Respecting Motor Memory Consolidation

- Research News for Movement Teachers

Posted in the email forum ‚FELDigest’ 1997, by Robert Schleip

For those of us interested in how to best change everyday movement (and postural) habits:

Researchers at the MIT have published several studies in the last 18 months on "motor memory consolidation". :

„Learning a motor skill sets in motion neural processes that continue to evolve after practice has ended, a phenomenon known as consolidation. Here we present the psychophysical evidence for this, and show that consolidation of a motor skill was disrupted when a second task was learned immediately after the first. There was no disruption if four hours had elapsed between learning the two motor skills, with consolidation occuring gradually over this period.“.

(Nature 1996 Jul 18;382(6588):252-255)

Recent studies with functional imaging of the brain have shown that when someone (our client!) learns a new movement pattern this is first stored in the prefrontal areas of the cortex. In the following 6 hours this is shifted to more dorsal areas (premotor, posterior parietal, and cerebellar structures) for consolidation, which is then associated with an increased functional stability.

(Science, 1997 Aug 8, pp.821-825).

Possible consequence:

to learn a tennis "forehand" on 1 day, and the "backhand" on the next day - and NOT on the same day in order to avoid erasing the consolidation process of the first skill.

For professional movement education trainings (like Feldenkrais, Rolfing Movement, etc.): not to focus on any other movement skill for at least 4 hours after one has just learned some valuable details on one type of movement (e.g. trunk rotation, or spinal extension, etc.).

For somatic practitioenrs who combine structural and functional work: Maybe this new line of research speaks for integrating movement education elements into a structural sessions, rather than practicing pure movement sessions. Then it is much easier to give the client just ONE NEW THING to focus on at the end of the session. Whereas if we do a 60 minute pure movement session, the chance is probably higher that we give more than one thing at a time, and thereby interfere with this consolidation process in the brain.