Learn How Your Eyes Organize the Movements of Your Body
There are two key concepts of how your eyes organize your body for action. One, the direction your eyes move presupposes action in that direction. Two, you can increase the range and ease of motion by differentiating your eyes from your head, neck, shoulders, and other parts.
Eye Movements Presuppose Action in a Particular Direction
When your eyes move to the left or to the right, your brain and nervous system prepare your musculature to move your skeleton in the direction your eyes are moving.
Have you ever been out for a walk and heard a sound to your side? Your eyes move in the direction of the sound, your head turns, and your shoulders turn; your system is organized to turn to that side to determine what made the sound and evaluate it.
I was recently preparing a meal in my kitchen when in my peripheral vision, I noticed a movement outside the front window. My eyes quickly turned to the right, and the rest of me followed to see a child rolling by on her scooter. My eyes led and organized my movement for swift action, turning to see what caught my attention.
This morning I headed upstairs to do my morning Awareness Through Movement lesson. When I got to the top landing, I stepped on something cold and wet. Even though it was dark, my eyes immediately dropped down to see what it was. When my eyes dropped down, my flexors engaged in front, and my extensors were inhibited in my back. My head lowered, my back rounded as I tried to see what I had encountered.
In the examples above, these eye movements are triggered automatically by a sensation, a sound, or something visual in a way that causes our eyes to move in the direction of sensation and prepare for action. We can intentionally use this concept to explore and improve our movement and sensing through Feldenkrais lessons.
Differentiating Our Eyes from Our Habitual Constraints
The muscles of our eyes extend through our skull and interweave with our neck muscles. There is a deep integration of the two.
Our habits of daily life can constrain the movements of our eyes along with the movements of our head, neck, shoulders, and other parts.
These habitual constraints are simply the result of how we use ourselves in our daily lives. Most of our work is done directly in front of us, whether we are chopping carrots, reading a book, scrolling Instagram, digging in the garden, or, as I am right now, typing this article on my computer with my eyes and head barely moving. Our eyes, head, neck, shoulders, and other parts lose their separateness; they move more as a block, causing stiffness, pain, and fatigue.
By differentiating the movements of our eyes from the movements of our head, neck, shoulders, and back, we can free ourselves from these habitual constraints. This results in an improved range of motion, smoother movement, and more harmonious action.
Try this simple exploration:
Sit toward the edge of your chair with your feet on the floor and your hands on your thighs.
- 1Now, simply turn your head and eyes to the left and, without straining, notice how far you turn; how far can you see? Do the same movement to the right.
- 2Pick a spot on the wall in front of you and keep your eyes on it as you turn your head to the left and back to the front. Your eyeball will move into the right corners of your eye sockets. Do this about ten times and then rest.
- 3Turn your head to the left as far as you can comfortably. From this turned position, move your eye further to the left and back in line with your nose. Do this about ten times and then rest.
- 4Turn your head to the left as far as you can comfortably. Rest your eyes on a spot in the direction your face is oriented. Keep your eyes on that spot; from this position, turn your head to the right and back in line with your eyes. Do this about ten times and then rest.
- 5Now, simply turn your head and eyes to the left and, without straining, notice how far you turn; how far can you see? Do you turn farther? You may notice that your shoulders have freed up without any prompting and turn more easily with your head and eyes.
- 6Try turning to the right and notice the difference.
You can see in this simple exploration how powerful the concept of differentiating the eye is. This concept, too, is a strategy we can use in Feldenkrais lessons to facilitate change.
Inspired by Dr. Feldenkrais
In his book Awareness Through Movement, Dr. Feldenkrais presents a lesson entitled "Movement of the Eyes Organizes the Movement of the Body." In this lesson, he uses these two key strategies discussed above: the direction the eyes move presupposes action in that direction and differentiating the eyes from our habitual use of self.
Dr. Feldenkrais presented many variations of this lesson in the Alexander Yanni series, the Esalen series, the Amherst Training, and many other situations. I believe this speaks to how much he valued these ideas. He also used these concepts in other lessons that demonstrate the depths to which the eyes affect the organization of ourselves.
In one lesson, "Alexander Yanni Lesson 57: Lifting the Head on all Fours," he explores how the eyes affect the muscles of each side of the back differently. The stronger eye will engage the muscles of the back more fully depending on how different the use of each eye is. If someone has a very strong dominant eye, a lazy eye, or uses one eye for distance and the other for close-up work, these differences can be felt in the organization of the back. Through this exploration, a more balanced use of the eyes and the back can be developed.
How Your Eyes Organize Your Movement
Inspired by these concepts, I created a constellation of lessons to explore them. Some are inspired by lessons from the Alexander Yanni series, and others are of my own creation. I explicitly accent these concepts as primary in organizing the lessons.
1 Eyes Organize Your Turning
We explore two key ideas in this lesson: One, you will learn how the direction in which your eyes move presupposes action in that direction. Two, you will discover how differentiating the eyes from the head, neck, shoulder, and back improves the movement's range of motion and smoothness.
2 Becoming Aware of Both Eyes When Turning
When you move your eyes when turning to follow an object, one eye may be suppressed while the other eye follows. Through this lesson, you will become aware of when you suppress one eye in favor of the other and how to maintain awareness and convergence of both eyes while following an object.
3 Passive Eyes in Movement
When you sweep your eyes across your environment, they tend to catch on objects. Not only do your eyes stop momentarily on an object, but this stopping is also reflected in your neck muscles. When you do this lesson, your eyes are passive in the movement of your head. This reduces eye and neck tension, allowing for a smooth movement of your eyes across your environment.
4 Eyes Free Your Hip Joints
By watching the movement of an imaginary object, you will discover the connection between your eyes and your hips. Working this way with your eyes will free your hip joints for a greater range of motion.
5 Eyes Organize Your Back
By following an imaginary object with one eye at a time, you will discover how each eye engages the back muscles differently. Through this lesson, you will become aware of these differences and create more balance between your eyes and the muscular efforts of your back.
If you are curious about this work, check out my new audio series, "How Your Eyes Organize Your Movement."
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