We are totally unaware of how we go about thinking and deciding, and how we shift from sad to curious to optimistic.
I could see you were excited, upset, curious, angry, thrilled…
Early in life we learn to read the cues that are displayed in people’s bodies, reflecting their states of mind. Often we assume that the physical expression is solely a result of the mental process – that it is the mind that causes the face to take on a certain expression and the body to adopt a particular posture. We are also familiar with the experience of recognising people in the distance from their general shape and movement patterns – regardless of their state of mind at the time. We have habitual patterns of movement and muscular tension that are well outside our own awareness, but recognisable to others.
Scientists are now demonstrating that by taking on various facial expressions or postures, the associated mental and emotional states will follow. This is great news for those with the “fake it till you make it” attitude. You can whistle a happy tune, adopt a confident stance, turn up the corners of your mouth and watch your mood improve. You will also find your ability to make decisions and think clearly can likewise be influenced by the organisation of your body. We all have thinking postures and decision-making stances, whether we are aware of them or not.
Studies are also showing the benefits of mindful practices or the cultivation of awareness to utilise or improve our abilities. For most of us, this is a limiting factor. We are totally unaware of how we do thinking, deciding, or shifting from sad to curious to optimistic.
In his book ‘Awareness Through Movement’, Dr Moshé Feldenkrais begins, “We act in accordance with our self-image.” He explains that this ‘sense of ourselves’ is partially produced by our genetics, but much of it by our culture, language and education. We learn to do what our people do, mostly without ever thinking about it. Our responses and reactions have been learnt and are triggered by the events of each new day. Some of our self-image is also influenced by our unique disposition that affects what we pay attention to, what we notice, and what we are willing to adopt from our social and formal education. This is the domain in which change is possible, through the capacity to observe, reflect, experiment and be aware of our own processes.
In one activity Feldenkrais offers this very simple movement experiment:
Sit comfortably and imagine a clock in front of your face, and, using your nose, gently push the hands around. While making these tiny circles with your nose, shift your attention to the movement of different parts of the left side of your head – your ear, temple, jaw… Notice the shape of the movement you make and the relationship to your nose.
Circle your nose the other way, and imagine a rubber band connecting your left ear to your left shoulder and notice when it becomes tight, and when it becomes loose.
Go back to the first direction of circling and now imagine very deliberately painting the left side of your head in thin stripes. Become aware of the shapes and the movement of the imaginary brush as it moves back and forth, then up and down. Can you continue circling and keep the brush moving smoothly?
Having spent some time focussing on one side of your head, stand, walk and notice what’s changed.
Many people find profound changes in sensation on their left side, right down to the feet. There is also a significant shift in perception of the space on that side with a corresponding shift in mood and attention.
Feldenkrais demonstrates that movement alone makes little difference, but the combination of movement and conscious attention can bring about powerful changes in the human body-mind system. Engaging in movement activities – with awareness to what we are doing and what else could be involved – can lead to improvement in comfort, performance and thinking.
Jenni Evans is a trainer in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), and an assistant trainer in the Feldenkrais Method®. She organises workshops throughout Australia and maintains a private practice in Melbourne’s outer east where she helps people reach their full potential.
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