Posts Tagged ‘T’ai chi ch’uan’

Mindful Awareness

March 25, 2014

This post is based on Siegel’s Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology who describe mindful awareness as a form of awareness in which we are alert and open to present experience without being swept up by judgments and prior expectations. This implies discernment or a moral stance that is one of positive regard for others, and a nonjudgmental awareness that is imbued with acceptance at its core, of compassion towards oneself and others.
A direct quote from 6-3 of the Pocket Guide follows: “Studies of those with mindful awareness using a broad application of these features reveal that it is of benefit to the health of the mind, in terms of balanced emotional regulation, flexibility, and approaching rather than withdrawing from challenging events. Being mindful makes you more empathic and improves the health of relationships. And being mindful improves the health of the body in terms of enhanced immune function and increased telomerase—the enzyme that maintains the telomeres at the ends of chromosomes and thus enhances cellular longevity. Mindfulness also helps you have more resilience in the face of chronic pain. Mindful awareness helps minds, relationships, and our embodied lives.”
Mindful awareness practices are available for children and adolescents as well as for adults, so mind-training practices have the potential to promote well-being and resilience throughout the life span. According to the annotated index mindful awareness practice is skill building training that focuses attention on intention and the cultivation of awareness of awareness. Repeated and regular practice has been shown to strengthen to regulate emotion and attention, improve empathy and insight, promote healthy immune functioning, move the electrical activity of the brain toward a “left shift” of approaching challenging situations and increase the activity and growth of regulatory and integrative regions of the brain. Examples of mindful awareness practices include mindfulness meditation, centering prayer, yoga, and tai chi chuan. More examples of mindfulness and meditation can be found by entering “mindfulness” or “meditation” into the healthymemory blog search block.
These practices have affected the integrated areas of the brain that link the cortex, limbic area, brainstem, and social inputs from other brains. These areas influence executive function to include emotional regulation and the focus of attention, as well as emotional and social intelligence. Included here are the anterior and posterior cingulate , the orbitofrontal cortex, and both the medial and the ventral aspects of the preftontal region, including the insula and the limbic hippocampus.

Peripersonal Space

March 21, 2012

Peripersonal space (PPS) is defined as a force field that can be thought of as a virtual envelope around the skin’s surface that expands the body’s boundaries.1 It is PPS that provides a margin of error that enables us to consistently avoid walking into people as we pass by. This PPS actually extends to machinery and technology we use and is a factor in reducing collisions between motor vehicles. When we say that a person has become one with her cell phone or iPod, we mean that it has become one with her PPS. In baseball, the bat becomes part of the batter’s PPS (as does the glove when on defense). When we are eating, our PPS extends to our eating utensils.

The PPS of blind people includes the cane such as the space around the tip of the cane is as sensitive to touch as the space surrounding the hand. Neurons that detect both sound and touch also operate such that the blind person reacts as quickly to a sound originating from the tip of the cane as he would if it occurred close to the hand. An experiment by Italian scientists had sighted subjects use these canes to find objects placed on the floor of a darkened room. In this short ten minute experiment the PPSs of the sighted subjects came to resemble the PPS of the blind who regularly use the cane. The sighted subjects became as sensitive to touch and sound events originating at the tip of their canes as to similar events occurring near their hands. Unfortunately, this extended PPS did not last long after the experiment ended.

One of the most effective means of enhancing PPS is through the Chinese exercise, tai chi. Tai chi is an exercise in which slow choreographed movements are performed. These slow motions are performed as the practitioner is simultaneously focusing attention on specific body areas, especially the hands and the fingers. Experienced tai chi practitioners develop a tactile acuity in the fingers similar to that of certain musicians and blind braille readers. Tai chi may create a plasticity in the brain similar to musicians who play keyboard and string instruments, read Braille, or perform other activities that require finely toned fingertip sensitivity. “There is a strong connection between tactile spatial acuity at the fingertips and measures of brain function,”2

It should be noted that the benefits of tai chi extend beyond PPS. There are also benefits to psychological and physical health. You can learn tai chi by purchasing DVD videos, or by visiting a tai chi center in your local area. These can be readily found via Google searches.

1Restak, R. (2009). Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance. New York: Riverhead Books.

2 Kerr, C.E. et al.(2007). Tactile Acuity in Tai Chi Practioners. Society for Neuroscience, presentation 74.1.

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