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The Eyes Lead The Head The Head Leads The Spine

One of, if not, the most overlooked faculty in movement development, in rehabilitation, sports performance or otherwise, is the relationship between the eyes and the rest of the body.

The very notion that we should look where we intend to go seems so redundantly obvious that it is all but completely ignored as a potential cause of compensation, imbalance, weakness, injury and pain.

The only places I see this relationship being regularly being trained and primed is in dance, martial arts and acrobatic circles. It is seldom even touched upon in the fitness industry including all sub-categories of contemporary fitness. It is especially ignored in practices that involve a lot of use of mirrors as students often become dependant on the mirror to inform them about alignment rather than listening to what feels aligned internally, they trade their internal compass for a reflection of the body. Now, this is not to say that mirrors are completely useless or counter productive but they can bring about a whole new set of problems if students are not taught how to effectively utilise their internal faculties.

We are locomotive beings. The musculoskeletal system is also known as the Locomotor system. We are literally built for terrestrial travel across time and space. During locomotion, the eyes see available space which guides the body towards this space. When the eye movements are unstable it increases postural sway and imbalance which also impacts direction (1) (1.1)

This is also not just a one way process, because, somehow, the act of locomotion actually benefits vision by enhancing our peripheral visual processing. (2) Now, obviously, the body can move without the eyes being able to see where it is going, however, it will always default to this mechanism when given the opportunity. The eyes are married to vestibular system by means of the vestibulo-ocular reflex which allows the eyes to remain stable and fixed while the head is rotated. The vestibular system, of course, is implicated in our ability to balance. (3).

Like anything, this faculty can be trained and developed just like any other skill. Some people are very good at applying it and others are not as adept at it. This is mostly because, in my opinion, they just don't know that it can be trained. How do I know it can be trained? Well, because I have trained it in myself and continue to train it and I have used it with incredible effect with my clients. Improving the way we use the eyes can help with balance which can have positive secondary effects for proprioception and overall kinaesthetic awareness. This means that you can improve the way you move through space and become more agile and responsive in your movements simply by emphasising and bring intention to the use of your eyes. (4). Enter, The Inquisitive Turtle. This is a conceptual exercise that you can use to work on developing this faculty of eyes guiding the body by means of the spine. This is just one way we can work on this capacity. In this exercise, we will be emphasising the eyes as a driver for global motion by directing our intention and attention to various, seemingly random, points of focus. This could be the edge of the mat or your hand or even one finger in particular or even the finger nail. Much the same, it could be the foot or ankle or a specific boney protrusion. The goal and intention of the exercise is to allow the body to follow the eyes despite how tempting it may be to move from another part of the body. Move the eyes first, the head and spine will follow. I suggest setting a timer for approximately 3-5 minutes and simply allowing yourself to be immersed in and dedicated to the task.

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