Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mental Exercise is No Different than Physical Exercise

Fabulous day! I doused myself with non-toxic insect spray and headed off for a walk before the day heated up. Back home I reapplied bug dope and hit the deck for my T'ai Chi Chih practice.

During practice I focused my intent on moving with total relaxation and no effort. Meanwhile I watched yellow buttercups sway in the slight breeze and white thimbleberry blossoms peek at me from their hiding place in dense undergrowth.

After TCC practice I remained on the deck in seated meditation for an additional 10 minutes. I felt my body as it rested against the chair, noticed the bottoms of my feet where they met the deck flooring, and breathed in peace. Ahhh....

When I sat before the computer to begin my blog, I spontaneously turned on the radio. Synchronistically, On Being host Krista Tippett was mid-interview with Richard Davidson, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who conducts brain research on Tibetan-Buddhist monks. He's a pioneer in the field of contemplative neuroscience.

Much of Davidson's interview reiterated material from Buddha's Brain, the book my T'ai Chi Chih students and I are currently reading and discussing. At times, though, his research discoveries were like little nuggets of gold emerging from a hidden stream. I include several tidbits here:
*Our brains are always either wittingly or unwittingly being shaped.
*Which influences are we going to choose for our brain?
*Going to a weekly psychotherapy session without doing a daily practice flies in the face of what Davidson is discovering in his research.
*We need to do a daily practice in order to reinforce positive change. The field of psychology/psychotherapy is beginning to recognize the significance of this finding. 
*Practice is about cultivating positive qualities (happiness is a skill that can be enhanced through training).
Davidson--like the authors of Buddha's Brain--believes that we can use contemplative methods (there are literally hundreds of meditation practices) to change the mind and consequently change the brain in ways that are beneficial. He repeatedly reminded listeners of the importance of practice: Mental exercise is no different than physical exercise.

Davidson's research team hopes to use some of their methods preventively. With that goal in mind, they've begun to train four- and five-year-olds to cultivate kindness and mindfulness in order to develop a toolbox to cope with adversity. Can these strategies in early life make a difference? Conclusive data has yet to be gathered though he's gratified to see how these tools are working.

One example Davidson cited was the feedback he received from a parent of one of the kids in his study. The parent thanked Davidson, noted the positive changes they'd observed in their child, and then asked where they could learn these methods to help themselves.

As T'ai Chi Chih practitioners we have studied, learned, and integrated a tremendous moving meditation tool into our lives. All we need do is PRACTICE. Try it. And simply notice what changes occur....

No comments: