The Sphincters (Development series, installment 2)

Humans, it turns out, are born with more than the skull incompletely formed. Apparently our digestive tract (despite being part of the earliest independent differentiations of the embryo*) is immature at birth, and we have to figure out how to use it. I hadn’t realized this until someone pointed out to me that this was the reason for all of Noam’s staining and grunting when he was just a few weeks old.

Here he is at about two months:

(Sorry the flash takes a while to load.... Anyone know how to force this thing to buffer?)

Notice how his whole body gets involved in the act of digestion? Check out his lips beginning around the 15th second. You can see that the lips are clearly a sphincter, and that for him they are not completely differentiated from the rest of the digestive process yet. Because he’s swaddled, you can’t see how his hands clench and unclench, but you can see the ripple through the whole system. Truly we have so much in common with the lowly worm!

I owe the observation that we have more sphincters than we usually think about to the work of Ruthy Alon. I put this lesson together with help from a lesson of hers I did a long time ago as well as some of her more recent Bones For Life work.

I’m happy with the way it came out. The experience was quite profound for several of my students. Try it out, and let me know what you think!

Coming soon: the diaphragm!

*Myers, Thomas. Anatomy Trains pp. 36-39. Anyone want to find me an online citation?

Suckling (Development series lesson 1)

We started the series the way Moshe Feldenkrais started his last professional training in Amherst -- with a lesson exploring the lips.

Why the lips? Here’s what Moshe had to say about the infant’s evolving knowledge of itself and the world in his book Awareness Through Movement (p. 13):

The infant’s contact with the external world is established mainly through the lips and mouth; through these he recognizes his mother. He will use his hands to fumble and assist the work of his mouth and lips, and will know by touch what he already knows through his lips and mouth. From here he will gradually progress to the discovery of other parts of his body and their relationship to each other, and through them his first notions of distance and volume. The discovery of time begins with the coordinating process of breathing and swallowing, both of which are connected with movements of the lips, mouth, jaw, nostrils, and the surrounding are.

Interesting ideas, no? But why bother with this whole exercise in the first place? Well, the most important answer can be found in the experience of the lesson itself. To quote one participant in this particular lesson:

I’m Amazed at the effect my lips are having on my pelvis and my legs..... During the exercise I felt my lower back letting go. I came here because I wanted to work on my lower back, and I thought ‘oh the lips, ok.’ But then....

But for those looking for a more theoretical answer, Feldenkrais goes on to discuss the experience of the infant in terms of its self-image:

Were we to mark in color on the surface area of the motor cortex of the brain of a month-old infant the cells that activate muscles subject to his developing will, we should obtain a form resembling that of his body, but it would represent only the areas of voluntary action, not the anatomical configuration of the parts of his body. We should see, for instance, that the lips and mouth occupy most of the colored area. The antigravity muscles -- those that open the joints and so erect the body -- are not yet subject to voluntary control; the muscles of the hands, too, are only just beginning to respond occasionally to will. We should obtain a functional image in which the human body is indicate4d by four thin strokes of the pen for the limbs, joined together by another short and thin line for the trunk, with lips and mouth occupying most of the picture.

Note that Moshe’s primary interest is in the “muscles subject to [the infants] developing will”. To my understanding, the whole point of the entire method is to learn how subject one’s muscles to one’s will. The paragraph above, and hopefully also the lessons below, provide nothing short of the the theoretical neurology underpinning Moshe’s adage that “if you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want.”

Lesson number 1: Suckling