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On Not Knowing.

May 21, 2010

Recently I’ve had a couple of moments where students have expressed embarrassment over not knowing how they move, or not being able to sense how their pelvis/head/foot moves during everyday movements such as walking or turning. Really, they have nothing to be embarrassed about.

On the whole, the only people who pursue, develop, and maintain conscious awareness are athletes, performers, and teachers of movement. For most of us, a look in the mirror is the clearest (or only) way to observe our movement or posture.

It’s only when we experience pain, or when we try to learn something new (for instance, taking up tango, or yoga), that developing proprioception (the ability to sense where your body is, both in space and the relative movement of body parts) becomes a priority.

In my case, it was only when I began taking tango classes that I realised how precarious my balance was, and how impoverished my proprioception was.

Years of sitting at a desk and working in a highly cerebral field had turned my 16-year-old sprinting, triple-jumping, hockey-playing, jazz-dancing self into a 35-year-old precariously spinning top. Yes, I was trim and fit, I worked out at the gym, I had great ‘muscle tone’, I was flexible. But as I discovered when I tried to dance with a partner, I was in fact wobbling my way through life. I had no ‘axis’ (eje). My ‘posture’ or movement may have looked fine from the outside, but I was working constantly to maintain balance – all of which was completely unknown to me at the time. But there, on the dance floor, the evidence was incontrovertible.

I felt terrible. Embarrassed. Clumsy. Ignorant. Surely, an intelligent, healthy, educated, professional should be capable of walking a straight line. I was lucky enough to have a Feldenkrais practitioner recommended to me (the wonderful Naomi Richardson), and even though I had never heard of Feldenkrais before, I made an appointment immediately. That was the beginning of my journey -but that’s another story.

What’s important is that if you, for whatever reason, come to confront the fact that you have no idea how you move, you’re not alone, you’re not unusual, and you’re not an idiot.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 16, 2010 8:22 pm

    A few years ago after an uninspiring snowfield incident, I underwent some rehabilitation therapy to deal with the recovery process of a broken leg. The simple request by the trainer of “just walk up and down and we’ll take a look at you” was deeply revealing to them. I thought I had done rather well, for all intents and purposes walking pretty much like I had before the accident or at least how I remembered walking.
    Their first comment. “It’s not your broken leg that’s the problem.”
    What??? Yes my amble was a relaxed country gate with an out-turned right leg which swung in an arc powered by the outer thigh muscles landing on the toes. The rest of my movement drew no further comment but was a parade of counter balancing manoeuvres developed over 30 plus years. The simple instruction I then had to work on was “Plant your heel, pull yourself forward with your but.”

    Why was I never given instruction in the correct way to walk? You know say when I was two and the novelty had worn off, or at primary school while we were busy finger painting or at secondary school when Physical Education had its own classes. I had never in my life heard such a basic important instruction. It seems a tragedy that I had to break a leg to find this out.

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