Are we our bodies?

No.8, September 28, 2015


Musings on wellness from Donna Simmons, Feldenkrais ® Practitioner

Henry Marsh, the British neurosurgeon and author of Do No Harm*, reflects on his mother’s death (from metastatic cancer) and muses on the nature of consciousness. He refers to ‘the binding problem’ in neuroscience, “…the extraordinary fact, that nobody can even begin to explain, that mere brute matter can give rise to consciousness and sensation.” The reference to ‘brute matter’ may be ironic, for elsewhere Dr. Marsh notes that the consequence of viewing consciousness as a direct result of our physical self “…is (to) upgrade matter into something infinitely mysterious that we do not understand.” The “extraordinary fact” to which Henry Marsh alludes is a direct result of astounding advances in neuroscience over the past two decades (I believe that neuroscience and particle physics are two areas of human inquiry that hold the most promise for advancing our understanding of the nature of existence).
So are we our bodies? Listen to your own dialog with reference to the mind/brain/self, e.g., with typical expressions such as “My mind is playing tricks on me!” “I need to give my brain a rest.” “When I meditate I try to shut my brain off.” Does the language betray the truth, or only our natural assumption/desire to be more than our physical selves? The nature of consciousness, how it arises, and where it occurs, is the enduring mystery. But there is no question that the connection between self and body is closer than we typically admit. As such, it may be useful to pay closer attention to what is happening, not just in our brain (where, by the way, all sensation, including all pain, originates) but in our entire physical organization. Here, habit gets in the way. As we age, our brain begins to “fill in” the gaps in our observation of the physical world based on past experience. (This is probably a natural defense mechanism against data overload.) To get past this, we need to slow down the rate of observation. Here’s a hint: observing and slowing your breathing slows down everything else. Just like those of you who have learned to do a body scan have experienced the subtle way your physical organization changes as you observe it; usually into a more comfortable and efficient organization.
In my practice, observation is the first, middle and last step. Your own awareness of your body – how you perceive your arms, your legs,your breath, the beating of your heart is as important (if not more) as my observations of your physical organization. My intake largely consists of observing the physical presentation: walking, standing, sitting, relaxing, speaking, listening as well as how you sense your organization. My observation is not concerned with any value judgement; it is rather a method of gathering information about the relationship between the brain and the moving parts – tendon, fascia, joint, etc. and the awareness of that relationship. Progress is measured by the subtle but important changes that occur in physical organization as a result of direct intervention (hands on and self-directed explorations) as well as increased self-awareness.

I invite you to conduct your own inventory: of your physical self using an uncritical eye, being gentle with yourself – and to re-establish the connection with the mystery of consciousness.

“I believe that the unity of mind and body is an objective reality. They are not just parts somehow related to each other, but an inseparable whole while functioning. A brain without a body could not think.”
– Moshe Feldenkrais

Namaste, Donna


*2015 St. Martin’s Press, highly recommended

Donna Simmons

Donna Simmons graduated in 1993 from Berkeley Movement Studies Institute Guild Certified Feldenkrais Professional Training, in San Rafael California, and is a Guild Certified Assistant Trainer. She also holds a JFK Graduate School of Holistic Studies degree from the Department of Holistic Health.

Working with Donna you can learn new ways to move as an essential addition to the treatment of neurological, orthopaedic, chronic pain, and stress-related conditions.