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Dots and the story

November 22, 2011

In Making Connections I wrote about the importance of the bigger picture: the person, their environment, and their interactions with their environment, when considering how to approach overuse injuries. My colleague N. has asked me to elaborate a bit on this (not sure whether to thank you or curse you, N., as it’s led to a few weeks of intense thinking work) – so here it is.

For my last post I used a couple of ‘join the dots’ images to emphasise the complexity of human movement and experience versus the simplicity of a cause-effect, mechanistic approach. I’m going to stick with that analogy, and expand its application beyond overuse injuries to reflect on a broader theme – and invite you all to enter a fun competition!

One of the most common beliefs I encounter is that there’s a ‘right’ way to sit, stand, walk, etc etc. This ‘right’ way is considered immutable – that is, a body organisation which is perfect for all bodies in all environments and, frequently, for all interactions. (Insert your own “Pull back your shoulders”, “Engage the core”, “Tuck your tailbone under” posture mantra here.) The problem is, bodies, environments, and interactions are highly variable. This is why we have brains in the first place. Having said that, however, there are some constants – which is why we can talk about there being more and less efficient body organisations for specific actions in specific environments. Let’s take the arrangement of blue dots below as representing ‘constants’:

Examples of ‘constants’ (extended conceptually to include rules) might be: gravity; Newton’s laws of motion; trigonometry (for adding vector forces); the mechanics of hinge, ball-and-socket, and sliding joints; the laws of physics around energy conservation; momentum; friction; the mean tensile and compressive strength of human bone and muscle tissues; the generic anatomical structure of humans (ie bipedal vertebrates); etc etc. Note that some of these ‘constants’ apply to the person, some to the environment, and some to both. And notice how few of the ‘constants’ actually are constant: most are rules-of-behaviour or averages. People, although anatomically similar, are not identical. Environments are not static either (unless you remain absolutely still inside a sealed box, not something I recommend), although we often conceptualise them as being so. Just walking across a room may bring you onto a variety of sufaces (hard and slippery polished timber, then a slight change in level to a soft and grippy rug) which trigger minute adjustments in movement. Outside buildings, our environment is even more variable: wind, kerbs, oncoming cars, ice, broken glass and so on.

So if we take our dots now, and include as lines the interconnections between them as a picture of a more efficient body organisation for the function ‘walking’, it might look like this for an anatomically average human, on a clear day, on level ground, with a couple of kerbs to traverse, and a doorway to walk through (remember this is an analogy, not a representation):

But of course we are not naked robots, simply traversing terrain. We carry bags, wear restrictive clothing, limit our anatomical functionality with shoes, talk on the mobile, drink a take-away juice, hold an umbrella. We walk with purpose: to get to a meeting; softly, so we won’t wake a sleeping child; to find a particular address; to avoid unwanted attention on a dark street in a dangerous area; to take a tray of coffees back to the office without spilling any; to meet a lover. We walk with our personal histories and futures: remembering that argument with your children; reciting facts to be recalled in your upcoming exam; imagining your friends’ reaction when you tell them you’ve gotten engaged; worrying that you’ll be late to the meeting and lose your job. Add any one or more of these variables, or allow for a change in the environment (say ice on the road) and the picture might look like this:

Same dots. Different story.

Do I need to labour the point about the fallacy of the ‘right’ way? I didn’t think so.

You might also like this post about ‘posture’ from a fellow Feldenkrais practitioner in the USA.

Competition: for fun, why not make your own drawing using the dots from the top picture in this post. Send it to me, and I’ll give a prize to the best one!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2011 11:41 am

    Brilliant! Glad that I made you think, apologies if it was very painful. 🙂

    I love your concretisation of something very abstract.

  2. acturelab permalink*
    November 23, 2011 12:00 pm

    Thanks, grasshoppermoves!

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