Seeing red… or blue

Have you ever felt green with envy, been purple with passion, seen red, or had the blues? Color has been linked so closely with feelings and emotion that it has crept into our language.

Objects do not emanate the colors we see. When we look at something, our minds absorb light waves of differing lengths and interpret them as colors, ranging from long waves (red) to shorter waves (violet) across the visible color spectrum. Color perception begins with information received by cone cells in the retina of the eye. Sighted creatures have between one and five different types of cone cells to gather this information~ humans typically have three types, (although those who are color-blind only have two and 2-3% of women have four). The cone cells pass information on to the right visual cortex in our brains, (which also happens to be where emotion is processed) and other brain centers for filtering and interpretation as color.

Perhaps this close proximity of vision and emotional brain centers affects personal color preferences and emotion. When I was a young child, my mother often set a little blue vase filled with purple violets from our garden by my bedside when I was sick, to help me feel better. And they did. When I was twelve my parents let me choose new wallpaper for my bedroom, and the paper I picked had clusters of violets everywhere. My bedroom was a visual display of my mother’s love to wake up to every morning, and I announced that purple was my favorite color. It still is.

Culture influences our understanding of color as well. In America, red makes us think of love on Valentine’s Day, while orange and black are “Halloween colors”. The people of the remote Candoshi tribe in Peru spend considerable time making bright dyes and pigments for pottery and face paints, yet have no words for colors. Instead they might describe a particular shade of red as being “like ripe fruit.” The Himba tribe from an obscure part of Nambia have a unique system of categorizing colors, with no distinction between blue and green. They can easily identify subtle green shade differences, but struggle to pick out a blue tile as different in a grouping of identical green tiles.

While there are differences in color symbolism, language and association across cultures, there is a high degree of cross-cultural correlation for relating red and yellow with danger, fear and anger. Globally, blue-green elicits the highest number of positive responses, while green-yellow is most often viewed negatively. Some surmise that color perception may have deep historical roots for survival, with some colors implying an invitation while others signifying a warning.

Colors may not look the same to everyone, stir the same feelings and emotions or hold the same cultural significance, but they appear to have common physiological effects. Studies show that heart rate and pulse are elevated when looking at red and yellow and lower when seeing blue and green, found so often in nature. Reds and yellows can help build on excitement and energy, while blues and greens support calm and reduce stress. Perfect for Ai Chi.

 

Do you want to know more? I will be presenting “Ai Chi Boosters” as a part of Ai Chi Innovations sessions at the ATRI International Symposium, June 19-22, 2018 at the Sanibel Harbor Marriott Resort and Spa. This conference is an invaluable resource for those interested in aquatic rehab and fitness. Please follow this link for more information~ I hope to see you there! http://www.atri.org/Symposium18.htm

Join me for a pop-up Ai Chi workshop at the Evanston Athletic Club, 1723 Benson Ave, Evanston, IL on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:30-11:30 am, June 26-July 19, 2018. Space is limited~ call 847-866-6190 to reserve a spot!

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What makes music relaxing?

Ai Chi practitioners have found that relaxing music enhances the stress-reducing effects of Ai Chi~ but what makes certain music relaxing? This is a hot topic for researchers in the fields of psychology and music therapy. Across multiple studies in recent years, research subjects have identified relaxing music with a slower rhythm tempo (60-80 beats per minute), a consistent low volume, a narrow pitch range and an unpredictable melody. Most of the time. The wild card is personal music preference, which plays a major role in perception of relaxing music, as well as mediating the effects of other components. But what actually happens to make you feel relaxed when you listen to music?

When music is created, sound waves hit the eardrum and cause it to vibrate. This creates a chain reaction within the inner ear, stimulating tiny hairs inside the semicircular canal, which are arranged to respond to consecutive pitches, like a keyboard. This stimulus is transferred through the brainstem to the auditory cortex where impulses are also arranged in “keyboard” order before being dispersed to more different parts of the brain than has been found for any other human function. Information about rhythm, pitch, tone quality, melody, meter and emotional reactions to music is processed and synthesized across the brain in a few thousandths of a second.  The fact that music has such a global presence in the brain is important. Each different part of the brain that is activated by listening to music also participates in other functions such as movement, balance, emotional control and focus, which seem to interplay with the complexity of perception of music. And our bodies respond with changes in heart rate, respiration and blood pressure, releasing neurochemicals and perhaps even altering brain wave activation.

That’s the broad answer. The specifics are fascinating~ the subject of upcoming blogs.

In her comprehensive book The Power of Music, Elena Mannes explores research and anecdotes about how music affects us. Her work is also featured in a recent documentary entitled “The Music Instinct.”