Waxing physically and philosically...

After literally years of deliberation, and as a result of some delicate and some less delicate prodding, this blog is my effort to organize - to bring together - my thoughts about my work as a conductor and as a personal trainer, to rant and rave as necessary, to celebrate the little things and the larger moments of brilliance, and to share some conductive magic and life lessons gained through 'waxing physically and philosophically'.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Digging into Neuroplasticity

Last year I attended a conference about muscular dystrophy.  Despite what may sound like gloomy subject matter, it was incredibly exciting with researchers talking about what they were working on and what they have achieved with such positivity and hope.  In and amongst this positivity and hope and details about amazing new findings were honest discussions about what we don't know.  One researcher, talking about genetics of muscular dystrophy, said that genetic research was like digging a hole - as you dig deeper, you unearth more information but you don't necessarily get to the bottom of the hole, you just get a bigger hole with more possible information to unearth, and that at present the hole still seemed bottomless.  

The concept of neuroplasticity has made its way into pop culture, seemingly without the same honest discourse about the bottomless hole of what we still don't actually know, what has yet to be unearthed.  One minute the earth is flat, the next minute it is round end of story...  I feel like everybody has jumped on the neuroplasticity wagon - and the promise of neuroplasticity is being used to sell everything from exercise to rehabilitation to learning an instrument to counselling to crystal healing to healthy food without anyone knowing or understanding the concept as anything more than 'something that's good for your brain'.  

Certainly my professions, Conductive Education and exercise, have both been linked to neuroplasticity - so I suppose I should be excited that what I do is so avant guard and cutting edge that it makes your brain grow.  It isn't that I don't think these things, my things might actually promote neuroplasticity.  It's more that I cringe when something so interesting and important as a concept as neuroplasticity is being bandied around without real meaning; I almost expect to see things like 'neuroplasticity guaranteed' or 'book now so you don't miss out on your chance for this neuroplasticity opportunity'.   I also cringe at the reductionist idea that something as all encompassing as education or exercise or well-being can be reduced to neurobiology as if neurobiology trumps every other psychosocial or human experience.  What if, when we are actually able to assess whether a practice or intervention promotes neuroplasticity, we find that dancing the tango is just dancing? Does the music stop?

Don't get me wrong - neuroplasticity is exciting business, especially for people with neurological conditions or brain injuries, the people who love them, and the people who work to support and rehabilitate them.  That our brains are capable of protecting, rewiring or repairing themselves and that there are things we can do to promote, nurture, enable, and even enhance these processes are amazing and fascinating and exciting.  And yes, we understand a little bit about some of these processes, and yes we are digging deeper and unearthing more, but we have only just started digging and the hole is only getting bigger - the bottom is nowhere to be seen.  I actually hope that we never find the bottom of this hole - that we never understand everything about our amazing brains, that neurobiology doesn't explain everything... that we continue to unearth mysteries about our minds, our souls, and ourselves as humans.

My original intention when I started writing today was to open the conversation about what we do actually know about the effects of exercise on the brain... Sorry, I have digressed.  I will revisit that topic in my next blog post.  But for now...

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