Body as a Rule Making Machine


Throughout our day-to-day life, our body withholds a lot of information from us. We don’t typically feel the clothes we are wearing, the movement of blood in our blood vessels, every heartbeat, and every muscle contraction that is preventing us from falling out of a seat while sitting.

This is a good thing! We don’t want to get too distracted by all these body sensations when we want to focus on something important at hand.


Throughout our lifetime and in nearly every moment, our bodies (including our mind), make unconscious rules to automate many basic functions in our life. These rules include relationships to both thoughts and emotions. To keep things simple, we will start off focusing on rules that relate to muscle actions and behaviors for postures and movements.

Our body has been collecting muscle behaviors and generating rules for them from the moment we started wiggling in the womb. Your body has never forgotten anything it has learned, it has simply made rules regarding the actions and behaviors it wants to use at any given time.

These muscle behaviors, or more accurately, “motor behaviors,” happen at an unconscious “out of sight, out of mind” level. The sensations from these muscle behaviors are completely hidden from our awareness. We don’t want to think about all the muscles that are involved in grabbing our cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Which muscles? How strong? For how long? Phew, that would be exhausting! We’d never get anything done, or go anywhere, if we had to control our muscle behaviors all day long!


Our body instinctively knows if we’re overwhelmed with information and our overall function is impaired. It works tirelessly, day-in and day-out creating rules regarding what information should be brought up to your conscious attention versus what should be hidden. It’s so efficient at this that it creates rules regarding how it believes parts of our body SHOULD be “felt,” even if the body is not behaving the way it feels! Often times we have to prove this happens in all of our bodies to our clients by recording, using mirrors, or other activities to show them this hidden information because these filters are so good at making things feel a certain way, even if they’re not doing those things!

This may sound devious, or bad, but for the most part it’s really a great way to manage information without overloading us.

Essentially, the body is helping us be productive human beings by creating filter rules. This works very much in the same way as setting filters for our emails to only allow certain messages to show up in our inbox. It is constantly tweaking these filters based on past information and predicting what information might be helpful in the future.

The majority of people are just fine letting the body figure out its own rules for filtering most of the time. This is particularly helpful with automatic unconscious muscle action in our bodies all day long. Throughout our lives, our bodies have learned a lifetime of different ways of holding postures, performing movements, and also making guesses about changes it might need to make to do certain physical activities.


A benefit of these rules of filtering information and managing motor behavior at an unconscious level is that it frees us to accomplish many great things throughout our day. Unfortunately, if we are struggling with pain or movement, there is a good chance those filter rules could also be blocking our awareness to information regarding unhelpful ways our body may be coordinating our movements and our muscle behaviors.

While muscle tension is never a bad thing as we would never want to be in a state of constant relaxation, scientific research has shown it is very common for people who are in pain to contract their muscles at rest and during activity at a higher level than is necessary. When this muscle behavior is combined with sensitivity or irritability of our nervous system and tissues, it is possible we are making ourselves more uncomfortable without being aware of it.

These learned rules begin to limit the amount of muscle behavior options your body has for holding postures and creating movement. These narrow sets of movement options are what we call “Movement Boundaries” (technical term: motor behavior invariability). These boundaries can even result in creating “movement prisons” (more on this later)!

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Leonard Van Gelder

President, Founder

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