Awareness through Movement as a Determinant of Self-Development of an Individual



A.A. Gorelov, professor, Dr.Hab.
St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University, St. Petersburg
S.A. Gorelov, candidate
St. Petersburg University of Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, St. Petersburg
L.A. Grigorovich
Socialization and Education Institute of the Russian Academy of Education, St. Petersburg

Keywords: self-image, awareness through movement, motor and intellectual self-development, feelings, sensations, thinking, movement.

Introduction. According to the concept of the famous American scientist, doctor of physics and psychology M. Feldenkrais [3, 4], who investigated into the mechanisms of awareness through movement, every individual acts in accordance with the so-called "self-image". Self-image controls every human action and is determined by three determinants: heredity, upbringing and self-cultivation, education and self-education. The determinant of heredity is the least amenable to change, as the biological base of man (specifics of the functional systems performance – cardiovascular, central and peripheral nervous, skin, sensor, musculoskeletal, etc.) is determined by his physical heredity long before he becomes aware of himself. Upbringing and education enable the individual to master the language that corresponds to the views and reactions of the society he belongs to. In their turn, upbringing and education determine the direction of the self-cultivation and self-education. Being the most flexible factor of the human development in ontogenesis, they affect the perception of upbringing and education as well as the choice of material for learning. Thus, upbringing and self-cultivation, education and self-education are quite strongly interrelated. As a child grows older, the part of his self-cultivation grows larger, during which a growing up individual becomes more and more aware of the possibility to improve himself, and the self-improvement techniques are getting more and more sophisticated.

Published more than 40 years ago, the book by M. Feldenkrais titled “Awareness through movement; health exercises for personal growth” [4], literally translated as “Awareness (understanding, knowledgeability, information awareness, mindfulness, self-awareness, consciousness) through movement: health exercises for personal growth” received no recognition in our country because of the author’s views on upbringing which, in his opinion, forms us as members of a particular society, and dictates to every individual to be as similar to an average person (ideal for this society) as possible. It dictates to each of its members how to dress, makes one express one’s thoughts the same way as the majority, instills behavioral styles, etc. The objective is to form the direction in the human desire to personalize one’s behavior within the framework of the generally accepted norms of a given society. According to the researcher, modern upbringing aims to ensure the formation of a leveling adjustment of people and, although it cannot completely suppress self-cultivation, it is still committed to the development of approaches that form in each society member the need to have similar views, appearance, aspirations, etc. This, in its turn, is enhanced by the intensive development of the mass media that contribute to leveling out individual differences.

The purpose of the research was to generalize analytically and by induction the concept of European scientist, founder of the first judo school in Europe M. Feldenkrais on the mechanisms of awareness of movement, acting as determinants of motor and intellectual self-development of an individual.

Results and discussion. First of all we consider it appropriate to focus on the meaning of the key phrase of the author - «awareness through movement», that is filled both in the name of the concept and its textual presentation. As mentioned above, the literal translation of the term “awareness” means knowledgeability, information awareness, mindfulness, perception, understanding, self-awareness, consciousness, etc. In English texts the term is used with various conceptual meanings and is employed, so to speak, for all occasions, in all of which the understanding itself is drawn from the context. In many Russian translations of the book, including the latest edition published by the Moscow Institute of humanities research [3], the term “awareness” is translated as “understanding”, although many translators use the term “perception”. At the same time traditionally, including psychological one, the terms “perception” and “understanding” are clearly and fundamentally distinguished.

Thus, “perception” means a state, conscious awareness, reflexive mind of an individual when he is aware of something and is going through and experiencing this awareness. “Understanding” is an intentional process of consciousness during which an individual is deliberately focused on already familiar experience and directs this attention to the fact of this familiarity. In other words, the first is a matter of reception or sensor system, the second is a matter of discriminating mind or a representative system.

Then, in order to finally clarify the key importance of the translation of the book title that defines the logical focus of the author’s concept, we would like to highlight its second constituent part, namely «health exercises for personal growth». All Russian translations mention only twelve practical lessons. And it is true – the second part of the book is dedicated to the description of the specified number of lessons. However, the word “lessons” is mostly associated by the author with the concept of “exercises”, and there are not twelve of them but over a thousand, and they are selected to illustrate the basic provisions of the author’s approach. A word-for-word translation of the second part of the title of the book puts everything in its place – “health exercises for personal growth”. This what the concept of M. Feldenkrais is about, and this is what we are going to discuss in the context of recognition of awareness through movement as a determinant of motor and intellectual self-development.

