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Every so often I bump across an idea from Moshe Feldenkrais that is so theoretically unjustifiable and so out-of-date that it takes my breath away.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 his knowledge about the self and world has changed dramatically since he died. And like most mortal beings, Moshe made some mistakes and had some incorrect ideas. Consider, the quote below from his book * 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 the test of time. And even when Moshe was alive it was demonstrably false. In the state of hypnosis, one does not "lose entirely the ability to command oneself". On the contrary, in hypnosis one can gain control over states of body and mind that had formerly been unavailable. 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.

Also, the word "suggestion" that Feldenkrais used above is 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 It is an outdated term in modern hypnosis and psychology.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 a larger frame for the ideas of this 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 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 on 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 from which the quote was taken 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.

Thomas Hanna wrote about the Potent Self. He noted, "Feldenkrais created the fragments of a system which he could never bring together conceptually. His best effort was his early book, Body and Mature Behavior, which attempted to found an analysis of human movement on a description of gravitation’s effects on muscular reflex actions. He later attempted to expand the theory in the ill-fated book, The Potent Self, which he decided was not publishable. Unfortunately, it was eventually published by his followers, but it only added theoretical confusion to his ideas." From the article,Clinical Somatic Education by Thomas Hanna

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