How expanding your peripersonal space can benefit you

Expand your peripersonal space. (photo courtesy of www.sxc.hu)

Expand your peripersonal space. (photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu)

By Anthony O. Alcantara

When something itches, we scratch it. It’s the natural thing to do.

And we know exactly the appropriate finger to use, how to move our scratching tool to the target, the movements to execute, and the right amount of pressure needed to eliminate the nasty itch.

It speaks of our body schema and an awareness of our body in relation to our environment.

In my search for ways to improve my Aikido and guitar-playing, I came across a concept called peripersonal space (PPS), an offshoot of studies on body schema. I first knew about PPS in the book “Think Smart!” by Richard Restak, M.D.

Malleable force field

PPS, as Restak defines it, is “a force field that can be thought of as a virtual envelope around the skin’s surface that extends our body boundaries.”

A force field? Images of Star Wars came to my mind. Anyway, the discovery of certain brain cells that respond to touch and sounds near the surface of the hands and head established the existence of PPS.

PPS is malleable. The area it covers changes when we have clothes on, when we are driving a car or when we have a walking stick. For a blind person, the tip of a walking stick can be as sensitive to touch as the tips of his fingers.

The implications are astounding, at least for me. Our bodies are actually part of our brains, and our perception and control of space can actually be enhanced and extended.

Practical applications

I discovered that improving my PPS can actually help improve certain physical activities, such as practicing Aikido. Most of us are over-dependent on our sense of sight, so I devised an experiment that I think would improve my experience of body movements in relation to the space around me.

I began practicing techniques and movements by stripping them down to their essentials and executing the moves slowly, feeling every nuance of sensation, back-tracking when the movement doesn’t feel right, or if I deviate from my mental image of the perfect movement.

All these I did with my eyes closed.

Control, power, speed

When I finally opened my eyes to do the movements, I could feel a better sense of control and smoothness in execution. I could feel that I can execute my movements with more precision, and there was an increased sense of power. I added speed later on.

I also tried it with suburi, or repetitive cutting exercises, using my bokken, or wooden sword. Same results.

Of course it’s all subjective. I have yet to devise ways to measure the effects more concretely. In any case, my subjective results are convincing enough for me.

I’ve tried it on my guitar-playing, too. By practicing very slowly, immersing myself in the nuances of the sounds and the movements of my fingers and body, and by closing my eyes, I was able to play more difficult passages with ease.

Try it

I believe other activities can be greatly enhanced by expanding PPS. Dancing, running, kicking, jumping, throwing, playing the piano, etc., are some activities you can try.

You can devise your own exercises and adapt them to develop specific skills. Your imagination’s the limit.

Indeed, aside from allowing us to scratch itchy body parts, PPS has far more valuable uses.

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One Response to “How expanding your peripersonal space can benefit you”

  1. nice observation. i will try it in my dancing. Though we’ve been doing these in our practices but its only now i realize the reason why our leader are applying these and we becamee effective in practising our worship dance.

    Godble$$ and See you on your next topic :):)

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