Yoga and Cross Crawl Adventures (Part 1)

I’m in third grade and the recess bell rings. Mary Alice and I jump up and gleefully skip out to the playground to begin our hand-clapping ritual:

Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack
All dressed in black, black, black.
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons
All down her back, back, back.

(If you’ve forgotten the drill, here’s a video refresher)

Eventually, our hands get sore so we move on.

We find the chalk bucket, select the best colors, and draw a long, slightly lopsided hop scotch board. Then we find two stones and start playing.

Right hop, both feet jump, left hop, both feet jump, right hop, both feet jump, spin around, hop in the reverse pattern back down.

After a few rounds our attention shifts and we skip over to the tether ball poles. I propel the ball across my body with all my force clockwise, she catches it and smashes it back at me counterclockwise. Back and forth until I duck because the ball is whipping around too fast. It picks up speed and careens to the center of the pole. She wins.  

It’s Catholic school, so we have to go to mass on Wednesdays.

I kneel in the pew and interlace my fingers. Prayers are recited. I’m occupying myself by watching my fingers play – right index is first, all the others weave themselves into place. A line of the prayer concludes so I switch and put my left index first, all the others fall in line. I rub the bones between the backs of my hands with my fingers tips and feel the softness of my skin. The next prayer line ends. I recross. Back and forth with the rhythm of the prayer.

Just a day in the life of a cross crawl driven 9-year-old.

Human children are built for, and thrive on, cross crawl movement and it’s accompanying stimulation.

Cross crawl involves opposite sides of the body with lots of switching back and forth, and also include movements that cross over the midline of the body as well.

The brain is a frugal organ. It likes to save time and space so it differentiates its functions. The right hemisphere does certain things, the left does others. Neuro wiring is not symmetrical either, nor is it fixed! It is a living, changing, growing, shrinking jungle of pathways that underpin thought, feeling and behavior.

As children develop, cross crawl movements help to build hemispheric communication, help to coordinate the function of the hemispheres and also, developmentally, help the brain to differentiate its functions. In other words, movement is essential during childhood for building a healthy adult brain.

Crawling is typically our first major attempt at cross crawl – and it’s an important developmental milestone because the hemispheres will begin a new phase of growth and development based on the practice, mastery, (and joy in) well-coordinated crawling. But as children grow, the cross crawl movements become more intricate (and hopefully more fun).

Things like Miss Mary Mack, hop scotch, and smashing a ball across your body demonstrate that children’s games often intuitively highlight cross crawl movement. These games also understand that cross crawl alone is insufficient – both limbs doing something together at the end (or periodically) help to integrate the cross crawl benefits.

What does all this have to do with yoga?

First of all, the brain never stops learning, growing and changing… thankfully, it’s never too late to have a happy childhood. In yoga practice, we can use numerous pose variations to amplify cross crawl benefits.  

There are so many examples but let’s just take the supine twist. Arms go out to the side, legs start bent and neutral, and then hips begin to rotate to one side as the head goes the other way. Back and forth. Back and forth. The nervous system likes it. Add some long exhales or a mantra and you are practically back in childhood – rhythm, music, crossing the mid-line. Building a better brain.

End the supine twist with apanasana – something symmetrical to promote integration. Basically, it’s all about integration. But more on that later.

Keep an eye out for part 2 next week where I’ll discuss EMDR therapy, stroke rehab research, drumming, and (possibly) hippie dancing.

Want to know more about neuroscience and yoga? Check out my course, The Science of Slow, here.

Please join me April 25-26, 2020 in Asheville, NC for Asana Mandala: Teaching Multiple Variations of Favorite Poses. More info here.