Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Walk in the Park

A lot of people study martial arts in schools; that is, inside of them. Indoors. A lot of people, when they practice on their own also practice inside. I usually practice in my basement.

Sometimes martial arts is taught and practiced outside, in parks. I always thought of this as a way to control costs by not having a building to pay rent for or maintain. A secondary reason, I reckoned, was the fresh air.

Maybe there is more to it than that. Below is an excerpt from an article I found at the New York Times. The full article may be read here.

Easing Brain Fatigue With a Walk in the Park

Scientists have known for some time that the human brain’s ability to stay calm and focused is limited and can be overwhelmed by the constant noise and hectic, jangling demands of city living, sometimes resulting in a condition informally known as brain fatigue.

With brain fatigue, you are easily distracted, forgetful and mentally flighty — or, in other words, me.

But an innovative new study from Scotland suggests that you can ease brain fatigue simply by strolling through a leafy park.

The idea that visiting green spaces like parks or tree-filled plazas lessens stress and improves concentration is not new. Researchers have long theorized that green spaces are calming, requiring less of our so-called directed mental attention than busy, urban streets do. Instead, natural settings invoke “soft fascination,” a beguiling term for quiet contemplation, during which directed attention is barely called upon and the brain can reset those overstretched resources and reduce mental fatigue.

But this theory, while agreeable, has been difficult to put to the test. Previous studies have found that people who live near trees and parks have lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in their saliva than those who live primarily amid concrete, and that children with attention deficits tend to concentrate and perform better on cognitive tests after walking through parks or arboretums. More directly, scientists have brought volunteers into a lab, attached electrodes to their heads and shown them photographs of natural or urban scenes, and found that the brain wave readouts show that the volunteers are more calm and meditative when they view the natural scenes.

But it had not been possible to study the brains of people while they were actually outside, moving through the city and the parks. Or it wasn’t, until the recent development of a lightweight, portable version of the electroencephalogram, a technology that studies brain wave patterns.
For the new study, published this month in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh attached these new, portable EEGs to the scalps of 12 healthy young adults. The electrodes, hidden unobtrusively beneath an ordinary looking fabric cap, sent brain wave readings wirelessly to a laptop carried in a backpack by each volunteer.

The researchers, who had been studying the cognitive impacts of green spaces for some time, then sent each volunteer out on a short walk of about a mile and half that wound through three different sections of Edinburgh.

The first half mile or so took walkers through an older, historic shopping district, with fine, old buildings and plenty of pedestrians on the sidewalk, but only light vehicle traffic.

The walkers then moved onto a path that led through a park-like setting for another half mile.

Finally, they ended their walk strolling through a busy, commercial district, with heavy automobile traffic and concrete buildings.

The walkers had been told to move at their own speed, not to rush or dawdle. Most finished the walk in about 25 minutes.

Throughout that time, the portable EEGs on their heads continued to feed information about brain wave patterns to the laptops they carried.

Afterward, the researchers compared the read-outs, looking for wave patterns that they felt were related to measures of frustration, directed attention (which they called “engagement”), mental arousal and meditativeness or calm.

What they found confirmed the idea that green spaces lessen brain fatigue.

When the volunteers made their way through the urbanized, busy areas, particularly the heavily trafficked commercial district at the end of their walk, their brain wave patterns consistently showed that they were more aroused, attentive and frustrated than when they walked through the parkland, where brain-wave readings became more meditative.

While traveling through the park, the walkers were mentally quieter.


walt said...

I learned tai chi in Portsmouth Square, a small park in San Francisco. We were told to come early, before all the city commotion, that "the air is better before the sun comes up." Also that the scent from the pine trees was good for the health. Oh, and "every day," of course.

Nowadays, the climate around me (and cougars and bears) is more inhibiting, but I still practice outside amongst the trees whenever I can, just generally later in the day. Near the Coast, the nicest weather is usually in the afternoon.

Rick Matz said...

For myself, I like to practice very early in the morning before anything can come along and throw a monkey wrench into my plans.

I also like to practice in my basement. It's quiet and there are no distractions aside from the dogs running around like a couple of maniacs.

I have practiced outside and I find it enjoyable, but it isn't as practical for me.

Compass Strategist said...

@ Walt, Did you practice w/ Professor Kuo at Portsmouth Square?

walt said...

Compass -

Yes, I did -- although much of the daily instruction was via his wife (who spoke English). As far as I know, she still maintains a studio there.

Paul said...

You guys should come over one day and witness many public parks in Hong Kong jam-packed with people (mostly middle-aged plus) doing all kinds of chi related exercises like tai chi in the morning (from as early as 5am all the way to 9am, the earlier time belongs to older folks). Chinese are much onto health maintenance and longevity practices...(well, HK people do live longer:

Rick Matz said...

That must be quite a sight.

Compass Strategist said...


I walked by there a few weeks ago. She is still there.