Kathleen stumbled upon a fantastic video showing the effects of neuroplasticity. Why is it fantastic? Well, I think it helps us to better understand how we package and execute complex experiential information (for the purposes of this site - "human movement"); and what it takes to make changes to that very well packaged information. If you are older than 30 this post may be quite important to you.
First watch the video, then read on...
Now as you can see, deeply engrained motor programming is difficult to rewire. It took him 8 months to "neuro-pave" a new program to master this "backward" bicycle. 8 months!!! I don't know if he rode a regular bike at all during that time, but I can only imagine how much more difficult it would probably be to learn if he had. Think of it this way - if water travels on a specific path down a dirt hill, what happens over time? It grooves a channel in the dirt. The deeper the grooved channel, the more difficult it will be to get the water to move anywhere but that channel. If you want the water to take another path, you have to groove another channel for the water to take down the hill. Imagine you have no tools other than your hands to groove a channel. It would probably take some time to get a deep enough channel for the water to "choose" that new path. Probably only when it becomes the path of least resistance. This is a simple analogy of how the brain works with "pre-formatted" information.
This video shows us is that it takes diligence, perseverance and patience to create new motor programs to supplant old embedded ones. There is that saying, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Well you can - the question is "How motivated is that dog?"
There are interesting implications for this when it comes to sport performance at an "older" age. Someone taking up a new sport or maybe even trying yoga for the first time. Maybe they get hurt or discouraged because they just don't have the "ability" they once had. Could these embedded programs be a barrier for entry? I think so.
I bet you haven't thought of pain yet in this context. What if a pain neuro-pathway is associated with a grooved motor program? Chronic Pain anyone? The multi-dimensional aspects of pain is outside the scope of this article, but I can say that neuroplasticity plays a significant part in the processing of it. Why do you think that "persistent" pain is more identifyable with older generations of our species?
Neuroplasticity is great in that once the experience is learned, the brain is lightning fast at mobilizing the neurons required to execute the programs. On the other hand, sometimes these programs can get in the way: whether it be for a desired change or - in the case of some forms of pain - be caught in a rut. The good news is that none of this is set in stone.