Proprioception tells us where our body is in space through sensory receptors in our joints which signal the position of our body parts with respect to gravity. Kinesthesia is our sense of how tense our muscles are as sensed by special receptors in our muscles. Together these two senses give us intimate knowledge about our bodies and our state: where we are and how we feel.
These internal body sensations are what allow us to touch our nose with one finger or tell us if we’re raising our hand or standing on one foot in a dark room. In fact, it’s the sensory information the brain receives from these senses that allow us to do everything we do deliberately with our bodies, including eating!
Eating requires the volitional physical acts of sitting, self feeding (with fingers and hands or the more motorically challenging task of using utensils) and then using all the parts of our mouth to take in, manage and swallow each bite. When we break it down like that, eating is incredibly complex and requires a lot of nuanced communication between our bodies and brains to go smoothly!
To eat just one bite of food our brains need constant information about what our body is doing, where it is in space and how much force is needed to accomplish each small task. This communication between our body and brain is like an intricate dance where the body tells the brain what’s going on and the brain constantly sends back modifications to make our movements look smooth and effortless.
I love how Dr. Kay A. Toomey breaks down the complexity eating in her Top Ten Myths of Mealtime In America. Definitely check out her list for more information about what’s needed for us to learn to eat!
Proprioception and kinesthesia can be affected by a number of diagnoses and are often involved in the wide net labeled informally as ‘sensory issues.’ Assessment and intervention for these senses is done primarily by occupational therapists, so if you have concerns or questions they have a wealth of knowledge to help!
Happy food play and whatever else you do today!