Each person speaks, thinks, feels, perceives himself and the space around him differently, according to his self-image that is constantly improving throughout life. According to M. Feldenkrais, self-image itself consists of four components that are involved in every action while awake. These include: feelings, sensations, thinking, and movement. Each component is present in any action, but the share of each of them is different and measures up against the others depending on the individuality of a person. He includes all known sensory organs into the sensations, including kinesthetic ones, spatial orientation, the sense of time and rhythm. In addition to well-known emotions that consciously and unconsciously color up human life, feelings include self-esteem, humiliation and oversensitivity. Such functions of intelligence as opposition of right and left, right and wrong, good and bad, as well as understanding, knowledge, imagination, knowing that something is sensed and felt, memories about all the above and many other things comprise thinking. And, finally, movement, as he believes, includes all movements in space and time, states and configurations of the body and its parts as well as breathing, speaking, food processing in the mouth and its further digestion, blood circulation. At the same time it is stated that if at least one of these components is reduced to zero, the very existence of the individual is at risk.

Why did we focus on these statements of M. Feldenkrais? The answer to this question is in his understanding of the mechanisms of motor self-development and self-improvement of an individual in ontogenesis, permanent functioning of which at the same time forms his intellectual sphere. In other words, the process of motor self-improvement of a person includes not only the development of his physical conditions or practiced movements that become skills, but also his own intellectual self-improvement. At the same time, however, it is worth noting that this idea was thoroughly studied by our great compatriot I.M. Sechenov in his “Reflexes of the Brain” over 150 years ago [2]. Later on, in a series of works “Impressions and Reality”, “A physiological View of Subjective Thinking”, “Elements of Thought” and others, he developed the idea of a muscle as an organ of reliable knowledge about space-time relations of things, basing on the achievements in the field of the physiology of senses and the research of the functions of the locomotor system. According to Sechenov, sensory signals sent by a working muscle help create images of external objects and relate objects to each other and thus serve as the physical basis of elementary forms of thinking [2].

Another outstanding Russian scientist N.A. Bernstein, referring to the movement as almost the only form of life-sustaining activity in which a body does not just interact with the environment but also seeks to change it to meet its needs, mentions the universal significance of this fundamental scientific work. He notes that during a period of over 100 years “the inherent part of movements in all the acts of sensory perception, in education of sensory organs during early childhood, finally, in active development of an objectively true reflection in the brain by reconciling the synthesis of perceptions by means of practice became clear» [1]. N.A. Bernstein’s own idea that a body, using commands of the brain as leverage for the muscles, can correctly and consistently control the movements only in case of continuous tracking of their progress through the sensor systems [1], defines the logical trend of the concept formulated by M. Feldenkrais.

Despite the fact that the theoretical part of the concept of M. Feldenkrais is built on the logical-semantic narratives of the essence of the author’s approach and does not involve a retrospective analysis of the scientific literature on this issue, we believe it is our duty to regard the fundamental works of I.M. Sechenov and N.A. Bernstein as a methodological basis of his approach [1, 2].

Let us consider, this time with a parallel study of the works of I.M. Sechenov and N.A. Bernstein, the basic ideas of M. Feldenkrais about improving movements as the best way for self-improvement. We have formulated their essence as follows:

1. Movement engages the nervous system more than anything else. This is accounted for by the fact that a person cannot feel, sense or think without various and complex sequential movements controlled by the brain and aimed at maintaining the body in the gravity field. Awareness of one’s own body in the gravity field in relation to other bodies, as well as actions aimed at moving one’s body in space occurs with the participation of sensations, feelings and thinking.

2. Human understanding of the position and functioning of the body in the gravity field is much more definite and clear in mind than the other components. Any individual knows much more about movement than, for example, about love and jealousy, anger and joy or the mechanisms of hearing, sight, taste, thought processes, etc. It is much easier to learn to assess the quality of movement, rather than the quality of the other components.

3. Man has much more experience of movement and greater abilities of movement than of feelings, sensations and thinking.

4. Structure of the body and ability to move are of more importance for self-image than anything else.

5. Any action of an individual, including sight, speech and even hearing (when a person is listening, muscles regulate the tension of the tympanic membrane in accordance with the perceived loudness of sounds) starts with the work of certain muscles. In addition to coordination, spatial orientation and internal precision, intensity is also displayed in each movement. Prolonged muscle relaxation makes movements slow, long-term stress and strain create interrupted and abrupt movements. In both cases the state of mind and the motive of the action are manifested. At the same time such manifestations of motor actions as rhythm and coordination in space and time can function without any intense fluctuations.

