What is Psychophysical Education, and how does it provide answers to the management of chronic pain and other clinical conditions?
Psychophysical Education is an holistic way of looking at how we as humans function. It examines our inherent design in the context of the highly unconscious way we carry out all activity. Its study helps us to understand that the way we perform every-day, perfunctory actions is often highly flawed. Once we can see that our patterns of activity are actually harmful, we start to develop a new level of self-awareness, and, with it, improvements in health and well-being.
Traditional medical models of human function tend towards speciality areas (orthopaedics, rheumatology, etc.), and treatment of parts (back, arms, legs, etc.) or systems (digestive, circulatory, renal, etc.). However, the division of the organism into discrete structures is insufficient to explain phenomena such as multi-factor clinical diagnoses (as in HSD, EDS, etc.), the onset of unexplained symptoms in healthy people, or indeed the complications sometimes encountered in treating usually straightforward non-complex conditions. Psychophysical Education offers a new functional model to explain these and other complex clinical symptoms, and using this model we can understand how apparently unrelated parts and structures actually have an important influence on our function as a whole. If we apply this model, we start to understand how, for instance, a painful shoulder is going to affect not simply arm function, but all other processes, including breathing, gait, and autonomic function, and visa versa. And the same is true for any clinical manifestation and diagnosis, however localised, or widespread.
Psychophysical Education not only provides a causal model, it also provides a method through which to both alleviate and prevent symptoms. Central to the method is a thinking process that affects muscle tone and coordination. Movement, which is at the heart of most activity, is such a basic, innate faculty that it is performed at a highly subconscious level. Though we can observe the results of our intended action, we are largely unaware of how we enact it – if for instance, we want to raise our arm, we just do it without any awareness of what is physically taking place under our skin for this to happen. This poses a problem. If we are unaware of how we are doing things, how do we know whether or not we are doing them in a way that is coherent with our natural coordination patterns? The answer is that we don’t, and moreover recent scientific research indicates that from an early age our own activities are detrimental to our wellness. From childhood we are creating movement pathways which, though they may well be efficient with regards to space and time, are certainly not in terms of ergonomics or balanced coordination. Thus the initial building blocks which provide the basis for all subsequent activity are frequently flawed, and these lead to ever increasing stresses and strains on our system as we get older.
Psychophysical Education enables someone to perceive how they are doing what they are doing by breaking down activity into incremental, basic elements. Once a person is able to observe their own coordination patterns, the performance of an action starts to migrate to a more conscious level enabling better control, coordination, and balance that manifests not simply in the physical movement, but also at a psychological level.
Key to understanding this new model of human function is Psychophysical Education’s grounding principle of multi-dimensional holism. The same functional principles occur at different levels of complexity, whether we are considering molecules, cells, organs, limbs, or ourselves as a whole person. New research increasingly evidences the fact that living structures, ourselves included, obey the laws of biotensegrity. These state that a system’s overall functional properties by far exceed the capability of any one of its individual parts, and the working of each individual part depends on the functioning of each of the others. The whole overall structure, as well as each component, is constantly striving for a balanced equilibrium, and any disturbance in the balance of one part will affect the others to a greater or lesser extent.
Despite the fact that we are designed to follow the ground rules inherent in our biotensegrity structure, we can nevertheless consider ourselves as a highly plastic open system. Throughout our life-span we are continually reacting and acting in accordance with our environment, which in turn shapes our reactions and, synonymously, our own psychophysical self. Viewed in this way, it starts to become apparent how our lack of consciousness of how we work on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute, and second-to-second basis, can actively contribute to an ongoing loss of wellbeing. In early childhood, learned movements form the foundations of our habits of a lifetime. Nevertheless, we are totally unaware that things we consider unimportant, such as the excess muscular tension we use in manipulating any object (a pen is an excellent example), standing off balance, or collapsing in a sofa, can have very damaging consequences for the correct working of our total structure throughout our life span. And this structure is not simply physical, it depends on forging neural connections which form memories not simply for remembering events, but also for carrying out any activity. Strong habits are characterised by strong neural connections. If at a young age we learn to walk with uneven weight distribution, perhaps because of an injury, then every subsequent movement will reflect this ingrained habit. As our life progresses, the habit undergoes a snowball effect, growing with all our learned behaviour until we find that we have, for example, stiff hips, a postural twist and, because of this, severe lower back pain. This is why the study of Psychophysical Education is so effective. It allows us to look at, and to unravel, the constituent elements of action, so that they can be remodelled and improved on. The act of this ongoing study, which starts to become a part of our everyday activity, enables a more conscious, and therefore more mindful approach to how we live, which by definition, translates into better health and wellbeing.
Psychophysical Education encompasses the principles laid out by F. M. Alexander for the practice of his well-known Technique. However, the scientific discoveries which underpin the theory, comprehension, and pedagogy of his method only started to emerge half a century after his death. These transformed his legacy into a new field of study – Psychophysical Education. This new approach to health and well-being continues to challenge the boundaries of our understanding of ourselves, whilst at the same time offering a transformative life skill that anyone can learn.
© 2019 Serena Woolf
For further information visit: www.dimoninstitute.org
Serena Woolf MA, MSTAT, BSc (Hons), CNHC Registered
Tel: 07444 513196