Learning to juggle can do you all sorts of favours—not only does it look great it’s also a form of enjoyable, and challenging, exercise. Just as importantly, recent scientific studies have linked juggling to major health benefits. We’ll reveal how this skill can improve your mental acuity (which we back up with handy scientific knowhow), and we’ll also provide you with a basic guide on how to master the art of juggling.
Juggling and your Brain
In The Science of Juggling (Peter J. Beek and Arthur Lewbel, 1995) ithe earliest depiction of juggling is from antiquity, circa 1781 B.C. In the tomb of an unknown Prince a piece of artwork was discovered displaying Egyptian women juggling amongst each other, clearly indicating this famous ability is an ancient skill. However, despite the amount of time humans have been juggling, the first scientific research into the process only occurred in 1903. In this study Edgar James Swift published an article in the American Journal of Psychology suggesting that there were benefits of juggling for the human brain. Further research was held in the following decades, and by the 1980s mathematical formulas were being investigated by scientists such as Paul Klimek. His work involved the meticulous analysis of juggling patterns; in extensive diagrams he revealed the numerical order in which items are thrown and caught, the name given to these patterns being “site-swap”.
Contemporary studies are ongoing and have primarily focused on the health benefits for the brain, with the most revealing results coming from Oxford University in 2009. Dr. Heidi Johansen-Berg’s investigation finally proved the actions involved in juggling lead to “changes in the white matter of the brain”. As the doctor clarified, “We have demonstrated that there are changes in the white matter of the brain—the bundles of nerve fibres that connect different parts of the brain—as a result of learning an entirely new skill.” From this research it is evident the mental processes involved in successful juggling improve the connectivity of the brain. Juggling specialists, such as JuggleFit, have clarified the activity will help: relieve stress, fight off Alzheimer’s disease, sharpen concentration, increase dexterity, ward off food cravings, and assist in the cessation of smoking. Obviously you can achieve many of these health benefits by simply keeping yourself active, as Dr. Johansen-Berg clarifies, “there is a ‘use it or lose it’ school of thought, in which any way of keeping the brain working is a good thing, such as going for a walk or doing a crossword.” Unlike these activities, it seems that the activity of juggling has particular significance for the human brain as it encourages nerve fibre growth. This promotes overall brain fitness and, as many scientists believe, can help ward off debilitating illnesses as a result. It has been postulated the practice of distinguishing between individual juggling balls is what promotes this nerve fibre growth, although it is clear more research is needed in order to fully understand just how juggling can help the human brain and its vast complexities. However, Dr. Johansen-Berg remains positive for the potential of juggling as a meditative aid, “Knowing that pathways in the brain can be enhanced may be significant in the long run in coming up with new treatments for neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, where these pathways become degraded.”
This research suggests there are numerous promising and powerful healing abilities to tap into here, and with this in mind there is only the final issue of taking up this ancient trick yourself and learning how to juggle. We’ll give you a helping hand.
Learn How To Juggle
As noted on Juggling.org, “It is essential to practise in order to learn juggling. The simplest movement requires complex electrical/chemical circuitry within the brain. The study of this circuitry is fast becoming an important field of neuroscience.” From my experience I’d consider it vital to remember you will need patience when practicing—as a beginner, you will make a lot of mistakes. Whilst every individual will learn at a different rate, I found it took a few days of 30 minute sessions to build a clumsy technique up, and around a week to get the three ball cascade perfected.
The professionals put it this way, “Jugglers learn in a narrow focus situation. Recall how most people learn to read. First, they learn to recognize the letters (the ball or pin). Then they learn to recognize the word (the juggling pattern). However, once this basic juggling “pattern” (the word) has been learned, then the focus can shift to a higher level still (the words become a sentence). An example of this would be a juggler on a rola-bola [a balance board].” As the experts confirm, the only way to get anywhere with your juggling is to practice, “Neuroscience tells us practice creates or builds the desired pathways in the brain.” Once your mind understands these new electronic impulses then you will find yourself well on your way!
So how should you start out? Firstly you will need to get some beanbag juggling balls (pictured above—they’re cheap), or you could use household objects such as oranges, apples, or tennis balls. When you’re happy with your equipment take a look below at the perpetual motion image. This is the three ball cascade you’ll be learning; use this as a visual guide as it will prove very useful as a reference.
- Get the basic “feel” of the process by throwing a ball in an arc from one hand to the other; it should rise up to eye height at the peak of its arc.
- A great method to perfect juggling is “scooping”, a technique that smooths out your movements. Scoop your hands when throwing back and forth as it helps greatly with overall fluidity.
- Now, with one juggling ball in each hand, throw one in an arc towards your other hand. When it is at the top of its arc lower your other arm to launch the other ball towards your free hand. As each follows its arc catch them in your hands. Practice this to increase your understanding of the motions involved.
- Now try for the 3 ball cascade; hold two juggling balls in your right hand, and one in your left. As practised in point 3, throw one ball in a sweeping arc from your right hand. When it has reached the peak of its arc, send the ball in your left hand to your right.
- Catch the first ball in your left hand whilst the second is arching upwards towards your right, now launch the third ball in your right hand towards the left and prepare to catch the second. Use the perpetual motion diagram above for visual assistance, and remember practice makes perfect! In a short space of time you’ll have a great new skill.
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