How T’ai Chi Improves Memory

Memory is a function of many factors, some of which cannot easily be changed. This article will highlight a factor that will yield an important benefit if practiced regularly.

It is useful to view the mind as divided into two parts, the conscious and subconscious. The conscious mind is capable of focusing on only one thing at a time. The subconscious mind, however, is capable of overseeing myriad tasks, all at the same time.

When you do such things as walk, drive a car, ride a bicycle, or eat, your subconscious mind is sending complex nerve impulses to the muscles involved, receiving nerve impulses from the muscles, processing those nerve impulses, and sending revised nerve impulses to the muscles. Thus there is a complex, continually changing dialogue between the nervous system and the muscles, usually, without your conscious awareness.

Because the subconscious mind only starts to take over tasks that have been repeated many times, one of the reasons that elderly people are so forgetful is that they have done the same tasks so many times that conscious thought has become unnecessary. That is precisely the trap; whenever we fail to use a faculty, that faculty tends to atrophy-and that includes the conscious mind. A symptom of such atrophy is the frequent uttering of statements as, “I know that I put my keys down somewhere, but I have no idea where.” Or, “I have no recollection of having turned off the stove—we have to go back.”

Practicing T’ai Chi (Taiji) and Ch’i Kung (Qigong) provides an excellent opportunity to cultivate being in the moment, which is one of the basic principles of both of these arts. Ideally, during T'ai Chi practice, both the conscious and subconscious minds are each appropriately involved. Of course, at the beginning of one's training, the conscious mind is disproportionately involved, but after one learns the movements and practices them repeatedly, it is possible for the subconscious mind to do everything, with the conscious mind “out to lunch.” That is the point when it is easy to be on “automatic pilot,” and recognizing that pitfall is of utmost importance.

Once T’ai-Chi or Ch’i-Kung movements have been practiced to the point of their becoming automatic, ideal practice should involve maintaining a conscious awareness of such things as alignment, release of unnecessary tension, continuity, flow of ch’i, breathing, circularity, gravity, momentum, ebb and flow of the movements, stepping, and coordination of the movement of the extremities and pelvis (body unification). The criterion is that the conscious mind must be involved in what is happening at that moment-not taking excursions into the past or future or shifting the awareness to something unrelated. Then, the practitioner should try to follow that same model in daily life.

Read Huffington Post article about a study suggesting that T’ai-Chi helps imporve memory.

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