Juggling Violins

Actually, the title should be "Juggling and a Violin", but this is definitely a more gripping title, eh? So, no, I am not going to be juggling violins (yet?), but I am beginning to take on numerous stimulating endeavors to including juggling and violin lessons to rewire my brain in positive new ways, including juggling and learning to play the violin.

To begin this "brain makeover", I begain by obtaining a few baselines to get an idea of where I fall on the IQ spectrum. Then I began to engage in new activities to enhance my brain and cognitive skills. I've already been doing quite a few brain-healthy activities at baseline such as yoga, meditation, taking fish oil, drinking superfood concoctions, and pursuing new and engaging activities on a regular basis, such as travel, reading new books, plowing through lectures and various TEDTalks, taking time to take in nature, attending Meetups on various topics, and experimenting with the occasional out-of-the-ordinary activity such as skydiving or a painting party. At least, they were out-of-the-ordinary for me and my brain, and that's what matters. But now it's take to shake things up a bit in this sometimes fatigued brain.

My new activities include Lumosity games, a speed-reading app, juggling, and the recent purchase of a violin (actually, a rent to buy option, and yes, I am intimidated by the instrument). It would take me decades to completely evaluate every idea, game, activity, project, technology, and experience one-at-a-time, so I'm chunking the activities into groups. My first processes will be of an "analog" approach - these are activities that challenge my mind with using my mind and body in new ways, or attacking activities that I either find very challenging, or that I tend to typically avoid. These are the approaches that do not involve neuronal manipulation with tech such as stimulators, or wearable training monitors. I will gradually add new activities and pursuits of a more digital/tech nature, and I will add neurotechnology including some tech I have already dabbled with briefly, and new products, technologies and methodologies as they emerge on the market. I'm reading every bit of research I can find on the topic, and I'm stuffing it all in my to-do list.

Some of these pursuits are well known such as brain-training games and puzzles, despite some controversy on Lumosity's claims. None-the-less, there is plenty of general research of the benefits of any type of mental activity and challenge, and there are even confirmed benefits of playing video games (http://sheu.org.uk/sites/sheu.org.uk/files/imagepicker/1/eh203mg.pdf). After I warm up with Lumosity, I'll move on to other applications including MindFlow, which is based on the Dual N-back task. I will go into detail on that game when I start playing it, but some readers may already be up on the research and claims of this brain-training tool.

I got my juggling balls a couple of weeks ago, and started watching a few videos, and I must say, this is challenging for me. I was never good with throwing a ball, and I'm certainly not any good with throwing a ball in a certain arch, or catching and throwing with my left hand. I don't know if my left hand has ever attempted to catch anything but a paper wad in my entire life. I am seriously still just practicing trying to throw on ball properly with my left hand before I attempt even two balls at a time. As frustrating as repeatedly tossing a ball in the air and trying to both throw and catch with my left hand as well as my right, I know it's good for my brain because I'm creating all new pathways in my brain. Follow this link from a research study from Oxford University on juggling and corresponding changes in the white matter of the brain found in juggling vs. non-juggling subjects. So for now, I'll be juggling with one ball (actually, I'm going to get some small juggling bean-bags).

I'm taking up violin because I know it will be good for my brain and there is a mountain of evidence to support the cognitive benefit playing an instrument. Of course, most of the research shows the advantages of brain development in children who play a musical instrument, and studies confirm that these advantages last into adulthood, even reducing the risk of dementia later in life (more articles and research coming on this topic). Although I am getting a really late start, it is clear that if I can indeed learn to play the violin as an adult, that my brain had the neuroplasticity to do so. The question that intrigues me, is how much this neuroplastic change affects my overall cognitive ability and neuroplasticity toward other learning and thinking, and will I see general cognitive improvements in areas such as memory if I'm just learning at this age. I did dabble with the clarinet and the guitar as a child, but I was never terribly serious with either. On the bright side, even though I know it will take a long time to learn proficiency on the violin, I do know that my brain and fine motor skills are getting the benefits all along the way.

Even the sales process at the violin store was a learning experience. The violin store had an air of warm, classic elegance, with rows of beautiful violins and cellos filling the room (as I later learned, violas were hanging there too, and I now know the difference). I entered the store timidly, as a woman-of-a-certain age, prepared to ask the man behind the counter about purchasing a violin for a real beginner - no, not for a child, but for me. One-by-one, various associates in the store, came over to give me tips on how to choose, hold, and make sound come out of a violin. I went home with my new acquisition, and just practiced holding the violin and the bow properly, and tryed to play all the open strings without a fowl screech. I must say - it actually sounds better than I anticipated (I approached it with low expectations on my end). I'm very much looking forward to my first lesson.

One more thing - here's an interesting TedEd video on how the brain responds to listening to music and playing an instrument. This should be enough motivation to get me started.

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