On the recommendation of beginning on the back and bringing the head to vertical

This bit of discussion is an orphaned page on my website, so I thought I’d move it into the blog.

In Chapter 13 of The Potent Self (“The means at our disposal”) and a similar passage in Body and Mature Behaviour (in the chapter “Tonic adjustment”), Moshe discusses the question: how do we effect change in deeply held patterns of action? The deep unity of body and mind seems an impediment to change, from an empiricist perspective: I can only think what I have already experienced, and so cannot even imagine the change I have to make.

But this paradox is dissolved by “active learning.” By “forming new patterns of body configuration” we create new experiences; as we integrate the relevant sensory perception and muscular activity, we create new possibilities for action, and ones that (because they are learned experientially and not intellectually, body up and not head down) are readily available in real-world, real-time action. This is unlike the conscious creation of new habits: if I repeat a new pattern (“draw shoulder blade back and down as I lift arm”) by conscious rehearsal, I lose the action when I cannot talk myself through it. (Or I do succeed in making it subconscious, but it becomes an entirely “stupid” subconscious habit, invoked at the slightest stimulus, whether I want it or not.)

This process Moshe is proposing can shift those habits that are subconscious in the sense of being so omnipresent that we are unaware of them: for example, the habit of clenching the jaw that we don’t even feel until it stops. And it can also change habits that are subconscious in the sense that they belong to our vegetative functions: for example, the way the bronchi contract spasmodically for an asthmatic. For the latter, a more indirect approach is necessary.

But here is a barrier: in order to usefully derive new sensations from these new body configurations created by the lesson, the person must start as far as possible from their habitual self-use. And this is especially true of that ground of action in the world that is the state of the extensors–the postural muscles that keep us upright (sitting, standing) as we act.

So lowering the effort of the extensors is an essential first step to the work. We do this by doing so much of our work lying down. But we can also start with certain lessons that address directly and mitigate the chronic contraction of the neck and lumbar spine extensors. In these two passages of his books, he describes the simple act of lying on your back, knees bent and feet standing, arms alongside, and head lifted to the vertical. The engagement of the flexors will (by inhibition of antagonist muscles) lengthen the extensors of the neck and lumbar regions. In the books he describes the process in detail (pp. 120-126 of Body and Mature Behaviour, and Pp. 135-144 of The Potent self, if you have the books or can see these pages on Google Books).

I was a little puzzled in reading these because there is no ATM quite like this. But on further reflection, I do see that the training program I took placed a strong emphasis in the first two weeks on similar lessons, though lifting the head with the help of the arms–but progressing, as the description of “The Potent Self” passage recommends, to rolling up to sit through the sagittal plane.

So what does this have to do with AY 177 Making the spine flexible and integrating it? Moshe notes in these two books that if you have problems in the neck or are too contracted in the extensors, you will not be able to bring your head to the vertical and use your spine properly to support your head, so you will suffer instead of feeling relief through this.

So 177 seems to me a very ingenious mild form of what is recommended in The Potent Self and Body and Mature Behaviour. These passages emphasize using the flexor muscles as antigravity muscles (reversing the roles of the neck flexors and extensors); without going all the way to using the flexors to hold the head upright, we turn face down and use the flexors to lift the spine and draw the head along the floor, also an anti-gravitational use of the flexors.

If you would like to continue with this theme, as recommended by the books, Check out Rolling to Sit, Part 1, Rolling to Sit, Part 2, and Pelvis and Neck.

Meanwhile, stay tuned, and I’ll attempt a blow-by-blow analysis of 177.

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