In recent years I have put a lot of thought into the intricate connections between the brain and neural receptors. In particular, when sensation (feeling) is limited or lacking, it can take quite a bit of effort to find the different parts of the body. Movement is very challenging when your brain is not sure where it can even locate your limbs.
For this reason, at least for me, learning to walk again has involved visual coordination. It is not uncommon to see people with spinal cord injuries using mirrors when they exercise or undergo therapy; this is to help them see what is where, so that they can try to connect what they are seeing with what they are doing.
The body’s ability to find or detect itself is referred to as proprioception (proprio- from the Latin proprius, “own;” -ception from the Latin capio, capere, “to take”). If you can tell where your feet or arms are without looking, then your body’s sense of self-awareness is probably just fine. With poor proprioception, you may have to help your limbs along by watching where everything is. Keeping a light on or using a mirror can be important for regaining proprioception and retraining the brain.
Why is proprioception on my mind (pun intended)? Because I’ve recently been watching as my brain and body really begin to reconnect. The process has not been easy and certainly has not been intuitive. Besides looking in the mirror or staring at your feet, there are other ideas for carefully encouraging proprioception or testing brain-body awareness: using textures to try to realign sensations (e.g., rubbing a cloth against your face and then your foot, or beginning at a place where you have functional sensation and working downward/ outward into those where you do not in order to create a continuous sensory pathway), gently putting warm or cool water against different areas on the skin, deliberately thinking through certain movements to remember and “feel” them, and researching muscle groups and mentally “mapping” them, to name a few.
Maybe proprioception is simply a new word for your vocabulary. Whatever the case, it’s more important than we usually realize, and has more impact than the impression it can make on your Scrabble score!