By Teaching We learn

Have been searching for an “old adage”  along the lines of – teachers often learn more from their students than they impart.   Came across:

Docendo discimus – By teaching we learn   (attrib to Seneca the Younger 4BC-65AD)

A teacher is someone who can learn from their students, who can learn with them, and learns for them.        Robert John Meehan (1950 – )

Both were proven true when a student helped me understand (… begin to understand) a reference in the last blog of the action of the pelvis as “…the helix of a screw-conveyor…” Mabel Todd’sThinking Body p 200 .  I provided a simplified visual of a spiralling bucket to illustrate the action but I could not get a ‘handle’ on the “helix of a screw-conveyor”. I sought help from a well-qualified student. I was given a number of examples  – with great patience.  Still, I floundered, until the mention of an Archimedes’ Screw which enables water to be pumped from low-lying areas by turning a screw-shaped surface inside a pipe, produced a “Eureka” moment (excuse this most obvious allusion).  I could finally visualize the movement, the momentum provided by a screw conveyor to move granules or liquid.:

I am indebted to my student for helping me to clear the mist but also for jolting  my awareness back towards what I know about teaching but don’t always remember ; namely, that clarity depends upon keeping things simple, upon varied repetition and  always checking that the message is clear enough.

So, returning to the screw conveyor and with my somewhat ill-fitting mechanic’s hat on:

Mabel Todd described the integrated movement of the pelvis, legs, spine, shoulders in walking as a “composite spring” which provides propulsion so that the spine and pelvis  can move on the leg bones – “..rock back and forth and sideways, allowing a rebound and recovery of balance between each step..” The Thinking Body p134.  Thus, when I suggest that we “spring into a one-legged balance; perhaps some form of tree pose – you now know what I am thinking.  Teachers inspired by Mabel’s thinking use imagery to help change muscle patterns.  Key to this is an understanding of what the movement is.  The nervous system (messenger of signals) , muscular (the motor)  and skeletal (support) all have a specific role but for movement to occur all three systems must be involved.  Alexander taught that any action involves the use of the whole self, The Use of The Self ,1932.

In the 1980’s Serge Gracovetsky, Phd, (Dept of Electrical and Computing Engineering, University of Montreal),  wrote about human locomotion in his Spinal Engine theory.  He studied the transfer of energy in the spine and wrote that deep spinal movement is at the centre of walking and running, underlying the movement of our arms and legs. It had  generally been perceived that the legs carried along a passive trunk –  The Pedestrian Theory of Locomotion. Gracovetsky said that the limbs amplify movement that originates in the musculature of the spine and trunk.  The arms in running, for example, amplify spinal movement to counterbalance leg movement and to assist in raising and lowering the body’s center of gravity to support the stride.

Image result for images for Gracvetsky's spinal engine theory

With thanks to for the visual aid. If we can understand and visualize this movement, perhaps we can be more aware of a part of the movement where we habitually hold tension, thereby compensating for that “wonky” bit with another part of our musculature – Sensing our bodies to reduce movement compensation.

I called this to mind when mention of some hamstring problems featured recently in class.   I began to wonder if we fixate upon tight hamstrings we dilute the sense of the spiralling pelvis which will, I think, impact upon the fluidity of movement.  Very tight hamstrings do restrict pelvic rotation and range of movement. Thus, since there is a mechanical and a neurological aspect to muscle tightness, it may be more difficult, for some, to sense the subtlety of the spiralling pelvis (more on this in the next blog).  This is also why simply stretching tight hamstrings is not always the best thing to do.  The brain needs to learn which muscles should fire for efficient movement.  Rather than static stretches, we explored movement through the pelvis, spine and leg as we used gravity to support us.  More useful I felt – as is the beloved Sprinters in strengthening the hamstring of the front bent leg whilst lengthening the musculature of the back leg.  We concentrate upon keeping a quiet foot, as we lift a relaxed spine.  It can be tougher to explore the whole movement, slowly however, since mindful awareness of all three branches of the neuromuscular system means noticing when excess tension creeps in – namely, when we don’t feel ok.  Let me know what you think.

*END NOTE: You may be interested to know that the aforesaid student was not convinced by my learning and supplemented the teaching with a concrete visual aid.  That is what I call effective teaching.

See some of you next week.

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