Old Dogs, New Tricks Go Hand-In-Hand
You may know the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Sometimes this feels especially true when we’re learning a new skill or testing our own limits. You may especially feel this way when a teacher introduces a new exercise in class that requires different coordination than we typically practice. I often hear clients say, “I just can’t get it” or “I’m not coordinated enough to do that.” Often it seems that no matter how much we practice or study, some things simply don’t stick. Well, there’s good news. That saying? It couldn’t be more wrong. And the, “I can’t” statements? They’re not true either.
Throughout a lifetime, the brain is constantly changing to meet the needs of our environment, for better or worse. New neural pathways can be built to reorganize the workings of the brain, but pathways can also be lost if they aren’t used. This idea, known as brain plasticity or neuroplasticity, can be for better or worse. Learning a new exercise in Pilates class? That’s an example of your brain building new pathways. Forgetting names is also an example of neuroplasticity, but in the negative. The “wires” connecting memory and information about those names have been degraded or lost.
In order to continue building and maintaining pathways, we have to stay active and engaged. Remember that difficult coordination exercise your teacher added to class? Remember how difficult it was the first time you tried? Maybe each time you work on it, it gets a little bit easier. That’s your brain building new neural pathways. Some exercises will take longer to get depending on how much coordination they require. But, eventually, you won’t think twice about the exercise and as a result you will have strengthened your body and your brain. We so often focus on the body and keeping it strong and in working order. We have to do the same for the brain. Joseph Pilates designed his methodology to tackle and strengthen both things at once. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t get an exercise the first time you try it. Your brain simply hasn’t learned to do it yet and maybe your body hasn’t either. Pushing through, continuing to practice and attend class, and working to build that new pathway will make you stronger in every possible way.
Engaging in activities that challenge our brains–such Pilates–build pathways. Start challenging yourself, because old dogs can learn new tricks. As Joseph Pilates said, “Contrology (Pilates) begins with mind control over muscles.” Pilates knew that to engage the body and mind together was to strengthen the whole person for a lifetime.