Monday, 24 February 2014

On 08:42 by Victoria Stanham in    No comments
“What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet”


Thus reads Juliet’s balcony monologue, in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.

And yet, if I say “rose” but don’t give you the experience of one as I say it, you’ll call up in your memory your previous experiences of other roses… and perhaps your imagined rose won’t “smell as sweet” as the one I’m thinking about.

Same thing happens when an instructor, trainer or coach tells you to do "squats". No doubt he has a very clear idea of what he wants to see his when he asks for "squats". And yet, when you look at what his class is executing, you might find yourself with 20 different interpretations of and variations on "the squat" (some of them perhaps so 'creative' as to be almost unrecognizable as a traditional "squat"). Coach might then bark out a few pointers to keep in mind while squatting: "back straight", "knees tracking over toes", etc. The problem is we all have different experiences of what a "straight back" or a "knee" is, and we're executing the "squat" from our storage of experience, and not coach's storage.

What I mean to say is: we interpret verbal stimuli differently…according to our past experiences of them.

A Word is a stimulus… our interpretation of it, a habit.

The good news is habits can be retrained by accumulating new sensory experiences around them.

So sometimes we need to explain ourselves better. The best way of explaining something to you is to give you an experience of what I mean. And when it comes to your body and your movement, there's no better info thatn sensory and kinesthetic info.

In my last blog I made this faux-pas. (Well, actually I did the naughty and the right thing in one same piece of writing.)


You see I did the naughty thing by saying the word “GOD”.

Of course I cannot possibly give you an experience of what that word means to me, something beyond any religion or cultural system.  

Still, I found that it is almost as (if not more) politically incorrect to say “GOD” as it is to say “ARMPIT”.

I did the right thing with ARMPIT though. Before you could go, “Ugh! Vicky, please! That’s gross! We don’t talk about those things here”, I hastened to give you a sensory idea of what armpit means to me. If I was lucky and successful in my demonstration, you even liked the relaxing quality of my concept of armpit better than your previous experience of the word.

As with most habits, even after we have had a new sensory experience of a word, our first reaction to hearing it will be our most practiced one: the old definition… with its accompanying muscular tension configurations (every thought you have is a stimuli, every word you hear internally or externally is having a physical manifestation in your body of contraction or expansion).

Allow me to give you an example from my own trove of experience.

What area in your body am I talking about when I say the word “NECK”?

Quick, without thinking touch your neck from where you feel it starts to where you feel it finishes (I said no thinking, I don’t want your conceptual neck, I want the neck you really and truly live with, the one that’s your bodily experience).

I know that if I am not allowed to over-think it, I still have the habit of chopping off the topmost and bottom-most ends of my neck. With my years of AT training I have gained a few centimeters above and below my previous concept of neck, but my sensory habit doesn’t yet match my conceptual knowledge.

You see your neck is LONG. Really. There’s 7 beautiful vertebrae between your skull and your chest. 


When you PAY ATTENTION & THINK about it, you can see that your neck starts at the level of your ears and nose, and not below your jawline. At the bottom end, and muscularly speaking, it spans the breadth of your collarbones, the upper edge of your shoulder blades. It’s long and wide. 

If when you think “neck” you’re only thinking of the space where you might put on a neck brace (like in the picture)… well, you’re cutting yourself short a few inches... and chances are you've got tension accumulating in those un-acknowledged bits.


How do you fix this disparity between what is, and what you feel it is? 

By stopping to think before you react… and joining that thinking with some actual sensory perception through release of tension.

So at first, you need to remind yourself to keep calm and remember your direction (a.k.a stop before jumping into your habitual reaction and remember your new wider definition of the word) conscientiously, day in and day out… until the new wider, more spacious definition takes hold.

At first you might even have to use a different word, one that rings truer to the new wider concept. I did this for “neck” for some time; I used the gibberish- sounding “squibble” for a while, because it had no associated meaning, so I could infuse it with the idea of the vast space surrounding my 7 cervical vertebrae… as in “let my squibble be free” (Even today when I think “squibble” I get a more complete sensory picture of my neck than when I use the word “neck”! Habits of thought are THAT strong indeed).

If you do this stopping-and-reminding-yourself of your new directions of thought repeatedly enough, eventually the new definition becomes part of you, it becomes your own self-definition, the word triggers a new response… and you will wonder how anyone could possibly not understand the word as you do so now.

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Image credits:


"Covering Her Mouth With Both Hands" by photostock/freeditialphotos.net


"Neck animation" by wikimedia commons

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