Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Skate 'switch'; touch the transcendental

Recently, I began to experiment skateboarding in the switch stance, that is, with my left foot forward instead of my right. I felt like I was learning to skate from scratch; even basic turns were difficult. However, after only a few sessions I felt dramatic improvement and surprised myself by performing several semi-technical tricks including switch shuv reverts, switch flips, switch 180 ollies off curbs, switch 360 shuvs, and switch 180 to tailstall on ledges.

In the last session, in particular, while skating with Raph at St Kilda Beach, I felt strange sensations in my brain. I was mildly disoriented and confused as I had to near reverse many of my techniques in order to perform them in the opposite stance. Yet, more interestingly, I palpably felt the right side of my brain come alive.

My hunch was that using my non-dominant left side may have opened the right hemisphere of my brain, since the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. Upon arriving at home, I started to research the theme of 'hemespheric lateralization' and the effects of using the non-dominant side of one's body on the brain. Here is a distillation of my findings:                         

Handedness is rooted in the brain: right-handed people have left-hemisphere-dominant brains and vice versa. 95 percent of right-handers have brains that rigidly divide up tasks. The left hemisphere handles language, logic, and speech; the right handles emotion, creativity, and pattern recognition. However, only about 20 percent of left-handers have brains that divide up these tasks so rigidly.

Since 90% of people are right-handed, the vast majority of the population have strongly lateralized brains. Biologically, this makes sense, for it would be inefficient for both sides to, for example, process speech when one side can do so effectively by itself. Additionally, this frees the other hemisphere for other tasks, such as identifying the emotional - 'prosodic' - content of speech.

Brain hemisphere specialist, Michael Corballis, PhD adds, "There's an advantage to cerebral dominance because it localizes function to one hemisphere...otherwise, information has to cross back and forth across the corpus callosum [the nerve bundles bridging the two hemispheres], and that can sometimes cause problems." Indeed,  in 2007, geneticists identified a gene that seems to be present in most left-handers and that has been linked to schizophrenia as well. This further dovetails earlier findings that people with schizophrenia are significantly more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous.

However, research also suggests that a less compartmentalized brain can lead to more creative  thinking. Hence, for years, anecdotal evidence indicated that left-handers are more creative, and studies found that musicians, painters and writers were more likely to be left-handed than control-group participants.

Corballis theorizes that just as information is prone to errors as it shuttles between brain hemispheres, it's also more likely to encounter novel solutions. Right-handers might reject an idea as too illogical (being left brain dominated), whereas non right-handers may be open to the idea nonetheless, and develop it into a viable solution.

Many people claim that by regularly using their non-dominant hand they can actually feel a buzzing in the right brain. Others further report that through their non-dominant hand they connect to their emotions, playfulness, creativity, stamina, intuition, and claim that their creative problem-solving skills are improved, helping them heal discordant relationships.

This makes sense on two counts:

a) The brain keeps us functioning with predictability. It has developed routine patterns for controlling the body and has quite consistent feedback from the body's behaviour in the world. However, when one writes with their weaker hand, the brain gets disoriented and temporarily breaks out of its habitual patterns, opening the gateway to creativity and a fresh perception.

b) Studies have shown that when using one's dominant hand, one hemisphere of the brain is active. But, when the non-dominant hand is used, both hemispheres come alive. Since the non-dominant left hand is (in 95% of right handed people) linked to the non-dominant, creative, right hemisphere of the brain, it makes sense that using it may stimulate creativity and insight...

So skating switch can indeed open the gateway to creativity, insight, and the transcendental... 

1 comment:

  1. I know exactly what you're talking about. Had the same experience this summer. I was in some wild state for 3 or 4 hours, landing new flat tricks left and right... literally. I could hardly tell the difference between switch and regular, fakie and nollie, just landed everything. I didn't understand how skateboarding could be so easy. However, I have yet to experience those skills again. The only way I can explain it is by being in perfect balance and complete trust in and understanding of the physics of skateboarding. Both logic and intuition involved, filling each other's shortcomings. I was afraid I was hallucinating for a while.