Flexibility and Habit

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 Written Sept, 2013. Updated April 2014.                    


This paper explores human potential inherent in our bodyminds’ integrated systems with system capacity for operating both flexibly and habitually – very different states.

This links to capacity to be rigid and to transform.

Our integrated systems are evolved and evolving for wellness.

The following diagram introduces some of the processes enabling both habit and flexibility within our nervous system.


The diagram depicts in simple terms aspects of the flux and flow of electrical and chemical information flow.

On the left is electrical flow of information

The blue arc stores information carrying chemicals that can Release across to the mauve arc containing differing Receptors.

These receptors can receive the chemical-based information and pass it on further to the right as electrical-based information.

Notice the up arrow. This depicts the first of the flexibility features. Information-Chemical flow may disperse through the wall and return to the blue storage arc before it reaches the receptors. This is Dispersal.

Dispersed Information-Chemicals may return to storage. This is one form of Information-Chemical Re-uptake.

After passing through the Receptors, Information-Chemicals may:

a)    Return to storage. This is another form of Re-uptake, or

b)    Disintegrate and pass into the body fluid system to be reassembled or filtered out through the kidneys and bladder

Note the five blocks in the system.

1.    On the left - Electrical signals may be blocked before transforming the information to chemical-based information carriers

2.    The Chemical-based carriers may be blocked:

a.    From storage release.

b.    Part way across the gap to the Receptors (hence involved in dispersal)

c.    At the Receptors (Receptor Blockers)

d.    On their way back to storage (Re-uptake Blockers); these chemicals then further disperse or disintegrate.

This set of system ‘stop’ and ‘flow” properties provides massive scope for both habitual and flexible behaviours and experience.


Transforming Possibilities

Moshe Feldenkrais is known for processes supporting graceful movement; however, Feldenkrais was also interested in transforming the whole of the person (Feldenkrais, M., 1972). To this end he writes of integration patterns: 

A fundamental change in the motor basis within any single integration pattern will break up the cohesion of the whole and thereby leave thought and feeling without anchorage in the patterns of their established routines. In this condition it is much easier to effect changes to thinking and feeling, for the muscular part through which thinking and feeling reach our awareness has changed and no longer expresses the patterns previously familiar to us. Habit has lost its chief support, that of the muscles, and has become more amenable to change (our italics).

To paraphrase and extend Feldenkrais references to moving, sensing, feeling, and thinking (1972):

Sensing’ includes the familiar senses - the kinaesthetic sense which comprise pain, orientation in space, rhythm, and the passage of time. Neuroscience people are saying that sensory memory may be activated within 200-500 milliseconds of sensory perceiving. 

Feeling’ includes the familiar emotions as well as aspects like self respect, inferiority, super-sensitivity, feeling neglected, crowded, excluded, disconnected and the like.

Thinking’ includes all functions of the intellect such as the opposition of right and left, good and bad, and right and wrong, also understanding, knowing that one understands, classifying things, recognising rules, values and norms, imagining, knowing what is sensed and felt, remembering all the above, and the like.

Moving’ includes all the temporal and spatial changes in the state and configurations of the body and its parts such as standing, turning, walking, running, jumping, sitting, holding, breathing, eating, speaking, blood circulating, and digesting.

Bandler (1985) and Steve and Connirae Andreas (1987) also write about the significance and therapeutic use of the many experiential sub-modalities - a few examples:

Seeing:  direction, distance, form, colour, field (narrow to wide)

Hearing: direction, volume, distance, pace, pitch

Feeling:  location, intensity, movement, pressure, speed

While functional change may be introduced to any, or all of sensing, thinking, moving, and feeling, the easiest place to start is typically, with transforming moving. Sometimes something else triggers the shift in moving.

Any of the four modes may be used to trigger a sudden shift in moving. For example, hearing something unexpected may trigger the shift in moving.

Bits of behaviour are typically, integrated into our habitual pattern(s) of behaviour’. We’re referring to the likes of:

a.    Using a high pitch voice when angry

b.    Screwing up one’s face in various ways

c.    Clenching one’s jaw

d.    Using glaring eyes

e.    Smiling or smiling with a grimace

f.     Raising our shoulders

g.    The way we stand up

h.    Our pattern of shaking hands

i.      Tensing our throat

For example, one person’s ‘anger’ may invariably entail moving involving submodes like for example, tensing their hands, jaw, and belly, and combining these aspects instantly fires off associated sensing and feeling and thinking as an integrated pattern.

