By Peggy Lamb, MA, LMT, BCTMB
“The mind is like the wind; the body is like the sand. If you want to know which way the wind is blowing, watch the sand.” (Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen)
Even when we are still, we are moving. Blood circulates, lymph flows, the heart beats, stomach juices swirl, cerebral spinal fluid pulses, cells migrate, rib case and lungs expand and contract. There is a universe of silent movement occurring inside us every second. There is no conscious effort to these movements. We do not have to decide to digest my food. If we eat something our digestive systems, governed by our brain, takes care of it.
In contrast to these involuntary movements are the movements we decide to do, or voluntary movements. Voluntary movement is active; it requires consciousness, intent and will. When we decide to brush our teeth we must first have the intent and the will to perform that activity before we can reach out with our hand to grasp the toothbrush, put toothpaste on the brush and bring it to our mouths.
Like all positives though, there is an inherent negative in this advantage. If I am thinking about my idea for a new dance or planning my day while I’m brushing my teeth, I cut myself off from much of the sensory information I am receiving from my movement. The skin, joints and muscles have sensory receptors that telegraph information to my brain about pressure, pain and the position of my body, among other things. These sensory receptors, our proprioceptors, are the internal eyes of the body. They transmit a continuous sensory flow from the movable parts of my body and have been called our secret sense.
In his book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”, the late, great Oliver Sacks tells the story of Christina, “The Disembodied Lady”. Christina lost all proprioception through a rare nerve disease. In her despair she once cried to Dr. Sacks: “If only I could feel! But I’ve forgotten what it’s like. It’s like something’s been scooped out of me, right at the center ..”
In a most fundamental and profound way my proprioceptors let me know that I exist for they allow me to “feel myself”. In fact, Dr. Sacks states in his marvelous book, “A Leg To Stand On”, “…. if Descartes only knew about proprioception, this mind-body split would never have happened.”
Movement activates our proprioceptors and it is the feel of our movement that offers us a view into our body’s mind. Increased awareness of our movement and postural patterns comes from attending to our sensory systems. We can use this wonderful and exquisite sensory system to enhance and deepen our ability to find and communicate with our body’s mind.
I believe that my mission as a bodyworker is two-fold: to perform manual techniques that reestablish function and relieves pain and to facilitate my clients “re-membering” their bodies through simple movement exercises that use visualizations and images that directly communicate with the central nervous system. These exercises are designed to restore proprioception, hydrate tissue and increase kinesthetic awareness, allowing the person to reclaim forgotten body parts.
Using sensations and images is a more direct, powerful, pleasurable and playful way of communicating with our bodies. Our nervous system has a beautiful and innate wisdom and if given the chance, it will engage the best neuromuscular pathway to produce my movement goal. This manner of communicating allows me to engage myself fully and change habitual patterns from the inside out.
One of my favorite exercises to give is “Write your name with your tailbone!” The pelvis needs and wants circular and spiral movement but too often all it gets is sagitally based movement. I give this exercise as homework to all my clients because I believe that restoring awareness of the pelvic girdle is a key component in healing most injuries and chronic conditions.
Do it yourself many times before teaching it to a client. When you’re ready to teach it to a client, I promise you, even the most resistant client will have a smile on their face when they have done this silly, slightly zany exercise.
1. Pick out your favorite music (this is super important since music activates our sensory system)
2. Stand with your feet hip width apart or slightly wider.
3. Have a generous bend to your knees
4. Imagine a paint brush growing out of your tailbone with the brush side down facing the floor.
5. Write your first and last names with your tailbone in script. Cross your T’s and dot your I’s! do it at least three times.
6. Have fun!
I’ve taught this exercise to many different populations including people with Parkinson’s disease and incarcerated women (it’s a BIT hit there and I dream of a class where I teach the warden and the guards!)
For those clients who can’t stand, not a problem. I’ve taught variations of this exercise this in nursing homes to wheelchair bound populations and to clients lying in supine. For those people I ask them to imagine their tailbone is covered in their favorite color and to draw tiny circles with it. Create your own versions. It’s all about reconnecting with the core of our body, the core of the matter.
I currently have a client who has a right frozen shoulder and a bulging disc that sends pain and tingling/numbness down her right leg and foot. By her own admission she says “I got so caught up in writing my book I forgot I had a body.” She loves doing the tailbone dance and it brings her temporary relief from tingling/numbness down her right leg and foot.
Copyright 2018 Peggy Lamb/Massage Publications
Juhan, Deane. (1987). Job’s Body.
Sweigard, Lulu. (1974). Human Movement Potential: It’s Ideokinetic Facilitation.
Sacks, Oliver. (1970)The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
Sacks, Oliver. (1987) A Leg To Stand On
Todd, Mabel. (1937) The Thinking Body