Things Feldenkrais Was Wrong About, Part 1

Every so often I bump across an idea from Moshe Feldenkrais that is so theoretically unjustifiable and so out-of-date that it takes my breath away. I do not share that as a criticism of Moshe, but rather as a warning and a plea. Those of us who study and use his work need to realize that he has been dead for more than 30 years and the basis of our knowledge about the self and world has changed dramatically since he died. And like most mortal beings, Moshe made some mistakes and had some wrong-headed ideas. Consider, the quote below from the *Potent Self:

"In the state of hypnosis, one also loses entirely the ability to command oneself, but is at the highest state of involuntary suggestibility. Before this state of suggestibility is obtained, complete relaxation of the musculature must be achieved. Moreover, as Professor J. H. Schultz has shown; the relaxation must be extended so far as to relax the capillaries and the small blood vessels. " page 144, The Potent Self

There is virtually nothing about that passage that stands of time. And even when Moshe was alive it was demonstrably false. In the state of hypnosis one does not lose the ability to command oneself. On the contrary, in hypnosis one can gain control over states of body and mind that had formerly been un-available. The state of hypnosis can be defined as a state of focused absorption. One is actively considering ideas and possibilities and how one might use them to beneficial effect. There does not need to be "complete relaxation of the musculature" before one enters a state of hypnosis or benefits from it. One can be in an active state of hypnosis and for example, be taking a shower, driving a car or hitting a golf ball.

Relaxation in hypnosis is similar to relaxation in Feldenkrais. It often occurs as a by-product of the process of engaging in those activities. And it is not so much a relaxation as it is an efficiency. One lets go of habitual and unneeded muscular tension in order to focus on the task at hand.

The word "suggestion" that Feldenkrais used above is also problematic. It is an outdated term in modern hypnosis and psychology. One does not give "suggestions" to an involuntary person. Granted, if someone wants to be controlled and told to bark like a chicken, as you could see in a stage hypnosis show, a hypnotist can provide the context and suggestions to "give control" to the hypnotist. But it is a voluntary giving of control. In the early 1940's Milton Erickson conducted experiments in which he attempted to get people to do things against their personal nature, such as opening other's mail and stealing. In each and every case the person in question would not do what Erickson wanted and would terminate the research experiment.

Rather than talking of suggestions, a modern and more scientific understanding of hypnosis is that in the focused, hypnotic state one is given ideas to consider. The ideas could be to view new possibilities, to consider one's past and future in new ways, to think about the self differently. The list of potential things to consider is endless. They are not "suggestions" per se, but ideas. If the ideas are beneficial to the person and can be integrated into his world view and abilities they will likely be used. Or as Feldenkrais would repeatedly speak and write, when the nervous system finds easier and more pleasant way of acting it is likely to adopt them. One can "suggest" all kinds of movements and thoughts, but if they do not fit with the person's way of being and acting they tend to have no effect. In Feldenkrais as in hypnosis, one is learning to find more efficient ways of acting in the world.

Feldenkrais and Strategic Approaches

This brings me to the larger frame of the blog post. To me, hypnosis - especially Ericksonian Hypnosis - and the Feldenkrais Method share many deep similarities and each has principles that can usefully amplify the other. I am not saying that hypnosis is Feldenkrais and Feldenkrais is hypnosis. Rather, that a study and use of each can lead to greater potency as a person and as a practitioner.

I will not go too deeply into the topic right now, but I will say that I agree strongly with Yvan Joly who fits Moshe Feldenkrais's ideas in with Moshe's contemporaries who were often called "strategic therapists." Here is Yvan:

"I profoundly believe now that what we do in this [Feldenkrais] work is what we can call a “Strategic Approach”. My family of belonging now is not so much with body-workers. I feel my belonging now as a professional is more with what we call strategic approaches. Moshe’s work is akin to Milton Erikson, to some of the Brief Therapies, some of the Watzlawick ideas or Gregory Bateson. And what does strategic approach mean? To me it means, very simply, that whatever we create for ourselves is the result of what we do and how we do it. The universe that we create for ourselves is the result of how we concretely create it. In traditional psychology this was not that well acknowledged until very recently." From Yvan Joly's website. I have also uploaded a copy here.

The operative word above is "how." Much of effective psychology and psychotherapy, and effective changework in general keeps a person focused on how they can get what they want. That often involves a focus what is "right" with a person and leads to a focus on strengths and abilities and to acquire new ones when needed or wanted. Feldenkrais was not looking for what was "wrong" with someone, but rather how they could learn through experience to organize themselves more efficiently.

Just a few thoughts for now.

* I must note that the Potent Self was published after Moshe's death. He chose not to publish it when he was alive, so who knows how he might have changed it, had he had the chance or if he would have burned it. Regardless, it is now part of the published Feldenkrais legacy and people often refer to it, so it is fair game to criticize parts of the book. That being said, it is one of my favorite Feldenkrais books.

If you have respectful, on topic, well-reasoned and non-abusive comments feel free to leave them below. You may have noticed that the quality of comments on my blogs has improved over the last few months. That is because I moderate comments. Respect the ecosystem please.

I am a lifetime fan of the work of Moshe Feldenkrais, a blogger and internet marketer living in Mexico. I create and sell kick-ass downloadable Feldenkrais series such as my Feldenkrais Classics series. You can find my Feldenkrais products at Feldenkrais MP3. I occasionally organize online conferences related to brief therapy and Ericksonian hypnosis: Psycotherapy Conferences


  1. I suppose by now that you have got hold of #thinkinganddoing and have read the foreword of the Kreitlers. Maybe one day you will be able to read Dr F´s lectures from Tthe psychologydepatment in TA that he was giving in the 60 ies…Also you might understand the context why he uses suggestion or autosuggestion. As a translator of Dr F´s writings and knowing in both Hebrew and English I think you are a bit narrowminded in your comments. A text is a text is a text. His sentences needs usually to be read many times to find the meaning and his use of language.
    I teach ATM to a living audiance in dialogue. (You can find my lessons free of charge on SoundCloud) I would say that I suggest an image of action all the time in the building of sensory information using language. A careful use of language is needed to get the response asked for. Looking up synonoms for suggest is also worthwhile. You need ususally 3 words in order to get a broader meaning of the concept asked for.

  2. Hi Eva, I have not bought the book yet. I live in Mexico and it is very expensive to have things shipped here. I will likely get it the next time that I am in the United States.

    My apologies, but there is very little room for interpretation on those particular sentences that I quoted. It is very simple, concrete English. And it was originally written in English, right? What Moshe wrote on those pages is simply not correct in regards to hypnosis and the process of inducing trance as it is understood today. There may be some other more nuanced-views that he had later and that he wrote and spoke about, if so, I would enjoy reading them. But those particular quotes are outdated in the extreme. I look forward to seeing if his thinking on the topic developed later in life. And if it did not, that is fine. He was writing decades ago, hard to keep up with research that had not been written yet.

    Thanks, Ryan

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