The neurological complexity of learning

“Every movement you make consists of coordinating some 630 muscles to navigate some 206 bones vis-a-vis some 220 joints in a precise fashion.”

By Edward Yu, Certified Feldenkrais Pracitionersm 

Virtually all adults in our modern industrialized culture follow the same motor patterns we learned in childhood. Few of us, in other words continue to learn significantly new and more complex patterns and thereby fundamentally improve our motor skills after our twelfth birthday. Furthermore, many of the motor patterns we become habituated to in our culture actually prevent us from becoming as strong, agile, flexible and graceful as we could be. Go to a village in Mexico, Kenya or Vietnam and you will witness elderly people performing tasks that most of our athletic 20 year-olds could not.

Even within our culture we see great variation. Some children appear to be naturally “gifted” in athletics or dance. They are considered to be more talented. Likewise, some adults exhibit otherworldly skills. Turn on the TV or watch a Youtube video and you’ll see more examples of talent. But what is the nature of talent? Is it genetic, “God-given” and therefore, immutable? Or is there something else that separates children in their abilities, and in turn ends up separating adults in theirs. And why is it that the vast majority of us adults maintain the same motor habits–many of which are faulty–that we exhibited as children and adolescents?

From a neurological standpoint, all movement is extraordinarily complex…

Every movement you make consists of coordinating some 630 muscles to navigate some 206 bones vis-a-vis some 220 joints in a precise fashion. To move with power, speed, agility, balance and fluidity, each muscle must contract to precisely the right length at precisely the right moment. Not an easy task. In fact, coordinated movement of the human body is so complex that even our most advanced machines exhibit comparatively minimal degrees of freedom.

Feldenkrais is a method which both recognizes and addresses the complexity of human movement. In doing so, it provides answers to the questions posed above. In Feldenkrais, we utilize the vast learning capabilities of the human nervous system to improve everything from mundane actions, like walking or brushing your teeth, to rarefied ones, like playing a piano concerto or running 100 meters in under ten seconds.




2 thoughts on “The neurological complexity of learning

  1. Edward, intriguing article. You say: ‘ Few, in other words continue to learn and improve beyond their twelfth birthday.’ In my view it all depends on the right teacher/trainer. I did witness quite a few examples of dramatic improvement both academically and physically with the right teacher/trained. It includes learning languages, singing and even maths and physics as well as in sports. And this happened even with ‘not so young’ people. As you may well be aware, working out with weight does improve the muscels of people even in the sevemties or eoghties. What difference would Feldenkais make to these people/improvements is not easy to estimate. Warmly, Istvan

    • Good point, Istvan! It is certainly possible to continue learning into adulthood and some people in our culture do. Few, however, continue to learn in a fundamental way (by which I don’t simply mean a storage of new “facts” or bits of information), and consequently, few continue to see profound changes, even though they may experience superficial ones. While I do mean to include intellectual and emotional capacities, here in this article I am referring primarily to motor skills, or simply put, movement. I agree that increasing the size of muscles can be good for some purposes, yet it is not strong an indicator of learning. And this is a reason why people who workout regularly at the sports club often increase their muscle mass without improving coordination and fine motor skills. Similarly, increasing range of motion in your glenohumeral joint does not mean you’ve improved the usage of that joint in conjunction with the rest of your body. It all depends on how that increase in range came about–whether through force or learning. Feldenkrais famously alluded to the possibility of having a flexible body without having a flexible mind. Of course, this is ignoring the fact that flexibility in one’s joints is not intrinsically good (nor is it intrinsically bad)…but that’s a topic for another article!
      At any rate, thank you for the comment. I’ve made a couple changes in the article in an attempt to make it clearer.