Science of MMD

Although estimates say 1% of the global population is ambidextrous, how many people do you actually know who work to develop both sides of their body in all activities? I bet it’s far less than 1%. And of those people, how many have been extensively researched? Considering how piecemeal and anecdotal much of the research on mirror movement development (MMD) has been (studied in terms of ambidexterity), there’s room for improvement when understanding its science and nature.

For this post, I searched online, “the science and benefits of developing ambidexterity.” Not one article I found said, Newsflash: We are designed for ambidexterity (MMD) and everyone can benefit from its practice!” which is exactly what I’m proposing. Instead, most articles I found stated how little we still know about neuroscience, the origin (and even definition) of handedness, and their correlations with brain lateralization (e.g. language, memory, and other functions residing within different cerebral hemispheres). Some of the articles I found even claim that developing ambidexterity is bad for us, leading to ADHD, schizophrenia and other mental disorders.

This may be where MMD and traditional ambidexterity differ. MMD does not teach writing with both hands in the same direction, since it may be confusing to the spatial recognition parts of our brain’s design for mirror processing bilateral movement between the left and right sides of the body.

By this point, though, I had to remember that I’m writing this post backwards; not as a unimanual scientist studying others to see if this all may be true, but rather as a bimanual, 10-year-practicing, MMD guinea pig sharing with you the beautiful results I’ve experienced to be true along the MMD journey. Additionally, I’d like to see science explain the How of why it works.

Perhaps more importantly, I’ve heard the stories of today’s MMD practitioners. They also claim that working to develop ambidexterity (MMD) is the greatest choice they ever made and advocate the practice for others.

Now, considering our understanding of the science, it’s important to remember three things…

First, MMD physically grows the brain and improves spatial awareness. It’s funny to think that we’re using our own brains to try understanding the brain itself and how it works. If our own bilateral brains are not more equally formed through the bilateral practice of MMD, are we physically capable of fully understanding how it’s all supposed to work? Before practicing MMD for skateboarding rehabilitation, I never considered ambidexterity as a learnable ability. I had only ever heard of people being born ambidextrous. It was only until after working hard to make a habit of practicing ambidexterity that I realized it could even be physically developed.

Second, most of us only ever use whatever hand or stance that feels most comfortable. If we only ever do what is most comfortable, it would mean never practicing disciplines like exercising and healthy eating. We all know the results such a lack of discipline can produce. Non-dominant handedness, as connected to brain development, is a comparable discipline, but has been seen practiced much less than healthy eating and going to the gym. As a result, this unilateral, lack of natural development has been an unquestionable, acceptable norm, even though we can each see a bilateral being starring back at us every day in the mirror.

Third, children tend to switch hands between tasks and, periodically, write mirror-style. It sounds as if their unadulterated bodies instinctively know that they are made for MMD. The culturally chosen direction of reading and writing is arbitrary. We teach ourselves, though, that unilateral is the only option, even though the body is designed for symmetric, bilateral movement and cognition (something seen in the ability to equally learn mirror reading).

It’s important to remember, that we had to learn to read in one direction from the start. Learning to mirror read is similar in that it takes time to develop, but easier once already being able to read traditionally. The ancient Greeks understood this and incorporated it into their dual-directional, bilateral writing style of boustrophedon.

The science of lateralization is founded on the fact that movements from the right side of your body are controlled by the left side of your brain, while movements from the left side of your body are controlled by the right side of your brain. The corpus callosum, a fibrous, communication bridge at the center of your brain, is the crossing point of all bilateral activity. Though there appears to be correlation, science is still not conclusive that right-handed people are left-brain dominant and that left-handed people are right-brain dominant.

The cerebral center for processing language, known as Broca’s area, is found in the left hemisphere of most people. This makes sense considering most of us, including our ancestors, from whom we get our genes, have been writing with the right hand for thousands of years. So, what would have happened if our ancestors chose a more balanced handwriting style, alternating between both hands in mirror and traditional directions, in line with our symmetric, bilateral design? I imagine we would have “Broca areas” between both hemispheres.

One day in early 2021, I talking on the phone with my aunt Dara during a drive from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Philadelphia. While chatting on my headset, Dara tells me of a new style of cuisine she was experimenting cooking with. It was a cuisine I never heard of before, so I asked her to spell it out. Instinctively, I raised my left hand, sounded out the letters, air wrote each letter in mirrored direction, and saw them as such in my minds’ eye! I immediately told Dara that this was the first time that had ever happened. It was exciting to experience a sense of ‘click’ when it came to recognition of the non-dominant, mirrored direction.

Does that mean my Broca’s area has shifted? Considering I am still just as good, if not better, with my traditional, right-handed writing, that already-developed part of my brain should still be intact. Perhaps my Broca’s area is in the process of duplicating itself onto my mirrored, right hemisphere and becoming more solidified every time I practice writing left-handed mirror?

Dr. V. S. Ramachandran, Neuroscientist and Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of Southern California, San Diego, successfully uses mirror box therapy to treat amputees suffering from phantom limb pain. The concept is simple: a box with a mirror inside is put in the place of a missing limb from an amputee. Now, instead of viewing the missing limb, an amputee sees an intact limb moving fluidly, visually convincing their brain the once missing limb is now whole again.

I tried this technique with my friend, Timmy Gretz, who suffers from left-sided immobility due to a right-sided traumatic brain injury. Placing the mirror between his less-mobile left side and his body, I asked Timmy to look into the mirror as he worked to raise both arms together. Timmy, who couldn’t see his left arm since it was now blocked by the mirror, was able to raise his left arm higher than before, thanks to the mirror. I believe this increase in Timmy’s mobility comes from his brain being 100% visually convinced that he no longer has a less-mobile left side. Dissecting the theory numerically, Sight, being one of our five senses, takes up 20% of sensory recognition. If your brain can be 100% convinced that this 20% is completely normal, this adds a respective power toward achieving such sensory-mobility goals. In fact, many top athletes talk about the power of visualization as one of their keys to success. Even Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than Knowledge…”

There are at least two great books that discuss the science of MMD (in terms of ambidexterity) using personal case studies from practitioners. Whole Brain Power, by Michael J. Lavery, and Creative Brain Training, by Diego Irigoyen, each have chapters dedicated to ambidextrous development that discuss the science. Their findings include:

  • Non-dominant, mirror writing fires neurons in the opposite temporal lobe that aids in the development of spatial intelligence.
  • The corpus callosum thickens and the cerebral cortex, motor strip, and hippocampus in the right hemisphere are stimulated (during left-handed/footed activity).
  • Ambidextrous training feeds on itself, exponentially improving one side, then the other, and back again in a resonating echo of skill development
  • Neurogenesis, myelination, glucose consumption, and blood flow maximize in both hemispheres of the brain.
  • Endosteroidogenesis (the natural, internal creation of bodily steroids) occurs, producing pregnenolone, DHEA, testosterone, estradial, estrogen, and progesterone. This protects the cellular structures in the dentate gyrus, which is where new memory cells are formed inside the hippocampi.
  • The pre-frontal and frontal lobes are nourished through sustained beta brainwave activity, creating a cascade of chemical reactions, resulting in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

Published by AmbiLife

A big corpus callosum is sexy.

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