Everyone has been in that situation of trying to learn a new skill or perfect a new movement regime and feeling as if you are all legs and arms flailing like a mad blow up doll outside of a used car dealership. Learning classical ballet from a seemingly late stage and being stuck at the back of the class, trying like crazy to figure out the dexterity of a ‘quick jumps’ as everyone around me was beautifully poised and seemingly gliding across the floor. I was still struggling to pronounce the words. In gratitude to my teacher, ‘if you can say it you can do it’ became my mantra and that process of visualising movement by using words and then hope my muscles would do what was needed to create it one singular time was the first step. Then - we do it multiple and multiple times to death to perfect it.
This mind/body neural connection is one of the most advantageous aspects of being challenged with exercise in that it stimulates a myriad of nerve system responses and processes that go to stimulating the brain and keeping it active and alive and waylaying conditions such as Parkinsons and Dementia. Neuroplasticity - the brains ability to reorganise itself and adapt by forming new neural connections is a vital part of the human body to continue to grow, thrive and live. It is so important that we not only develop this ability in early life but maintain it into later life. Continually asking our bodies and our brains to be challenged and solve problems that keep our neural connections alive and vibrant.
It would appear that every 10 years, I’ve been on a quest to find a new mode of moving. Training and phyiscal exercise has always been a priority of life for me. As a teen it was pounding out balls on a tennis court and dreams of playing at Wimbledon. Then dance came along which lead to ballet and then onto weight lifting and volleyball. Training as it were needs to change and adapt and as much as we like to hold onto the image of being a dancer, or tennis player or volleyballer, eventually these passions make way and shift into others. But training should never be a short term solution, it should be a long term goal.
An old teacher once told me it takes 10 years to acquire technique and skill and 10 more years to perfect it. I think that in the 10 years period it is possible to hone a certain technique and movement after consistent training and application of that technique in a performance situation such as a game or tournament where mental pressure is exerted and you have to rely on that training and technique so that you can find a way to bring out that something ‘extra’ that sees you as a winner.
Forcing the brain to improvise and work around known pathways is the key to neuroplasticity. This is where dance is so wonderful at creating neural connections as that constant response to music is stimulating interpretation and cognitive skills in the neural pathways. Responding to a stimulus means that the known pathways that are remembered and stored need to be constantly reinterpreted and reorganised in the brain so that different movement outcomes occur physically.
This mind-body connection is vital for keeping at bay the onset of neurological conditions such as Parkinsons and Dementia as it has the double benefit of maintaining physical conditioning as well as creating challenging movement patterns that mean your brain has to work just as hard as your body.
So how can we implement this further into our lives without all of us going off to a dance studio? It takes a bit of creativity but it comes down to the science of play! Being creative with your movement ensures that you are constantly finding new problems to solve. Rock climbing and bouldering is a classic example. Being never faced with the same climb twice on a cliff face means your body is getting into positions that you need to find the right kind of movement to a)get out of and b)find a means of moving onto the next strong foothold or ledge. It’s also about seeing the opportunity of movement play in all the areas around you. ‘PLAY’ is so important here and that is about being out and about and instead of walking past the playground where none of the kids are playing - get in there and ‘play’ yourself. Find the opportunity to solve your own physical challenges, being supple and creative with your own body and mind.
So if you are doing the same movements and training repetitively with the same exercises, perhaps you need to take a look at a different technique, option or movement style. This can be applied to any sport, any regular activity and especially to gym routines. Shaking it up not only is good for stimulating new muscular strength and especially stability, but also for creating new neural pathways.
SO the next time you are hanging upside down on the monkey gym and wondering how the hell you could get out of the knot that you have managed to tie yourself up into, be thankful that you are finding new and wonderful ways to continue to move. There’s creativity in every movement capability.