We all know that in order to improve ourselves and become better dancers, we really should make practice a priority. Whether its drilling a combo you learned in class, working on isolations or running a choreography, the only way to see improvement is through practice. But with numerous demands on us in our lives and constantly feeling like we don’t have enough time, it can be a real challenge to make practicing a part of our daily lives. But do you know why we see improvement through practice and why practice really makes perfect? Its all due to a remarkable lining present in our nervous system – myelin.
Anatomy of a Neuron
A neuron (nerve cell) consist of 4 parts: dendrites (which picks up signals from other neurons), the cell body (which houses the nucleus or the command centre of the cell), the axon (carries the signal away from the cell body), and the axon terminals (which pass the signal onto other neurons). You can think of a neuron like a team of relay runners: the dendrites receive the baton and pass the baton to the cell body who then pass it onto the axon and finally to the axon terminals who then run the distance to deliver it to the awaiting group.
The signals are electrical impulses to and from the brain and can travel up to 200 mph, which means that transmission through neurons must happen very quickly. In order to be able to deliver these electrical impulses from one neuron to another, swift conduction is key. This is where myelin comes in.
Myelin is a fatty white substance that surrounds the axon of some nerve cells, forming an electrically insulating layer. It is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system. It is an outgrowth of a type of glial cell. The production of the myelin sheath is called myelination or myelinogenesis. In humans, myelination begins early in the 3rd trimester, although little myelin exists in the brain at the time of birth. During infancy, myelination occurs quickly, leading to a child's fast development, including crawling and walking in the first year. Myelination continues through the adolescent stage of life. | Photo: Adam, Inc. |
Myelin is a fatty substance that is white in colour and wraps around a neuron’s axon. Its main job is to insulate the axon to promote and maintain the swift transmission of the signals. The presence of myelin around an axon also means that there is less loss of an electrical signal from the cell. Myelin covers an axon in segments, with a small space between. These spaces are called the Nodes of Ranvier and the impulse will literally jump from one myelinated segment to the next once it reaches these nodes. This jumping action of the signal allows for the quick transmission of the impulse down the axon of the neuron.
How this relates to practice
By adulthood, our physical brain has reached it capacity. It will not increase in size, however, we can continue to increase its density through learning. You have probably heard that taking up a new hobby, playing Sudoku, and of course dancing will make you smarter. Its because we are challenging our brain with these new skills to start to make new connections and we slowly start to increase the myelin on these newly activated neurons. The only way to build more myelin is to repeatedly use and stimulate these neurons. The more we use them, the more the myelin appears and the body starts to respond. We have all heard of muscle memory – what that actually is is our brain responding to electrical impulses triggering these neurons.
I have read that in order to master a new skill, it will take up to 10,000 hours to master this skill. That is why is takes such a long time to “untrain” your brain from any bad habits you may have acquired or want to change. The more we practice, the faster and stronger these impulses become. The myelin becomes more efficient in transmitting these impulses and making sure none of the electricity is lost. Make sure you are practicing right in order to avoid unlearning and subsequently relearning.
So next time you are making time to practice, remember that you are literally making yourself smarter and that you are one step closer to mastery!
...and yes, Irina Tchachina is really that flexible;
An oversplit by former Olympic gymnast Irina Tchachina. Flexibility or limberness refers to the absolute range of movement in a joint or series of joints, and length in muscles that cross the joints to induce a bending movement or motion. Flexibility varies between individuals, particularly in terms of differences in muscle length of multi-joint muscles. Flexibility in some joints can be increased to a certain degree by exercise, with stretching a common exercise component to maintain or improve flexibility. Irina Viktorovna Tchachina (also Chashchina or Tchashchina) (Russian: Ирина Викторовна Чащина; born 24 April 1982) is a Russian individual rhythmic gymnast. She is the 2004 Olympic silver medalist in all-around, a two-time (2003, 2005) World all-around bronze medalist, the 2004 European all-around bronze medalist and 2000 Grand Prix Final all-around silver medalist. | Irina Tchachina, Flexible, Flexibility, Workout, Warmup, Exercise, Dance, Practice,