Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Making friends with your brain

A lot of people have difficulty transferring a learned motor skills form one side of their body to the other. As a martial arts teacher I run into this problem all the time, and since the art I teach insists that you should be able to do a skill set equally well on both left and right sides I have had to come up with some ways to deal with this.

Over the years I have found or developed a few useful ways to help people to transfer learning from one side of the body to the other.

Often, when someone has difficulty transferring a motor skill from one side of the body to the other it is because of a breakdown in communication between the two hemispheres of the brain. This sort of communication is a learned skill to a certain extent, and with a little practice most people can greatly improve their ability to learn on both sides of the body.

The bottleneck for communication between the two hemispheres of the brain is a a bundle of nerves called the corpus callosum. If you take a moment to take a look at The Structure of the Brain you well see that pretty much the only thing connecting the two hemispheres is the corpus callosum, this is the main pipeline by which the two hemispheres communicate. What you want to do is make that connection as rich as possible. While your brain does not grow new nerve cells once you are an adult, it will grow new connections between nerves. Subjecting your brain to novel experience is what does this.

So here is a two part exercises that will help you to transfer a skill set from your dominant side to you non-dominant side.
The first part is an exercise that finds its roots in Educational Kinesiology This is a discipline developed by Paul Dennison, Ph. D , he put together a set of exercises called "Brain Gym" which he used to help school children learn more effectively. One of the exercises, called the Cross Crawl, is a specific for getting your hemispheres talking with each other.

Over the years I have tinkered with the exercise, making it a bit more sophisticated and more useful for the martial arts, I call my version "The Silat Cross Crawl" (just for fun)

The movements of this exercise are started by activating the "core". To do this, you stand loosely, your head wants to be "up" as if it were being pulled upward from the crown by a string.

With your chest relaxed, tighten your abdominal muscles as if you were trying to pull your navel to your spine. You will notice that this expels air from the lungs and curves the spine forward slightly. Now relax your abdominal muscles and let your head move upwards as if pulled by a string, at the same time let your shoulders roll back just a bit. This pulls air into your lungs without the need to "inhale".

Now you will want to combine this breathing technique with the "cross crawl" movements.

The Silat Cross Crawl

Stand with your hands in a loose "high guard" position, relax your shoulders and let your head have that feeling of being lifted by a string. As you begin your abdominal exhalations bring your left knee up and bring your right hand down to meet it. As you bring your foot back to the ground and your hand back to its starting position relax your abs and let your movement bring air into your lungs. Now repeat this process using your other hand and knee. Keep your gaze forward and do not look at your hands or knees as they are coming together. You want to guide them by feeling, not vision. Go as slowly as you need to, what you want is to feel the whole range of motion for both the hand and knee.

Do this exercise for one or two minutes. This is "priming your pump" as it were, forcing your hemispheres to communicate in order to do the movement correctly. The more you rely on proprioception rather than vision to do this exercise, the more effective it is.

Now we are ready for the learning process.

First choose a skill or technique that you can do well on your strong side but not so well on you off side. Make it a simple one to start.

This is a four step process.

1, do the skill five times from start to finish on your strong side. Take your time and make sure you really feel yourself doing it.

2, Now stand still, close your eyes and imagine yourself doing the skill on your strong side. Go through the skill five times in your imagination five times, make sure to include the feeling of doing it as much as you can.

3, Now with your eyes still closed, imagine that you are doing the skill on your off side. Go through the skill in your imagination five times as well, take your time and imagine how it would feel to be doing the skill on your off side.

4, Open your eyes and do the skill with your off side, do it five times. You may just be surprised at how easy it becomes.

This is not the only way to deal with this problem, but it is a good one to start with.

Hmm..... Jeff over at Stickman's Escrima Blog, along with being a top Escrima instructor is also a hypnotherapist, perhaps we can encourage him to share some of what he uses with his students for working on this over on his blog.

How about it Jeff?


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