Conscious proprioception and change
By itself, proprioception is only one third of the whole picture of conscious body control.
Another third, the compliment to proprioception, is control. This could also be thought of as choosing how to act.
But what about the last third?
As a systems engineer, I spent some time working with control systems.
Apart from the hardware and software at the heart of the system (the "brains" so to speak) the two most important elements were devices for sensing what was happening and devices to help control or vary what was happening.
In a natural gas plant, actuators, or controllers, could be used to open or close valves to varying degrees.
In turn sensors could be used to determine how much stuff was flowing.
And ideally the idea of opening or closing a valve was to change the amount of stuff that was flowing (or not flowing).
Sensors told us how much stuff actually did flow and then controllers could be used to vary the amount of flow until it matched the desired flow.
Measuring or Controlling Change
With just sensors we could only see or sense how much stuff was flowing without actually be able to do anything about it.
With just controllers we could increase or decrease flow without knowing by how much or how little we we changing the rate of flow.
With both sensors and actuators we could sense how much stuff was flowing and we could choose to change the amount of flow via control devices.
Sensing Change and Responding
What is the point of having sensors and controllers?
So that we can sense change and vary it as required.
If too much change was flowing we could activate actuators to reduce the flow of change.
If not enough change was flowing we could activate actuators to increase the flow of change.
And if we wanted to shut the flow of change, energy, information or gas off, then we could activate actuators in such a way to do that also.
But imagine that the flow of change was itself changing but we wanted a constant flow of it.
Sensing a drop in the flow we could control actuators to increase pressure or increase gate size as required. Or if the flow was increasing we could try to reduce pressure or gate size so that the flow remained constant.
In either case, having sensors and actuators allows us to either respond to change or create change.
We might sense change first and then respond appropriately. Or we might try to create change in flow and note, via sensors when the desired change has been achieved.
So what is the equivalent of these? Our muscles are our actuators. They are also our sensors (along with connective tissue.)
So what decides how we respond to change, or indeed the type of change that we try to instigate?
Now here is where the third element of conscious body control comes into play.
That third element is the knowing of what it is that we are trying to do.
Knowing what we are trying to do
When moving, or doing a pose, a clear idea can guide the way all the parts of the body work together. That clear idea can be as simple as running or walking, or it might be a little more complex, running in a particular manner. But in either case a clear idea guides the action or the pose.
In terms of change you could think of a clear idea as being the change that you want to create.
In learning to feel your body I talked about isolation as a key technique to learning the body. In the case of learning calligraphy, the individual brush strokes of a character are all clearly defined and it is relatively easy to observe, when strokes are in relative isolation, how they relate to other strokes.
Replicating my teachers brush strokes, when I focused on a few brush strokes at a time, it was easy to see how two or three brush strokes related and I could then work at replicating that relationship. And this idea, of relationships and clear ideas can be useful when isolating parts of the body in order to learn them.
What are the relationships we can learn with respect to the body? We can focus on the relationship of the body to the earth, it's points of contact and which points of contact are bearing weight. We can also focus on relationships between adjacent bones and body parts. In terms of change we can think in terms of the muscles themselves, activating or relaxing in order to work on the relationships between bones.
When breaking things down into elements, the same thing applies. Have a clear idea, a clear definition for the movement being done. In terms of change, what is the change that you are trying to create? When feeling and controlling a small part of your body, the idea of what you are doing can then guid that small repeated movement.
When re-integrating, creating large movements out of smaller movements, the idea of the large movement can be the some of the smaller movements.
When defining ideas, they can be defined in terms of the change that they create or handle.
Knowing is like an idea or intent. It is what we are trying to make real: the shape of a yoga pose or a movement or series of movements. It is through proprioception and control that we take an idea or intent from the world inside our head (the imaginary) and via our body make it real. And just as in learning to sense the body can be made easier if we break the body down into elements and learn those elements little bits at a time, so too can a yoga pose be broken down into elements for easier learning.
Creating Change, or Handling It
- Anytime we move into a pose (a yoga pose or otherwise) the intent can be to maintain the pose despite what is going on inside of our body or outside of it. The more conscious we are of both what's going on inside of our body and what's going outside of it, the easier it can be for us to maintain the shape of the pose we are doing despite the other changes that are happening
- Anytime we are doing a movement or series of movements, the intent can be to continue that movement despite what is going on inside of our body or outside of it. Here again, the more conscious we are of what's going on inside and immediately outside of our body, the sooner we can spot changes that can affect what we are doing and the sooner we can respond.
One possible goal of feeling the body and controlling it to higher and higher degrees is being able to create change and handle change with a minimum of effort.
But another advantage is that it gives us the chance to deal with change in different ways.
More practically for some of us it can be a way of preventing problems or a way of figuring them out.
What is a problem in terms of change
In terms of change, what is a problem?
A problem is when the desired change isn't being created. Or when undesired change is encountered along the way to creating a desired end result.
Pain is, generally, an undesired change and it tends to signal that something is going wrong. Sensing pain, we can stop what we are doing. The sooner we sense pain, and the sooner we respond in such a way as to reduce pain, or prevent it from increasing, the more likely we are to avoid injury, or worsen it.
Pain, and poor function, was generally the impetus for me to better get to know my body. In general, any problem we encounter is a chance to increase understanding, to learn, so that we can nullify the cause of pain, ideally without creating new problems in the process.
Noticing change as it occurs
Conscious proprioception and conscious control allows us to better feel our body and control it. We can then choose to use these abilities in movement or stillness to improve the quality of both while keeping our body injury free.
Even at a beginner level, if all we do is improve our ability to feel our body, we can learn the signals that indicate the potential for injury and either stop or modify what we are doing. We then practice being responsive.
Conscious proprioception is about noticing change as it occurs. The better we are at feeling our body (proprioceiving it) the earlier we can sense change. The earlier we can sense change, the more effectively we can respond.