Without an accurate appraisal of where we are in space, the ability to feel at home with oneself — our self-image — is compromised. This directly affects our movement patterns because we move according to this self-image. And our self-image, then, is at least partly a reflection of how we move. So how can we work to improve our spatial perception and improve not only movement but the way we perceive ourselves? Read on for a few ideas in the final part in this series.
In Part I, I posed the question that if we don't accurately know where we are in space, is it possible that we may not accurately know who we are? It appears that our use of reference frames give us a sense of self within our environment.
In Part II, we discussed how this might occur and the importance of sensory integration on body image and posture. An insecure person is one without a resilient self-image of their body and unsure of their literal place in the world.
So how might we actually go about working on spatial perception?
Here are three ways:
In order to construct a framework of where we are in space, we must be able to subconsciously use all sensory inputs. It seems that with habitual behaviors and loss of attention, we lose the ability to discriminate between these inputs. This may be problematic when in a threatened state as we begin to predict and group sensations as threatening and thus begin to lose our sense of self and space.
With sensory differentiation tasks we can use cognitive processes to pay attention to what we are actually perceiving and thus break-up habitual interpretations of our senses.
- Describe how far you are from other objects within the environment. Try to determine how far objects are from other objects (a great way to practice switching reference frames). Try doing it without vision as we are so visually dominant. Picture and feel where you are in relation to the boundaries of the room or space.
- Find and feel certain muscles or myofascial chains. This, I think, is critical in the early stages of restoring spatial awareness because it helps to break up primitive brain-driven patterns of movement of which we have no awareness. It allows for a change of focus and perspective.
- Pay attention to peripheral vision and stop looking at your feet. I will instruct clients to "feel yourself moving thru the environment instead of the environment moving around you" to break up a stuck reference frame. This is essentially optic flow.
Balance and Grounding
The balance system gives a person the sense of being grounded, rooted, and bounded, so necessary for having a stable sense of self. The Brain's Way of Healing
Working on balance and the sense of feeling the ground is critical for developing a sense of self. A person who suffers from poor balance is not only at risk for injuries (even mortality in the elderly) they are struggling with sensory integration problems. If our body is the lens thru which we see the world, then a loss of balance is a loss of a secure body image.
Our vestibular system establishes the link between our physical position and gravity. Unless you are in outer space, gravity isn't going to change so we have to learn to understand our postures and movements by modifying our vestibular framework.
The cerebellum, critical in balance, also has a role in updating our internal model allowing the motor system to improve sensorimotor streaming. So by working on balance and somatosensation (thru the feet), we can effectively help train the brain to modulate and update its framework of us within our environment.
There are lots of ways to improve balance and grounding, but here are a few considerations:
- For those struggling with balance, it's helpful to get lower to the ground to reduce the threat of falling (which Feldenkrais would call a primal fear). Tall or half-kneeling work well - perhaps even four points of contact are needed to restore a sense of safety. Then one can progressively reintegrate higher level balance without so much muscular rigidity.
- Pay attention to your feet. They have quite a large representation in the brain and are critical in providing information about our orientation and postural control. It seems that using the feet as a reference point helps elicit a feeling of groundedness and security. Feeling the heels and arches really helps re-orient people and is a great cue while coaching movement patterns.
Graded motor imagery has been found to be extremely helpful in those with complex regional pain syndrome and phantom limb pain — both of which, unsurprisingly, involve alterations in body maps of the involved areas. Based on what we've established over the course of these three articles, it stands to reason that body images may be altered in anyone with sensory integration deficits and would thus respond well to motor imagery.
- Work on imagining how it looks from a third-person's perspective when performing a troublesome movement. This may serve to improve the smoothness of movement and capacity to look at things from a more allocentric perspective, allowing reference frames to be more adaptable. This may preferentially target the mPFC (medial prefrontal cortex) as it is often referred to as the brain's watchtower, active in meditators.
- Imagine how it feels to move slowly and in a different pattern. By imagining it first, we can elicit many of the same sensorimotor areas of the brain without feeling threatened or insecure by a challenging movement. This is quite helpful as prep work prior to balance activities.
- Check out Butler and Moseley's Graded Motor Imagery website for much more on this idea.
The way we perceive ourselves within the environment determines how we move and act within our environment. So by recognizing that those who don't really know who they are may just not know where they are, we can establish a framework of understanding their spatial frameworks ultimately improving resiliency and adaptability of movement and behavior.
For more on the vestibular system and it's developmental origins (several sources cite it as the first sensory system to develop while in the womb) check out these books, both on my Recommended Reading list:
For more on motor imagery and cortical representations of pain, check out this article (and pretty much all others) by Moseley: Targeting Cortical Representations in the Treatment of Chronic Pain: A Review