Self-Image -- Knowing or Doing?
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
by: Russ Hall, GCFP

Section: Art of Living

Neuroscientists using fMRI have been finding that the same areas of the brain are active when stimuli are organized into perception as when motor (action) planning is done. Apparently our perceptions are importantly a function of our current repertoire of possible actions, and clarifying the perceived image involves choosing an image of action. So how do we explain how we do anything new? Wait. Can we give a simple account of the doing without the explaining? That would be like telling a story, wouldn’t it? Interesting. Perhaps self-image makes more sense, is more complete, as a self-story of actions.

Recently, my wife’s cousin, a very thoughtful runner, a musician, and mathematician involved in medical research, said to me, “I don’t really know what you do,” inflecting it as a question. We were standing outside a restaurant with others of the extended family, waiting to be seated. The easy, habitual detour through explanation was right there, waiting to be followed.  I waited for a few of the possible beginnings of explaining to pass by. This allowed some impressions of my questioner’s spatial configuration to have a moment to become a perception of a possible beginning of a more direct route. His weight seemed to be parked rather firmly off-center to the left, turning and rolling his left foot out. His chest area seemed to stay stiffly in the middle, while his head inclined left. I considered what I might ask him to do. I wanted to clarify my own perceptions, and I wanted to develop the conditions for him to notice something new. I did not yet tell what I saw. I had him move over a few feet to a level spot. What followed took us less than fifteen minutes.

I asked him to notice his weight on each foot. He moved himself over each foot in a ‘definite’ way that suggested an assumption of no difference, and he felt none. So I had him start in the middle again, now asking that he ‘drift’ to each side, while I followed intermittently with a light contact at each iliac crest. Continuing with this quality, always pausing in the middle, I asked, “How far is it to each side?” Soon he noticed that the left side was closer, meaning his sense of middle was shifted left. This raised his eyebrows. “Wait,” I suggested. “We need more information and perspective to say much about it.”

We observed swaying (without bending) forward and backward, both in his present middle and while staying to each side in turn. I asked him if one heel received his weight more easily and if he felt weight evenly across each forefoot. The differences became clearer for him as we brought his feet closer together, approximating the internal spacing of the hip joints. Even with the differences between right and left, he felt how his balance and movement were easier than with feet wider or closer than this. His head still inclined left.

I had him look at the left foot being turned out, so he could bring it more nearly parallel to the right foot and repeat the motions forward and backward as before. I asked him to compare the contact of the two big toes with the ground during these motions. He noticed that the left first metatarsal and toe stayed lifted. Attempting to weight them, he felt resistance in the left hip area and mentioned that he had been having an ongoing problem with tightness and discomfort there. I said, “So it seems you stay more over the left leg, yet balance and ease of motion are less there.” He agreed with both the observation and the seeming paradox.

Next we explored turning left and right, both with weight about equal on the two feet and while more over one leg or the other. He reported stiffness and discomfort in the left hip area when turning right. He did not yet unweight the left leg easily to turn right around the right leg. So I suggested with my hands that the pelvis rest within its limit of easy turning, staying turned while he turned head or shoulders the other way and back again. His head still inclined left. Standing without turning now, I had him lift one shoulder girdle up while dropping the other, gently guiding with my hands at first. Then we explored tilting the head toward either the lifting shoulder or the dropping shoulder, doing this next while staying turned to one side and exploring how to balance when shifting over the leg on the side of the lifting shoulder or oppositely. I suggested seeking equal ease in each direction, not equal size of motion. He began to find this, and a re-check of turning simply left and right showed ease and increased movement to the right, now without the left hip area pain.

Naturally, he tried to turn farther to the right. Following with my hands I could indicate when to pause (by gesture or vocal (non-verbal) alert. I would ask him each time to ‘think’ of the fluid kind of balancing he had been feeling just before, perhaps adding mention of some part of his body and a (two-way) direction. He now turned even farther right without left hip area pain. I suggested something like, ”So it seems that as more of you becomes perceived and moveable, the whole system self-organizes better.” He nodded and then looked intently at me and said, “This is very interesting,” inflecting it to indicate particular meaning. (For him, as a research scientist and mathematician, this is how a worthwhile line of inquiry is referred to.)

I asked him to walk just a bit to observe what his body might do with what he had done and felt. He nodded that he felt good differences from before. I suggested that repeating a similar kind of process would be more useful than our natural impulse to recall and reproduce the particulars. Again, “This is interesting!”

Russ Hall is a Feldenkrais Practitioner in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Contact: russhall@ or text/voice: 216.397.0212
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