Six Feet, Erika Senft Miller, 04.01.20

Social Distancing, Fish and Leonardo daVinci.

“Change involves carrying out an activity against the habit of life.” FM Alexander

Remember last time you walked by someone who just farted a really stinky fart? Or the last time you smelled old fish or a rancid piece of meat? What did you do? Most likely you pulled away and maybe even let out an “ewww” sound while wrinkling your nose. Our reflex is to pull away from the source of the smell. It’s a built in survival mechanism. Bad smells signal a threat to our wellbeing.

We all have a built in distancing reflex based on early experiences.

As I am writing this, I feel a knot in my stomach. My mind rushes to the future and I imagine that, after this pandemic, we will re-enter the communal analogue world with a heightened reflex of social distancing.

Imagine encountering a person on the street and immediately pulling back.

Imminent threats to our health create fear and fear is an incredibly effective teacher of new behavior that quickly gets anchored in our nervous system as habit. A compensatory pattern that protects us in the moment and then becomes automatic.

Will we take time to learn, or relearn, a more nuanced, more intelligent and less fear driven way to move our bodies in public spaces?

With the Vitruvian man Leonardo da Vinci already illustrated what a social distance of 6 feet looks like — keeping each other at two arms’ length. With one’s arm span being equal to our height, two arms with a bit of distance between each other’s hands adds up to 6 feet.

How can our newly imagined Vitruvian Human help us at this very moment? Da Vinci’s study of the proportions of the human body lead us to the question of how we might heighten our kinesthesia and proprioception, our ownership of our perceiving our bodies. We are asked to move with a 6 feet distance from each other and be careful of the surfaces we touch. In order to observe these precautionary and possibly life saving directions, we need to first understand where our body is in space in order to then assess the 6 feet distance.Here’s a go to movement exercise I have used for many years. It’s great for both children and adults. Give it a try right now.

Imagine you are standing inside a bubble. One foot is always firmly planted on the center point. Now, dip your hands in your favorite color of imaginary paint. Spread that imaginary paint on the inside of your imaginary bubble — reach as far as you can, remember the space behind you, above, below… reach and paint… one foot always on the center point. Look around and make sure you haven’t missed any spots in your own kinesphere.

This exercise literally and figuratively illustrates your personal kinesphere, your personal space or movement bubble. It’s a great way to work with, and heighten, your kinesthesia as well as proprioception, the ownership of you perceiving your body: Where are your shoulders in relationship to your surrounding space and in relationship to each other or your ears? Where are the front of your knees or the back of your head?

Last century, between two world wars, dance artist and movement analyst Rudolf Laban developed an intricate way of identifying and notating all the relationships and directions of the human body in space. He essentially three dimensionalized daVinci’s concept.

With heightened proprioception and kinesthesia you take ownership of your body and gain agency of mindful movement in space.

This is the time to include bubble painting in your daily practice. Once the storm of the pandemic has passed and we are free to roam around again, you will have gained a newfound ownership and awareness of your body in space which will in turn allow for inspired analogue connections with others.

This is where I am thinking about fish again. Remember watching a school of fish swim in complete synchronicity and changing direction together without scrambling the formation?

You probably know that fish can “see” with their whole body. Their lateral line organ, that is spread out over their body’s surface, allows them to perceive their immediate environment. This organ allows them to move as one big organism to scare off larger individual threats.

We don’t have lateral lines, but by tapping into our kinesthesia and proprioception we can feel our surroundings and our body in relationship to it.

Practice at home:

Slowly walk backwards towards a wall. Feel the distance to the wall. How far away are you? Turn your head and check with your eyes. Did the actual distance match your perception? Try the same with the chair, the fridge, the TV. Move with your cat, your dog or your partner.

This isn’t an exercise in following the leader, it’s learning to move as one intelligent organism.

And while you practice intelligent movement, don’t forget to breathe.

Thank you for reading and for moving through this together.

“Fish are symmetrical, but only until they wiggle. Our effort is to measure the space between the fish and the wiggle. This is the study of a lifetime” Michael Sorkin



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Erika Senft Miller

As an artist, I invite you to join me on adventures where the ordinary becomes extraordinary and the art of becoming truly human begins to unfold.