Know thy body

A leading expert on the importance of developing a kinesthetic intelligence.

We are familiar with IQ, and becoming familiar with EQ – emotional intelligence, but KQ – kinesthetic intelligence or physical intelligence — is largely uncharted territory in our educational system and our culture. Even the subculture of exercise enthusiasts and personal trainers have yet to map out the topology of the wisdom of the body moving, and yet, it is key to all areas of life.

My three plus decades work in the anatomy of posture and movement leads me to the conclusion that a new physical education is key to the challenges that face us. I followed the course of political protest in the 60's, environmental activism in the 70's, and self-awareness in the ‘me’ decade, settling on the profession of somatic therapist and teacher. I feel that over the medium term each of these interlocking puzzles – energy, politics, the environment, and personal plasticity - can be picked by an increased and focused awareness on educating the physical self and its relation to the world, to others, and to its own essence – the kind of deep inner experience that comes from mastering a difficult motor skill, whatever that skill may be. How can we cultivate the deep self-sensing that leads to authenticity in ourselves and in the young?

We all learn to move through the world in various ways and how to manipulate objects within that world. We all learn to creep, crawl, sit, walk, run, dance, and swim, and some of us elaborate even more, foraying into biking, snowboarding, sailing, or driving.

Although some of our kids are challenging themselves, the general running down of physical capacity is frightening. Everywhere in schools, physical education is being dropped, cut, ignored, and abandoned. The educational programs that remain are firmly based in an industrial approach to physical culture, centered on repetition and competition.

Repetition is fine for habit-setting purposes, and competition is fine for building performance and good sportsmanship, but are these the basis for a 21st century physical education? Repetitive moves in a competitive atmosphere are custom tailored to prepare a generation for jobs in an industrial world – interacting with a machine in the service of production. In fact, each generation tailors its physical education to the world it finds: Baseball was perfectly suited to the entreprenurial culture of the 50’s; football to corporate culture the 80’s and soccer to the cheerful anarchy of European socialism.

In the 21st century, however, anything repetitive – from jumping jacks to writing a romance novel — can be done better by machine. So we need to teach our children to explore what is original and individual in their movement, not constrict it to mindless repetition.

The trend of moving away from machines and toward original movement in the training industry is to be applauded. Now let's see if we can move that out to the whole population: not only the upper middle-class and middle-aged, but out to the seniors who need KQ to stay independent, and the youngsters who need KQ to respond with bodily authenticity to this ever-shifting electronic world.

For a new physical education, we must look much more widely than the current myths of "exercise." It is great that the inactive become more active, and more time devoted to even such basic activity in schools would be welcome. Exercise, however, is but one thin slice of what a new physical education could provide.

In the first, pre-verbal year, a tremendous amount is conveyed to the child in how they are physically handled. You cannot talk a baby in and out of diapers, clothes, or car seats. The non-verbal dialogue of movement in the first year underlies the dialogue you have with him as a teenager. Courses in baby handling offered to all parents transform parenthood into a rich syntax between child and parent.

Understanding the natural spiral movements that lead into easy, upright alignment would eliminate many of the aches, pains, and degenerative diseases that plague and cost our society. Understanding the somatic aspect of feelings transforms the perils of adolescence. Stress, however much you may touch it with talk therapy, is a fundamentally physical, bodily response. The ability to detect stress within the body facilitates less conflict in social situations, as well as reducing chronic disease. Maintaining movement into senescence can extend productive lives. Most kids graduate from high school knowing more about the principal exports of Chile than they know about their own feelings and their bodily language.

Living now requires us to return to the lived experience of the body. The physically educated human can be more calmly energetic, more sustainable, more compassionate and more aware. The basis of ecology is in the body, the basis of peace is in the biological cooperation.

Thomas Myers is a Q advisory board member, author of Anatomy Trains and lead researcher in the field of fascia.