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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The funny thing about body awareness

I am a big yoga fan, and I am happy to have found yet another great yoga studio. I have been doing yoga for a couple of years, and it seems I learn something new about myself every session.

I have some pretty funky and instable shoulders. They have the tendency to ‘pop’ out of place (or at least it feels like this) without me really doing something outside the normal. Needless to say, it can be quite painful. I try to prevent this from happening; plus, injuring them consistently playing rugby didn’t help.

The last couple of sessions, I concentrated on trying to open the tight places in my shoulders without causing pain. The instructions we received, over and over again, were to squeeze the shoulder blades together in a “downwards dog” (for non yogis, it’s kind of an upside-down position creating an inverted V). I was trying to follow the instructions carefully, without irritating my shoulders; and I knew that I somehow wasn’t doing it. Intellectually, I know what squeezing shoulder blades together means; but somehow I just couldn’t do it.

A couple of sessions ago, I noticed that I am holding fear in my shoulders. Fear, of the sole pain, also this is a factor, but more of seriously harming my body.

Regardless, yesterday despite or with this fear, I worked on those shoulders and moved them around as instructed and then it just happened. I squeezed my shoulder blades together. I knew I made it and tried to concentrate on what it feels like so I could redo it. Thinking about it felt like a brainteaser (I think because your upside-down portion of the pose confuses the senses) but I managed to do it again and again. I knew that I had learned a new skill and gained a new level of awareness about myself. That feeling: Priceless. I still have to work on this skill and keep my awareness on it until someday it becomes automatic.

Why mention this in a blog about CE? Because the way this learning occurs has CE written all over it. It’s not only motor learning itself, but it is the self-questioning, the willingness and awareness to change what you’re doing right now to learn something new. This is what makes it so like CE. It’s also that the chance to learn a certain skill has been always there; but at this point all the essential, different factors like the teacher, the situation, one’s own emotions, and previous experience have joined together to make it possible to learn a particular skill at that very moment.

For years, I have used what I learned about myself in yoga to help me teach new skills in the CE classroom: about body awareness, posture, balance and more. Yoga has shown me many ways to build up or break down tasks we use in a task series to achieve the important element of differentiation.

I have also observed the same concentration, as in my attempts to avoid pain, in my participants. Sometimes, this concentration alone worked. At other times, it was more of a learning process: getting to know the body and its reactions in different situations. My favorite part is when I can observe when someone’s mastery of the balance between avoiding pain and learning new skills.

During my recent presentations introducing CE and talking about how we help trying to increase body-awareness, I usually see a weak smile; showing me that the person doubts that they need to work on this. Body-awareness is something that one cannot have in surplus. Yes, you might know where your toes are at all times, and you might even know where you body is in space; but I promise you there is always something more, with or without a movement disorder. An increased awareness might help to alleviate aches that most people carry with them, particularly those common back and neck aches.

I have taught parents and caregivers a great deal of body awareness, in order to help them avoid injuries and understand better how to help (and when it’s better to not help) their loved-one with a movement disorder. I guess this is how I started to learn about it during my conductor training. I remember how we used to practice the task series on each other, to learn to give corrections as we also learned to feel and understand body mechanics and what hinders them from happening. I also used this to teach my program assistants, and it showed positively in their ability to facilitate.

Body awareness is a funny thing. With many things in CE and life, I see more and more that body awareness is not an isolated, physical skill; but also a cognitive, personal, and emotional skill at the same time.

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