What is Body Mapping?
You may have heard the word "bodymapping" before, but perhaps have not known what exactly it's referring to. Many different disciplines make use of the concept- body work, movement practices, medical professionals, etc. So what is it?
One of my teachers, Jill Miller, defined what she calls an "embodymap" as "defining the inner landscape of one's body through keen self-perception" (i.e., you are constantly feeling and embodying your bodily self-awareness).
It combines kinesthetic awareness with proprioception (your ability to sense your body in space). Most musicians have very specialized kinesthetic awareness and heightened proprioceptive awareness in fingers, hands, arms, mouth, jaw, head, etc., but often lacking in other areas, perhaps postural muscles, spinal, hips, feet, etc.
Steve Haines, a bodyworker in biodynamic craniosacral work (long name!), said in an interview this week:
"Our brain has many series and layers of body maps. You use different maps at different times- skiing vs. sitting on the couch...a body schema is a sort of default map that governs reflexes and actions."
Imagine that your body has a series of different maps related to different activities- a map for how to run vs. a map for how to hold a violin vs. a map for how to stand. It's an interesting thought!
Our biggest enemy in enhancing our body mapping skills is pain- pain causes dissociation, and usually causes less feedback and awareness in tissues. Think of places you've injured- you may have lost sensation in that area, and instead replaced it with a dull sense of perpetual pain or dissociation. In my own body, I've certainly found that to be true. In addition, a misinformed body map can cause us to move in ways that are not helpful, whether in music or in daily life.
Lastly, how do we change or enhace our body maps?
1. Move in more varied ways in day to day life. Sit less often. Stand, walk, and notice sensations in the body. Stand and sit in slightly different ways and notice how things feel. (This can also make a particularly slow class/ensemble rehearsal infinitely more engaging...)
2. Take classes in different disciplines. Instead of running (or yoga-ing or spinning) always, mix it up. Go to something totally different and see what you learn. I remember going to a hip hop dance class, and being terrible at it, but also learning about weaknesses in my own body.
3. Get bodywork when you can, and work with someone who will tell you specifics about your body. If you find tender spots, ask them what the muscle group is and it's action. How can you affect change in that area with movement change?
Bodymapping is an incredibly useful tool for musicians, not only in helping your students expand their own awareness, but changing your own relationship with your own instrument and body. It's essential in injury recovery, and can be a useful tool in changing unhealthy movement patterns.
*Andover Educators is a system of teaching bodymapping specifically for musicians. Many of its teachers are also in other disciplines of movement, whether AT, Feldenkrais, etc. They have a very useful website with a terrific resource page of books and articles. Just remember that you can explore bodymapping through many different channels, especially if you don't live near a teacher or practitioner.*