Tag Archives: mind


IMG_0822Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which the senses become blended, from the Greek “syn”, meaning “together”, and “aisthesis”, meaning “sensation”. By calling it a “condition”, I don’t mean to imply it is a bad thing. In fact, it can be enthralling to some individuals, and if they are artists can help them be more creative.

In most people, the senses are separate and distinct. They hear, see, smell, taste, and feel. In a person with synesthesia, 2 or more senses can become blended, resulting in associating certain musical tones with certain colors, or associating certain smells with particular colors, or “tasting” music. There are various other interesting ways in which the senses are blended.

Here is some more background on synesthesia from Hubbard EM:

Synesthesia is an experience in which stimulation in one sensory or cognitive stream leads to associated experiences in a second, unstimulated stream. Although synesthesia is often referred to as a “neurological condition,” it is not listed in the DSM IV or the ICD classifications, as it generally does not interfere with normal daily functioning. However, its high prevalence rate (one in 23) means that synesthesia may be reported by patients who present with other psychiatric symptoms. In this review, I focus on recent research examining the neural basis of the two most intensively studied forms of synesthesia, grapheme –> color synesthesia and tone –> color synesthesia. These data suggest that these forms of synesthesia are elicited through anomalous activation of color-selective areas, perhaps in concert with hyperbinding mediated by the parietal cortex. I then turn to questions for future research and the implications of these models for other forms of synesthesia.

Since this is a very subjective experience, it is difficult to study. There is no way to officially “diagnose” it, and it’s not very common. I don’t believe I have it, but sometimes I think I experience very brief flashes of it or something similar. It’s certainly possible that synesthesia is a continuum phenomenon, meaning it may not be a simple matter of you have it or you don’t(similar to many mental illnesses, though again, synesthesia isn’t an illness). If this is the case, it means most people would fall somewhere in the continuum, with extreme synesthesia on one end and complete absence of it on the other.

It sounds like it can be a wonderful experience for some people, with many artists claiming to have it. But is it possible to become a synesthete(a person with synesthesia) with training? I don’t know for sure, but it looks like the answer is no.

This doesn’t mean we can’t improve our artistic abilities or our senses; synesthesia isn’t the same thing as artistic talent or artistic appreciation, but perhaps we can learn something from the experiences of synesthetes. Juggling makes me more appreciative of intricate movement and dance, but it doesn’t necessarily bring me closer to synesthesia.

Still, I strive to make my juggling both more artful(by singing, humming, using different color balls, or dancing while doing it) and more athletic. The synergism between the two makes the experience far more uplifting than if I was aiming at either one of the two alone. It’s fun trying to make music with the balls, sort of like I’m a wild symphony orchestra conductor, but using balls and my arms instead of a baton. Art and fitness always together, not alone.

Above all, there is so much beauty out there to appreciate, and beauty within us that needs to be expressed. Try releasing more of it next time you exercise and you may find yourself getting better results.


Are you cognitively fit?

When we think of fitness, we usually think of speed, strength, flexibility, or coordination. We don’t normally think about cognitive or brain fitness. There seems to be a dualism at work when it comes to how we approach fitness, with the mind being thought of as separate from the rest of the body, and treated as such.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. I believe brain training is just as important as strength-training, and cardio. Solving puzzles, playing chess, or playing a musical instrument are all great ways to keep your mind sharp, but the body is generally not very active while doing this. These are all great ways to improve your cognitive fitness, but a more efficient use of time would combine cardio with a brain workout.

This is where juggling comes in, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be juggling. Any physical activity that raises your heart rate and involves novel, precise body movement will suffice. Martial arts, dancing, and rock climbing all give your brain a boost while also providing cardio benefits. You could even use martial arts to take down some very powerful criminals, which would require a lot of thought as you plot how to sneak into their hideout, and dodge bullets from their henchmen and henchwomen, but alas, this only happens in the movies.

I think the benefits of these activities would be similar to juggling, if juggling isn’t for you. The good thing about juggling though is the very immediate feedback you get when you don’t do it right – you keep dropping balls.

What does it mean to be cognitively fit? According to – Goizueta Business School of Emory University, Department of Psychiatry, Atlanta, USA

Cognitive fitness will help you be more open to new ideas and alternative perspectives. It will give you the capacity to change your behavior and realize your goals. You can delay senescence for years and even enjoy a second career. Drawing from the rapidly expanding body of neuroscience research as well as from well-established research in psychology and other mental health fields, the authors have identified four steps you can take to become cognitively fit: understand how experience makes the brain grow, work hard at play, search for patterns, and seek novelty and innovation. Together these steps capture some of the key opportunities for maintaining an engaged, creative brain.

