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Thursday, December 29, 2005


The first time I heard this word was on The Discovery Channel, one fine evening before heading out from Shiva's place, I think it was. We only managed to catch the intro because we had to go somewhere...but for some reason this one word, "proprioception," seemed to stand out in my mind. And, now that I seem to have found like five minutes from the madness that envelopes me, or now that I think I have, I thought I'd read into this a bit more. Oh, and obviously, my reading into it means that there's more for you guys to have to deal terms of having to read about what I read. Ouch!

Proprioception (pronounced Pro-pre-oh-SEP-shun), as defined by Merriam Webster is "the reception of stimuli produced within the organism." Or, if that wasn't good enough, you could go with the Wordnet definition of the word which is, "the ability to sense the position and location and orientation and movement of the body and its parts." So, two definitions later, what does it mean? Well, it's kind of, but not exactly like one of those 'proximity sensor' systems that cars have know, it tells you that you're too close to something or that you're going to back up into the car behind you or whatever. But the difference would be if the system told you that your opening of the door was going to result in contact with a vehicle/person next to you, i.e. the proximity of the external moving parts of the body of the car. Perhaps one can go so far as to say that it also involves a car's ability to gauge what's going on internally, like if things are working okay, or if the power output is substantially and proportionally lower than the amount of fuel being consumed to generate said power. But enough about automobiles.

So what does it mean for us? Well, and because I wasn't really conscious of the existence of such a thing, it now gives me the ability to explain why some days I feel on top of the world and can walk down the street 'smoothly' (we don't use all that coconut oil for nothing) and without bumping into anyone or anything, and why other days I'm constantly apologizing to people as I "mow" them down and seem to have lots of trouble trying NOT to get run over.

Interestingly, alcohol is something that 'impairs' your proprioceptive ability, and this is why cops in the US, when administering a field sobriety test, ask you to hold out your arms, close your eyes, and touch your nose. Oh yeah, you're supposed to touch your nose with your index finger, and not hope to hit it with any part of your palm. That, unfortunately, would not be very convincing, let me assure you. And I had to do this once, not on the side of the road, but in my neurosurgeon's office? My neurosurgeon? I mean, the neurosurgeon who I was visiting outpatient-ishtyle after the "humpty-dumpty" incident, that is. And my second meeting with him was very interesting...because it ended up being a set of calisthenic exercises involving standing on one leg, touching my nose, jumping up and down, and the like. I would have definitely drawn the line at rub-your-tummy-pat-your-head. Wait! I can't remember if I had to do that too! Dammit!!! Now I feel all 'violated' and stuff.

Be that as it may, however, imagine what it would be like if you lost the ability to 'perceive' in this way? Well, there are people out there who've had this happen to them, and here's the story of Ian Waterman, from the BBC UK website, who had to teach himself how to walk again. Wow! There are some things out there that we take for granted without even knowing about their existence.

And finally, or in conclusion as some would say, here's a little bit about the Alexander Technique, which basically is a way to learn/train/relearn/retrain the body to carry out a fundamental range of physical actions. Alternatively, here's what Wikipedia has to say about it.

"Alexander Technique teachers believe that humans have a built-in proprioceptive blind spot; people will become habituated to what they repeat. This leads people to create habits, both deliberate and non-deliberate. The advantage of adapting in this way is that behaviour becomes simplified; it becomes possible to meet a given stimulus with a ready-made reaction. The disadvantage is that such habits may well lead to undesired side effects - the tension and stress that the Alexander Technique seeks to remedy."

Think about it, if you suddenly realized that the way you drive was 'less efficient' or that there was, in fact, an easier way to do it, and halfway through training you get into a car and begin to drive, you may find that you're not quite familiar with the 'old' technique, and the 'new' technique hasn't really set in yet...and driving confused, unless in India, is not cool.

Muscle memory, or kinesthesia as it is also known, is a crazy thing to mess around with too. Going back to the 'humpty dumpty' incident, it was pretty crazy, but I had to spend a couple of days doing walking exercises, holding onto one of those IV stands. They even carted me out in a wheel chair the last day...and I appreciated the concern, but that wasn't necessary. But that was a scary experience...not the wheel chair, come on. Like, the first time I tried standing up, after being unconscious for two days, it was really tough. At first I was taken aback. "Arrey?!?!?" And then, it felt like a very labored process to take the first step, and then it came time for the second one. And I couldn't help but worry about the fact that I had, in some freakish way, forgotten how to walk! I mean, I knew it was possible to 'concuss' a certain aspect of one's memory, like who we are, or our name etc. But this was scary. And it's not like I hadn't hit my head on anything before, but you know what they say about two (or more) wrongs not making a right.

So, here endeth the lesson. Now for the usual, and otherwise rather inane question. What do you think it's like for people who've lost a limb to have to deal with something like this...especially with a prosthetic limb?

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