Kinesthetic Thinking: Thoughts on Directing from “Neurodynamics”

What exactly is directing? As a student of Neurodynamics at the Dimon Institute, I’ve often asked this question of myself and of my teacher. The answer becomes increasingly nuanced, the more I learn about the subject. In Ted’s new book, “Neurodynamics: The Art of Mindfulness in Action,” he shares his explanation of directing from a few different perspectives and I’ve selected one in particular to share here, which I find helpful in my practice. In the coming few weeks, Ted and the team here at the Dimon Institute will discuss more topics related to the book, and offer some additional content– practical exercises and more that can be used along side the book itself. Please stay tuned!  ~Danielle A.

Kinesthetic Thinking: The Key to Directing

What does it mean to “think” the directions? When we conceive of muscle activity, or the ability to influence muscle tone, we normally think in terms of actions- like raising the arm- that produce a definite contraction, or tensing, of the muscle. Being asked to simply “think” of allowing the head to go forward and up seems, in contrast, vague and intangible. And yet it is possible to affect muscle tension just as concretely by thinking as by actively doing something. John Basmajian, one of the early biofeedback researchers, attached very fine electrodes to muscle fibers, amplified the responses, and hooked the electrodes up to an oscilloscope in order to visually display the nerve impulses on a screen. He found that when subjects could observe the oscilloscope and therefore had feedback about activity in their muscles, they could learn to consciously control [when neurons fired] with only a few minutes of practice. Some subjects, after just a few minutes, were able to gain this control without the benefit of the oscilloscope by relying only on their own kinesthetic feedback.

This ability to consciously affect muscle activity graphically demonstrates the power of thought to concretely influence muscle tone. If the head is pulled back and the muscles at the nape of the neck are tightened, then by mentally directing the head forward and up, it is possible to release the tension in the nape of the neck and restore the natural poise of the head simply with thought. In Basmajian’s biofeedback studies, subjects learned to control specific parts of specific muscles. But by directing the head in relation to the torso, this conscious power can be utilized to control not specific muscle fibers, but the overall balance of tension governed by the head and torso. If the body is collapsed, “directing” the head in this way “energizes” the muscular system by restoring length; if muscles are overly contracted, directing the head releases excess tension. In this way, conscious “direction” results in a tangible change in muscle tone throughout the body, restoring natural muscle length by removing the unnecessary tension that has interfered with the PNR system [aka the primary control]. And this result is achieved, without a teacher’s help, simply by “thinking.”

But none of this happens without the intention, or wish, and without actually working on it. You can think of your head going “forward and up,” but this isn’t going to make your head go forward and up any more than thinking about the Empire State Building will make your head go forward and up. You have to want it to happen, you have to ask it to happen, and you have to see to it that it does happen. You have to actually be aware of yourself and want the directions to work; you have to actually spend time thinking. Directing is a conscious process, and you have to work at it in order for the directions to take on their full meaning.

The key to release of muscle tension, then, is the process of inhibiting muscle tension and wishing, which we do in conjunction with mechanical support… When we direct, we are asking motor nerves to stop firing so that muscles can release into length. Thinking and releasing in this way in not a relaxation exercises, since we are not simply asking muscles to become flaccid or deadened but to let go into a lengthened support, which increases muscle tone and activates a larger postural response.

Excerpt from “Neurodynamics: The Art of Mindfulness in Action”, Chapter 4 p.152-154