Tim Sobie, PT, Ph.D., GCFP CM
The Feldenkrais Method® & Embracing the Present (…well kinda…)
Published in In Touch Magazine, July 2022
“So this Feldenkrais stuff…it’s just about movement isn’t it?…”
As a practitioner in our method, I’m certain you’ve heard something to this effect while in discussion with prospective clients, referral sources, or colleagues and cohorts within related fields of health, human performance, or development. And, though accurate as a kind of allegory or category reference, it is a conclusion that is too often restrictive as a common cliché; as something that is automatically presumed or taken for granted, and on the threshold of becoming dismissive. Sometimes, this discourse is even followed by:
“Well…I already know how to move. I work out and jump rope. I give my clients corrective exercises to perform under exacting technique with foam rollers to perform 3 times per day.”
But, as practitioners with 4 years’ plus of exceptional experience; of a particular kind of experience that is yet to be realized by most persons; we know that movement means something so much more than what most fitness-based models and genres have crystallized within popular culture. Behind the usual curtain of stereotypical assumptions, movement means something much more integrative and relevant than isolated repetition, imitation, and performance as a basis for improving strength, range of motion, aerobic endurance or flexibility for their own sake. While these are all good and essential things within an exercise physiology, cellular, or metabolic framework, they have little or no tangible relationship towards clarifying the understanding of how we coordinate our body variables (our internal, self-agency relations) to meet variable situations and prediction expectancies in our immediate or anticipated environment, i.e., our other, external agency relations.
So on a more biologically significant & neurophysiological basis, movement means something very much more essential & fundamental to us. It makes us wonder why the body has a brain, and vice-versa, why the brain has a body?
From a relative lay-person’s perspective, after reading a fairly complex neuroscience article last week, I recorded this synopsis on my smartphone, while driving home northbound on Interstate-5:
“We move to orient our receptors.
Constellations of receptors paint (or construct) an image. (…or maybe even a picture).
The Picture becomes predictive (…as a guide…)
…until new impressions change it.”
We move to orient our receptors. Constellations of receptors paint a picture, an image, a sequence of ordered proportions, or a map. The picture remains actively informing and predictive – so as to continually guide our habits and actions. And it grows on itself, reinforcing its arrangement and connections where actions match intentions…vs. altering its constellation…in situations where the presentation no longer matches the prediction.
Sounds like a nice synopsis. But what are the underlying mechanisms?
Corollary Discharge, Action Perception, Efference Copy, and Honoring our Past
So how do we make sense of this stuff? Furthermore, how can we make sense to others?
What are some mechanisms or explanations put forth by forebearers in our method?
Inspired with awe, I’m not even going to pretend that I know it all. But in the spirit of active and inductive inquiry, of discovering and rediscovering some new and emerging connections, let’s dive in.
From recollecting the many fortuitous perspectives I encountered throughout my own Feldenkrais Professional Training Program® (Oregon 96’ : 7 visiting trainers + at least 5 assistant trainers who are now all current trainers), I would tell many of my conventional peers (physical therapists, rehab professionals and the like) that I was enrolled in a program that was creating conditions wherein I was ‘learning how to re-perceive the process of how I developed my perception.’
(And of course, movement is a process).
Little did I know that I was consolidating a framework of experience that was likely derived from an intrinsic chain of successions, associations, and modifications in my navigation of whole self through space; of what neuroscience has now termed ‘Corollary Discharge’ along with its contextual subset ‘Efference Copy.’
Corollary discharge is an important brain function that allows animals to distinguish external from self-generated signals, which is critical to sensorimotor coordination. (Fukutomi, M., Carlson, B., 20204). Efference copy or Efferent copy is an internal copy of an outflowing (efferent), movement-producing signal generated by an organism’s motor system – with predictive effect / direct relay to corresponding sensory cortices – to pre-inform the expectancy of an action. It can be collated with the (reafferent) sensory input that results from the agent’s actual movement, enabling thereby a comparison of actual movement with desired movement. This, as a corollary, furthermore differentiates self-induced effects from other-induced effects upon modulating the sensory input, to achieve perceptual stability & clarity while moving. Together with internal models, efference copies can serve to enable the brain to monitor, predict, or anticipate the effects of an action more reliably. (Jeannerod, M. 20031).
In perhaps his last published work (Corollary Discharge, The Forgotten Link: Remarks on the mind-body problem, © 20082), Feldenkrais protégé & teacher Yochanan Rywerant (1922-2010) asserts practical relevance in stating that corollary discharges are learned by active, incremental, and developmental experience and that upon anticipatory sensory outcomes becoming realized or actualized (through movement – and its corresponding effects, including efference copy, being registered), “the corollary discharge is (thereby) the mechanism by which a non-habitual (unexplored) pattern of action changes gradually into being more habitual (and ideally more functional).” (p.13).
