Habitual unconcious effort can interfere with simple methods of improvement. For example lots of people with pain receive advice about their posture and movement, but will advice change an unconscious way of using your muscles? Maybe, but probably not. Exercise can suffer from the same problem; only some people will be able to exercise in a way that significantly changes habitual over-use of muscles. Often exercise will reinforce these movement patterns.
To reduce this unconscious effort I follow these principles:
- Prefer not acting at all over acting in a habitual manner,
- Use multiple forms of feedback and guidance (visual, verbal and physical),
- Consider change as a whole rather than focussing on specifics,
- Use conscious thinking to drive the process of change.
Don't act habitually
The more deep seated a habit is, the harder it is not to do. In some cases practicing not to do something is more beneficial than trying to do something new. For example, if someone wanted to change how they walked, I would work with them while they were standing, just about to walk. Even the thought of walking will start to activate the habitual muscle contractions associated with walking. By thinking about walking, noticing what happens but choosing not to walk, we can start to weaken the links between the habitual tension and the act of walking. It then becomes easier to move in a new way.
In habits that aren't so strong there may be no need to explicitly explore ‘not acting’. Regardless, inhibiting habitual action is still critical if change is desired.
Multiple modes of feedback
Not only are we habitual in action, but also in interpretation of information. We perceive sensory information relative to our expected norms and we understand instructions in terms of our past experiences. Often our sense of what we are doing is inaccurate and our understanding of instructions differs from what was intended.
Combining visual, physical and verbal feedback can overcome these limitations. By working in this way I can more effectively provide useful information and help you develop more self awareness.
Change as a whole
While we often think of ourselves as a collection of parts (head, torso, arms and legs), none of these parts really move separately. In order to change one thing, the rest of us has to change to compensate or support. In addition our actions are "total responses" to the environment/context that we are in. Meaning that our brain doesn’t just move an arm or a leg but instead activates or inhibits each of our motor-neurons, depending on all the information at hand (environmental, conscious intention and past experience) in order to act in response a situation.
Given this, it is easier to make a specific change if we approach it as a whole change that may have a specific benefit.
So regardless of why someone has come to see me, I work with things that I think are going to have a global effect. This includes the balance of the head on the spine, the use of the spine as a whole, breathing mechanisms, maintainance of balance and the use of constructive thought processes.
When I work with someone my aim is to enable them to change themselves. In a session I help stop habitual action and guide a person through new movements. My 'student' may be somewhat passive during this process, but I provide verbal information that prompts new thinking. This thinking is the pathway to gaining control of the new movements which allows the process to continue without me, leading to lasting change.