Challenge Yourself for a Better Mind, Body and Spirit

When was the last time you did something that challenged you? And I mean really challenged your mind (or your body) to the point where you thought, “I just can’t do this!”? I’m willing to bet as an adult you aren’t challenging yourself to try new (and possibly frightening) things on a daily or even weekly basis. Maybe you don’t challenge yourself at all.

I have to admit, I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to start piano lessons as an adult. Was this a commitment I wanted to make? I had mentioned fleetingly to my husband once that I’d always wanted to learn to play. He never forgot this and, for our first anniversary, he bought me a piano and scheduled lessons for me with one of his work colleagues, Pat, who teaches piano to children and adults in her spare time.

After a couple years of lessons (with breaks when my daughter was born and for the unexpected loss of Pat’s husband), I’ve suddenly gotten to the point where my lessons are incredibly difficult. I just can’t seem to make my left and right hands do very different things at the exact same time! Last night, during my piano lesson, I literally said to Pat, “I just can’t do this!” I was frustrated and certain I was wasting Pat’s time—and my own.

Because she’s a fabulous instructor (and person), Pat said she’s proud of me for not giving up. As adults, we can walk away from things we struggle with much more easily because, well, we’re adults and can do about anything we want (within reason, of course). Pat reminded me learning something new, especially music, is great exercise for our brains as we age. The brain never stops changing through learning. It’s called neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity. Genetics, your environment and the actions you take to learn new things affect your brain plasticity. Pat told me there has been a lot of research that playing music improves the areas of the brain that help with body movement and body orientation, as well as process visual information. She noted music therapy has become very popular in assisted living and retirement communities because of all the benefits it provides the brain and body.

While reading our “Cover Story” and “Historic”, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the project teams ever doubted whether they could truly overcome the formidable challenges retrofitting these buildings posed. Did they ever say, “I just can’t do this!”? Both buildings’ structures were failing, requiring the project teams to perform “surgery” to stabilize them while preserving their beloved features. I am in awe of the amount of dedication these project teams put into these two buildings, and I think you will be inspired by their extraordinary preservation feats, too.

After reading these articles (and speaking with Pat about my future as a pianist), I’m encouraged to continue with my lessons and to even find more time each day to practice. With Pat’s guidance, I have challenged (and improved) my brain in the past couple years. I’ve also made a wonderful friend in Pat; we make time during each lesson to talk about children, marriage, work and life. If I wasn’t taking piano lessons from her, I’d still want to sit down with her at least weekly just to talk. She has enriched my life, and I’d wager the preserved buildings we profiled in this issue are enriching lives, too.

About the Author

Christina A. Koch
Christina A. Koch is editorial director and associate publisher of retrofit.

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