Learning: Brain, Body, Music, and Aromatherapy
On the subject of learning, one typically regards the process as the brain’s ability to receive, interpret, store, and retrieve information, especially when this process occurs in a public or private school environment. However, learning also occurs on other physical and emotional levels wherein the five senses—seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting—are engaged and integrated for the creative expression and well-being of the individual. Except, perhaps, in a futuristic world of science fiction, the brain simply cannot be disconnected from the physical body and still function. In fact, brain efficiency is directly related to physical health. In the learning process, it is helpful to understand how the brain functions, and how nutrition, exercise, and emotional balance affect memory.
The Human Brain
First of all, the brain has three major parts (lower, middle, and higher) and functions with a kind of orderly hierarchy where lower, autonomic processes--breathing, digestion, heart rate, blood pressure, and wakefulness--occur in the brain stem (Johnson 2009). Input from the sensory receptors, spinal cord, brain stem, and cerebrum coordinates in the mid-brain, or cerebellum, to provide coordinated, smooth movements of the skeletomuscular system. Should a stroke occur in the region of the cerebellum, an individual might experience dizziness, nausea, or balance and coordination problems (Cerebellum 2009). The cerebrum, then, houses the brain’s higher abilities: cognitive activity, including movement coordination, pain-touch sensation, spatial orientation, speech, visual perception, planning, problem solving and decision making (Bailey 2012). The functions of the brain stem, cerebellum, and cerebrum integrate and overlap, but, when learning, the cerebrum carries the greatest responsibility for cognitive activities.
Nutrition and Memory
Secondly, nutrition helps support a healthy body and mind. All human beings require food for maintenance of a physical body designed to experience five senses, move, heal itself, and procreate. The ability to think creatively brings a higher raison d’etre over these mere primordial functions, and metacognition, “the ability to think about how we think” (Olivier & Bowler 1996), makes humans unique from other animals. But, similar to animals, “[human] brains and bodies are primed for plasticity; they were built for challenge and adaptation” (Shenk 2010).Furthermore, in the learning process, memory enhances understanding (Olivier & Bowler 1996). The memory-to-understanding process in learning is partly explained by how the neural synopses in the brain transmit an electrical charge, which is generated between sodium and potassium ions (Jensen 2012). A logical assumption is that a diet including adequate amounts of these elements would support memory.
As stated before, the brain and body are undeniably indivisible—the inefficiency of one adversely affects the other. For both to function, cardiovascular health is important to deliver the necessary oxygen and nutrients to both the body and brain cells. Aerobic exercise strenuous enough to increase the heart rate to a training level for twenty minutes three times a week can do much to enhance the efficacy of blood flow for the brain gets what it needs on a regular basis. In an article appearing in Research Quarterly for Exercise, a two-year study reveals that when a physical exercise program is included in student curriculum, behavior and academic scores improved (Sallis, et al. 1999).
In support of this finding, Olivier and Bowler encourage the expansion of traditional learning, which is highly dependent on visual and auditory stimuli, to include hands-on materials which exercise both gross and fine motor muscles (1996). “For many people, ‘doing’ is critical to the process of learning” (Olivier and Bowler 1996, p. 76). Motor muscle memory is engaged, and students actually remember the feel of things learned (Olivier and Bowler 1996). So, memory is not just a brain function for understanding—cells throughout the body have memory as well, and physical exercise aids overall memory.
However, nutrition and exercise for brain-body effectiveness are not the only considerations for good memory and learning—emotions can play a strong part, too. Olivier and Bowler (1996) propose that the intensity of feeling for a subject of study can act as a kind of magnet or glue. Students seem to remember best when a teacher expresses passion, a genuine love, for the subject being taught. Furthermore, a life-changing bond often develops between the student and the teacher who manages to consistently stimulate interest through enthusiasm—an effect of which the teacher is unaware until years later. Enthusiasm is contagious, and this certainly applies to memory and learning.
