Tuesday 18 December 2012

Proprioception: Where Is My Body In Space?

    Earlier this year I came across a TEDtalk by Max Strom entitled, " There Is No App For Happiness." I found myself immediately intrigued, by this big teddy bear before me, and  pleasantly hypnotized by his rich voice. If you've ever studied with this yoga teacher, speaker and author you'll know exactly what I mean!
  A few weeks ago,  I had the pleasure of learning from him in person, at Semperviva Yoga. I felt like he was our kindergarten teacher, feeding our imaginations with animated stories, as we sat cross legged staring up at his big body and jolly gaze. And you know you're in the presence of a brilliant teacher, when everything they've said sticks. I ingested his words so deeply, that I went home to further research a concept he introduced called, "proprioception."
   Proprioception is defined as, " the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body". For example, touching your nose with your index fingers while closing your eyes tests your ability to proprioceive.  The mind has memorized where body parts are so perfectly that you often don't need the use of the eyes to find them. 
   In fact, we have a deeper relationship to our front body because we can see it, and our back body is more likely to feel somewhat numb or foreign to us. Lets say you were told to touch your belly button-you'd be able to find it without even thinking.  However, if asked to quickly penetrate your T7 Vertebra, well....good luck with that one! 
       Proprioception is what allows us to walk in complete darkness without losing balance. It is what allows us to paint freely, without looking at the hand that's performing the paint stroke. When we're driving, it's what allows us to keep our eyes on the road, and not on our feet, while we break and accelerate.
   Max expressed that as we age if we don't continue to stay physically active we lose our body awareness. Thus, one of the number one causes of death with seniors is from a result of falling, because one's proprioception gradually becomes impaired. He shared that for some seniors, finding their nose with the index finger can be a challenging task. This floored me, and I think this sole fact inspired me to write this entry.
   I know I'm a healthy 27 year old and am far from being a senior, but I move my body daily and I sometimes crumple it up into pretzel shapes and then I roll up my mat and leave; My yoga practice is often an afterthought. 
      My first reaction to this was, "Oh, the little things we take for granted." However I then began to reflect on this with great admiration and respect for the work yogis do, and not just physically. As body awareness develops so does your relationship with each individual body part, becoming mindful of exactly where they exist in space. Many areas of ourselves have become unconscious, but the alignment principles of all different types of yoga help to rewire and light up the murky spots inside. I believe that's why you can feel so full after practice: you begin to glow and feel energized because the dots are being connected again and your body parts are being married as one. It's no coincidence that yoga actually translates to mean, "to yoke" or " to unite".
   Before Max's workshop, I never actualized how many miracles occur on the mat. For example, lets say my students are in a twisted lunge to the left, their eyes are gazing skyward, and I ask them to bring their left hipbone back while drawing their right sit bone away from their sacrum- they then adjust accordingly. The fact that they can access a very deep portion of their pelvis, without looking, is pretty incredible; it's a skill we take for granted. 
        Even 2,000 years ago the depths of this work was cherished and eventually expressed in the ancient Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Sutra II.46 states that, "This discipline and attention must be applied to the practice of each asana, to penetrate to its very depths in the remotest parts of the body. Even the meditational asana has to be cultivated by the fibres, cells, joints and muscles in cooperation with the mind."  Sutra II.46 Sthira Sukham Asanam
      This skill is developed and fine tuned every time we hit the mat. As we become more aligned and aware of our physical bodies, we trust it more. This snowballs into us trusting our hearts, and hearing our intuition with confidence and efficiency. I believe this can morph even more into us being present with everything that surrounds us. We become like animals, noticing everyone's wear abouts, everyone's moods, reading everyone's body language, etc! Nothing goes unnoticed and relationships even deepen- from the bone in our left thigh, to our neighbour down the hall.
       To tie my point into a pretty bow, I'll share with you Elizabeth Kadetski's experience on the mat, taken from her recent novel, First There Is A Mountain.
      " I could discover my body anew every day, and through it discover the world around me. I could start again- remake my Universe."