Mind Juggling

Updated 4/24/08

In 1984 we undertook a two-year project to find the underlying cause of anxiety and develop an effective technique for alleviating it. Many people suffer from anxiety, and medication or known anxiety reduction exercises didn't seem to be particularly effective treatments.

We had come to believe that anxiety, stress, tension, panic or abnormal fears all resulted from a single neurophysiological configuration. After researching the neurophysiology of anxiety and conducting experiments with anxiety sufferers, we concluded that anxiety was closely associated with a functional imbalance between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. It has been theorized that when the sensory and motor functions of the two hemisphere were uncoordinated, anxiety resulted.

We set out to develop a dynamic technique which would balance hemispheric activity and at one point were trying something that involved muffin pans and a metronome. Don't ask! Anyway, after many tries, we finally hit on a simple, practical juggling technique (using a single ball) which required hemispheric coordination. Standard anxiety reduction techniques are often ineffective because feedback isn't immediate. Most forms of meditation, for instance, induce doubts that one may not be 'doing it right'. Only after repeated practice can one begin to experience and recognize benefits. We wanted to create an exercise where the essential neurological shift had to occur in order to do the exercise at all. This was the genesis of the Mind Juggling technique.

The March 1985 issue of Scientific American contained a vivid confirmation of the theoretical aspects of the technique. A photo of a positron emission tomography (PET) scan showed unequal blood flow in the brain of a victim of panic disorder. The left side of the brain is overactive, while in the right activity has decreased significantly. The photo made it abundantly clear that anxiety results from the isolation and imbalance of hemispheric activity. You now have a vivid picture of what your brain looks like while operating in the Water Quadrant. (review the Physiology Map if this isn't immediately obvious.)

Unequal flow of blood in the brain of a victim of panic disorder

PET Scan from Scientific American March 1985 p. 72. View is from the top of the head.

Since Mind Juggling requires hemispheric coordination the exercise is automatic; it can only be completed when the brain hemispheres function cooperatively. It's simple (we have yet to find anyone who fails to learn the exercise in a few minutes) and effective (people report significant reduction in anxiety from the very beginning). When the symmetry of brain operation is restored with this technique, often within minutes, catch phrases like 'centered', 'together', 'balanced' or 'whole', begin to take on a very literal meaning. Everyone using this exercise reported reduced anxiety. Many also experience a growing sense of peace and calm, greater access to feelings and an ability to deal more creatively with personal problems. In short, Mind Juggling seems to be acting like a physical mantra for a new kind of meditation.

A major component of the success of this technique is the certainty that one can take precise simple action at any time to restore emotional equilibrium. Individuals who carry a ball with them are secure in the knowledge that should anxiety arise they can deal with it quickly and effectively. This technique gives them the confidence and experience of 'driving their own bus' and many are excited by the experience of finally having some direct control over their neurophysiology.

As for the potential of Mind Juggling, we believe it's a tool which can be used by anyone, not just as a pacifier to ward off anxiety or as a plaything to remind one of the joy and spontaneity of life, but also as a ritual practice to access the depths of mind and spirit. Anxiety reduction is one thing, and while the benefits are profound, proceeding through life with a balanced mind is for many folks a new and marvelous opportunity.

Physiology shift during Mind Juggling

Some unexpected results have come from feedback. One man who suffered chronic pain from a major auto accident reported substantial pain reduction by juggling. Juggling also appears to be an effective method for overcoming insomnia. A woman in her sixties who once experienced heart irregularities caused by stress has worn the fur off of several tennis balls. And some local artists have taken up Mind Juggling for what they claim is a boost in creativity. A fifth grade teacher in the midwest has her class begin each day with mind juggling.

Refinement of the exercise has resulted in a precise set of instructions. The ball should weight about 100 grams. A tennis ball weights 50 grams so we made a tool which allowed us to inject different materials (BB's became a favorite) inside the ball creating different sounds. Most any object with a weight in the 100 gram range will work fine. It's probably more important you have an affinity for the juggling object than its particular characteristics. Pick something you like, something with personal significance, something that feels nice (KEN), sounds good (AEN) and won't be damaged if dropped.

Mind Juggling Instructions:

1. Stand, feet apart at shoulder width or sit in a straight-back chair without arms.

2. Position arms and hands as if you are supporting a tray level in front of you, elbows at 90 degrees, with the ball resting in one hand.

3. Begin tossing a ball from one hand to the other with your eyes open and slowly look up toward the ceiling, finally closing eyes. Return head to normal position.

4. Toss the ball at a rate of about once a second (50 times/minute) for the duration of the exercise. If available, a metronome is useful for timing. The ball should be thrown about 4-6 inches above your hands.

5. Continue juggling for 10-20 minutes. If during this time you should drop the ball, retrieve it and resume juggling. Occasional dropping appears to be part of the process. Allow your mind to go in whatever direction it wishes.

6. As your juggling ability develops, increase the level of difficulty by moving your hands farther apart and/or throw the ball higher. Keep a slight edge on the whole exercise. Keep your neurology learning.

There are only three absolutes: a nice slow tossing rhythm, closed eyes, and pick up the ball when you drop it.

Physical balance is maintained by the inner ear and either the visual system or the propriopceptive nervous system. Two of the three must be used and one of them must be the inner ear. The propriopceptive nervous system is the one you learned to use as an infant in order to walk. Closing your eyes and attempting to stand on one foot will give you a quick estimation of which system you use in conjunction with your inner ear to maintain balance. As a general rule, we've found that when people first begin to juggle they will watch the ball in their minds after they close their eyes. Then, usually within a minute or two, they will just perceptibly rock back on their heels. It's at that moment that they switch from their visual to propriopceptive nervous system. Jugglers report that this is when they quit watching the ball in their mind's eye. We're fairly convinced that the propriopceptive nervous system must be engaged for the Mind Juggling effect to take place. This shift can be implemented by requiring that the juggler visualize something other than the ball, something in the past or future (VIN/B). In any event, boredom usually leads to the shift sooner or later.

Your task is to learn to Mind Juggle. The exercise appears to have many of the aspects of neurological learning (like riding a bicycle) in that after an initial period of learning your neurology 'knows' how to restore hemispheric balance. And it becomes something you'll never forget. After sufficient practice (about the same period of time it took you to learn to ride a bicycle) you'll be able to remember or imagine you're juggling and the process will kick in. Twenty-five sessions of Mind Juggling and you'll have it for life, ever ready to be deployed at a moment's notice.

Hagakure, written by Yamanoto Tsunetomo in 1716, is a manual for the samurai classes consisting of a series of short anecdotes and reflections that give both insight and instruction in the philosophy and code of behavior that foster the spirit of Bushido--the Way of the Warrior. In it is an aphorism which applies to both the literal and figurative aspects of Mind Juggling. To paraphrase: Down seven times, up eight. Don't worry how many times you might drop the ball--just pick it up and continue. You only fail if you and the ball stay down. After learning to Mind Juggle try Walking Chants as a way to integrate this into your daily life.

The next step in Hawkeen Training is NightWalking.

For more read:

Left Brain, Right Brain -revised edition, by Sally P. Springer and Georg Deutsch, W. H. Freeman
Of Two Minds, by Fredric Schiffer MD, The Free Press
The Structure of Delight, pp. 204-206