Proprioception and Feldenkrais Method®

The Feldenkrais Method® works by engaging the sense of proprioception explained by Oliver Sacks as the sense of the body’s position i.e. “in space”. In our classes this includes sensory awareness of the position of different parts of ourselves in relation to other parts – e.g. the position of our head in relation to our chest/shoulders or in relation to pelvis and feet when standing etc. Many of the examples of hallucinations that Sacks provides in his book include distortions of the person’s body position. One example is of a woman who, as a result of a fever delirium, felt she was standing tall when she was actually lying in her bed. Hallucinations of the body can also include body parts. The experience of “phantom” limbs of those who have lost limbs or even those born without limbs is now well recognised as a neurological phenomenon. Sacks reports a similar personal experience of this himself.

One extraordinary case of hallucinatory proprioception described by Sacks was the case of man awaiting surgery for a brain injury who was convinced that one of his legs did not belong to him. He was found on the floor having tried to throw the alien leg out of bed. Strange as it may seem many of the experiences you have as a student in awareness through movement classes are very similar to proprioceptive hallucinations – except here they are not hallucinations but sensations grounded in the actual state of your body and its parts “in space”. Think of how often you feel the floor as lower on one side of your body compared with the other, or feeling taller/straighter, lighter/heavier at the end of lesson.

Proprioception in the Feldenkrais Method® is often used interchangeably with the kinesthetic sense though this identification of the two is not universally accepted. Kinesthetic sensing however, at least includes the sense of myself in in movement (kinetics studies movement). It is through this sense in particular that we learn in ATM classes to improve our overall functioning.  The lessons make my brain aware of the possibilities for more efficient and effective habitual organisation of my whole body and its parts in daily activities whether at work or play. This is the remarkable nature of the nervous system directed by the brain: it does the reforming of habits (“rewiring”) for me once it becomes aware of my patterns when I am open to improvement without my having to will it with unnecessary effort.

–  Alan Cameron ©