Watching positive, healthy movement engages ‘mirror neurons’, producing more healthful states for body and mind.
Maybe you have seen our Moving Meditations app, or watched one of our videos? Here is how they work.
There are two things to understand: first, why movement is so important; and second, why just watching is so effective.
Neuroscientists know that the brain evolved to deal with movement. Animals, which have the capacity to move, have brains. Plants, which don’t move, don’t have brains.
When we are little children the main way we deal with the world is through movement. We communicate through gesture long before we communicate through words. We express our feelings through movement; one might even say that our feelings ARE inner movements. We get what we need through reaching and grasping; we keep ourselves safe by pulling in or pushing away; we give and receive love through embracing and holding.
We push away our emotions by blocking movement, keeping ourselves stiff. This damages us, and can lead to physical and mental problems. Trying to change our bad moods just by thinking doesn’t work very well; much better to loosen our body, to bring movement and fluidity where there was stiffness and rigidity. And that feels good!
This is why movement is so important.
But then, why is simply watching movement so powerful?
Neuroscientists now know that we understand the world, and each other, through imitating movement. Several years ago, they discovered “mirror neurons” (di Pellegrino): brain cells which activate when we perform a certain movement, but also when we see someone else doing that same movement. Mirror neurons!
Later, in a theory called “Embodied Cognition” (Barsalou), scientists realized that we do not understand things abstractly; we understand by imagining how we would move and use that thing. I understand a hammer by feeling how I would hold it and hit things; I understand a chair by imagining how I would sit on it; and so forth.
In the same way, I understand what someone else is doing by imagining how it would feel if I did the same thing. I understand by imitating! If someone waves at me excitedly, or shakes their fist in anger, I imitate them in my imagination, I feel what it would be like to do that, and only then I can realize, “Oh! She is glad to see me,” or, “He is angry.”
When we are infants, this imitation is actually physical and obvious. Think of a mother and her baby making funny faces at each other. As we get older, we do it internally, but it is still imitation. It is automatic and unconscious, and it is how we understand each other.
Another recent theory in neuroscience, called “Predictive Processing” (Friston), explains that these inner images of movement are actually how we move ourselves! We imagine ourselves on the other side of the room, and automatically the movements we need begin to happen. This has actually been known about for many decades, and is called “ideokinesis”; you actually cannot imagine, for instance, a golf swing, without your “golf swing” muscles engaging—just a little bit. What scientists realize now is that all movement is controlled like that, through the inner movement images.
So, when we watch a Magic Mirror video, we begin to move, automatically, inside ourselves, in the same way as the person (or the birds, or the water) in the video. We can feel this easily if we pay attention. Watch one of our videos, or any video of living beings moving, or just watch people. You will notice that you can feel inside yourself that same movement. This is why we like to watch beautiful or powerful movement, such as dance, martial arts, wild animals, and natural phenomena like waves or clouds. It makes us feel good inside, and helps open up places where we have stiffened or blocked our own movements.
The movements shown in the Magic Mirror videos are carefully chosen to help you open up the inner movements and feelings of calm, of strength, of love, of ease. This can help to shift you away from negative mood states of anger, anxiety, or agitation. Doing the movements physically is important, but just watching can support the same goals. Give it a try, and let the Magic Mirror do the work!
If you would like to see our Moving Meditations app, here are the links.