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Self-knowledge; What does it really mean?

Updated: May 7, 2019


Know Thyself (Nosce te ipsum)

The term 'self-knowledge' is thrown around a lot, but no one explains exactly how we can come to know ourselves and unfortunately there isn't an easily accessible map to 'knowing thyself'.


So what are the right steps to take along the path towards self-knowledge?


The first step we can take towards self-knowledge is to move our attention away from the external world and bring it to our internal experience.


Taking time to bring our attention to ourselves; our body, our thoughts, and our feelings.


This is the most important step in knowing ourselves.


The next step is refining that attention into the feelings and sensations of our body.


Our body is our most immediate experience. And each thought, each emotion is accompanied by a subtle movement in our body.


By bringing our attention to our body we have the chance for beginning to understand why we feel what we feel.


The reactions of our body to feeling anxious, fearful, angry, happy, sad, excited, regretful, are the first set of feedback that we get from the world, and they provide us a context for understanding ourselves.


How our breathing stops, how our jaw tightens, how we tighten our abdominal muscles, clench our fists, stiffen our rib cage, or lift our feet away from the floor.


All these are physical reactions, as if we are bracing ourselves for some incoming force, or preparing ourselves to run, but it is only the idea of threat, the thought or feeling we had causing us to brace ourselves against life.


For the most part these reactions are unconscious, a normal part of our daily life, and we feel very little control over them.


But, with attention that can change.


In the Feldenkrais Method one of the goals is finding more choice in the way we act and react.

Moshe Feldenkrais famously said "If you know what you are doing, you can do what you want."

He didn't mean you have free reign to go off and create as many problems as you like, rather he was interested in increasing our sense of free will.


By bringing our attention to ourselves instead of the constant activity of the external world, we can start to be able to feel our reactions to things, and regulate ourselves in a way that is not possible if we are not conscious of it.


When you start to feel yourself tightening your stomach, holding your breath, clenching your throat or jaw as a reaction to some external stimulus, you can sense it, and consciously decide to relax those areas instead.


Through doing this you start to know your own reactions, to notice when this thought or that emotion makes you feel comfortable or uncomfortable, tight or relaxed.


With that knowledge (and the help of the inhibitory functions of the brain) you can start to develop choice.


Neurologically the inhibitory functions of the higher centres of the brain (frontal cortex), can suppress the more turbulent reactions of the lower centres (limbic system).


In summary, the first step to knowing yourself is bringing your attention to yourself.


The second is noticing the various sensations and reactions the body has as you move through life.


The third step is consciously acknowledging some of those reactions that make you brace and harden to the world and working to relate to your life in a different way, i.e. make changes in your behaviour.


However, it is not as easy as it sounds to bring your attention to yourself.


It can be very difficult to disconnect from the external world for even a short time, and we need to learn how to create the right conditions for that process to occur.


In a Feldenkrais Method class you go through a range of different movement experiences that relate to movements that you make in your day to day life.


Through moving slowly with attention, you begin to discern when you use unnecessary tension to complete the activity you’re trying to execute.


This gives you the opportunity to feel yourself in action through a range of different situations, how you react, the sensations you feel, whether it feels right, or wrong.


You start to feel if you are tightening your jaw or holding your breath within each movement, you start to become more aware of your own tendencies, or in other words you know yourself more.


You can then begin to exercise your free will to make other choices about how you move, how you react and how you relate to the world.


If you are interested in taking a class with me or knowing more about the Feldenkrais Method and how it can help you identify restrictive habits of thinking, feeling and moving, please get in contact via email: joe@thoughtfulmovements.co.uk.



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