The unity of mind and body is an objective reality. They are not parts somehow related to each other, but an indispensable whole while functioning’ – Moshe Feldenkrais
When an infant rolls over for the first time, the aim is not to roll over. The aim is to reach for something, and the rolling happens as an accident, when the body becomes unstable and the centre of gravity tips over to find stability. When he stands up for the first time, again, the aim is not to stand. It is to reach for something that he can’t while sitting. And with this experience he will try different ways of standing and arrive at what he thinks is the ‘best practise’ and thereafter not try any other way. He will find ‘his way’ of standing. All humans follow the same process with standing, walking, running, jumping. We find our ‘unique way’ of doing things. Even speech is essentially forcing air out of the mouth using the muscles of the throat, tongue and mouth – muscle movement.
Learning takes place in the brain (the sensory and the motor cortex) through our nervous system, which is structured in such a way so as to detect and then select, from among many trials and errors, the most effective trial of movement. We thus gradually eliminate the non resourceful movements until we find the minimum purposeful components of our final effort. These must be right in timing and direction at the same time. In simple words, we gradually learn to know what is the better movement we have to perform. We sense differences and select the good from the useless: that is, we differentiate.
Without distinguishing and differentiating, we would fuse the good and the bad and make little or no progress in spite of diligent insistence. This is where the Weber Fechner Law comes into play.
The Weber-Fechner Law, is a principle law in psychophysics first proposed by Ernst Heinrich Weber (1795-1878), and further formulated by his student Theodor Fechner (1801-1887). The law states that the difference in perceptual sensitivity to a stimulus is inversely proportional to the actual difference. If you are lifting a brick and a fly sits on it, you won’t be able to make out the difference. But if you are holding a small feather and the same fly sits on it, you will.
If that be so, can we use this phenomenon to carry out changes in our neurology?As per R.I.M.E. (Reorganising Internal Manifestations of Experience), my therapeutic modality which uses neuroscience and movement to change behaviour, it can! In fact any movement based therapeutic intervention works on the principle of altering movement to change neurological processes.
Behaviour, that human beings exhibit, is based on the self image that they create for themselves. Thus, if you want to change behaviour, it will be necessary to first change this self image. So, what is self image?
Self image is the relationship that your thoughts have with the spatial (space) and temporal (time) constructs created with body parts as well as (kinaesthetic) feelings attached to form an integrated whole (in NLP terms, a model of the world).
The way a person sees objects in space, the way he tracks movement, the way he inclines his head, the way he moves his hands and the way he looks at things seem to be innate. However, whatever a person does, gives out a lot about him. Because everything that a person does has been acquired through long periods of learning. How to walk, talk, paint, his movements, attitude and language have come into existence purely due to the accidental circumstances of his place of birth and environment.
Learning Experiences as a result of Parenting
We usually learn the hard way. Parents teach us that trying hard is a virtue in life, and we are misled into believing that trying hard is also a virtue when learning. You will see, therefore, all over the world, young boys and girls learning to ride a bicycle or to swim or to learn any skill, making many futile efforts and tiring quickly. Just because they are trying too hard.
We are so drilled or wired-in by prevailing educational methods that when we know what is required of us, we go all-out to achieve it, for fear of loss of face, regardless of what it costs us to do so. We have it instilled in our system that we must not be the worst of the lot. We will bite our lips, hold our breath, and screw up our straining self in an ugly way in order to achieve something if we have no clear idea of how to mobilize ourselves for that task. The result is excessive effort, harmful strain, and ugly performance.
By reducing the urge to achieve, and attending also to the means for achieving, we learn easier. Achieving-we lose the incentive for learning and, therefore, accept a lower level than the potential we are endowed with. When we delay the final achievement by attending efficiently to our means, we set ourselves a higher level of achievement if we are not aware that that is what we are doing.
On knowing what to achieve before we have learned to learn, we can reach only the limit of our ignorance. Such limits are intrinsically lower than those we can foresee after knowing better.
