Saturday, 14 May 2011

Mirror neuron visulisation

When researching for another blog post, I came across this page about tai chi training techniques. It was not what I needed, but it had a couple of paragraphs that made me think:
"Now, here is the science. The human sub-conscious brain doesn't know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. So we imagine cutting a lemon in half and sucking the juice. What happens? All of the same things happen like saliva welling up in the mouth etc., that would happen if we were eating a lemon for real. 
And it's this principle upon which the old masters based their teachings. So now, when you practice your Tai Chi form, although you are doing relatively slow movements and very gently, apart from the obvious fa-jing (explosive energy movement), you are actually fighting someone for 20 or 40 minutes! This is how Tai Chi teaches you how to fight without teaching you!"
I really like this. Essentially this is true, as the power of mirror neurons (which is what is being implied here) is extremely well researched and one of the breakthroughs of neuroscience. It seems likely that mirror neurons can trace their evolutionary history from the need to mirror (or imitate) someone else doing a task, in order to be able to learn it yourself. But as the quote above says, the mirror neurons also fire, if you imagine watching someone do a task, even if that someone is an idealised you.

This power of positive visualisation is widespread in professional sport, and is the reason that visualisations are used so much and tai chi. Hence when we talk about things such as "feeling the chi", we're not really making a statement that chi exists, rather we are using it as a visualisation metaphor. The act of imagining yourself having power, makes you feel as if you do have power, and feeling as if you have power improves the power that you actually have. If you do the training without the imagination/visualisation, you are training the muscles and body but you are not using the mirror neurons, which is where the real work is done. It really is all in the mind.

This accurately reflects the age-old principle that when training in tai chi your intention must guide the rest of your actions.

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