As an occupational therapist who has researched apraxia I am often asked – what is praxis?
The term praxis in the neurological sense is the human ability to turn our ideas or impulses into doing! Specifically, the ability to know what, when and how to perform actions to achieve skilled task performance.
A very simple example you could bring to mind here is applying a topping to toast at the kitchen bench in the morning – this is a task that requires you to skilfully use a knife – with spreading and then cutting actions at the right time. Contrast that with another example that requires action – playing the piano. Piano playing requires you to move fingers and thumbs separately, rapidly and accurately, striking the instrument in the right places with the right pressure to create the desired tune and musical expression. Similarly, you can take a moment to picture all the body actions entailed in playing a different musical instrument such as a violin – a whole different set of actions is entailed! And what about thinking of actions entailed in leisure pursuits like playing tennis effectively, compared with playing golf; and in the area of paid work what about the skilled actions involved in barista work compared with taxi driving? These examples help to convey the human ability to vary our whole body actions and produce them perfectly for the task at hand – and here we are, my friends, in praxis territory!
I wonder if you can recall your early stages of handling your first smart phone, and grappling to answer the first incoming call? It feels like an eon ago! I remember failing and having to listen to the voicemail later. You see, I had never had to swipe on-screen to answer a call, and so that action was not in my learnt repertoire of actions for handling a phone. And in those apraxic moments of grappling ineffectually with my new phone – trying to find a button to press as had been the technique on my old phones and even trying the pressing action onscreen – critical time ticked by and voicemail took over for me! Thankfully humans are wired to be adaptive and strategic so that we can be successful with the tasks we want to complete – and so after just a single episode of struggling and failing I knew I needed a different technique! I consulted with a friend briefly, heard that after pressing the screen I needed to add a swiping action….. and thereafter I was competent with answering calls on my smart phone.
These examples show how, neurologically speaking, human praxis has both a motor aspect (performance of the right actions for the situation) and a conceptual aspect (knowing which actions are appropriate and how to sequence a series of appropriate actions).
Indeed in the medical and allied health literature praxis is described as a high level cognitive ability that arises from whole-brain cooperation – from parallel processing throughout the cerebral hemispheres and subcortical structures, and also supported through the motor learning role of the “little brain” – the cerebellum.
As this human capacity called praxis allows us to be competent in conceptualising and operationalising actions, enabling each of us to be able to do what we want to do effectively and efficiently – across all occupational areas of our life – from personal care tasks to work and leisure and any meaningful activity related to our roles and participation in society, it would seem that the answer to the question “What is praxis good for?” would be – “Everything!“
Praxis is good for everything we want and need to do.
More praxis ponderings in future peeps….. for now I hope you can take a moment to connect in with gratitude for your own praxis capacity, and all it enables you to do in your life!
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