Some Principles of Learning and Change

Many of us stand and walk as if there is a single point at the bottom of our leg, or as if the foot were somehow wooden. In either case, the foot slaps down on the floor. This suggests that we have a very unclear internal image of the foot relative to the leg in terms of its movement, and thus, options for weight-bearing.

What is this "internal Image" and how can we change it so that our walking becomes more effective, easier, having better balance, and so on? Following are some background concepts that underlie the lessons in this series.

The part of ourselves that controls movement (or generates movement) is in our brain called the "Motor Cortex". Another part of our brain creates the image of movement, like a movie, just a fraction of a second before the movement starts.

At the instant the movement begins another part of our brain monitors the enactment of the action. This is the "sensory" system of the body, which is often referred to in the Feldenkrais Method as the "Nervous System". This is very complex, for there are sensors for:

  • Location: Every instant of the movement, the sensors of location (like GPS computers) send information from all parts of the body along special nerve fibers to the the Motor Cortex.
  • Pressure and weight: sensors of pressure (weight) send information also along special nerve fiber to the Motor Cortex
  • Pain: the instant pain events occur, the pain sensors send information along their nerve fibers not only to the Motor Cortex, but also to special organs in the brain.
  • Temperature: there are special sensors for temperature which have their own nerve fibers.

The Motor Cortex integrates this information from the many sources with the planned movement path (the "Movie" mentioned above) and instantaneously sends new information to the muscles to modify their action.

The Nervous System is sensitive to novel information. Thus, while executing the planned movement, if a sensation is novel, the system will respond to the degree it is capable.

Learning. The Nervous System remembers the novel information and the response for a brief time. The more often the novel information is detected, and is consistent, the more likely that the it will be remembered in the future. And, the more often that the response is consistent, the more likely the response will become to be a consistent response, which we call a learned response.

Intention. By recognizing the cycle of "new-information-new-response-short-term-memory", we can create conditions for learning that can become part of our learned response. That is, by systematically creating consistent sensation that results in a predicted and consistent response, and repeating this consistently, we will remember the response. This is done through systematic intention. We intend to do something that our system will recognize as novel and, through creating a constraint that limits the response to a small set, the intended response becomes very likely to happen and to be remembered.

Systematic. In order increase the likelihood of the response being remembered, we need to be systematic (consistent) in how the precipitating sensation can be experienced, and, through systematic constraint, the intended response also is consistent and thus the memory s built.

Noise. Noise is confusion. Noise is a sensory experience of multiple sensations that have more than one action, often contradictory. We always have this in our system; sometimes there is more noise, and sometimes less.

When there is too much noise, the learning and change system cannot detect the new information, and cannot plan effective responses. In that case, the system responds with several strategies: (1) Reduce the muscle activity (thus, perhaps detect a difference); (2) Increase the muscle activity (thus perhaps detect a difference); (3) do something else: search for memory of "too much noise" and do that action.

Examples of Noise

  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Extremes in Temperatures
  • Loud Noises
  • Reactive Emotions (Fear, Anger, Uncertainty)
  • Mental confusion
  • Conflicting Intentions

When there is noise, learning is hampered.

When the noise is sudden and extreme, the system becomes hypervigilant and chooses a response. The extreme of this is the experience of trauma. Trauma is a self-protective mechanism in which the input sensations and the resulting responses are "burned into" the learning system.