Gait, Running, Dance, Martial Arts and the Mirror neurons of the brain. Today The Gait Guys put it all together.  (Why you need to get familiar with mirror neurons).

When was the last time you actually truly “listened” to music and “used it” while you worked out or ran?  Many of us do it, but many of us are not using the music to its optimal advantage. This is something we will talk about at the end as we summarize today’s very important article.

Beautiful human movement is something to behold.  Being able to watch and appreciate beautiful movement does several things within the brain.

According the the Scientific American Article (LINK) by Columbia University neurologist John Krakauer:

“some reward-related areas in the brain are connected with motor areas …  and mounting evidence suggests that we are sensitive and attuned to the movements of others’ bodies, because similar brain regions are activated when certain movements are both made and observed. For example, the motor regions of professional dancers’ brains show more activation when they watch other dancers compared with people who don’t dance.”

Many things stimulate our brains’ reward centers, among them, both the participation in and the observance of coordinated movements thanks to our mirror neurons. Today we show an example of the world famous Slavik Kryklyvyy once again. The combination of the physical capabilities and the artistic rendering of the fluid and complex movements stir something in your brain.  Thanks to the mirror neuron cells in the brain’s cortex, which link the sensory experience from when a person is performing a movement or when watching someone else do it generates a subsequent motor experience in the brain.  Watching someone execute a complex athletic task for example, your brain’s movement areas subconscously activate and mentally plan and predict how the athlete would move based on what you would do. We do this when watching sports all the time. How many times have you watched an athlete and either verbally or mentally said to yourself “Oh man ! That was a dumb move ! I would never have done that ! I would have done ______ !"  Krakauer mentioned, ” the motor regions of professional dancers’ brains show more activation when they watch other dancers compared with people who don’t dance.“  This will be the same for all athletes. This is the same neurologic phenomenon that also allows you to truly appreciate a movement when it is done with amazing skill and precision.  Think of Cirque du Soleil and you will instantly know what we mean.

Watching Slavik move in the video above is complex motor tasking at its best. Dancers are amazing athletes, they are not just dancers. They are much like martial artists. Take Capoeira for example. It is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance and music. It was created in Brazil mainly by descendants of African slaves with Brazilian native influences. It is a complex and feared martial art known by quick and complex moves, using mainly power, speed, and leverage for leg sweeps. It is a beautiful art, and a deadly art.

So, why does music make it that much better ? It is the same reason why weddings are less touching without music.  It is why music is used in church. It is why dance is paired with music.  Music stimulates the pleasure and reward areas of the brain, such as the orbitofrontal cortex, the ventral striatum and the cerebellum where timing, coordination and movement planning is performed. The combination of music with the motor task amplifies the reward zone in the brain. It is the task of trying to add timing and rhythm to movement that makes these activities that much harder, but that much more rewarding to the brain.  Runners who run with music, those who truly hear the timing and rhythm of the music and then use it in their workouts get a little something extra out of it. But sadly so many people "just listen” to the music instead of incorporating it into the movement.  A smart runner will vary the music and combine it with a run to vary tempo, cadence, speed etc.  That way the brain will be on fire and dish out rewards at a  new level. Dancers have no choice but to force the issue. We will sometimes use a metronome snapping of our fingers or clapping in the rhythm of a clients gait to help them hear the rhythm of their gait, particularly when it is arrhythmic due to pain or faulty biomechanics. We will do this so that it cues a heightened awareness in them. Seeing, feeling and hearing are all additive when sensory-motor relearning is concerned.

Gait and running are complex movements which we take for granted.  They are so automatized that we really do not realize how complex and amazing they are until something goes wrong or until someone brings the subtle flaws to our attention.  Maybe it is a stroke that compromises it, or maybe a neurologic disease like Parkinsons, or maybe it is as simple as a sprained ankle, a torn knee mensicus, a strained hamstring or a degenerative hip.  But any compromise to this complex sensory-motor task of ambulation immediately brings about a recognition that something is wrong to the skilled and aware observer. As in life, we do not appreciate something until something goes wrong with it.  Getting good at recognizing beautiful clean fluid gait and running is our job, and it is now your job. Now that you know better you cannot ignore gait in your clients, your artists, your athletes. Now that you know better, you must hold yourself to a higher level of expertise. Knowing what beautiful looks like will help you better understand what loss of beauty looks like.  It is what will make you better at understanding gait and human movement and locomotion and better at your chosen craft. It is what will heighten your appreciation of the amazing beauty of the human form and motion, whatever form it might take.

Shawn and Ivo,  the gait guys