If the person suddenly relaxes any or all of these parts the anger experience is typically lost - it disintegrates and collapses.

As an example:

Be aware of your breathing.

Now tense your jaw.


What did you notice?

People typically stop breathing.

The possibility is creating a sudden unexpected change in the motor cortex that in turn results in a sudden change in the coordination of, or in the behaviour patterns themselves, such that the basis of awareness in each elementary integration disintegrates (Feldenkrais, 1972, p.30-39).

What we are exploring here is a way of breaking up dysfunctional habitual patterns, and understanding processes for pattern-disintegrating that is functional.

The four aspects sensing, feeling, thinking, and moving are involved in accessing and sustaining an Integrated Behaviour Pattern.

Change any submode of any aspect of an integrated behaviour pattern and this typically collapses the whole pattern. The person typically shifts to some other re-synthesis.

That these four aspects are all integrated may be depicted by the twin symbol  


∑ {





In the above diagram the slightly darker link from a ‘moving’ type submodality depicts the critical change that collapses the integrated behaviour.

To quote Feldenkrais:

If we can succeed in some one in bringing about a change in the motor cortex...and through this a change in the coordination of or in the patterns themselves - the basis of awareness in each elementary integration will disintegrate (1972, p.39).

And perhaps you may like to read the above segment again - to reflect upon it and have the significance soak in. What we are exploring here is a way of breaking up dysfunctional habitual patterns, and understanding pattern-disintegrating that is functional - and the easiest entry point for total system transforming of part and whole of habitual patterns is through transforming movement.

Most of us have a massive number of habitual patterns - some functional, many dysfunctional. How may we engage with and use the above system properties to interrupt and or collapse dysfunctional habits and to increase flexibility and scope to live well.

You may already have been making the connection between disintegrating habits by sudden interruption and system flux and flow of Informational-Chemicals. It’s all part of a complex integrated system of systems. The sudden interrupt fires off receptor blockers and re-uptake blockers and activates disintegrators. State change can happen extremely fast.

The following story hints at possibilities.


Detox and Afternoon Tea


Neville raised the idea of having a Gathering of Aboriginal and Islander Elders from across the Australian Top End who are interested in or experienced in working with at-risk youth; to have them all come and stay for a week at Geoff and Norma’s Farm at Petford. A context was created that was extremely attractive to National Government funders in the drug and alcohol addictions area of National Health, and this Gathering occurred with over 100 hundred Aboriginal social emotional spiritual healers flying in to Petford from remote area communities.


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The youth that are sent to Petford by communities, police, and magistrates typically have no experience with horses or cattle. Horses are a central aspect of Geoff and Norma’s transforming work with the boys:




An at-risk Aboriginal young man with drug addiction was out on bail on drug related charges and came to stay at Petford for the Gathering.


A few days before the Gathering this young man went with the Petford youth to see a rodeo and absconded and was picked up by the police three days later wearing a pale blue Petford T shirt that all the boys wore to compete at the rodeo. He was having severe drug withdrawals from taking more than one type of drug that he had obtained in the town near where the rodeo was being held. The police respect Geoff’s work and returned this young man to Petford.


Some youth worker professionals also attending the Gathering said that their standard practice was to send drug-affected youth to detox for a number of days before accepting them into their programs.

Neville said that this was not an option for this youth as the nearest detox was hours away and everyone wanted to stay and take in the experience of the Gathering.


All the attendees of the Gathering and the youth of Petford were sitting and standing around waiting for tea and coffee and scones to be served at an afternoon tea break. This drug affected youth was severely disturbed and also creating a lot of disturbance. Then Neville suddenly says to me very loudly so everyone can hear:


Work with Max (the disturbed youth).


And bring him back to serve tea and coffee in ten minutes.


Neville immediately turns and says to Max (the disturbed youth):


Max, go with this man.


Inside now.


Be back in ten minutes.


Be ready to serve everyone tea and coffee.


