Mirror Neurons: A Powerful Learning Tool

One of the comments I hear quite often from parents and gymnasts after a choreography session, is how amazed they are at how much dance was picked up and how quickly it was learned. Thank you mirror neurons!

Mirror neurons, a fundamental tool for learning, are a group of neurons that allow us to learn through imitation...

...they enable us to reflect body language, facial expressions and emotions. These neurons are key for child development, as well as for relationships and education in general.

Essentially, mirror neurons respond to what we observe in others, by copying what we see. When we copy what someone else has done, the mirror neurons of our brain, fire in the same way as the mirror neurons of the person from whom we are learning.

Knowing this then, our greatest opportunity as coaches, teachers, mentors and parents is to use mirror neurons as an asset by making the effort to first and foremost govern and direct our own mind and emotions. Notice I didn’t say “suppress,” I instead said, “to direct.”

So how do we practically employ this understanding so that we become more effective in our ability to convey?

1. Set an intention for the practice, or choreo session:

When we set an intention, it qualifies the entire experience, which in turn is also transmitted from the coach or teacher to the student via the mirror neurons.

2. Script my practice or choreography session, paying attention to what feeling I want to cultivate:

Scripting is the act of speaking or writing about a future event in the past tense, this act communicates to the body, the truth of something already done.

3. Stand in constant observation over my mind and emotions, as well as that of the athletes I’m working with. Choose accordingly.

We think about 60k-70k thoughts a day, but are only aware of about 5% of them, the more we practice observing them though, the more we are able to direct, quiet and choose them according to what we wish to experience and this activity is also mirrored by the athletes or students, the more aware we are the more aware they become

4. Do the choreography alongside them, until…

How long is “until?” Until they get it. Which can sound daunting at first, until we understand that learning that employs mirror neurons happens much faster, because rather than learning something completely new, they’re simply borrowing the information that is already known by you, the coach or choreographer, it’s a bit like copying and pasting someone else's experience into our own brain or like downloading a program, like when Neo learns Kung Fu in the matrix by downloading the program for Kung Fu.

5. Allow science to do its thing.

The beauty of this natural process is that it happens automatically. The more we are aware of it however, the stronger the connection that is able to be formed which means the faster information is able to be transferred

“Mirror neurons allow us to understand other people’s mind, not only through conceptual reasoning but through imitation, Feeling, not thinking.”

- G.Rissolatti