Massage & Bodywork

MARCH | APRIL 2017

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90 m a s s a g e & b o d y w o r k m a r c h / a p r i l 2 0 1 7 technique MYOSKELETAL ALIGNMENT TECHNIQUES You Can't Teach Experience Exploring Memory and Mastery By Erik Dalton, PhD The director of the Rolf Institute concluded our commencement speech with a statement that baffl ed me for years: "Dr. Rolf encourages you to work toward mastery, but know that you will not truly be Rolfi ng until you've been in full- time practice for fi ve years." Although no one interrupted to ask what we would be doing during those early years as Rolfers, an uneasy vibe engulfed the room. Today, thanks to recent insights from the neuroscience and pop psychology communities, I'm gaining a better understanding of that graduation-day statement. I now believe Ida Rolf was drawing on 50 years of experience in determining the amount of time it typically takes to move a therapeutic skill such as Rolfi ng from explicit to implicit memory. My fi rst clue came in 2008, when I read Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling book Outliers, which outlines his 10,000-hour rule. 1 Gladwell's theory is that a person can only attain mastery of a subject or skill through 10,000 hours of practice, or about 90 minutes per day for 20 years. I quickly realized both Gladwell and Rolf were proposing a similar "practice-makes- perfect" theme and had set a theoretical time limit for mastery. It's true you can't teach experience, but there seemed to be a missing piece to this puzzle—namely, a clear distinction between the quantity of hours spent practicing and the quality of that practice. I looked to the latest neuroscience studies to fi nd out how the brain and body work together to memorize new skills, and whether there's a way to hit fast-forward on the process of mastery. FROM EXPLICIT TO IMPLICIT MEMORY Our brains are very much like sponges. They are malleable and constantly adapting to peripheral input by strengthening existing neural connections and networks, a process called long-term potentiation (LTP). The more we use a particular neural network, the stronger it becomes, as we are reinforcing those brain map connections. For instance, I conclude each myoskeletal session with a routine called "closing stretches." In that series of nine techniques, there's one particularly tricky maneuver that requires focused attention. For years, as I approached this torso-twist stretch, I had to specifi cally remind myself to reach over and grasp the client's right arm and lift the scapula, slide my left hand under the client's scapula to elevate, and then lift and twist their torso as my left hand pinned the client's right anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) (Image 1). One day, I realized I'd completed that complex maneuver without coaching myself through it. The years of practice had fi nally reinforced those neural circuits, allowing me to perform the skill unconsciously. This is LTP at work, and it demonstrates the underlying cellular mechanism of learning and memory. For years, that tricky closing stretch was a great example of explicit memory, or information we have to consciously work to remember. Eventually, the maneuver moved to implicit memory—information that can be remembered unconsciously and effortlessly. Also called procedural memory, implicit memory is the unconscious memory of skills and how to do things, particularly the use of objects or movements of the body, This torso-twist maneuver took years of practice to move from explicit to implicit memory. 1

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