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Learning to Feel Your Body

Working within the limits of short term memory
Published: 2020 08 17
Updated: 2020 10 28


proprioception, yoga for stress

feel pressure

The main tool that I use for teaching people how to feel their body and then calibrate what they feel is isolation.

For improving conscious proprioception, isolation is (in my experience) an essential technique or element.

It is through isolation that the brain can easily identify sensation or whatever it is that we are are trying to learn, and then calibrate it to the related movement.

What do I mean?


Isolation isn't moving one part of the body absolutely still while moving another part (though in some cases it could be.)

For beginners, it's moving one part of the body while focusing on the part that is moving.

It may involve holding one part of the body relatively still but not absolutely still.

More importantly it means putting the rest of the body in a position that is relatively easy to maintain so that mental effort can be focused on feeling and controlling the body part in question, the part that is being isolated.

Isolation can make Learning Faster and More Efficient

My main reason for using this technique is because it is fast and efficient.

I use it when teaching myself, and then when my students have problems learning a movement I use it to make teaching a new movement or posture more effective.

Brush Strokes

I think one of my first conscious experiences of self-learning through isolation was in a Japanese Calligraphy class.

(I started of learning Japanese Calligraphy, and then moved on to focus on Chinese Calligraphy, in part due to the fact that I moved to Taiwan.)

The teacher gave me the symbol for peace to try and copy.

Instead of trying to paint the whole character and repeating the process, I focused on two brush strokes, (or three), repeating those strokes so that I could focus on their relationship to each other.

Then I focused on the other two strokes. Then I put them all together, again noticing relationships between strokes so that I could work at replicating them effectively.

My teacher was quite surprised. He could find nothing with my final character and so gave me another character and told me to do with it what I had done with the character for peace.

Isolating Parts of the Body?

The same technique can be used in learning to feel the body (as well as control it.)

In the context of a yoga pose this can mean breaking it down into clearly defined elements, the yoga pose's equivalent to brush strokes.

But even without a yoga pose for context, the same can be applied to the body in general.

To learn the body, use isolated, repeated movements and focus on feeling those movements, or the muscles that cause those movements.

(A large portion of this website focuses on isolated movements, or on focusing awareness on isolated parts of the body.)

Endless Repetition is Not the Goal, Nor the Method!

To learn brush strokes I didn't practice them over and over again.

Volumous repetition is not the goal here.

Instead, if focusing on a single character, I focus on a few brush strokes at a time till they become relatively smooth and I have remembered them.

Then I move onto the next set of strokes and repeat the process.

Then I put the two sets of strokes together.

If I can't remember strokes from the first set of the second set then I go back and repeat until I do.

In this way I can quickly learn all the strokes of a character with little effort.

Working Within the Confines of Short and Mid Term Memory

It actually can feel quite peaceful because I am working within the limits of my short term memory. I don't have to think about what stroke is next because I'm doing them from memory.

The short practice is enough that I can move what I have just practiced into mid term memory. Then I can put shorter sequences together into one longer sequence which I can then practice again, without thinking.

This is basically the process I use for memorizing the strokes of a character.

A Memorization Process That Feels Good

The cool thing is that done little bits at a time it feels quite good (really good) and then, because the character is memorized I can then practice it from memory.

If there are problems connecting a few strokes then I can isolate those strokes and practice them till the problem is delt with. Then I can get on with painting the character as a whole.

The process is repeatable for strings of characters, say a piece of poetry or prose.

And the process is applicable to learning to feel and control body.

Models in Imaginary Space

One way to think of learning is that it is the process of building "models" inside of our consciousness. In the case of Chinese characters, the process of learning builds a model of each character within my brain.

If I only focus on reading, then this model is such that I can recognize the character when I see it.

If I learn how to write the character then my model of the character allows me to recognize it when reading it and also allows me to output it.

Learning the body what we can develop is a better model of our body within our brain. To build that model, or rather, to improve the model that already exists, we can focus on practicing little bits of our body at a time.

Then after we learn the bits in isolation, the brush strokes, we can then practice integrating them.

But why isolate parts of our body in the first place?

In calligraphy, isolating the parts of a character, the brush strokes, allowed me to practice a small set of brush strokes without having to think.

I could then practice putting these smaller groups together, again, without having to think. After a few days, with enough practice, characters are in my long term memory. And now I can practice them freely, or express them with other characters without having to think about how to do it.

Learning the body bit by bit, the idea is to learn to feel and control the parts of the body without having to think about how to feel and control those parts.

They can then be used, without the need to think about how to use them, as part of more complex movements.

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