We are living in an environment where our brain is constantly receiving all kinds of new inputs. This bombarding results in a change of our brain’s processing of new information and its inability to sustain attention on a single task for a long period of time. This, in its turn, reshapes the way we learn and obtain new skills.
Our brain’s processing power is finite. There is just as much space for new information processing: think of it as waking up with a fully charged battery and the more you shift your attention throughout the day, the faster it runs out. It affects our decision making and learning capacity. Retaining of information is very tightly connected to the ability to pay attention, so is, as it has been found recently, the capacity to develop motor skills. In a recent study (Harvey WJ, Reid G, et al, 2007), it has been found that children with attention deficit disorder have serious difficulties in developing fundamental movement skills as compared to their peers who do not have the same issue. The increasing number of children diagnosed with ADHD, by the way, besides nutritional and environmental factors, has also been strongly connected to the early exposure to the media, like television and video games (Swing EL, Gentile DA et al, 2010).
When ADHD symptoms do not necessarily persist into adulthood, adults who haven’t suffer it as children are very capable of developing lack of attention by their own means. Regular engagement with smartphones and other media devices has a diminishing effect on the ability to pay attention, and this is a long lasting change that is hard to get rid of. (Nikken and Schols, 2015) It creates the so called “scattered-brain” effect (Egan, 2016) and not only it affects the capability to pay attention, but also for learning, social engagement, memory and cognitive functioning in general.
Cognitive control and skillful movement go hand in hand, one affecting the other and vice versa. By observing how pathology in sustaining attention affects the outcome of motor learning, we can draw a conclusion that this negative effect can be reversed by applying the same principles all the way around. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that physical practice can have a positive effect on people with attention deficit disorders (Archer and Kostrzewa, 2012).
The capability to produce skillful movement is an important component of general wellbeing. It pervades all of its facets and it is being an irreplaceable therapy for all kinds of pathologies. The ability to develop such movement skill is tightly connected by the amount of attention directed specifically on the task at hand. Mindful movement practice involves higher-order motor control: both planning of movement and control of attention depend on the same kind of information: like structure of environment and relation of the body (and self) to this structure. Higher-order motor control integrates multiple cognitive areas, facilitating the development of the structural learning that causes transferability of the skill (Braun et al, 2009). Inability to sustain attention on our desired goals (mind wandering), can interfere with the proper development of new skills and their long term potentiation. The nature of our sensorimotor activity, however, generates sensations that can be suitable to create a learning situation for development of skillful attention from within the movement task. It shows us that the inability to pay attention to one’s actions can actually be approached through mindful movement practice as a mediator to reverse this condition.
Meditation, as a deliberate practice of paying attention in itself, aims at similar outcome to mindful movement practice and serves as a great supporting force for the latter. There has been a lot of evidence that the efficiency of meditation practices affects the distribution of limited resources of attention (Carter OL, Presti DE et al, 2005). It establishes the lasting change in cognitive function, affecting the way we perceive and process stimuli. Mental processes are flexible skills that can evolve or deteriorate depending on the way we cultivate it, thus treating it as any other skill can resolve many problems related to any kind of impairments including age related decline in function.
Keeping attention on a target or a task involves active inhibiting of the distracting stimuli, this is why many meditation practices are focused on the body: our sensorimotor resources make it easier to detect the wandering. This is why practices like Feldenkrais or Tai Chi are seen as practice of “awareness” as such: the practitioner deliberately creates the changes in sensation and observes it while it is happening. Continuous attention to current experience of movement creates the refinement of sensorimotor associations which leads to enhance the ability to coordinate the movement, which creates a better adaptation to new contexts (Langer, 2000).
From all the information above, we can conclude that in the current times of constant assail with unrelated, diversified stimuli, the ability to select the needed one and sustain attention on it is a very important quality. Mindful movement practices provide us an opportunity to develop a skill to keep concentration on our goals under distraction, both physical and cognitive. There is a huge body of research that suggests that we are able to improve mental skill through learning mechanisms dependent on physical activity (Kaas, 1991; Buonomano and Merzenich, 1998; Simoncelli and Olshausen, 2001; Sur and Leamey, 2001; Pascual-Leone et al., 2005). Hence, the science itself supports the importance and necessity for a human being to develop a purposeful and intentional movement practice.