What brought me to the Feldenkrais Method® was being paralyzed. Due to Guillain-Barre Syndrome in 1986, I was bed- or wheelchair-bound for months. Determined to walk again, I would imagine walking in a familiar area. “Seeing” in my mind the path through the trees, “hearing” the leaves rustling underfoot, “feeling” the wind on my face kept me hopeful of actually walking in the future. I’m sure it also kept the brain connections, the motor memory, intact and helped me learn to move again.
“Movement is life,” said Moshe Feldenkrais
Yet, at times, we refrain from actually moving in an Awareness Through Movement® class! Why?
This may be another instance in which Dr. Feldenkrais was ahead of his time. Many lessons incorporate imagination or visualization. Rather than actually lifting an arm or sliding a foot, the instruction is to imagine doing so. Often this mental exploration follows actually doing many movement variations on one side of the body. Paying attention to how we move and the parts of ourselves that are involved develops the movement image and, even if not consciously recalled, fills in the visualization on the other side. Such “thinking” activates the motor cortex.
Visualization changes how we move!
Drawing on contemporary brain imaging, Srini Pillay, a Harvard Medical School Asst. Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, writes:
"Imagining allows us to remember and mentally rehearse our intended movements. In fact, visualizing movement changes how our brain networks are organized, creating more connections among different regions. It stimulates brain regions involved in rehearsal of movement, such as the putamen located in the forebrain, priming the brain and body for action so that we move more effectively." Scientific American Mind, May 1, 2015
So how do we imagine or visualize movement?
Some people watch themselves perform an action from the outside, clearly “seeing” in the minds eye, the situation, what we are doing and how various parts of ourselves move. For some, it is a more internal experience—almost feeling the whole action as if from the inside. Some of us may run a semi-linear silent commentary, using words to describe actions or sensations. Others rely on a “felt sense”, a whole kinesthetic pattern.
Different perspectives offer different advantages
From the May 2016 Scientific American Mind article, "Can Visualizing Your Body Doing Something Help You Learn to Do It Better?"
"Some studies show that imagining in the first person may activate muscles more powerfully than when we picture ourselves in the third person. It is also important for the action we imagine to be consistent and believable."
So imagining ourselves doing a headstand probably won’t get us there. But we can visualize or imagine a quality of movement that is smooth, easy, comfortable with minimal effort, suggesting an improvement over what we actually might do in real life. A jumpstart to learning to move with more ease and comfort.Athletes, musicians, dancers, and public speakers use visualization in training for an event or performance. So can we, although as we age, we may find that imagining an action is more difficult. Another “use or lose it” situation. Want to practice? Come to class and try it out!