Learning and the Brain

Over the years there has been a lot of research and discussion about the roles of the left and right brain hemispheres in learning and performing tasks. Do they have different roles and functions? Do they operate independently or do they work together in concert? Is one side more dominant in some people?

In her book Educate Your Brain, Kathy Brownexamines how our brain learns and processes information, and how the dynamic relationship between the two hemispheres of our brain allows us to perform activities (both mental and physical) to learn, and to grow in our abilities. Current research reveals that the left brain hemisphere’s primary mode of function is linear, symbolic, verbal, technique-oriented, analytical and deliberate (such as reading). The primary mode of the right brain hemisphere’s function is spatial, intuitive and spontaneous (such as developing an instinctive and adaptable golf swing). The ‘right-brain’ is steeped in novelty, the present moment and imagination. The ‘left-brain’ processes linear, detail-oriented information while the ‘right-brain’ processes tasks that are more spatial and imaginative.

The brain hemispheres work together, not independently. One may be more ‘dominant’ in some people, but to perform any task efficiently both hemispheres must work supportively. This happens through a link in the cerebrum part of our brain called the corpus collosum, a thick bundle of nerves connecting the hemispheres. When we perform any task efficiently it’s called whole-brain processing or whole-brain functioning – integrating left and right hemispheres.

In her book, Kathy Brown states, “The two sides of our brain must learn to work together – and this active connection is developed through physical movement….Physical movement helps us to store new information in a whole-brain way….When learners of any age are given enjoyable and appropriate opportunities to move, they gain access to the experience of their own innate abilities and they begin to perceive the potential that’s been waiting to be tapped.”

A golf swing is not generated by either the left or right hemisphere, but happens with the flow of neural communication between the two hemispheres. Nor does the task of performing a golf swing efficiently happen in only the mind or only the body, it happens through a neural/muscular flow in the body/mind system. 

This leads to a review of the purpose of the variety of instinct-awakening golf exercises in Awaken Your Inner Golfer. The novel exercises facilitate the flow between body and mind and left and right hemispheres. The left-brain reads and analyzes the exercise (as is the left brain’s function) to understand the simple instructions and then “hands it off” to the right brain (more spatial-oriented) to guide the body to move in a way that satisfies the intention. This is why I call them wholistic golf exercises.

Kathy Brown also emphasizes that we learn best through a process of balancing “integrated low gear” and “integrated high gear,” meaning that first we need to go slow in order to absorb the basic information of a task so that our mind can form an intention. Once the task is practiced slowly and integrated into our left and right brain hemispheres and our body/mind, then we shift into “integrated high gear” and perform the task almost automatically. This process is clearly evident in learning to drive a car, learning to brush one’s teeth, and simply learning to walk (see the August 2017 Instinctive Golf Blog Learning to Golf is Like Learning to Walk on this site).

“Low gear” encourages exploration, playful curiosity, and is internally focused. It fosters awareness and stimulation of our senses to notice what a task feels like. Kathy Brown states, “Without integrated low gear, we may careen anxiously through life “trying” to do things. In this state, we can’t slow down enough to do them thoroughly or accurately; we never have the satisfaction derived from small moments of accomplishment….This is the way learning works: the learner moves seamlessly between integrated high gear and integrated low gear as needed….Yes, it’s lovely to do things quickly – but integrated low gear is the only state where we can learn something new.”

The instinct-awakening golf exercises provide a low gear opportunity in order to learn more efficient movement for an effective golf swing. They slow you down; they encourage awareness; they help you “be in your body”; and they stimulate and sharpen your senses. In her book Move Into Life, Anat Baniel states “Slow gets the brain’s attention and give it time to distinguish and perceive small changes and form new (neural/muscular) connections. Fast, you can only do what you already know. To be aware and create new patterns, you need to feel, and that requires slowing down.”

Learning to perform a task (such as a golf swing) effectively could be classified as “Pausing to Learn” as opposed to “Trying to Accomplish.”Today’s technological world often encourages speed over learning, results over the process, and “trying” rather than “allowing.” (See the Sept 2017 Instinctive Golf Blog Trying vs. Allowing).  In ‘fast mode,’ we lose the benefits of long-term learning through a lack of attention and awareness to the process

Slow down, explore, play, cultivate fun, stimulate curiosity in your golf practice, and your golf swing will provide a significant “return on your investment!”

4 thoughts on “Learning and the Brain

  1. Another great article, Jerry. It explains why technically biased teaching (or, more often in the modern era, technically exclusive teaching) isn’t as effective as image, conceptual or task based coaching. I love your comments regarding ‘allowing’ versus ‘trying.’
    Keep these great articles coming!
    Many thanks and a Happy New Year to you, Brian Sparks

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  2. Jerry: Happy new year! Very interesting article on how we learn the golf swing. If I understand the article, I can improve my golf swing by practising with a much slower swing. Is that correct? Thanks, Bruce Brownyard

    Sent from my iPhone

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    1. Bruce, Yes, practicing w/ a slower swing would be helpful because it activates kinesthetic awareness of our movements. An even better tool would be to explore the instinct-awakening golf exercises that primarily involve chip, pitch and half-swings shots which are naturally slower swings. As per page 61 in the book, “Research has shown that full swings at high speed do not allow the brain enough time to change, so it will continue the patterns it has previously experienced. The chip/pitch and half-swing full shots, on the other hand, will give your brain the time it needs to form new neural/muscular patterns for improved performance.” I also believe that practicing the exercises w/ a partner stimulates awareness……..and fun! Jerry

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