Neuroscience and Taichi : Bridging Memory and Movement

Are Memory and Movement Related?

When was the last time you stopped in your tracks because you forgot something?

How often have you seen a Dementia or Alzheimers patient stand still with a blank look on their face?

Remember the time when your baby looked at a person dead still, trying to remember and recognize who the person was?

Did you read the brain study which linked language ability to movement?

Two Sides of the Same Coin?

As we try to understand the world better, the evidence increasingly shows that memory and movement may be two sides of the same coin. Everytime memory fails, it is reflected in movement (or lack of it) and every time we become sedentary and slow physically, it seems to take a toll on memory especially short term memory. For example, we know that people who have slow walking speed also seem to report problems with memory and cognition and vice versa.

While neuroscience has made it a mandate to study the human brain, using modern day imaging and sensing tools, it has neglected to study movement concurrently. This is contrary to scientific evidence emerging in other fields, particularly developmental biology, movement science and medical research into ageing. In trying to unlock the secrets to restoration and maintenance of memory and executive control, brain science finds the waters getting murkier the deeper they dive into the neuron architecture of the brain. Unexpectedly, better resolution in imaging is causing deeper mysteries to emerge. One such example is how do we image a “rest” state for a human being? And if such a state is poorly defined, how do we identify a typical “active” state? Do they look the same in different people? If not, the what should we use as a baseline reference? At the moment, neuroscience, in spite of tremendous progress over the past one two decades, is still struggling with these very basic questions.

A Paradigm Shift in Understanding the Nature of the Brain

For more than 2,500 years, the study of movement and mind has taken shape as Taichi and Qigong literature in the Far East. Intermingled several centuries ago with Yoga and Taoist practices, Chinese martial arts offer a strikingly simple insight into some of the modern day questions and present day evidence base about the brain. It supports the principles of modern day developmental biology which state that the fingertips and the use of limbs are powerful tools to train the spatio-temporal capabilities of the brain. It also highlights the necessity of relaxation, a vertical spine (read posture) and a firm positioning and stability on the ground as necessary conditions to speed up brain-based learning, including memory. This aligns well with cutting edge research into the challenges of dyslexia and autism where such modalities are being increasingly adopted, albeit in a fractured manner.

Anyone who has practiced movement practices such as Taichi will vouch that it has far reaching effects on health, vitality and the ageing process. Modern day research would do well to explore further how movement can solve present day memory problems in the elderly (apart from the obvious cardio-vascular benefits) and how such training in earlier life stages can delay or reverse these memory problems that we have come to associate commonly with onset of old age. Studies with the SynPhne technology in Singapore and India are already providing the initial evidence of this intimate association.

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