Awareness Basics

Deborah Bowes, DPT, GCFT

There are some basics for developing awareness of our habits, both for movement and behavior. Through this awareness there is the opportunity to discover new possibilities for change and healing. Habits help us in our daily life so that we don’t have to think about every little thing we do. Imagine if each time we dried off from the shower, we had to figure it out. Which part of me do I dry first? How do I use the towel? How do I step out of the shower?I am sure that most of us can take a shower, dry off and get dressed without paying a lot of attention. It is useful to be able to do things – walk, grasp, drive – without paying attention to all of the details all of the time. However, there are times when we notice the habitual ways we move may cause discomfort or pain. This may happen after an injury. For example, if twisting to see behind myself hurts, then I won’t do it. Pretty soon, not twisting becomes a new habit.

It doesn’t take long for the nervous system to recognize a repeated movement and then make it a habit. If you don’t twist your spine for a while because it seems to cause pain, then you will lose the ‘habit of twisting’ and develop a new habit of moving rigidly and keeping your spine from using all of its natural flexibility. The potential to twist is still there but you don’t have access to the image of twisting in your brain. To recover this ‘forgotten’ movement is the challenge.

On the other hand, the nervous system has the capacity to notice differences, organize information, make changes and find new or forgotten options for moving and acting. This way of learning leads to new patterns that can be more efficient, pleasurable and graceful. Dr Feldenkrais says we can "make the impossible, possible, the possible, easy and the easy, elegant."

The basic steps to change are steeped in developing awareness. Awareness is your key to changing dysfunctional habits and learning how to live easily and without pain. To develop awareness, here are some suggestions. We use them all the time in Awareness Through Movement and you can apply many to your daily life. Take some time each day to lie on the floor and sense the way that you rest. You can ask: How am I breathing? How does my back touch the floor? How is the contact of my shoulder blades with the floor? What is the space under my knees? What is the space like under my back? What difference is there between the left and right sides?

  • Notice the simple sensations of pressure, touch, temperature, size, weight.
  • Allow yourself to be comfortable in the position you are in.
  • Let comfort guide you in resting and moving.
  • Try to reduce the effort. Work easier not harder.
  • Allow yourself to breathe, and be especially sure not hold your breath.
  • Try to sense the movement traveling through your whole spine or skeleton.
  • Rest and give time to notice changes or new sensations.
  • Do less than you think you can.
  • Do not do anything painful. You can always do less movement, or do it slower, or just imagine it. We are trying to affect the brain, not just the muscles.
  • You are more important than the movement. Don’t be competitive with yourself.
  • Honestly take care of yourself, resting as you like, finding pleasure in the movement.
  • Emphasize the quality of movement. It’s how you do the movement, not how much. 
  • Enjoy the relaxation of your whole self, your mind, your body and your spirit.
  • Twenty to thirty minutes of moving with awareness every day is recommended.