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The Benefits of Juggling

· learning,Research

Juggling is not a pass time taken up by the masses, and yet it seems to have so many hidden benefits that we could take advantage of – ranging from physical to psychological. We are always being encouraged to take up more physical activities, sports and healthy choices and here are a few reasons why juggling could be the option for you.

The Learning Process

Learning to juggle is a great way to develop the skills of a resilient learner. Learning to juggle is quite easy in theory but much harder in practice – meaning that it comes with a fair share of failure. Those of you who read our posts regularly know that failure is natural and essential to learning.

To juggle successfully you need coordination, resilience, timing, discipline and to keep tweaking a method until it finally works. Using juggling to develop these areas can be very useful if transferred to other types of learning.

Developing Confidence

Often, when we have a room of 30 participants around 2-5 can juggle already. By the end of a 30 minute session, 20 people can juggle and the other 10 know how. Never underestimate the boost in confidence people can take from seeing their ability to learn and achieve new things in a short space of time – especially when it was something they always thought they would never be able to do. It can be a reminder that it can be positive to take risks, try new things and to reflect on progress so far.

Joyful Exercise

Juggling is a nice form of light exercise which is a great way to break up mental tasks (e.g. during work or revision) or good for its own sake. Some people even recommend it as a form of meditation activity for this reason. Juggling mostly focuses on co-ordination in the arms, so is not likely to get you out of breath or build muscle, but you will be surprised how much it stretches your legs bending down to retrieve balls regularly.

Juggling, 3 ball cascade, joyful exercise

Changes To Your Brain

Learning to juggle grows the brain. The brain is made up of two ‘types’ of material. Grey matter is made up of all the main parts of nerve cells that contain the DNA and control the neuron. White matter is made of the long connecting part of the nerve cells – like wires – sending messages to other cells in the brain.   

Scientists and psychologists have been able to use brain scanning techniques to measure how the brain changes after regular juggling.

Draganski and team (2004) scanned the brains of 24 people, split them into two groups and taught half to juggle. After three months of practice their brains were scanned again and they found that grey matter had expanded in the brains of jugglers in the mid-temporal region (senses and memory) and the left posterior intraparietal sulcus (motor co-ordination and visual attention). Interestingly, after three months without juggling these expansions were reduced. This suggests that practice of a skill develops areas of our brain but that if we don’t use it, we could lose it.

Driemeyer (2004) and team followed this up to explore how long it takes for changes to take place. In their study the same grey matter expansions were found as early as 7 days after learning to juggle, and once again reduced after participants stopped practicing. The quality of juggling performance had no impact on the size of brain changes – indicating that simply learning something new is what changes the brain.

Scholz (2009) and team found that juggling changes white matter too. After 6 weeks of juggling practice, participants had increased grey matter but also grew more white matter in a part of the parietal lobe (compared to a group who did not learn to juggle). This area of the brain is involved in connecting what we see to how we move. This happened for all jugglers, even if they could not juggle well yet. Scholz suggests that simply learning a new skill is good for the brain, even if it is not mastered.

Reduced Anxiety

Nakahara et al (2007) investigated the effects of juggling on women with anxiety. Patients who were undergoing 6 months of conventional anxiety treatment were split into two groups. Over three months half completed additional juggling sessions for 10 minutes a day and half did not. At the end of the 6 month period both groups had a reduction in anxiety but the juggling group scored significantly lower on standard tests of anxiety and depression than those in the non juggling group. The authors believe this may work in a similar way to eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapies or may be because of its similarities to exercise meditation and yoga.

Nakahara et el (2007), graphs showing reduced anxiety in jugglers

Fun

In addition to all these wonderful benefits, we find that juggling is great fun. It’s an interesting physical skill that is a great way to take a break or get the creative juices flowing.

If you are interested in learning to juggle you can speak to us about one of our workshops or alternatively there are lots of helpful videos online.

References

  • Draganski B, Gaser C, Busch V, Schuierer G, Bogdahn U, et al. (2004) Changes in grey matter induced by training. Neuroplasticity: Nature 427(6972): 311–312.
  • Driemeyer J, Boyke J, Gaser C, Bu¨ chel C, May A (2008) Changes in Gray Matter Induced by Learning—Revisited. PLoS ONE 3(7): e2669. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002669
  • Scholz J, Klein M. C., Behrens T. E. J., Johansen-Berg H. (2009) Training induces changes in white-matter architecture. Nature Neuroscience 12, 1370 – 1371
  • Nakahara, T., Nakahara, K., Uehara, M. et al. (2007) Effect of juggling therapy on anxiety disorders in female patients. BioPsychoSocial Med, 1: 10. doi:10.1186/1751-0759-1-10
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