Juggling As A Practice For Creating Awareness

With this article, I want to present different ideas I have been experimenting with in some of my juggling sessions. But before we dig deeper into the rabbit hole, let's create a common understanding of the following two terms: Juggling & Awareness.

Juggling

So, Juggling is a practice, an art form, and/or a skill. Whatever you wanna box it, scientists and researchers would frame it as an open loop skill (Huberman Lab - Ep. 20). Juggling is the same as throwing darts or your tennis serve - immediate feedback is involved. If you don't catch the juggling ball, you don't catch the juggling ball. That's negative feedback. If you are able to continue the pattern without failing, that's positive feedback. There is only 0 and 1, no space or grey zone in between (if we don't take juggling quality in terms of accuracy and rhythm into account). 

Awareness

To not get caught up in endless ways to define awareness and possible ways of mixing it up with consciousness and other related terms, let put it that way:  We can use consciousness to coordinate different abilities of awareness. Within this article we are looking at one specific ability of awareness - ATTENTION. We can put our attention on things which are external, which is often easier for people and we can put our attention on things that are internal, which is often more difficult for people. Example: External and internal cues in a handstand - most people find it easier to focus on "Push the floor away" instead of "Elevate your shoulders". 

Before we start talking about some of the ideas and how to try them out, a few important things first:

Within the juggling practice and the application of the following ideas, we want to aim for a low subjective intensity, which is basically the "loudness of our experience" (Flynn Disney). That means our juggling practice or the progression we are at the moment (doesn't matter if you are learning the 3 ball cascade or 5 ball tricks are easy for you) should be fairly easy to us. The difficulty in the pattern we are choosing for any of the ideas below should be small. We are aiming for 80-90% success rates (not catching the balls only on rare occasions). Avoid using your phone, watching TV or listening to music during these awareness sessions. Treat them like your regular meditation practice. It is just you and the juggling balls, not more, not less.

Task

"The task is to put your attention on one specific thing/idea and become aware of habitual patterns, changes in behavior, etc." For each idea, I give you a couple of questions to think about.

External attention

Idea 1 - ball height

"Do you usually throw the balls at a specific height?"

"Is there a difference in height between your left and right side?"

"How does a change in height influences your juggling (quality/feeling/etc.)"?

"Are you juggling at a consistent height or does the height changes depending on the juggling pattern?"

Idea 2 - dwell time (how long the ball remains in your hand)

"Are you a short catcher or a long catcher?"

"Which patterns are slow, which are fast?"

"Can you play around with different dwell times during a certain pattern?"

Internal attention

Now let's switch to internal attention. "The neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux and his colleagues have shown that the only way we can consciously access the emotional brain is through self-awareness, i.e. by cultivating the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that notices what is going on inside us and thus allows us to feel what we are feeling. (The technical term for this is "interoception" - Latin for "looking inside")." 

From the book The body keeps the score" written by Bessel van der Kolk (p. 206)

Idea 1 - hands

"Can you aim for looseness in your hands and wrists?"

"What are your fingers doing while catching and throwing?"

"Are you throwing from the wrist or from the arm?"

"Try to see the ball through the palms of your hand. Can you feel the ball leaving and falling into the hand?"

Idea 2 - arms

"Are you tensing up in your biceps or shoulders? Let your arms be as loose and soft as possible."

"Where are your arms relative to the body? Can you change it?"

"Why do you prefer a specific arm position over another?"

Idea 3 - facial expression (my favorite one)

"Try to feel your face, your forehead, your gaze and your jaw. Are you tensed up?"

"Do you have a soft vision? Are you using peripheral vision?"

Film yourself in another session - it is quite interesting how your facial expression looks like and why it looks the way it is.

Idea 4 - stance/lower body

"Are your legs straight or knees bend?"

"Are you in a soft/ready stance and even using momentum from the ground?"

"Is your lumbar spine arched? Posterior or anterior pelvic tilt?"

"Try juggling barefoot. Can you feel the ground and even the force transmission from the lower body into the throwing motion? Observe this especially in synchronous patterns."

 

Idea 5 - breathing

Breathing is one of the best tools out there for becoming aware. In this last idea, I want you to play around with one specific breathing pattern (e.g. box breathing, 478, whatsoever) and focus on the breathing while you are juggling.

Conclusion

Give yourself roughly 25 minutes of practice. Choose one to three ideas and work with them for five minutes straight. Always remind yourself of one specific question and try to find the balance between the task and the simple doing. After five minutes, sit down for roughly 3 minutes and reflect on your experience. Repeat this for 3 times.

So, the question basically is: Why playing around with all those ideas?

Well, most of the time in our everyday lives and even in our practice we are following habitual patterns and are not aware of these. Changing this helps us to de-automatize our common behavior, which then increases our variation in cognitive processing. We want more details on our physical and cognitive map, we want more awareness, we want knowledge.

Because: "The true method of knowledge is experiment." - William Blake

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