Neuroplasticity

The ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganisation.

Neuroplasticity: The brain's fantastic ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections to adapt and re-organise as we experience and learn different tasks, throughout life.  The scope of neuroplasticity is large and complex, with different events occurring at the molecular, synaptic, and muscular levels over short and long periods of time.  Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.  This occurs dynamically with the ability of the nervous system to adapt to stimuli through regeneration and reorganisation of its neuronal structure, function and connections. 

 

Changes in motor skill neuroplasticity are often divided into a “fast-stage” (short-term) and “slow-stage” (long-term).  During fast-stage learning, it is believed that the primary motor cortex in our brain recruits substantially more neurons for new motor tasks.  This increase in brain activity can result in big improvements being seen within a single session.  After making progress with a motor skill, we transition to the slow-stage of learning where multiple “awareness” sessions, may be required.  Just noticing what you are doing in your movement during the day could constitute an “awareness session” and may be all that is needed to retain or improve that skill.

 

Unlike the fast-stage, the slow-stage of learning results in small improvements at a much slower pace.  This is due to neuroplasticity’s “use it or lose it” principle when it comes to motor skills.  The brain’s plasticity will either slowly strengthen or reduce a motor pathway based on how much it is used, or the lack-of.  However, past repetitive practice of motor tasks could lead to a quicker re-adaptation if there was an interuption of that skill.  This term is called “savings” and is why many athletes can still perform a skill such as shooting a basketball, even after years without practice.

 

With neuroplasticity, it is now understood that there is “offline training” which states that improvements of a skill can occur between sessions with no further practice.  It is believed that this is due to a phenomenon in which the brain consolidates a movement pattern at the end of every session which progressively stabilises the skill.  This results in an increase of accuracy, execution, and reaction of a motor skill due to rest.

 

These “offline” skill improvements can be affected by sleep, which ultimately demonstrates the importance of adequate rest/sleep.  Therefore, mastery of a motor skill is likely to require sufficient rest “during” and between sessions along with adequate sleep.  This is why during a Feldenkrais session you will be asked frequently to rest, not because you may be tiered, it’s so your brain can process the information and retain it.  

 

Brain reorganisation takes place by mechanisms such as "axonal sprouting" in which undamaged axons grow new nerve endings to reconnect neurons whose links were injured or severed.  Undamaged axons can also sprout nerve endings and connect with other undamaged nerve cells, forming new neural pathways to accomplish a needed function.

 

For example, if one hemisphere of the brain is damaged, the intact hemisphere may take over some of its functions.  The brain compensates for damage in effect by reorganising and forming new connections between intact neurons.  In order to reconnect, the neurons need to be stimulated through activity.  However, for neurons to form beneficial connections, they must be "correctly stimulated", and this is where Feldenkrais comes in.

 

The theory of neuroplasticity for learning new skills and modifying maladaptive, pain perpetuating and inefficient habits is fundamental to the Feldenkrais Method.

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Copyright© 2021 Wayne Farrage, Smart Somatics

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