Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip #417
Expanding the Brain
Try this simple exercise. Take a finger, and touch something solid. Anything. Now where do you feel this? Do this before you go on.
Next, touch something solid with another part of your body, say your forearm. Where do you feel this? Do this before going on.
So, where did you feel the first and second touches? If you are like most people, you will say the finger and forearm. Right? But actually, you are feeling these sensations in the brain, not the finger or forearm. You think that you feel this sensation in the finger and forearm, but it is actually happening in the brain. That is because the brain is receiving a nerve pressure impulse from the finger, sending this electric energy up the nerves, into the brain. If you touched your right index finger, for instance, it goes into the left side of the brain into the hand compartment.
This doesn’t seem right somehow, but I could prove it to you by cutting the nerve that goes from the finger to the brain, and have you touch something, and you wouldn’t feel it. The feeling is not in the finger. It is in the brain.
The first time, as a baby, when you touched, there was no connection yet. The first touch created a new pathway, and your brain grew bigger. If you then touched with your left index finger, it went into the right side of the brain, into the hand compartment, and the brain grew larger. Every sensation makes the brain grow as you make more and more connections.
Another interesting aspect to all this, is that the stronger the sensation, the larger the pathway to the brain and a larger area devoted to this stronger impulse. This is because the brain conceives this stronger sensation as more important, so it should be easier to retrieve the information. For instance, if as a baby, you touch a flame, you quickly learn not to do that again. That pathway is very strong for good reason.
Further, the more you do the same action, over and over, the larger the pathway becomes, until it becomes so connected that it becomes a habit and is taken out of the conscious mind into automatic. Think about learning a skill, like riding a bike. At first, most people’s bodies don’t know what to do, and most fall. Then the muscles and nerves learn what is needed to do this action and it becomes automatic. And once these “bike riding” pathways are created, you never lose them unless the pathway is broken through a nerve/brain problem.
We learn a new skill and our brains grow, and the new larger brain is capable of even more new learning. Just think about that.
So, learning Tai Chi increases the size of the brain, and it is my experience that the longer forms allow for more new neural pathways to be created, leading to more benefit. This theory motivated my creation of the form I call “Gilman’s Modified Yang Form”. By making all the repeated moves have different applications, thereby creating different neural pathways, I feel I am gaining more ability to react to ever more situations.
When I teach the form, I have students work on applications right from the start. I do this so the students can understand the reality of what they are doing, and they create a real, neural pathway, not an imaginary one. Using, at the beginning, your imagination, will not create a solid pathway. If I say, ”imagine grabbing a wrist, and pulling it down while twisting”, most would have a very difficult time if they have never done such a thing before. But do it even once with someone else, and you will most likely be able to imagine it again because you created a path from your body to your mind for this action. And then you can concentrate ever more deeply as you practice. What part of my hand am I grabbing with? Where does this twisting motion originate from? How can I connect all this to my center? Working with a partner will make all this so much easier to learn and practice.
So my advice to all students and instructors is don’t be afraid to use partners to help gain real nerve pathways. If you don’t have a partner, then you must use your imagination, but figure out how to create more reality to your movements. Be creative. For instance, in the grab the arm and twist example, you can take hold of a doorknob and turn it. How does that feel? Where in your hand do you touch the knob? Where in the body does the twist originate from?
Pull things that are behind you or in front of you, push things forward and sideways, twist them, slap them, press down and forward. Punch and kick. Use each arm, use both arms at the same time. Look to your form and figure out what each movement is doing, and “feel” what that would feel like in reality. Go deep. You have the rest of your life to enjoy the ever increasing body/mind connection possibilities. Do your form as usual, then do it to the other side. Train both sides of your body, thereby increasing the size of your brain on both sides, and the connections between the two. Use your Tai Chi practice to get physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy. Good luck.
Note: I put this out some years ago but feel it is important, so enjoy.