Barrett Dorko is a physical therapist that introduced me to the concept of ideomotion during a physical therapy discussion at a website called He also has a website of his own that you can access at if you would like to read more about him. He teaches a course titled Simple Contact to help clinicians express ideomotion with patients. I have uploaded YouTube videos of it so that you can see it in practice.

Ideomotion may best be described by using an example. Imagine a child running around the house, climbing up random furniture and then jumping off the couch. We often let them do that for a while until we tell that child to sit down in order to stop so they do not get injured. As that child sits they tend to become antsy and jittery because they want to move. That child was not doing those original actions to get in trouble. Those actions were more likely promoted by a subconscious idea of movement created by the brain, which is then put into action. This is termed ideomotion, which was first described by William Carpenter in 1852. When ideomotion is prevented, our body tends to increase tension.

Ideomotion is essential to decrease tension throughout our body.

A child becoming antsy because of a lack movement is just the beginning of how society impairs our ability to perform ideomotion.

While we go to school, we are not allowed not move in ways we want to because it is disruptive to the classroom. While we go  to work,  we are not allowed to move in ways we want to because it is nonproductive in the workforce.

Other activities such as going to church, having dinner with guests, and many other activities that we participate in have formal or informal rules that we try not to break. Poker players often have tension throughout their bodies since their profession is based on hiding natural reactions.

Another scenario that we may relate to involves sitting in a cramped airplane with luggage under the seat in front of you. You want to move your legs to stretch (which may be an automatic and subconscious idea of movement created by the brain to decrease tension), but you cannot. The more you sit still, the more cramped you feel. Slowly and slowly tension throughout your body increases.  When your plane finally lands and you can stand up and move in a way your body wants you to move to decrease that tension. What a relief that is!

We spend our entire life moving in ways society wants us to move, not in the way our brain wants us to. When was the last time you let your body move in a way it wants to move?  How do you move based on ideomotion? Here are two videos of Barrett Dorko promoting ideomotion through what he describes as Simple Contact during an educational seminar for clinicians. For reference, here are the web addresses for the videos: and

Our body has a natural ability to decrease tension through subconscious movement. Through touch, ideomotion can be facilitated and we can feel our own body move. We can let our body speak.

In the videos, Barrett is not forcing the movement that you see, but is only facilitating the brain and body to feel comfortable to promote the expression of ideomotion. Sometimes the movement is very small, sometimes the movement is very large. It can depend on the person or what the body wants to express.  You can also do this yourself.

Before you try it. Let’s go over another example of ideomotion. Imagine yourself sitting in a chair as someone takes 100 photos of you within 2 minutes. You would notice that you didn’t sit completely still and there was slight movements into various angles. That is ideomotion!!! Now, how long would you be able to sit completely still while someone takes your picture? You can try it now if you would like. Try to sit still for as long as you can without moving at all.  It becomes uncomfortable because you prevented your natural ideomotion.

Sitting or standing may be the best position to allow for movement in multiple planes of motion. But lying on your back may be a good way to start for beginners because you may be able to relax a bit more easily.  So let’s sit or lie on your back with your legs in a comfortable position, but try not to cross your legs. If you currently experience pain in the neck region, it may be easier to focus on the low back. If you are experiencing pain in the low back region, you may want to begin at the neck. I have found that my patients have an easier time focusing on parts of the the body further away from a region where there is pain. There is decreased body awareness in areas that are painful which may make it more difficult. Please keep in mind that there is is no wrong or right movement as long as you do not force into pain. There is just movement that your body wants to subconsciously perform and it is not forced.

You will experience a few things while doing this “exercise”

1. Softening anywhere in the body indicating decreased tension or protective mechanisms. (remember that a child that you tickle will increase tension throughout the body to protect themselves and pain can function in the same way)
2. Warmth anywhere in the body due to increased circulation because there is decreased tension
3. It’s surprising that you can sense this movement
4. It is very easy to do

The neck:  While you are lying on your back, feel your neck relax. Let your neck move in any direction your neck wants to move. Do not think about what your body wants to do, just allow it to happen automatically. Ideomotion is movement created subconsciously. You neck may tilt upward, downward, look to the right, look to the left, look up or look down. Movement may be combined such as looking up and to the left at the same time. It may feel like your neck may want to stay in one position for a while but is is constantly moving, we just can’t sense it yet. The movement may be large or  the movement may be small.

The low back: While you are lying on your back, feel your body relax. Let your back move in any direction your it wants to move into. Do not think about what your body wants to do, just allow it to happen automatically. Ideomotion is subconsciously created movement. You back may arch, flatten or round, or lift up from the ground. Your back may feel like it is staying in one position for a while or may constantly move. The movement may be large, the movement may be small.

You can then focus on your hands, legs, hips.and etc.

Was this too difficult?

Please try not to stress about it, if you have difficulty sensing or promoting ideomotion. Many can sense it right away, some need more practice. Just don’t give up! Just imagine the first time you tried to ride a bike, drive a car with automatic transmission, or juggle. We fail in the beginning, but as we practice it can become second nature. Just think that we have been conditioned to hide ideomotion throughout our entire lives. Now I am asking you to express it.

Many of my patients have a difficult time with this.Many feel it only while my hands are on them. Then they slowly improve the ability to feel it on their own. One reason why you may have difficulty is due to the fact that pain often impairs the ability to sense body awareness and positioning.

Keep practicing and try movement into the direction of ease in the next section, which may be a little more easier. (no pun intended). The next lesson may enhance your ability to sense ideomotion. Then you can come back to this section again.

I hope to create a list of clinicians who can facilitate your ideomotion to help you change the tension in your own body.


Baccarini M. Ideo-motor actions: an embodied account. Annales Philosophici. 2011;3:22-29.

Carpenter WB. On the influence of suggestion in modifying and directing muscular movement, independently of volition. Proceedings of the Royal Institution of Great Britain. 1852;1:147- 153.

Dorko BL. The analgesia of movement: ideomotor activity and manual care. Journal of Osteopathic Medicine. 2003;6(2);93-95

Dorko BL. Without Volition.

Minasny B Understanding the Process of Fascial Unwinding Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2009; 2(3): 10–17. PMCID: PMC3091471

Reed HB. Ideo-motor action. The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods. 1914; 11(18):477-491.

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