Lesson 2: The ability to observe

In human biology, handedness refers to the faster, more capable, more precise, and preferred hand – also known as the dominant hand. 

The other hand didn’t get a name. It’s simply called the non-dominant hand. Maybe a political choice. If they would call it something like „the underdog”, or „the hand that’s not on the original flag of Saruman the White of Isengard”, questions would arise, and hands would go up. Studies suggest that approximately 90 percent of people are right-handed.

Ocular dominance, sometimes called eye preference or eyedness, is the tendency to prefer visual input from one eye over the other. Studies suggest that approximately 70 percent of people are right-eye dominant. 

I didn’t do a thorough reading of sufficiently many of those studies. I don’t know which country or culture they are talking about. I don’t know the people they looked at.

For the ears it’s called „left ear dominant”, „right ear dominant”, or „no distinct ear preference”. Ear dominance is tightly related to which task it is used for. One study showed that for pitch perception 75 percent of people questioned were left ear dominant. However, „for general listening most people prefer the right ear”, that’s what another study said.

For the legs it’s called footedness or limb dominance. Several studies have shown that humans are typically right dominant for activities requiring mobilization and left dominant for activities requiring postural stabilization and strength. 

We short-hand that to „the moving leg” and „the standing leg”.

Leg preference in babies can be detected from the beginning. One study examined babies’ leg preferences. 78 percent of the babies showed a clear leg preference when standing up from a half-crawl position or from asymmetric four-point kneeling. Moreover, some babies preferred the same lead leg in all pulling-to-stand movements within a few months of acquiring these capabilities. The researchers noted that the preferred leg at this stage may not necessarily be the dominant leg at a later stage. One of the researchers, Dr. Atun-Einy, called to attention: „No effort should be made to influence or intervene in this preference.”

For the following explorations you will need another person. 

Find someone to lie down onto the floor for you. Flat on their backs, for example on a Yoga mat or cozy blanket, with their limbs casually extended.

There might be ways to guess which is their standing leg, the leg they use for activities that require postural stabilization and strength. Paul Newton, Feldenkrais Trainer, in a workshop, summarised the characteristics of a standing leg as follows:

  1. The standing leg is more turned-in towards the midline.
    The toes (and the knee) of the standing leg are pointing more towards the ceiling, than the toes (and the knee) of the moving leg.
  2. The head is carried more over the standing leg.
    If you look at the imaginary midline, which divides the body into a left and a right side, in lying supine the head is found resting not in the exact middle of the shoulder girdle, but more towards one side. That’s the side of the standing leg.
  3. The pelvis tilts easier towards the standing leg.
    Gently place your hands onto the right and left Ilium, the Iliac crest, and with the lightest pressure, in each direction at a time, observe to which side the pelvis is more inclined to roll with ease. That would be towards the hip joint of the standing leg.
  4. A push through the foot travels up to head.
    A gentle, little push against the sole of the foot, to travel up through the foot, up through the ankle, up through the lower leg, up through the knee and the upper leg, into the hip joint. You would observe the response of the rib cage. For the side of the standing leg there would be less side-bending in the rib cage. The push would travel up straight to roll the head and extend the neck.
  5. In standing, the shoulder that is shorter and higher. Often times that’s the side of the standing-leg.

Then change roles. Next it’s you to lie down on the floor – if you haven’t already. We need to play in both rolls, to know thyself.

Then, as a next exploration, or observation, stand in front of each other.

If you’re home alone you might stand in front of a mirror, or a window that’s blackened out by the night. Close your eyes and lift your arms overhead. 

Obviously read the instructions first, then go ahead. 

Close your eyes and lift your arms overhead. Lift your arms as if you would like to reach up with both hands towards the ceiling. But keep your face facing forwards.

Hold that position. With your arms up, up. Freeze like this. Don’t move anymore. We want to see a snapshot of the reaching-up position. We want to see the raw data, how you do it. Not how you correct yourself, not how you think you should do it. To quote Dr. Atun-Einy again: „No effort should be made to influence or intervene in this preference.” We need the truth. At least here, in this lesson. 

Then open your eyes again. Look at the person in front of you.

  1. Is one arm closer to the head than the other?
    If you would eyeball the distance, measure the space between each upper arm and the cheek next to it, the space in between the head and each upper arm, on which side is it wider?
  2. Is one arm further up towards the ceiling?
    One hand, the tip of one middle finger, higher up than the other? And if it is, can you find why? Is it the entire side that’s longer, starting at its foot? Or is it because something in the middle of the body seems to be longer on that side? And does the other side seem to be a little bit contracted, pulled together, like dried fruit? Or is it because there’s some obvious side-bending involved?
  3. Is the head in the exact middle of the shoulders?
    Maybe the head is not in the exact middle. Maybe the head is closer to one side than the other?
  4. Is one shoulder higher up than the other?
  5. Are both arms rotated equally much?
    In which directions are the palms facing? Are they turned inwards, towards the midline, facing each other, or forwards, or somewhere else? Where are the elbows turned to? The shoulders? The shoulder-blades? 

Do you see differences? You should see differences. If not, ask another person to raise their arms for you. Do this with as many people as it takes to see some differences. See how they raise their arms, see how they hold their arms. Don’t correct, don’t intervene, don’t influence. See who they are. See who you are. 

And, while extending your own arms upwards, maybe you can also feel some of the differences.

Then bring the arms down again.

„There are two quite different ways of talking about language. On the one hand, you can talk about its physical aspect, about characteristics that can be measured, this may be called surface structure. On the other hand, there is a part of language that can neither be directly observed nor measured, and that is meaning. We can say that someone is talking loudly or softly, or fast or slowly, without reference to what is being said. We can say that a line of print is five inches wide, without fear that someone will contradict us by saying that we haven’t understood the meaning of the text.” – Frank Smith, Understanding Reading

This lesson might seem to be about actual differences between the left and right side of the body, lateralisation, about which side of the chest, or which leg, is better at what kind of activity. But that’s not the point of this lesson.

This lesson is about improving the ability to observe, more than skilful observing. The ability to observe ourselves (and others) without being triggered, without trying to change or correct what is observed. Without jumping to premature conclusions, and without being tricked to believe in shallow conclusions that exclude meaning.

I see this as an entry point to improving everything else.