M is for Motor Memory

| March 1, 2014

A few months ago, I started taking sporadic aerial acrobatics lessons from a friend. This is a discipline where the performer climbs suspended strips of silk fabric, twisting the body into and out of poses and figures aided by muscle strength and gravity. Recently, I haven’t had the time to go to classes, but today I finally went back to see if I had retained what I had learnt in the past months. As I attempted to hoist myself up and spiral into the usual warming up routine, I realized that I hadn’t. The challenging aspect of this type of discipline isn’t merely the amount of physical strength required, but also the amount of  information about the various poses one has to retain. This information is partiularly difficult to retrieve from memory as one is often hanging upside down while trying to do so. I tried to remember the correct moves to get into my “crossback straddle” position using the rational part of my brain but, as that didn’t seem to succeed, I just hung there frustrated for a couple of minutes. Then, as I twisted my body around to get back to the ground, something strange happened. I suddenly, and almost involuntarily sprung into the correct position. From there, my body seemed to suddenly remember all of the moves and I proceeded to completing the routine.

This is an example of how muscle memory operates. It is a type of automatic memory that consolidates through the repetition of movements, allowing us to perform them unconsciously as part of an automatic routine. I feel like the reason for which I wasn’t able to recall the correct moves to my routine was because I was trying to0 hard. And once I let go of that deep attentive state, the movements naturally came spiralling through, driven by motor memory.