There is so much going on in a modern classroom that it’s no wonder students are easily distracted or overwhelmed by the demands of their daily school routine. Though students do get mini breaks from their academic learning with recess, lunch or gym class, less notice is given to the physical skills required for learning, concentrating or even simply taking in new information. Students are required to sit still and focus for long periods of time, but even a student who is able to do this without much difficulty may not be learning at his or her optimal level.

Movement breaks (also called brain breaks) in the classroom are not necessarily a new trend, but according to a 2013 research brief from Active Living Research, almost 17% of children and teens in the U.S. are obese—that’s 12 million youth in the United States alone! While we often hear about the importance of physical activity for youth for their overall health, the impact of physical activity on learning and academic performance is worth paying attention to. The positive effects of movement breaks on student focus, attitude toward difficult tasks or learning in general is even more pronounced when certain targeted movements are performed before a challenging task, activating the body and the brain on a neurophysiological level.

Besides offering a slew of easy and pleasurable movements for all spheres of learning, Brain Gym® is often best known for a brief series of four actions called PACE, designed to get the body and the brain ready for learning—a sort of preparatory mini break perfect for getting the school day started or for transitions between school subjects in the classroom.

“Everyone’s needs and gifts are different, and though intelligence is often mistakenly equated to rapid processing, the quest for a quick response prevents some learners from organizing their thoughts to the natural rhythm of their motor skills,” contend Paul and Gail Dennison in Brain Gym® Teacher’s Edition (2010). “When we can relax into that rhythm and timing, we can become self-initiating learners, able to recognize our own learning needs.”

The PACE series of actions, simply put, acts as a reset for our system. Ideal for students, teachers or anyone needing to refocus, PACE can be done anytime and anywhere, and does not require a lot of space or any equipment at all. Plenty of videos, books, posters and classroom guides are available for PACE and Brain Gym® activities on the international website, braingym.org.

PACE is an acronym for “Positive”, “Active”, “Clear” and “Energetic”, but the four actions are performed in reverse order. Here is a brief description:

Energetic: Drink some water! We all know it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day, but how often do we really pay attention to our hydration needs before it’s too late? Drinking some water and holding each sip in your mouth for a moment before swallowing makes up the first action in the PACE series. Our bodies are made up of about 70% water and our brains about 85%. Our body is a conductor of electricity, and water supplies the electrolytes our body needs for new neural networks that are created when we learn.

Clear: This movement is called Brain Buttons, electrical reflex points for the eyes. One hand is placed in a “U” shape with the thumb and index finger in the soft depressions just below the collarbone and each side of the sternum. The other hand is placed over the navel and remains still. The top hand rubs the Brain Buttons for approximately 30 seconds while eyes move from left to right on a horizontal line. Switch hands and repeat.

Active: This movement is called the Cross Crawl and is typically done standing up. The simplest version of this movement is to touch opposite elbow to opposite knee, alternating each time in a rhythmic fashion. This movement requires crossing our body’s midline, which ultimately activates both hemispheres of the brain and requires the two to work together.

Positive: This movement is done is two parts, called Hook Ups. In the first part, cross one leg in front of the other while standing. Extend your arms in front of you and cross one wrist over the other, interlacing your fingers and then drawing your clasped hands up toward your chest. Breathe slowly and apply a light pressure to the roof of your mouth with your tongue. This move activates the vestibular system. It also draws blood away from the body’s periphery (used in fight or flight reactions) and allows our system to calm down, inhibiting reflexive behaviors. In Part II of Hook Ups, the legs and arms are uncrossed, and each hand is brought together with the fingertips of one hand touching the fingertips of the other hand. Breathing is slow and calm as in Part I. This is also a metaphor for bringing the right and left hemispheres of the brain together to work in tandem.

As teacher and a writer, I have used PACE with students to get them ready for learning new information or to reset their focus, but I have also used it for myself when I need to combat writer’s block! There are Brain Gym® exercises for all types of learning (spelling, reading, Math, writing, concentrating, memorizing, etc.) but doing PACE is a simple place to start, and easy to implement in the classroom on a daily basis. Schools all over the U.K., Australia, and even some in the U.S. have incorporated Brain Gym® into the daily curriculum. There are even special programs for preschoolers and the elderly.

Find your optimal PACE today, and help your students and children to do the same.