How can we walk around with a cup of coffee without paying attention to it, and without it spilling?
Our human skills and capabilities primarily emerge from the largest and most evolutionarily recent parts of our brains, which are collectively called the Neo-Cortex. These abilities are learned behaviors. When we learn a skill, essentially what we are doing is re-deploying a more ancient, reflex motor function to a new purpose. In the same way that tool use emerged from breaking open a nut with a rock, to hammering in bits of the Large Hadron Collider, the Neo-Cortex has learned more complex ways of interacting with the more ancient neurology of the brain stem and mid-brain. The Neo-Cortex does not in fact hold the hammer, but instead manipulates our Grasp Reflex to make holding the hammer happen.
If follows from this that the more cleanly our Grasp Reflex or any other reflex functions, the more efficiently our Neo-Cortex can manage complex tasks. If Grasp functions poorly, the Neo-Cortex stays engaged in the mechanics of Grasp, limiting our freedom to confidently hammer away, or perform other tasks involving the fingers working together opposing the thumb. Instead of a fully automatic action, holding the hammer is a consciously willed action. The more that these building blocks of complex movements are consciously willed, the less possibility there is to explore their potential to be utilized in novel and complex ways. This is what we see when we see children or adults struggling with new learning, or holding back from extending their boundaries.
From the perspective of the Neo-Cortex, the body is divided into two functional systems, a part that can both move around and maintain a stationary platform, and a part for manipulating the environment. The moving around and stationary platform part consists of our legs, torso and head. The manipulating objects part consists of the shoulder girdle, arms and hands, as well as the tongue, creating a semi-spherical, 3 dimensional â€œworkspaceâ€ oriented to the mouth and tongue. From the functional perspectives of Visceral Reflexes, Locomotion and Lateral Stability, which are the dominant focus of the reflex exercises which I offer, these distinctions do not apply. Neo-Cortical control is a major reconfiguration of the roles of the primary reflexes, and the more efficiently we can engage these fundamental functions, the more efficiently our Neo-Cortex can utilize and combine them in novel and uniquely human ways. (More in depth exploration of this topic)
Writing with a pencil is a common example for how our Neo-Cortex manages Fine Motor Control using primary reflexes which evolved for locomotion and Lateral Stability. Asymmetrical Grasp and Asymmetrical Hand Pulling are involved in holding the pencil.Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex is involved in head position and eye movement. Moro and the Visceral Reflexes are engaged in holding the body still, and maintaining an appropriate situational awareness for potential changes in the surroundings which might indicate threat. When we see someone holding their head while they write, or with an inappropriately strong grasp of the pencil, we are witnessing poor reflex integration. Reflex exercises directly related to Neo-Cortical control of pencil grip, and fine motor control of the hands in general, are exercises for Babkin Palmomental and Robinson Hand Grasp, the other hand and arm reflexes, and any motor or visceral reflex. (More information on reflex exercises can be found here)
As reflex function improves, fine motor control may actually be compromised. This is a short term issue related to the Neo-Cortex having to recalibrate to the changes in automatic function. The Neo-Cortex has great capacity for recognizing and adopting the most efficient way available to complete a task, and will soon habituate to the more useful possibilities. Additionally, any fine motor skill that one wishes to develop should be practiced after primary reflex integration exercises. If one wishes to improve ones hand writing, before practicing, it can be very beneficial to go through hand related primary reflex integration exercises beforehand. Before working on math, public speaking or other skills requiring spatial comprehension, it can be most beneficial to work on ones Asynchronous Tonic Neck Reflex.
The primary reflexes discussed above can be separated into three distinct functional groups. Here are posts discussing each of these categories, descending in order of increasing functional complexity: