Walking With Our Motor Concepts

To become human we all must learn physical concepts.  When these physical concepts involve movement they are called motor concepts. A motor concept determines how our movements are ordered and organized.  For example, in order to survive, we learned front and back, and then the direction forwards and backwards. This motor concept was learned in the first months of our lives and we learned it well. Then we lost our awareness of how we developed this concept.  Most of the time we do not become confused about this primary motor concept.

In walking many people demonstrate a very strong sense of this primary motor concept.  They appear to be walking very directly forwards and you can see their intention.  There is little lateral movement, swaying, or rotation in their trunk.  A march is often this style. 

Later in life we learn another primary motor concept, called laterality, which involves our orientation left and right. Some people never learn this concept very thoroughly and become easily confused. It develops slowly over several years until the age of about five to seven.

Only about one out of five adults has completely learned laterality as a motor concept. This means they are never confused about moving left or right, or where their left or right sides are, regardless of what position they’re in or if they’re spun until almost dizzy.  Scuba divers and gymnasts must have a strong sense of laterality.  These people have a strong advantage in sports skills compared to people need remember which arm their watch is on in order to know which hand is the left hand.
Most adults have only partially learned laterality as a motor concept. And, in ordinary positions like sitting, standing, or walking, they know where left and right is and can use the center of their body as the reference. But, if they were lying in some exotic position, they might be confused, and they might have to think for awhile which arm might be the right one and which direction is to the left.  This temporary confusion and lack of ability to move automatically, reveals how much of a motor concept is learned.

About another third of adults has practically no understanding of laterality as a motor concept. They have a difficult time following directions, can be very awkward in their turning movements and must think consciously about which hand and which foot are on which side of their body. For example, if you said, please lie on your back and lift your right leg and right arm towards the ceiling, some people would take time to think about which side that is, or they might lift the other side, or lift their right arm and their left leg.

When someone’s walking we can see which motor concepts are expressed most strongly and which ones are incomplete in their development. 

Another critical motor concept is to understand up and down. If we don’t understand up and down early in our life, we might stand or jump easily while we have the muscular strength to do so. But you can see, as people age, and their muscles are not as strong, a lack of understanding which direction is up makes it more difficult to climb stairs or to stand up out of a chair. And jumping feels beyond the person’s age.

When some people walk, it looks as if their feet roll along the ground, because they don’t have a strong heel strike when the foot hits nor does it flap against the ground. Rolling the feet leads to smoother movement of the knees and a better organization of the core of the body. Even the back becomes less jarred. Rolling is another motor concept.
So the next time you’re watching people walk, or feeling how you walk, you might notice what motor concepts were physically learned early in life and carried into your walk. All is revealed in your walking.

You might find, doing the Feldenkrais lessons in the Change Your Age program will change your walk forever, making it smoother, more coordinated, and more pleasant. Why? Because in the Feldenkrais Method® you will develop and master motor concepts that unconsciously limit ability. For over 30 years I’ve seen how learning these basic physical concepts changes the way people move.