Warning: embodiment geek post

It’s obvious to most of us that we empathise with other people and can “catch” their moods. If you’ve ever, say, sat next to that angry guy on the train or been infected by the joy of children, you know that.

This (mirror neurone activated?) effect is a part of how teaching yoga (or whatever) through demonstrating works too. Watching a teacher actually primes your body for the movements, as you’re mimicking them on a micro level. Likewise, gentle physical strokes can serve as adjustments by merely “suggesting” direction to our bodies.

We can also catch embodied “instructions” from moving objects. We map pretty much anything on to ourselves, actually. We “taste” the world this way. The motion of whatever we see, or even just imagine, shapes us. For some nice examples, watch a plane take off, a waterfall cascade, or a cloud dissolve and feel this. This effect can be used deliberately. Alexander teacher, Bruce Fertman, has done this by subtly opening our posture through looking at spheres moving like cogs, and my local Alexander teacher, Mark Claireaux, does it by asking me to look at arrows on a picture. Paul Linden uses this effect in martial arts too; a high level aikidoka can unbalance you with empathy! I sometimes use it when I teach yoga; the gentle, natural quality of movement it can lead to is more desirable than the grosser “doing”.

In fact, we can all be seen as a subtle set of intentional directions. This is one way to look at character. So it’s more accurate to say our personality is a movement set that can be interfered with by other vectors (classic Paul Linden again). We’re also subtly “instructed” by the shapes of our environments. Expansive views expand us, high ceiling-ed cathedrals ennoble us, straight lines and yoga mats cage us, and curves soften us. The places we live in enter us and influence our manner of being. Shapes shape us.

How do you find movements and environments influence you?


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