Thursday, May 26, 2011

Self Control? Part 3.2

Continuing From Self Control? 3.1...

When I first began studying martial arts, at the age of 13, I heard that they could help improve a person's self control and I thought, "Well, that's just ridiculous.  If someone wants to have better self control they just need to make themselves do what they know they need to."  ha ha!  This, of course, was the wisdom of a jr. high student.....fortunately I have learned since then that this can be as foolish as saying, "If anyone wants to be able to lift 300 Lbs. they just need to make themselves do it."'s not always that easy.   Why?  Because we are all different.  We have all developed differently mentally and physically.  If you see a super skinny person try to lift a 300 Lb. weight and fail you would think very little of it.  You would say, "Well, it's clear that their body is not strong enough to lift that weight."  But what if you see someone make a bad choice, swear to never do it again, and make the exact same choice before the week is over?  We tend to judge that person more harshly.  We say they are "this" or they are "that" and "why can't they just figure it out?"

This is because with the skinny person we can physically see that they are not strong enough to lift 300 Lbs., but with the person making bad decisions we can't see their brain or how it works so we can't logically explain their illogical behavior.   However, one of the greatest aspects of our human bodies is that our bodies will adapt to whatever we frequently do.  In other words, that skinny person may not be able to lift 300 Lbs. today, but they could probably lift 1 Lb.  or 5 Lbs.  and if they continue to do that, eventually they will be able to lift more and some day, if they stay consistent, they will no longer be a super skinny person and they will be able to lift that 300 Lbs.  In the same way, if someone doesn't make good life choices and they keep repeating the same mistakes over and over, they can start by do things to stimulate their prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that's responsible for making good decisions) and eventually, when they have "strengthened" that part of their brain, good decisions will just make sense, instead of being something they are striving to achieve. 

Since I began studying martial arts I have seen improvements in my self control and the self control of other students, particularly when studying meditative practices like Tai Chi.  Learning that meditation can increase blood flow to and activate the part of your brain that is responsible for self control is what connected the dots for me. 

Tai Chi is often described as a moving meditation and, when practiced as such, can have the same positive effects on the mind as any other meditation.  So, one of the main ways that Tai Chi can help improve a person's self control is by stimulating and strengthening their prefrontal cortex, which allows their brain to work better when it comes to decision making. 

So why practice Tai Chi when there are so many meditation practices available in the world?  What makes it so special that it has become one of the main forms of body mind exercise in China, is practiced by millions of people every day, and is growing in popularity all over the world?  Check in next time for more on that.  :)

P.S. for those who are just joining this blog, here are links to previous Self Control? blog posts.
Self Control? Part - 1
Self Control? Part - 2
Self Control? Part - 3.1

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