Freedom and constraints

I don’t know exactly the reason but the first aspect that comes to my mind when I think about freedom and constraints is artistic creation. In the past centuries artists, besides the limits given by their expressive mediums, had to support themselves working for wealthy customers that usually commissioned a specific subject and constrained the creative freedom of the artist. Despite these constraints or maybe thanks to them we have wonderful creations from the past. It is obviously arguable if the artistic creation of Michelangelo or Caravaggio improved due to the constraints they experienced but I find difficult to believe that it was diminished. Certainly they did experience a diminished fear of the white canvas, on the other hand the regime driven artistic creation in Russia and Nazi Germany seemed to constraint so strongly the creative process to disrupt it almost completely. My guess is that a set of moderate constraints can actually drive and support the creative process.

If we think about our own body, the way it moves is largely determined by the constraints imposed by its structure. We can’t bend our legs as birds do unless we want to injure ourselves. The aspect I would like to discuss is why during a Feldenkrais session further constraints are introduced through instructions to perform movements in a specific way or within a specific arrangement of the body.

One answer is that these further constraints create or re-create the condition where learning first occurred, for instance the differentiation of the eye-head rotation is quite visible in babies and we reproduce it in a more controlled manner in some ATM classes when we rotate the head from side to side in lying whilst counter rotating the eyes.
The question that I ask is what is the role of these constraints in achieving a better quality of the movement and increasing freedom?

This is a relatively easy question to ask but I believe that there are many possible aspects to consider in providing an answer. We know that the method does not work directly with muscles as a prerequisite is to minimize the muscular activities and the holding pattern so the effect must be on the neural system.
It has been recently proven (e.g. The brain that changes itself) that neurons that fire together wire together, Pavlov probably suspected this aspect of the brain during his study of reflexes, it would be important to know more about this discovery to understand the extent of the wiring.

It would be interesting to understand how to unwire the neurons and I suspect that what a constrain did a constrain can undo. My not demonstrated idea is that in a holding pattern, some muscular contractions will be almost constantly activated and they will probably wire in unnecessary way with muscles purposefully activated during a voluntary movement. This will reinforce the wiring of the neurons and the interfering holding pattern.
The use of constraints and supports can force the differentiation, this word is often used in the Feldenkrais world, of the motoneurons as the constraint given by the body posture help the relaxation of the holding pattern and allow the person to experience for the first time a movement not affected by a parasitic holding.
The fire-wire role covers also other pattern of movements; synergic muscular actions are often associated to a movement that anatomically can be performed using different muscular configurations. Every one familiar with skating or skiing knows that left or right turning can be achieved increasing or decreasing the weight on the legs, and despite this is conceptually equivalent the quality of motion is different, without mentioning the possibility of using the head, the shoulders or the hips to organize the rotation with each possibility leading to different internal feelings and quality of motions.   Obviously disposing of such a range of possibilities offers freedom in performing the desired actions, but sometime the habitual patterns in even simple movements take over as even simple movements involve several muscles, for instance a rotation of the wrist changes slightly the configuration of the hand unless we fix it using our willpower, so if a pattern of motion is consolidated for whatever reason a constraint can make it not usable and forces to look for an alternative. Even if the alternative is not a better one it can help to redefine the borders between areas of the body in the motor cortex. This last point recalls Thomas Hanna understanding of a somato sensory amnesia.

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