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Those of you who know me, or have read other posts of mine, will know I have a strong interest in the processes involved in learning (and teaching).  I stumbled across a quote today, in the book ‘Musicophilia’ by Oliver Sacks that confirmed something I have long believed to be true.  Let me share it with you:

“mental simulation of movements activates some of the same central neural structures required for the performance of the actual movements. In so doing, mental practice alone seems to be sufficient to promote the modulation of neural circuits involved in the early stages of motor skill learning. This modulation not only results in marked improvement in performance, but also seems to place the subjects at an advantage for further skill learning with minimal physical practice.  The combination of mental and physical practice leads to greater performance improvement than does physical practice alone…” (from The Brain That Plays Music and Is Changed by It by Alvaro Pascual-Leone).

Quite a number of years ago someone told me about athletes using visualisation in addition to physical training to help them improve their performance.  At the time my first thought was that it was a bunch of new-age hokum but I filed it away for further consideration anyway as I try to keep an open mind.  Time passed and I came back to it and eventually found it a useful tool personally – but always wondered if I was fooling myself – that because I’d been told it would work I believed that it did.  More time passed and I began performing bellydance.  Lacking the time in my life to physically practice as much as I wanted to I would, and do, go rehearse choreographies mentally as I listened to the music on my way to work, or University or what-not.  I found it extremely useful – far more beneficial than not doing this ‘mental rehearsing’ – and now happily incorporate it into my rehearsing plans.

It was gratifying to see that the field of behavioural neurology has confirmed, scientifically, what I have experienced personally.  I also thought it’d be worth sharing, particularly the lines “mental practice alone seems to be sufficient to promote the modulation of neural circuits involved in the early stages of motor skill learning. This modulation not only results in marked improvement in performance, but also seems to place the subjects at an advantage for further skill learning with minimal physical practice” – if you’re just learning bellydance, or teaching beginners bellydance this would seem a particularly useful point to remember and share.

There is an advantage to living, breathing and thinking about bellydance; it helps you learn it even faster!

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