primal response and restore the child to a more healthy and responsive physical and psychological state where learning is not only easier but more effective.
When the student’s body and mind is present and active for their learning they have increased ability to remember what they have learnt. This knowledge is then integrated into their scholastic life for long-term academic success.
How to de-activate this primal state
One of the methods we teach all of our students is effective grounding exercises. These simple yet very powerful grounding exercises are easy to learn and can significantly improve the student’s awareness, presence and performance at school.
Some of these exercises were based on the groundbreaking work of Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957), a wonderful and controversial Austrian-American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. Reich worked with Freud during the 1920’s and later moved away from Freud’s work to engage the body in the psychoanalytical process.
Out of this work evolved the notion of actively engaging the body to release blocks and free up energy that can be used for healthy purposes including more effective learning for ALL children.
These exercises form an important component of each child’s learning and are used BEFORE they engage in their learning programs with us.
Why not try them for a while and simply notice how much more you notice after completing them. Here we go. . .
Grounding Exercise For School Children
- Stand upright with both feet relaxed and flat on the ground (here, bare feet is best). Knees are slightly bent.
- Now, stand up on the balls of your feet and gently, with awareness, let gravity bring your heels to the floor.
- Repeat this a number of times to get a nice even and gentle rhythm going.
- Next, engage the wrists by gently flicking the wrists in an up and down motion.
- Now, see if you can combine the two actions: up and down on the balls of the feet whilst flicking the wrists in time with the motion of the feet.
- The final step is to combine a sound ‘Huh!’ when the heel strikes the ground. This simple voice expression is an important part of the process.
There it is. A simple process that can significantly reduce tension, anxiety and unwanted chemicals running through our already stressed out systems.
This makes the child grounded and ready for active learning!