On alignment and awareness

The Video as text (created by Oskar Henke):

Here I want to talk about an observation I made while training and teaching handstands. The principle is universal, but the handstand is a situation where this comes up time and time again. The topic is awareness.

Often when beginners go into the handstand position, they will be crooked. The alignment will be incorrect: the hip is a little bit to the side, there’s a bit of rotation through the structure, or one shoulder is more elevated than the other. There are lots of things that can be misaligned here. In the beginning, this misalignment is happening a lot. The interesting thing is that people believe they are perfectly aligned. They don’t know that they are crooked. Then someone comes along and tells them, or they film themselves, and they are surprised to realize that they are not aligned.

And what’s even more interesting is that if you correct the alignment, putting the people in the proper position, they will then perceive themselves to be twisted, rotated, crooked, or to the side.

So what is happening here? Maybe it’s a mismatch of perception and reality: you believed you were aligned correctly, so you equated the way your body felt at that moment with being aligned. If you’ve had poor posture your entire life without realizing it, a proper posture will feel strange and improper. You’re used to thinking your standard posture is perfectly aligned and straight, so when you change it, it naturally won’t feel perfect anymore. You’ll perceive the difference but misinterpret which position is more straight.

This kind of mismatch happens easily in novel positions, such as the handstand for a beginner. The reality shows something different from ones’ perception.

Once we’ve noticed this in some situation, we can start asking ourselves how often our perceptions of what is happening actually match the “reality”. How often does our perception not match precisely what is there to be seen, what is there to be heard, and so on and so forth? Like when we communicate, and someone understands what you’re saying in a completely different way than the way you meant it. Or when you do a movement, and you feel like it wasn’t very nice, but when you look at a video recording of it you realize that it did in fact look very nice. Or the other way around; you feel like you did something very well but when seeing it from the outside, you see that it wasn’t very smooth, elegant or whatever.

These moments are common when we get external feedback. This can come from someone else, but using a video camera to record things and then looking back at it can be just as good. We can use it to see the mismatches: to evaluate whether the mental representation is accurate.

If you’re only doing things for your own experience, you may not care whether your perceptions are correct. But it can be a very interesting pursuit to try to make your perceptions of what is happening more accurate.

Joseph Bartz