CTRL-ALT-DELETE for the nervous system
One of my clients asked the other day, "Isn't there a ctrl-alt-delete function for the nervous system?"
I've been in those situations myself where I wanted a reset button. As it happens, we are always impacted by new information and we're doing something with it so we might as well become aware of what that something is and find ways to impact it. After all, we learned how to respond to the world once, we can learn it again! However, we cannot re-learn by telling ourselves off. It does not work.
Many years ago I became interested in Non-violent Communication as developed by Marshall Rosenberg. In NVC you make requests of others, not demands. It is the same with the nervous system. You might have heard me say (just a few times) that the nervous system does not learn if you are mean to it. Hence, if you demand of yourself to "Sit Up Straight!" it is doomed to fail because it not only relies on your attention span, which is limited, it also relies on telling yourself off, which is a demand.
A Better Way
Correction doesn't foster movement intelligence. In fact, you can demand that you act according to a whole list of correct biomechanical movements and still move poorly, painfully, and inefficiently. A better way to reset is to self-organize rather than self-correct.
What is the difference? In self-correction, we think we know what we "should do" and we just do it by force of will. This might lead to better conscious control over movement mechanics, but it's value is limited inasmuch as our attention is limited.
Consider self-organizing. What does that mean? It's a process of developing the kinesthetic sense, leading to a spontaneous, self-directed intelligence. Humans are dynamic! We can learn to respond with constant intelligent adjustments to ever-changing conditions as we navigate from our known patterns into unknown situations.
Responding by adapting is a better way than correcting. Ctrl-alt-delte is available when we expand our awareness of choice. This means we are less stuck in our patterns and don't have to force ourselves to act differently, but rather choose a new way naturally and spontaneously. Dr. Feldenkrais realized that who he was as a person was tied together with all his habits, so he sought to expand his awareness of choice.
Five simple things to self-organize your nervous system:
1. Find the ground-reaction force: In standing push into the floor as if you are about to jump. It's a small, subtle movement, pushing down against the ground, feeling the force through your bones.
2. Feel power from the center: In sitting or standing push the sides of your hands into the soft part of your torso just above your pelvis. Hold them in and then try to push them out using the inner abdominal pressure. It's similar to the loud “HUH!” that martial arts practitioners make. If you don't think you're doing it, make the HUH sound. Feel your belly expand forwards, backwards, sideways, and downwards to the pelvic floor. Now try to keep that pressure consistent while the diaphragm moves. Can you breathe a few times and keep the pressure?
3. Letting go into gravity: In standing lift your heels an inch or two and let them drop. Feel the force transmit through the whole skeleton. Let the belly, breath, and jaw be soft. Do this a few times to feel the “turtle effect” of the neck and torso begin to respond to the sensation of support from the ground.
4. Mobilize the spine: In sitting touch the fingertips to the sternum just below the collar bones. Imagine a stick pointing out from that place. Begin to draw a circle in space with that stick. It's like there's a piece of paper in front of you and your sternum is describing a circle on it. Soften the belly, breath, and jaw. Make many circles, then go the other direction. Allow the whole self to move. The fingers are there to provide tactile feedback of where you are in space. Make the circle round. Feel how it is coming from the middle of your back. Go slow enough to discern where you make a wobbly circle and instead of forcing it, look for places you might soften the ribs, spine, belly, and pelvis. You can also make a figure eight or other shapes, as all movement will create vital variability in the torso.
5. Repatterning the neck and jaw: This simple experiment helps with the tension in the throat, tongue, neck, and jaw. We have so many habits in this area that we forget we could feel different! Here it is: Stick out your tongue. Now leave it out and speak out loud for a couple minutes. Narrate what you are doing to your pet, yourself, or someone else. The trick is to keep the tongue from sliding back into the mouth no matter how challenging it is to make the sound. This allows the musculature to find another way. I just tried it and my dog looked at me like I was crazy. I think she might have even looked cross-eyed!