6. The state of the nervous system can be judged by the nature of movements. Muscles are functioning due to continuously running streams of afferent and efferent impulses, so it is the state of the nervous system that the muscle samples of the orderly regulation (pattern) of the vertical position of the body, face expression, voice, etc. reflect. In other words, speaking of muscle movements, they mean the nervous system that activates the muscles which, naturally, cannot function without impulses that control them.

7. Movement is the basis of awareness. Man does not realize what is going on in his own central system till he becomes aware of a change in his posture, a state of equilibrium, etc., since the sensitivity of these manifests itself in the mind much easier than the changes taking place in the muscles. In other words, man perceives and becomes aware of what is going on inside of him because of the muscles, and only an insignificant part of this information comes through the skin, mucous membrane of the digestive tract and the respiratory system, the mouth, nose and anus internal surfaces.

8. Breathing is an indicator of movement and reflects every emotional and physical effort. Human carcass (the skeleton) is arranged in such a way that it is virtually impossible to organize correct breathing without proper positioning of the center of gravity of the body. Breathing reorganization succeeds as much as an individual does in indirect improvement of the skeletal muscles functioning, improving postural positions and the movement itself.

9. Behavior is engagement of muscles, senses, feelings and thinking. Of course, each of these components can be used as the primary one, but the muscular system plays such a decisive role that if their patterns in the motor area of the cortex are disabled, the rest will simply disintegrate. This is primarily due to the fact that the motor area of the cortex where the patterns that activate the muscles are is located just a few millimeters above the layers of the brain that connect all human feelings and sensations. Due to diffusion and dissemination and irradiation processes in the brain, significant changes in the motor area of the cortex cause parallel changes in the muscles and senses.

The above summarizing conclusions provide a kind of a methodological basis for the system of M. Feldenkrais. We formulated the application component based on the analysis of a great number of reviews obtained from people practicing this method and taken from the Internet. Their essence is as follows:

  • Exercises performed according to the method of M. Feldenkrais form an individual’s ability to pay attention to his own body, make him aware of the pleasantness and ease of movements.

  • Due to improved awareness of the body man begins to understand movements better and more successfully masters motor actions engaged in his professional activity (playing musical instruments, performance of various labor actions consisting of motor acts, etc.) and sports.

  • “Understanding” the role of his body in his own practical activity, an individual begins to show interest in performing his actions quickly and easily. Man begins to feel like there is a strong connection between the body and the soul, and it is then that the fundamental element of the wellbeing of soul which forms a healthy body is manifested more clearly. At the same time in the course of special physical exercises a person changes his understanding of himself, his capabilities, a revaluation of habitual actions takes place in the context of their expediency.

The author of the concept, based on many years of observations of his patients concludes that that his method makes it possible not only to work with the body, but also develops flexible thinking outside the box. Mastering the exercises, a person learns to learn or master new motor actions by becoming aware of them in movement, and the experience in looking for alternative ways of acting becomes a base for creativity, learning and more open thinking in general. In other words, such self-education forms motivation, awakens curiosity and enhances enthusiasm in terms of learning the unknown, finding the unexpected and through this getting creative results.

Conclusion. The formulated positions are purely hypothetical so far. Serious experimental research is needed to confirm their validity, especially for those that deal with the issues of self-development, self-cultivation, self-education of a person as a personality in general and as a specialist engaged in the improvement of his professional skills in particular. We believe, awareness through movement, as a determinant of personal self-development of an individual, should be investigated in a relationship and interaction with other components of human self-improvement in ontogenesis.


  1. Bernstein, N.A. Biomekhanika i fiziologiya dvizheniy: Izbrannye psikhologicheskie trudy (Biomechanics and physiology of movements: Selected Psychological Works) / N.A. Bernstein; ed. by V.P. Zinchenko; 3rd ed., rev. - Moscow: Publishing House of MPSU; Voronezh: MODEK, 2008. – 688 P.
  2. Sechenov, I.M. Elementy mysli (Elements of Thought) / I.M. Sechenov. – Moscow: Knigovek, 2011. – 416 P.
  3. Feldenkrais, M. Osoznavanie cherez dvizhenie: dvenadtsat’ prakticheskikh urokov (Awareness through movement: 12 practical lessons) / Transl. from Engl. / M. Feldenkrais. - Moscow: Institute of humanities research, 2011. – 224 P.
  4. Feldenkrais, M. Awareness through movement; health exercises for personal growth / M. Feldenkrais. Harper & Row. New York/Lоndon, 1972.


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