Classical music has long been recognized for its positive effects in calming the emotions and stimulating the brain. The rhythm of waltzes, marches, and movements written in common time supports the heartbeat, much like a sine wave synchronizing with another sine wave in Physics. And, sound harmonics, such as thirds and perfect fifths, soothe the nerves as the vibration strikes the tympanic membrane, transmits through the inner ear, and is interpreted by the brain. The following story is a true recollection illustrating how music can be a tool in memorization:
One female Japanese immigrant to the United States could not pass her citizenship orals because the long list of presidents’ names were too difficult to remember. Once the names were set to music, she was able to recall them easily in their correct, successive order by singing them (The Merv Griffin Show, circa 1967)
Lux Aeterna is a beautiful recording of the Los Angeles Master Chorale singing in Latin and French. The music is so moving and uplifting, it will remove any depression or worries that may be blocking concentration!
The rhythm and harmonics of classical music again prove beneficial in stimulating brain activity and aiding memory.
Essential Oils Recipe for Memory
- 10 gtt lavender
- 5 gtt rose
- 5 gtt geranium
- 2 gtt basil
- 2 gtt rosemary
- 5 tsp (scant) virgin olive oil or cold-pressed almond oil
Author's note: The abbreviation gtt means drops. An eyedropper is used to create the recipe. The amount of base (olive or almond) oil necessary has been rounded to the nearest teaspoon..
A frequently overlooked link to the deep recesses of memory is the sense of smell. In The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy (1991), Valerie Ann Worwood gives her recipe to help overcome loss of memory: 10 drops lavender, 5 drops each of rose and geranium, and 2 drops each of basil and rosemary. This mixture is then added to a base of quality vegetable oil in the ratio of 5 drops mixture: 1 teaspoon base oil. This synergy of oil may then be applied to the hands, feet, or whole body through therapeutic massage. The author consuls that smell, combined with touch, may very well trigger a forgotten memory and serve as a means of communication for someone whose memory and learning ability are seriously compromised. Essential oils both stimulate and soothe, depending upon which herbs or flowers are used. Lavender, the main ingredient in this recipe, calms the recipient’s emotions so he has the peace of mind necessary for personal growth.
An Overview of Learning Styles
Your Learning Style
How do you learn?
So, the brain’s sections are the brain stem, cerebellum, and cerebrum, which integrate to receive, interpret, store, and retrieve information. Good nutrition providing sufficient sodium and potassium helps support neural synopses to transmit electrical charges. Traditional learning depends heavily on seeing and hearing, but when physical exercise is added to educational curriculum, student’s behavior and testing results improve. Positive, passionate emotions, similar to a magnet, affect life-long learning because enthusiasm is contagious. Music, particularly classical, with its supportive rhythms and harmonics can enhance memorization. Even the sense of smell, through therapeutic massage with essential oils, may evoke a long forgotten memory to spark communication. In short, when the brain-body connection is recognized by integrating the various senses, learning begins. ***
Credits and Resources
Bailey, R. (2012). Retrieved from http://biology.about.com/od/anatomy/p/Frontal-Lobes.htm
Cerebellum function. (2009 July 29). Retrieved from http://www.umm.edu/imagepages/18008.htm
Jensen, E. (2005 May). Teaching with the Brain in Mind (2nd Edition). Alexandria: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Johnson, G. S. (2009). About Brain Injury: A Guide to Brain Anatomy. Retrieved from http://www.waiting.com/brainstem.html
The Merv Griffin Show. (circa 1967). National Broadcasting Corporation.
Olivier, C. & Bowler, R. (1996). Learning to Learn. New York: Simon & Shuster.
Sallis, J. F.; McKenzie, T. L.; Kolody, B. L.; Lewis, M., et al. (1999 June). Effects of health-related physical education on academic achievement: Project SPARK. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 70(2), 127-34. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.
Shenk, D. (2010). The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong. New York: Double Day.
Worwood, V. A. (1991). The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy. San Rafael: New World Library.
© 2014 Marie Flint