In other words, the brain is like a muscle: Use it or lose it. Just as un-exercised muscle atrophies, so does the brain, making it less sharp, and increasing the risk for developing dementia. While almost any form of exercise can increase blood flow to the brain, this isn’t the same thing as giving your brain a workout.

A regular cognitive workout is a positive feedback loop: the more cognitively fit you are, the more likely you are to try new things, which in turn can improve your cognitive fitness even further, which allows you to try even more new things, etc.

So if you are bored with your current fitness routine, consider doing activities that also give your mind a workout. Cognitive fitness is just as important as body fitness.

Critical thinking and fitness

If there is one thing the fitness world could use more of, it is critical thinking. What is critical thinking? According to Wikipedia: “Critical thinking is a type of reasonable, reflective thinking that is aimed at deciding what to believe or what to do.[1] It is a way of deciding whether a claim is always true, sometimes true, partly true, or false.”

One of the best ways to improve our critical thinking abilities is to try to remove biases or lapses in judgment that corrupt our thinking. Biases can all too often lead to wrong conclusions, and this can sometimes be dangerous when it comes to fitness or health. A lot of these biases, or “thinking errors” have names to help you identify them.

Here are a couple of examples:

Gambler’s fallacy – the tendency to think that future probabilities are altered by past events, when in reality they are unchanged. Results from an erroneous conceptualization of the law of large numbers. For example, “I’ve flipped heads with this coin five times consecutively, so the chance of tails coming out on the sixth flip is much greater than heads.

Confirmation bias – the tendency to search for or interpret information or memories in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.

Here is a more complete list of the various biases, to help make you a better critical thinker – List of biases in judgment and decision making

You don’t have to learn all of them, but study a few every day and it can help you with not just fitness but with how you approach just about anything in life.

Juggle to prevent dementia

It is so secret that by far the best way to prevent dementia is exercise. It is almost a truism – active people tend to age more slowly than couch potatoes. Just like muscle, “use it or lose it” applies to your brain and its 86 billion or so neurons(if you have counted your neurons recently and discover you have a little less, don’t worry!). 

The second best way to prevent a decline in neurological function is to engage in brain-stimulating activities, like doing puzzles, or learning new skills. Playing chess is excellent brain stimulation.

She won't be coming down with dementia any time soon.

She won’t be coming down with dementia any time soon.

Also, generally speaking, the more educated a person is, the lower their risk for dementia or alzheimers. 

This is why fitness juggling is such powerful preventive medicine. It’s the ultimate all-in-one exercise/brain stimulating activity. Joggling would be even better, so long as you don’t bump into any trees or people. Or you can simply move around a lot or dance while juggling at home to make it even more fun and challenging if you can’t run. Why should fitness be boring?

Your brain is an amazing natural wonder. It is your greatest asset and deserves to be protected and stimulated. Love your brain and it will love you back.

Have fun juggling!




Juggling and flow

For many jugglers, juggling is like meditation, requiring deep focus and the ability to block out distractions. “Flow”, a concept developed by psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi is like a meditative state many people attain when they are doing something they find challenging yet enjoyable. Jugglers likely achieve this state of mind, but so do a lot of other people doing work or hobbies they enjoy. Some of the greatest experiences we have in our lives may happen to us while in the Flow state.

You can read more about this here – Juggling and Flow

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” is also a worthwhile read, even if his findings aren’t necessarily scientifically testable.

Basically, it should be easier to stay fit or lose weight if the exercise you regularly engage in puts you into a “Flow” state of mind.

Juggling and joggling for fitness

I believe juggling to be one of the most ignored of all fitness activities. It’s not just for circus performers. Not only does juggling burn around the same amount of calories as a brisk walk, it also improves hand/eye coordination and can help grow grey matter in the brain. I think the reason relatively few people interested in fitness consider juggling for exercise is its association with clowns and circuses. This is unfortunate.

Juggling for fitness can be done alone or during many forms of aerobic exercise; in the form of joggling, which is juggling while running, it is arguably the ultimate form of exercise. To get more people excited about juggling and joggling in particular for fitness is one of the main purposes of this blog. The “wild” in “wild juggling” is all about fitness juggling while walking, or hiking, or having fun in the great outdoors, as opposed to doing it to entertain others(not that there is anything wrong with it!). You can juggle almost anywhere. Joggling is both challenging and fun.

Above all, go wild with your juggling. It’s one of the best ways to spice up your fitness routine and burn some extra calories if you must, while having fun!