Monday, April 16, 2012

Running with my mind? No: watch TV!

Regular readers of my blogs will not have failed to notice that I have just published a book entitled Running with my mind (in Dutch). I took the title of the book from one of my blogs that I wrote about a year ago. There I discussed a study by Yue and Cole that showed that you can train your muscles with your mind: Simply think that you train them and they’ll become stronger. What a handy way of improving and maintaining my physical condition, I thought then, especially when the rain is pouring down or when I don’t have much time to go outdoors. I was so impressed by what you can do with your mind – not only performing purely mental activities but also physical activities – that I borrowed the title of this blog for my book. But now I wonder whether it was a good choice. For I had just sent my book to the publisher, when I read a newspaper report with the title “Not dancer does dance”. The essence of the little article was: People who do not dance themselves but who regularly visit dance performances have increased muscle activity while watching. Which muscles become active depends on the type of dance you are used to see. So regular visitors of Indian dance performances have especially a higher activity of the muscles in their hands while ballet watchers have more activity in their arms. Apparently, so the article, you do not need to be an active dancer for having this experience; you only need to be an experienced dance watcher.
Having read this, I thought: Well, when you activate your muscles, so when you move them, it cannot be so that you only move them and that’s it. There’ll certainly be a training effect. Moreover, it is unlikely that this effect will be restricted to Indian dance and ballet watchers. The effect will probably also occur when you regularly watch other physical activities like football matches, cycle races or athletics meetings. People even say that I tend to move my head from left to right and back when I follow a skating race on TV. When I am watching a sport on TV or live that I practise myself, too, I often have the idea that my body is also in the race. But if it is true that there is a training effect in your muscles when you simply watch your favourite sport, why then yet train your muscles by imitating the movement of the muscles in your mind, when the rain is pouring down and you do not want to go outside, or when you want to save time? There’s a much simpler solution: turn your TV on on a sports sender or take a DVD with your favourite sport. Sit down in your chair and watch. Then you do two things at the same time: both watching the race or match that you wanted to see this afternoon anyway and making yourself physically fitter. Yes, at the same time!
When I chose the title for my book, I took it because for me running with your mind was symbolic for the mind’s multi-sidedness. But since I have read this little article, I wonder whether it was a good choice, for that the mind gives you the possibility to run with it is actually quite a superfluous property. We can do without it. Just loll on the sofa, take a beer, and tune in. Your mind can stay passive, certainly when you compare it with what you have to do when you are running with it.

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