So, via a continuous feed-forward process being deployed from within, and as depicted in the schematic figure below, corollary discharge in effect becomes ‘the image of action that precedes the action.’
Correspondingly, and through secondary mechanisms of sensory re-afference (as both an actuator and comparator), this also transmits to ‘our sense of happening while it is already happening’ …and for us, all happening phenomenologically as one instantaneous experience, whether inside or outside the proposed model, is nonetheless the same integrative occurrence. All components eventually emerge into a habitually repeated, subcortical, default-mode network.
This all seems plausible toward understanding and perhaps witnessing our own experience. Yet, we can all agree that faulty habits and patterns can sometimes be viewed as inadvertent and impeding drawbacks to effective function, becoming recurrent – yet deficient, insufficient, or over sufficient – within the accrued or established set.
What if parts corresponding to an image of action are missing, underdeveloped or distorted?
Not aware? Missing in action? Never-before-considered. Excluded. Deconditioned? Forgotten?
Or, what if a corollary discharge or intention to move predicts or anticipates pain with movement?
Even and despite being prescribed a well-intentioned therapeutic action or exercise movement…which in turn, likely does little more than to select & reconstitute only a slight variation of that faulty habit or pre-existing, pre-conditioned, corollary discharge?
A faulty pattern of action. Already operating. Already encoded. A continuing hindrance. Already learned. Already there.
When we go to intend a movement or action, we habituate and default to what we automatically or already do – thereby merely just ‘Going through the Motions.’ In contrast, Feldenkrais-based levels of change envelop a higher order of orchestration to solve problems – but how?
In his 2008 monograph booklet, Yochanan Rywerant wrote
“Dr. Feldenkrais, in the framework of his method, showed a possible way to solve such a difficulty. To circumvent the restricting anticipation, he used what I called a relative conjugate movement, which is simply moving a proximal part of the body relative to a motionless distal part.
(This comparison) …of two movements…use the same joint, but are part of different images of action; the latter (distal initiation of movement) is attempted habitually and possibly being connected (paired) with restricting anticipations, whereas the former (proximal initiation of movement; also being less representative in sensory-motor cortices) is done in a (novel) non-habitual way, and is devoid of such restriction.” (p.14).
In essence, Feldenkrais Practitioners® can create conditions for developing competing corollary discharges and competing pathways; via Relative Conjugate Movements, Proximal Distal inversions, and functional agency qualities…including ease, support, access, diverting attention; as strategies that can essentially bypass the usual pain sensitized pathways of movement inhibition, fear, effort, protection, overcompensation, and avoidance.
Here, the new neural assemblies being reflected and emerging through constellations of new corollary discharge can be considered as a mental map construct or image that is engaging through both action and sensation – simultaneously. It, as both a formative and informative process, is going about, exploring, reconstituting, and emerging continual body-environment-experiential representations in real time.
As our formative dynamic systems & developmental psychology science researcher turned Feldenkrais Method® practitioner & colleague, Dr. Esther Thelen (1941-2004), had surmised::
“Action is Perception.”
Reaching to the Future – Active Sensing & ‘Afference Copy’ as Extra-Perception?
As Feldenkrais Trainer®, Larry Goldfarb, Ph.D. had indicated from a prior FGNA conference workshop title, it certainly appears that “science is catching-up with us.”
As recent as June 2022, N.Y.U. Neuroscience Professor György Buzsáki (author of ‘The Brain from Inside Out’ © 20195) published an article in Scientific American entitled “Constructing the World from Inside Out” wherein he asserts that “Perception is what we do” (from an inside-out exploratory action directed perspective), “ – not what we passively take in from our senses” (i.e., the traditional & customary outside-in, stimulus – response model).
Buzsáki furthermore explains that “the brain organizes itself into a vast repertoire of performed patterns of firing known as neuronal trajectories…and cites… “new experience (itself) does not change the way these networks function… learning takes place, rather, through a process of matching the pre-existing neuronal trajectories ( i.e., corollary discharges, sensory expectancies, and motor commands) to events in the world.”
In reviewing ‘A History of Corollary Discharge’ in the July 2020 issue of Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, Fukutomi & Carlson state that: “corollary discharge is found across various sensory modalities and species”…and that…”efference copies involved in learning and sensorimotor integration, and feedback to premotor centers for regulating behavioral output are modifiable” and that “Active Sensing is acquiring sensory inputs through overt sampling behaviors, which requires more variate sensorimotor interactions…wherein modifications in corollary discharges & motor planning can (reciprocally) act to enhance sensory processing.