Max is quivering and shaking, in no fit state to do anything, let alone be handing out tea or coffee to over 120 people. He is stumbling, randomly gesturing, incoherent and shouting out incomprehensibly utterances.


Within eight minutes he is walking out calmly to be with the others, and in ten minutes he is calmly serving tea and coffee to everyone without spilling a drop.


So what happened inside?


As we are walking inside the cocktail of psychoactive drugs (a class of informational chemicals) are looping through his receptors and back to be reused via Re-Uptake. Both his behaviour and internal chemistry is loopy.


Reflect on integrated system capacity discussed above:


a)    Informational-Chemical Blockers

b)    Re-Uptake Blockers

c)    Dispersal

d)    Disintegration


The process used mobilises the above four processes naturally.


When inside I say to Max in a very loud directive way matching his volume and energy:


You have ten minutes to.....settle down now…....sit down….and what’s it like inside you…..eh…..come on…..what’s it like in there…where is it the strongest….in here…(pointing to his head)….in here..(pointing to his belly)….in here….(pointing to his chest then his throat)….in here…(pointing to his heart)…..come on…you know….it’s your body….what’s happening…you can feel it…..what’s it like in here…(pointing to his head again)....


I’m matching his state and closely monitoring for any state change towards anger and berserk.....and he stays highly charged though very confused and scattered...


I keep up a constant overloading barrage of questions asking him to tell me what is happening inside of him….


....and his brain has to try to make sense of my words……and like the woman going through the underpass on the way to church seeing a crude drawing – the meaning leaps into the  brain. His brain hunts for the meaning of my words.


I am asking him questions and demanding an answer knowing that at the moment he does not know the answer...and that is changing his state.......


.....and then I refer to his breathing:


And how are you breathing now…..what’s that like…….what’s breathing like?


He takes a deep breath.


.....yes......you changed…


....and you’ve been changing ever since you sat down....


...your heart rate has slowed....


....you’re shaking less....


.....you’re breathing more slowly now....


……..and you’re more steady….


.....you’re quieter now


….notice this……..how you are changing now


…..slowing down…now.....


…..all of that is getting quieter now


….and what’s happening up here now…(pointing to his head)...


……..different to before….


……and here…....(pointing to his belly)....


….different to before…


….….and here (pointing to his chest, then throat)…


.....notice how it’s all changing now


....and what’s happening…come on…what’s happening...eh?


Finally, he says:


I’m slowing down....


                        Yes! And what else?


            I am not shaking so much....


                        Feels better?


            Yeh....getting better.....


                        And what’s ya head like inside?


            Head aches...




            Everywhere (points to his forehead).


What’s happening in the front of ya head (pointing to his forehead)?


It aches.


What about round the back (pointing to the back of his head).


            Na, just the front.


            And really notice that now…….what’s happening now....


It was dull ache. Now it’s thumping.


So it is still changing in there.....


....and how fast is it thumping?


He does a fist gesture indicating rhythm.


            Notice what happens to the speed of the thumping.


            It’s getting slower......


And what happens to the sensation in your forehead …….when…….it’s getting slower now?


            It’s not so bad....


And what’s happening in ya belly?


            I feel crook.....


            What’s that feel like?


He does a hand gesture in front of his belly signalling churning in a clockwise direction at a certain speed. I mirror this gesture back to him as I say....


And notice how that goes round and round inside ya belly…what’s happening to that now?


It’s slowing down now.


Feels better as it’s slowing down now?


            Yeh. Feeling better.


This last part about the turning sensation in Max’s belly is discussed by Bandler, and by the Andreas’ in their books on sensory submodalities (Bandler 1985; Andreas, S. & Andreas, C., 1987).


Notice that Max is non-consciously giving me signals as to what’s happening inside of him....and I’m being guided by...and using these signals as clues as to what to say and do from moment-to-moment.... Max does not know this – he is telling me what to do!


Examples are underlined in the following:


Head aches




            Everywhere (points to his forehead).


What’s happening in the front of ya head (pointing to his forehead)?


It aches.


What about round the back (pointing to the back of his head).


            Na, just the front.


            And really notice that now…….what’s happening now....


            It was dull ache. Now it’s thumping.


So it is still changing in there...and how fast is it thumping......


He does a fist gesture indicating rhythm.


            ...and notice what happens to the speed of the thumping.


