Random movements & variation lead to developmental breakthroughs

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

Monumental gains, Feldenkrais discovered, are made not by mechanical movement but by the opposite – random movements. Children learn to roll over, crawl, sit, and walk through experimentation. Most babies learn to roll over, for instance, when they follow something with their eyesthat interests them, then follow it so far that, to their surprise, they roll over. They learn to roll over by accident, based on a random movement. Infants sometimes learn to sit up because they are trying to put their feet into their mouths, notbecause they want to sit. Learning to stand and walk are momentous breakthroughs that infants make without training. They learn by trial and error, when they are ready.

Years after Feldenkrais made this discovery, Dr. Esther Thelen, arguably the world’s leading scientist of motor development, demonstrated that every child learns to walk in a different way, by trial and error, and not, as was thought, through a standard “hardwired program” applicable to all. Thelen revolutionized the scientific understanding of motor development, but when she discovered that Feldenkrais had said as much, she was “totally awed” by his clinical discoveries and told Feldenkrais’s students, “I think that the science may seem rather crude compared to the kind of intuitive, hands-on, brain … knowledge you people have.” She then trained as a Feldenkrais practitioner.

These insights contrast with the approach of many conventional physical therapies or the use of machines for rehabilitation, which generally give patients with “biomechanical problems” repetitive exercises, based on the assumption that there are ideal movements for lifting, walking, getting out of a chair, and so on. Feldenkrais hated it when his ATM classes were called exercises, because mechanical repetition of action was what got people into bad habits in the first place.