Friday, 12 October 2007

Psychophysical Unity

Let's jump-in at the deep end!

I must start here because psychophysical unity (PU) is the principle that AT teachers use to bring about changes in their pupils. Without PU I think it would be virtually impossible to teach AT.

Let me explain.

[Added in response to Comment 1] The principle of PU states that every physical aspect of your being is inextricably linked to your mental processes. Every mental process reflects or expresses itself somehow within your physical body. All "doing" is preceded by and contemporaneous with thinking and subconscious thoughts and feelings result in corresponding, unseen tensions or other "misuses" within your body.

I hope you are quietly whispering to yourself "yeh that's pretty obvious". To some people, this idea is revolutionary - even heretical.

The way we use (or mis-use) ourselves is a function of the three main operations of the mind - thinking, feeling and emoting. To see what I mean, picture someone with a slumped posture: shoulders hunched and pulled forwards, upper back rounded, neck pulled back and front of rib cage collapsed.

If this person were a teenager, this wrong use of himself might be the result of him thinking that it looks cool to slump - a bit "James Dean", if you will - slightly dangerous and rebellious. On the other hand, maybe the person is middle-aged and has spent the last 30 years maintaining this posture without realising it was "wrong". His sensory awareness - his feeling - is unreliable. The Dickensian "ever-so-'umble" office clerk feels that it's his rightful place to show deference to his masters and demonstrates it to them by hunching. Finally, the depressed and saddened person, who has a life that seems set against him, feels like giving-up and the weight of it all seems to rest on his shoulders and push him down.

I could think of other examples but I hope you see the point of how a person's state of mind affects their body. My example of pulling-down is obvious but the whole range of possible mind-sets have differing and sometimes quite subtle reflections in the physical body: both positive and negative. That's one side of the PU coin.

The flip-side of the coin is the body-mind link. I've lost count of the number of times that I've seen AT pupils perk-up and even smile after having a lesson. I did-so myself in the 13 years that I took individual lessons before I trained to be a teacher. Occasionally - rarely - a pupil will burst into tears during a lesson. The teacher has helped them access something in their physical being which was imprinted there by some traumatic or upsetting event earlier in their lives. By releasing the physical manifestation of that episode, the feelings and emotions are also released.

Every qualified AT teacher must have spent a minimum of 1600 hours, usually over three years, developing her/his own use and "hands-on" skills. With experience, the teacher develops ways of explaining the principles to the pupil. The words they choose are aimed at influencing the pupil's thinking: to help them inhibit undesirable tension and to direct themselves forward and up.

The experience of the teacher's hands-on combined with an encouragement to think correctly brings about - via PU - the desired results in the pupil.

In my own teaching practice, I explain to my pupils how certain muscles or groups of muscles can be over-tensed and result in this-or-that misuse. However, an awareness of the offending muscles does not in itself help the pupil to release the unnecessry tension or to correct the problem.

I saw a pupil this week who was complaining of pain and stiffness in his middle back. He has a recent injury around his T6 vertibrum and naturally he associated the pain with the injury. On examination, in standing, he was holding his latissimus dorsi muscles tense to the point that they formed two solid vertical ridges parallel to his spine. In sitting, the tension was only marginally reduced. I showed him, via the use of my hands, where I could see he was holding-on. He said he realised how stiff those muscles were but he just couldn't let them go. I invited him to think of the under-side of his feet and to create a sense of openness in the arches of his feet. I then asked him to connect that sense of openness - via whatever means - to an equal sense of openness in his jaw. Meanwhile, I monitored his neck and encouraged him to release it. His back began to release and by the time we were finished with the chair-work, the muscle tone in his back had returned to something resembling normality.

What I was doing was playing a little mind game with him to distract his subconscious fear of back pain and replace it with a sense of release between two points on each side of the problem. Without knowing it, he was using his PU to bring about a change that was impossible by direct, end-gaining means.

Now, let me put on record my total disgust with providers of so-called "AT distance-learning" packages. AT CANNOT BE LEARNED OUT OF A BOOK! The application of psychophysical unity is not theoretical. It requires interaction between teacher and pupil and that's something that can ONLY be develeoped with hands-on work. I'd better stop ranting now because the anger and frustration will pull me down!


  1. So then Mr 'All are you going have a go a describing what PU actually is - you talk about it without really explaining it ? Or do assume the blogging fraternity know what PU is ? Two minor points - you should have the same photo taken with your new glasses on so you can match your new contemporary style and BTW I never heard you say 'heck' in your life

  2. OK Mr/Ms "A" (for anonymous). As a new blogger, I'm not sure whether I should answer your point here in the comments of amend the blog. I've added a paragraph of explanation to the blog.

    Does that suffice?

    As we used to say "up North"...
    If I don't see you through the week, I'll see you through my new glasses :-)


  3. Ay up there old northern flower

    Have you given up your blogging experiment already?

  4. Hi Mike

    No I'm in the middle of writing a blog about your favourite subject - end gaining, which I'm sure you will HAVE to take issue with :-)

    I'm a bitbusy at the moment but I hope to publish my nexy blog within a few days

  5. Come on, Jeff. The suspense is killing me!

  6. True wisdom is worth waiting for :-) I'll aim to complete it this weekend.

  7. Reminds me of a piece of wisdom that i used to read from the top deck of a bus in Sheffield, on my way in to study or, more likely, to visit the boozer. It was a poster on a church notice board:


    I think it was meant in an onward Christian soldiers kind of spirit.

    But it could be interpreted the other way too.

  8. Wonderful ! .... Seems a bit obvious if you consider something known as instincts ... but for the ones who want everything proved yes there is something known as Psycho - Physical unity ! :)