Observing what is unfolding between present and future, I am now going to take a magic leap!
A presto-change-o conjecture of sorts…
Is / does the perceptual organization of a Feldenkrais Practitioner® in some way serve as an “an Exterior Brain” via the embodied construction, projection, and mirroring of an image…perhaps through a proposed mechanism of “Afference Copy” (providing extra-ordinary sensation) to compare against efference copy (the ordinary expectation) while performing hands-on Functional Integration® Sessions / (FI®) Lessons in The Feldenkrais Method®?
During Functional Integration® there is an emerging elusive obvious:
“I am moving…and…I am also being moved.”
When an extraneous pattern of action…(and active discharges are happening all the time – even when at rest!)…is attended to, supported, and possibly re-directed (i.e., differentiated) from outside (i.e., matched), it cancels itself out and makes new connections with its neighbors; thereby changing its established set (perhaps depicted as ‘Corollary Attunement?’ or a ‘Corollary Recharge?’). This process of course implies and explicates a change in The Internal Model for Action and thereby perhaps The Neuroplastic Adjustment of Working Body Schema as an added recursion for Action-Perception – but this time with a little bit of help from the outside!
The same process mechanisms could easily hold true for verbally directed and conceptually informative Awareness Through Movement® group lessons (ATM®) occurring within the Feldenkrais Method®!
My FGNA 2022 Conference workshop for this Fall is entitled:
‘Going‘ through the Motions vs. ‘Growing‘ through the Motions: a Feldenkrais Corollary for the Neuroplastic Adjustment of the Working Body Schema.
Here, I will expand on the Feed Forward models depicted above to demonstrate the essential role of the practitioner in constructing and projecting an image – as virtual ‘Afference Copy’ – for virtual body part representation – and how this affords a competing pathway against chronic pain and other movement limitations by clarifying a more accurate and functionally adaptive background body schema.
In this interactive & demonstration / discussion workshop, participants will gain access to a quality copy of this expanded and proprietary .PDF Schematic for application, reference, and review:
My session will intend to illustrate and explicate a new model to depict and communicate how multi-sensory information interplay is dynamically transferred between client and practitioner, as well as highlighting how the modification of expression between internal models of imag(ination) & planning can facilitate a corresponding modulation for externalized and effective action – and vice-versa.
As I had concluded from my dissertation / clinical research study on comparative approaches to chronic back pain:
“…unless there is significant change within a person’s internal model for the sensory representation of effective action, becoming expressed and confirmed through new attention to new movement, then there is really no change at all…”
So, in consolidation & sum:
We move – with our effectors – to orient our receptors (to guide, seek, avoid, and predict) …and, in turn, our effectors thereby become de facto ‘active receptors’ in their own right.
I look forward to seeing you at the conference.
- Jeannerod, Marc (2003): “Action Monitoring and Forward Control of Movements”. In: Michael Arbib (Ed.), The Handbook of Brain Theory and Neural Networks. Second Edition. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, pp. 83–85, here: p. 83.
- Rywerant, Yochanan (2008): “Corollary Discharge, The Forgotten Link: Remarks on the Body-Mind Problem. Freeperson Press. Novato, CA.
- Sobie,Timothy, J. (2016) “Body schema acuity training and Feldenkrais® movements compared to core stabilization biofeedback and motor control exercises: Comparative effects on chronic non-specific low back pain in an outpatient clinical setting: A randomized controlled comparative efficacy study”. Saybrook University ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.10251703.
- Fukutomi Matasaburo, Carlson Bruce A. (2020): “A History of Corollary Discharge: Contributions of Mormyrid Weakly Electric Fish”. Front. Integr. Neurosci.29 July 2020 V.14
- Buzsáki, György (2020) “How the Brain ‘Constructs’ the Outside World.” Scientific American. June 22.
Dr. Tim Sobie is both a physical therapist (OUHSC 86’) and a senior practitioner in The Feldenkrais Method® (FPTP Oregon 96’). He completed his Master of Science degree in Behavioral Medicine in 1999 and his doctoral dissertation Ph.D. in clinical psychophysiology (Mind Body Medicine) at Saybrook University in 2016 by comparing an original, body schema & neuroplasticity-based Feldenkrais approach against usual physical therapy protocols for chronic low back pain. He continues as clinical director of Alliant Physical Therapy & Integral Medicine (www.alliantcare.com) in Tacoma – Olympia WA, USA, while moving to teach telehealth & consult online via SOBUS WellCare Solutions. His website is http://timsobie.com