            It’s getting slower.


..and what happens to the sensation in ya forehead when

it’s getting slower now...


            It’s not so bad.


            ...and what’s happening in ya belly....


I feel crook.

            ...and what’s that feel like...


He does a hand gesture of his belly churning in a clockwise direction at a certain speed.


And notice how that goes round and round inside ya belly…what’s happening to that now...


I do a gesture that mirrors what he’s doing with his hands. It is highly unlikely that Max is aware that he is giving me these signals with his hands.


Max is unconsciously informing me about what to do next.


I use these unconscious signals to guide me in guiding him as to what to be aware of in his changing experience.


This pattern of drawing Max’s awareness to his inner experience is by definition for him an altered state. Initially my interaction paced his manic quality. I was fast and jerky. I jumped his awareness around very fast. Once he started to change, I paced him in my speech and actions as he changed to becoming more slow and steady. I am drawing his awareness to his changes.


I am continually giving him suggestions imbedded in my sentences...and after a time he starts repeating my suggestions to himself. An example:


Feels better as it’s slowing down now?


            Yeh. Feeling better.


Now for some of the metacontexts - the context of the Petford context where Max is challenged to serve afternoon tea. Max knew Neville was a psychiatrist and a key figure at the Gathering. He also knew that I was a key figure in the Gathering. He also knew that I was directed by Neville in front of all of the attendees, including over ninety Aboriginal Elders at the Gathering from communities across the Australian Top End, .to have him fit to serve the afternoon drinks in ten minutes. Shame was a large factor.


Neville uses Ericksonian patterns in speaking to me and Max, using two short commands similar to what Jesus was said to have used to the lame man:


Pick up your bed.....and.....walk!


Neville says to me:


Work with Max (the disturbed youth)….                                         




.......bring him back to serve tea and coffee in ten minutes.


Max hears this. It is said with absolute authority and carries the implication that this can be done and will happen. This is an example of speech acts – words that change others.


It also potentially has Max’s brain going into a future world to make sense of this strange thing Neville has said – a world where he is normal and able to serve drinks. And at some level, Max’s bodybrain accesses states of ‘being normal’ and ‘being able to serve drinks’ in order to access this future world in making sense of Neville (Feldenkrais, 1972).


Max’s nervous system is already in state change from what Neville had said. Neville also links the two parts of the sentence with the conjunction ‘and’. This in turn supports my ‘working’ with Max with the time-bound state change, ‘bring him back to serve tea and coffee in ten minutes’.


Then Neville turns and says to Max:


Max, go with this man (simple command).


Inside now! (simple command).


Be back in ten minutes (time-bound simple command).


Be ready to serve everyone tea and coffee (simple command with implication of change).


Max is a very literal kind of fellow……and he’s drug affected….and Neville knows this…….so Neville keeps his sentences short.......literal......and specific …..and my language in talking with Max is of similar form……..and also saturated with Ericksonian patterns using suggestions......…… presuppositions…... implications and other patterns.


When I’m inside with Max I too keep my sentences short.......literal......and specific...




.....yes......you changed…


....and you’ve been changing ever since you sat down....


...your heart rate has slowed....


....you’re shaking less....


.....you’re breathing more slowly now..


……..and you’re more steady….


.....you’re quieter now…


And each of these short specific literal observation speech acts statements draws Max’s attention to changes that are already happening...and in this process...contribute to further system changes.......


.....Max is in drug withdrawal.....and awareness of change is further disintegrating and dissolving his state (Feldenkrais, 1972)....and he is now also overloaded with all of what has been happening....and with him suddenly being the focus of everyone’s attention including over 90 Aboriginal Elders attending the Gathering. I am using sequential stacked interrupt.


...and once inside I grab his attention and focus his awareness on jumping it quickly round noticing how he feels in differing parts of his body.


...as feeling is his most present I use his sensing feeling to reach his awareness of moving....


...and initially he is confused....though I insist on him doing this by constant requests for him to notice.....


...and as said above....I place an alternate demand on his perception..... one that is collapsing his brain-addled state and has him entering an altered state of being aware of his awareness, and then slowly beginning to notice differences as his body changes – as it invariably does when you begin noticing it.


