Awareness the key to improving movement

Extract adapted from
The brain’s way of healing: Stories of remarkable recoveries and discoveries
By Norman Doidge MD Scribe Books

The sensory system, Feldenkrais pointed out, is intimately related to the movement system, not separate from it. Sensation’s purpose is to orient, guide, help control, coordinate, and assess the success of a movement. The kinesthetic sense plays a key role in assessing the success of a movement and gives immediate sensory feedback about where the body and limbs are in space. Awareness of movement is the fundamental basis of Feldenkrais’s method. He called his classes Awareness Through Movement lessons (or ATMs). It may seem “magical” to think that movement problems – especially in people with serious brain damage – can be radically changed simply by becoming more aware of the movement, but it seems magical only because science formerly thought of the body as a machine with parts, in which sensory functions are radically separated from motor functions.

This focus on self-awareness and monitoring of experience is based in part on Feldenkrais’s exposure to the meditative aspect of Eastern martial arts, and it reveals him anticipating the current Western interest in mindfulness meditation by about fifty years. Feldenkrais’s insights have been reaffirmed by the neuroscientist Michael Merzenich, who showed that long-term neuroplastic change occurs most readily when a person or an animal pays close attention while learning. Merzenich did lab experiments in which he mapped animals’ brains before and after different kinds of learning tasks. When the animals performed tasks for rewards automatically, without paying attention, their brain maps changed, but only temporarily.