Let us suppose that you have not been running for a few years or that you are a middle- aged adult. Suppose that you want to run again, and set out to the speed you remember, you will soon find yourself out of breath, your heart pounding, and compelled to stop, only to find that you have not achieved what you intended to achieve. Moreover, you will most likely be stiff all over and find it very difficult to persist in what you set out to do.
Now, instead of the above, you make your first attempt slower than the top speed that is possible for you currently and, looking at your watch, you find that you are short of what you used to be able to do. You will feel and think you could have done a little better had you really tried your best: This feeling will lead you to try again. The next attempt will be a little faster anyway, so that, continuing to do a little less than your utmost, you go on improving. In the end, you will in a short time give a better account of yourself than in your younger days when youthful stamina and ambition made you always do your utmost. The wisdom of doing a little less than one really can pushes the record of achievement further and further as you come nearer to it, similar to the horizon that keeps receding as you approach it.
As per Sir Charles P Symonds (1890-1978), President of the Royal Society of Psychiatry, ‘Even in the excitable motor cortex, where functional patterns are relatively stable, it is evident that response depends on individual experience. Whether extension or flexion will take place in a digit depends on what has just happened, not only at the point of the cortex but in the sensory cortex behind it.’
Emotional tensions affect the cortex via the limbic system of the brain. All neurotic symptoms are intimately connected with and express themselves by affecting the relationship of the person to other people or to society in general. Thus all issues have a sensory and a corresponding motor aspect. And thus, any rigidity in the mind would have a corresponding rigidity of the body. Thus if we can get the body to move in ways that it is not used to, we are building up flexibility in the neural connections as well.
The basic premise of the Feldenkrais method is that all voluntary movement has one thing in common – they are reversible. At any point in the trajectory of the movement one can stop and go in the reverse direction, or do something altogether different. When you work therapeutically with clients using movement, you will find that in those parts of the self image where a complete learning has not yet occurred, this kind of reversibility is not possible.
When you find such a client, careful supervision is necessary for the person to become conscious of the difference between what he intends to do and what he actually does. When the skill of reversibility is acquired, the client has the same feeling that one has in solving a puzzling problem – the feeling of having arrived at a greater freedom in one’s self-control.
Rudolf Laban in his book ‘The Mastery of Movement’ talks about breaking movement into components of flow, weight, time and space to differentiate. He also talks about kinesphere in the movement form – central, peripheral and transverse. From Laban’s work we can differentiate each movement of a person and attribute a reason for it. Also use it to change the ‘usual patterns of movement’.
George Gurdjieff in his book ‘Life is only real when I am’ talks about the ‘Stop Technique’ (used to great effect by Osho Rajneesh). The participant suddenly has to freeze in whatever position he happens to be at the instant the Practitioner commands him – and to keep holding that position, no matter how strange or uncomfortable it may be. But by deliberately holding still until the command to relax, the learner becomes conscious of all the typically habituated and inefficient ways in which his body parts are arranged. Since the mind-body is one system, he would have enhanced consciousness that is the first step of learning reversibility.
In case the self image is to be changed, thereby changing behaviour, movement has to be brought under control and made reversible, and then the mind would change the self image thereby freeing up the client from his stuck state.
We must, keeping in mind the lessons from the Masters, accept that emotional instability and behaviour disorders (and subsequently psychosomatic illnesses) are the result of faulty habit formation. Even motor activity, which is the centre of all activity, is formed by the personal adjustment to the actual social and physical environment.
With a plethora of modalities and therapeutic styles available today, anyone working with movement needs to remember the basics propounded by Feldenkrais – that radical changes cannot be expected without reforming muscular and postural habits. Indigestion, faulty breathing, faulty sexual behaviour, postural rigidity, and muscular tension go hand in hand with emotional disorders. The whole self, breathing, muscular and postural habits, must be tackled directly and concurrently with the emotional reeducation. This is applicable both for one on one as well as for group activity. And no intervention is complete without resolution of issues. Making people dance and feel happy without sorting out presented issues is not only unethical but counter productive to the well being.
The mind and body is one unit – any change in one will impact the other. If you can address them both, the rest is easy.