I then add suggestions for further change. I sense this activates natural changes in information-chemical looping in Max’s nervous system (neuro-chemical cycling at Max’s synapses).


When we first went inside, the drug cocktail was looping through Max’s synapses and back into storage to go around again and again - the drug discharge, release, interaction with receptors, and re-storage.


Max’s system had activated habitual responding and was firing off awful feelings associated with disintegrated functioning typical of drug withdrawal.



The awareness-of-awareness processor state that I set up for Max entails shifts in the sense of moving that interrupts and disintegrates the habitual patterns of the drugs he had used while they are in decline in his system.



Here it is time to quote Feldenkrais’ (1972, p. 39):

A fundamental change in the motor (moving) basis within any single integration pattern will break up the cohesion of the whole and thereby leave thought and feeling without anchorage in the patterns of their established routines.


This interrupt increases the action of very natural system properties, namely.


a)    Informational-Chemical Blockers

b)    Re-Uptake Blockers

c)    Dispersal

d)    Disintegration


To rephrase the simple introduction to this paper, drugs in the synaptic cleft are dispersed through the synapse wall before interacting with receptors (dispersal); receptors are blocked (receptor blockers) Re-uptake of the drugs into storage is blocked (reuptake blockers)  and drugs that have been stopped by reuptake blockers are disintegrated and move off in Max’s body fluid transfer system including the blood stream to be filtered out of his body through the kidneys and bladder (Rossi, 1985; Rossi & Cheek, 1986).


To restate the above, neuro-chemical systems at the synapses have a lot of control points - whether or not the neurotransmitters are released from storage, whether the neuro-chemicals enter the synaptic cleft, whether they interact with receptors, whether they are either reabsorbed by the pre-synaptic cell, and then repackaged and placed into storage for future release, or else broken down metabolically and discharged from the body.


Perhaps the interrupt processes I used quickly cleared out, or simplified the mix of internally and externally produced ‘chemical soup’ within his synapses. Within five minutes he is almost ready to serve drinks.


I get Norma to bring a mug and a jug of cold water and Max has a long drink and then goes and urinates – getting rid of drugs from his system – natural detoxing!


The remaining few minutes is used in clearing away the ‘cobwebs’ so he is not only steady in his body and confident he can serve, he is going to be the pleasant sociable character that he is very capable of being.


As well, I future-pace Max – having him imagining experiencing having calm poise when he goes outside and imagining serving afternoon tea while being a very good host. This  has him accessing integrating patterns associated with those behaviours and hence entering into those modes of functioning before he actually goes outside, so that when he does go outside he is accessing those behavioural repertoires.


Max is the very good host.


Max has no re-occurrence of any drug withdrawal symptoms that afternoon, or during the following week.


I had been engaging with Max in many ways simultaneously. While being guided by Max’s non-conscious gestures and behaviour I am triggering changes in his awareness of awareness of moving, sensing and feeling. Simultaneously, my speech act processes blending with Max’s processes are engaging and involving and transforming goings on in Max’s nervous system especially at the synapses.


Max is present noticing the changes as they are happening...he is staying present, aware as his states are changing - and liking the changes - and now to get some sense of the richness of all this, Max as a young man in his twenties has in his brain somewhere around 100 billion neurons (nerve cells) and between100-500 trillion synapses! The number of networking combinations in all of this immensity is said to exceed the number of stars in all of the galaxies in all of the known universe! So Max has extraordinary potential. My trillions of networks linked to his trillions...and the old saying goes...life is filled with possibilities......trillions of them......



The Laceweb Page Healing Artistry, Gene Expression and Gene Modulation complements this page in introducing latest action research in the links between transforming (during and after healing artistry) and Gene Research.

Many examples of using healing artistry for associated holistic integral transforming of  the behavioural- -mind-neural system-neurochemical-gene complex (the whole-of-it) are contained in Coming to One’s Senses – By the Way.




Andreas, C. and S. Andreas (1987). Change Your Brain and Keep the Change - Advanced NLP Submodalities Interventions. Boulder, Colorado, Real People Press.

Bandler, R. (1985). Using Your Brain - For a Change. Moab, Utah, Real People Press.

Feldenkrais, M., 1972. Awareness Through Movement : Health Exercises for Personal Growth. New York, New York : Penguin Books.



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