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The Gestalt: Coordination and Perception

In the last 2 years I’ve really simplified the way I work with people on movement.  In doing work with movement the holy grail is in the “cue”.  This is the direction you give a client for what to pay attention to or what to do.  For example, in standing one of the most useful things you can do is let your knees be soft with the quads relaxed so they aren’t locked back or bent, just right in the middle.  When you initiate walking with soft knees, the tendency is to land more towards the center of the foot without all the shock and hyperextension that comes with landing on the back of the heel.

The problem I’ve run into cues like this with some of my clients, is that there are just too many of them to achieve balanced posture and the gestalt is lost.  Often the tendency will be to try to do all of the cues I’ve given at once rather than to tune into one at a time or even better how that one cue is effecting the total experience.  This generally leads to the opposite result of what I’m looking for which is that the person I’m working with starts walking like Robbie the Robot, hopelessly lost in the mental exercise of managing the cues.   For example, try letting your knees be soft while landing on the pad in front of the heel, while allowing the hips to shift back and keeping your eyes on the horizon.  While you’re at it, allow your arms to swing from your midline and let your jaw be soft, oh yeah, and don’t forget to breath.  It’s easy for these cues to become a bunch of tasks to pay attention to, but that’s not really the point. I’m going to make a brash statement and say we live in a singularly focused culture.  While we may be getting better at multitasking on our iPhones, when was the last time you noticed your breath or whether your body is comfortable, while you send a tweet?  How about right now while you’re reading this?

This brings me back to the question of, what is the goal of movement education and more importantly, what is the gestalt that ties our experience together?  Some of my clients have articulated it as learning how to sit or walk or stand all over again.  That’s not far off, but I’ll offer another suggestion. To begin with, to feel better, but what does that really mean?  How about something like, “being able to maintain easy attention to your internal experience while participating in the world outside of your skin”?  Isn’t that really what’s happening when we feel good?  We are aware of our experience and we’re able to participate with others and engage with the world. Another way of putting it would be to balance internal and external experience.  When it comes down to it, most people come to see me with problems that stem from difficulty at listening to the inside, while doing something out in the world.  Another way of saying the same thing is that it’s easy to forget how to coordinate our internal experience while interacting and moving.  Hubert Godard, the brilliant Rolf Movement teacher uses the words coordination and perception to talk about the same thing.  Essentially, the majority of postural misalignments have to do with two things: 1. how we experience; and 2. How we express ourselves and interact with the world.  To achieve a balance between internal awareness or coordination and external focus requires a lifetime of practice, but the journey begins when we become aware of HOW to focus on either one (perception or coordination).

It will likely come to you as a surprise that core support doesn’t come from doing sit-ups, (a totally irrelevant exercise in developing core support), but instead comes from a balance of perception and coordination.  I’ll give an example.  While you’re sitting reading this article (assuming you’re sitting), your abs are probably not toned much and your awareness is most likelyon the words on the computer screen.  That’s ok.  See what happens if you take your eyes away from the screen and look out at the horizon, letting what you see come to you if you can.  There’s a reason why gymnasts mark the horizon with their eyes while they’re balancing. With one hand on your belly, press into the floor with your whole foot really feeling the floor, and draw your shoulder sockets and hip sockets back towards the back plane of your body (the hip socket is at the hip crease, right in the middle of the thigh).  You should feel a subtle toning or drawing in of the transverse abdominus muscles under your hand.

These are the muscles that lead to stabilization of the spine and help us to get longer, but what initiated the tone was not a squeezing of your 6 pack muscles.  Instead, we got there by coordinating our internal movements (hip sockets and shoulder sockets moving back into the joint), and expansion of our awareness of the ground (through our feet) and our awareness of what’s around us (through the eyes).  When we start to feel misaligned it’s often because of a loss of core support caused by a breakdown of our internal coordination or external perception.   This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself.  It’s often what we do when we rest, but it’s not the easiest way to move.  In a general way we can work on our core support by focusing on our coordination and perception.  So next time you’re out for a walk you might just ask yourself, are my thigh bones softening back into the sockets? Am I able to walk with my attention on the horizon? What’s around me or am I looking at the ground?  Am I able to stay attuned to how it feels on the inside, while being engaged and interested in what’s happening around me?