The benefits of bell-ringing
I started to learn how to ring church bells last March. I practice every Wednesday evening, and even in just a few months I've learnt a lot, and enjoy it thoroughly. In my village, church bells have been rung since the 15th century. Nowadays the bells are a very Marmite topic, so villagers either love or hate to hear them being rung. I always enjoyed the sound of them, and one day I just decided to give it a try myself. It's an extraordinary feeling, because being inside the church tower is like being inside a giant musical instrument. The bells (some of which can weigh well over a tonne) hang about 50 feet above you. And this huge instrument requires several people at once to operate it. It also gives a very peculiar sense of performance anxiety, because the bells can be heard for miles around. So if you mess up, everyone will hear it! But then again, because you're inside the tower, nobody will know who messed up except the other people ringing (and they won't tell anyone). I feel there are many benefits to learning this interesting practice, so wanted to list them to encourage others to look into the joys of bell-ringing. Here are just 10 of them:
1- It's a good discipline It is a discipline like any other. If you practice on a regular basis, it's something you learn to fit in with your schedule. It encourages punctuality, organisation, promptness etc. It also fosters a lot of other good virtues that improve skills, and most importantly, the way you apply them in other areas. Just like joining a sport's team or going to a class, you are only able to practice for a limited time, and so really have to make the most of every second. It's a great way to learn how to really savour the moment, in whatever you're doing. Furthermore, bell-ringing can't be learnt overnight, it requires a lot of dedication and patience, and it's great to have a goal to work towards, especially in something constructive.
2- It's good mental stimulation Bell-ringing requires constant concentration, not only so you keep in time, but also for making sure you listen carefully to instructions. It's a very fast paced activity, and requires split-second decisions. Learning how to change positions is a huge part of bell-ringing, and is particularly good for improving short term memory. Bell-ringing is one of those superb mental exercises that stimulates the prefrontal cortex, which is important in keeping the brain switched on and alert.
3- It's a good physical exercise Want to exercise abs and arms? Even bell-ringing for a short while can leave you feeling sore and aching (but in a good way). Maintaining a good posture is important, and is great for muscle memory, circulation, and keeping the joints in good condition. Breathing naturally and staying relaxed is also important, so you can learn to keep calm and cool in any other strenuous activity.
4- It builds teamwork Bell-ringing really only works if several people are ringing at once. The more ringers there are, the nicer the sound is, and the more interesting performances you can create together. This clearly requires teamwork and co-operation. It teaches you to be aware of what everyone else is doing, communicate (often non-verbally) with others, and co-ordinating your movements with each other. It also teaches you to be encouraging and supportive of each other. Perhaps most importantly, if something goes wrong, it's important to be there for each other and help keep each other from harm.
5- It's great for mental arithmetic This one speaks for itself. Remembering your position (which changes constantly) whilst just trying to ring properly and safely to begin with, is great for improving memory and quick mathematics.
6- It's an opportunity to make new friends Bell-ringing is a very social activity. The interest in bell ringing is far-reaching, and covers a range of age groups and backgrounds. Unlike some other hobbies or disciplines, bell-ringing requires you to be in a specific place at a specific time, with other people. There are many opportunities to go to events and practices where you'll meet all kinds of people, you'll be bound to meet at least one person you'll gel with.
7- It's fascinating Do you have a wide range of interests? Campanology could be another expertise to add to your list. Bells are surprisingly interesting things, and can open the door to learning a great deal of history about bell-ringing, churches, historical communities, and the actual mechanisms of church bells. Learning the way a bell works is intriguing by itself, and surprisingly complex. It's inspiring to think about how they managed to build bell towers hundreds of years ago. It's a fairly esoteric activity, but a great conversation piece. It's also very nice to feel you are helping maintain a centuries old tradition.
8- It's an opportunity to visit new places, and a skill you can take anywhere If you are interested in the history of churches, then bell-ringing is a great conduit for visiting and learning about different church communities. Some bell-ringers travel all over the world to far flung places, all of them very different, but also all unified and made accessible by bell-ringing.
9- It gives you a great sense of accomplishment Bell-ringing is not a competition, (although there are actually competitions for it), but even then, like in a rowing team, you're not competing against your teammates. If you are truly interested and trying your best, a fellow bell-ringer will never judge you or criticise you, they will only want you to succeed. At first you might get nervous just being near the bell ropes, so it will be an awesome feeling when you are eventually able to ring them confidently and proficiently.
10- It's fun! In many ways bell-ringing is a very serious enterprise, because it's supposed to be a discipline, a mental and physical exercise, and really also a means of worship. It can also be a very dangerous activity if not taken seriously, people have been known to be badly injured when things go wrong. But ultimately it's supposed to be a lovely, heart-warming, and enjoyable activity, one which strengthens a sense of community, and self-improvement. When the bells are rung properly, there are few lovelier sounds in a village or town, and it is testament to a great deal of (often unsung) hard work.
All in all, bell-ringing is a marvellous activity, which is clearly both an art and a science in one. If you get the opportunity, give it a try and see what benefits you get from it.Rhx