I recently came across this post in Scientific American and I thought it was interesting. Here's the audio link, and transcript. Then my commentary from the Feldenkrais perspective.
A good mood may put a spring in your step. But the opposite can work too: purposefully putting a spring in your step can improve your mood. That’s the finding from a study in theJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. [Johannes Michalak, Katharina Rohde and Nikolaus F. Troje, How we walk affects what we remember: Gait modifications through biofeedback change negative affective memory bias]
Scientists showed volunteers a list of negative and positive words, like afraid and anxious, or sunny and pretty. Then the subjects had to walk on a treadmill while watching a gauge that moved left or right.
But here’s what the participants did not know: if their stance—for example, slumped shoulders—seemed to indicate a down mood the gauge moved to the left. If their walk was more upbeat, say with swinging arms, the gauge moved to the right. The scientists asked half the subjects to adjust their walking style until the gauge moved to the right, and the other half so that the gauge went the left. Each group quickly learned what adjustments moved the gauge in the desired direction.
Then the subjects had to write down as many words from the list that they remembered. And those who walked with a depressed gait recalled more negative terms, while the ones who were asked to walk in a more upbeat style came up with many more positive words.
Past research has shown that depressed people tend to remember negative words and happier people tend to remember happy words. So this study suggests that the way we walk influences our mental state. And that we can change our state by changing our gait. —Christie Nicholson
Moshe Feldenkrais was onto this idea over 60 years ago and he was way ahead of his time in understanding how the brain works. He saw thinking, sensing, feeling, movement and the environment as one whole, literally, each affecting the other via feedback loops. This study is one demonstration of that.
The first thing to point out is that it wasn't just walking that produced the effect, but the quality of the walking. The groovy walk included much more movement of the arms and shoulders and hips. You can imagine what the depressed walk looked like.
Second, is the association of the quality of the movement and the semantic aspect, i.e. the tendency for participants to remember more of the negative words with the depressed gait and more positive words with the groovy or "upbeat" gait. The movement quality was influencing thought.
Lastly, the feedback component of the experiment is what I found particularly interesting. The learning was relatively open ended, with participants making their own interpretations based on the bar moving right or left. Kind of like a puzzle to solve through the movement itself. And most figured it out. I suspect the results would have been quite different if they were told to walk in a particular way with a lot of explanation. Then it would likely have been a process of interpretation of those words, followed by effort and a judgement of success, which is a very different process.
Feldenkrais came up with these very clever movement classes called Awareness Through Movement, and also individual movement lessons called Functional integration. The design of the lessons, without going into a lot of detail, is to move through particular movement sequences in an easy, slow way, while noticing the subtle differences and changes. Also like solving a puzzle via movement through our internal feedback mechanisms. Throughout the lessons, students are subtly "nudged" in a variety of ways toward sensing these differences, and to notice when the quality of the movement changes. When that happens changes in thinking, and feeling, and sensing are also noticed. This kind of learning can be very powerful and positive, and your brain likes it.
It's a commentary on the way that we have learned how to do things in our culture that going slow and easy is one of the most difficult things that many students encounter. Our culture's way is to go hard and fast and keep score and compare ourselves to others. It's one reason we find it so difficult to experience how we do what we do. It's obscured by all of the effort.
The best way to learn more might be to actually experience a lesson. So find a Feldenkrais teacher and check it out. You might be pleasantly surprised.