Empathy and Movement Together?

In this past weeks Listening before you express class there was an opportunity to introduce the concept of how our posture may lock us unconsciously into mental and emotional behaviors.   This following article by Moshe Feldenkrais may be of some help in deepening this concept. It is an in-depth, therefore, lengthy article of Moshe’s.


RE-EDUCATION by Moshe Feldenkrais

There are two major roads for changing a person’s behaviour-either through the psyche or through the body.  However, real change has to be brought about in a way which allows both the body and the psyche to be changed simultaneously.  If the approach is not integral but through either the psyche or the body separately, the change will last only as long as the person has not lost the awareness of it, and has not resumed spontaneous habitual patterns.  However, by scanning one’s own body image, one can detect the return of the unwanted, habitual muscular function some time before it occurs, and can then either inhibit or facilitate it by an act of will.

The advantage of approaching the unity of mental and muscular life through the body lies in the fact that the muscle expression is simpler because it is concrete and easier to locate.  It is also incomparable easier to make a person aware of what is happening in the body, and therefore the body approach yields faster and more direct results.  On acting on the significant parts of the body, such as the eyes, the neck, the breath, or the pelvis, it is easy to effect striking changes of mood on the spot.  I have achieved clear results with a group technique.

Dr. Feldenkrais goes on to give Case Study examples.  For more go to link:

Dr. Feldenkrias Re-education Case Studies.


In my examination of the bodies of several thousand people before and during re-education, I have found there are some norms for the definition of health and normality.  In particular I have looked at the distribution of tonus throughout the bodies of these people.  Though it is difficult to do full justice to these concepts of health and normality, in a few words, the general principles can be drawn.

For example, the head must have no tendency to move in particular directions.  The “normal” head should have easy access to all directions of the anatomically possible range of movements.  In fact, the factor limiting movements of the body in general should be the skeleton structure and not muscular tightness.  Actually, every adult uses only a part of the theoretical possibilities of the human frame.

Also, the healthy coördinated movements of the body as a whole obey the mechanical principle of least action, which means the muscles are designed to work in step and perform their tasks with the least expenditure of metabolic energy.  In view of these principles governing the operations of the whole human frame one can decide on normal and abnormal behaviour.

To make these norms of normality have universal application, we must view human beings in their entirety.  A person is made of three entities:  the nervous system, which is the core; the body-skeleton, viscera and muscles-which is the envelope of the core; and the environment, which is space, gravitation,and society.  These three aspects, each with its material support and its activity, together give a working picture of a human being.

There is a functional correspondence between the core, (the nervous system) and the outside physical world, or even the social environment.  This relationship can be much closer and more vital than even between some adjacent parts of the nervous system itself.  Think, for instance , of men going deliberately to face death in order to preserve an established social order.  In this case, the ties of a nervous system to a social order may be stronger than those with the body itself, so that some individuals sacrifice the first two parts of themselves to preserve the third.  It is to ignore reality, if one intends to make a change in the behaviour of a person and disregard, even for a moment, any one of the three constituents of existent.

The nervous system relates itself to the body through the nerves and the hormonal chemistry, and to the outside world through the nerve endings and through the senses, which give information about position in space, pain, touch and temperature.  The nervous system has no direct perception of the outside world.  What this means is that the distinction between the self and the outside world is a function which must be developed or learned.  The system slowly and gradually sorts out the signals of information coming in from the body and from the outside, and recognizes which is which.

The development of this process leads to a clearer and clearer distinction between signals derived from the body (the self) and those derived from the outside world.  The former become known as “I” and the latter as “not I” – this is the beginning of consciousness.  By learning to recognize how your bodies are oriented we come to know ourselves.  Subjective and objective reality are thus organically dependent on the motor elements (the nerves, the muscles and skeleton) which are orientated by and react to the gravitational field.

Gravity is a major aspect of reality and plays an important part in constituting our normality.  But we are so accustomed to the gravitational field that we have to learn about its existence.  the same is true of consciousness, which is continuous so long as the sequence of bodily orientational cues is uninterrupted.  How organic this body orientation is to consciousness can only be realized when there is a break in the connection between them.  When we wake up to consciousness after fainting or anesthesia, the first thought is “Where am I?”  When there is a break in the sequence of orientation cues, as when we fail to find the expected next step, there is a momentary lapse of consciousness.  The jolt is so violent that for a movement we lose the ability to direct ourselves.

The term orientation is used here is its widest sense, including the distinction between “I” and “NOT I” in the social field, with all its ramifications.  And of course one can see more clearly in the skeleton than anywhere else attitudes of submission, of arrogance, of insignificance, or of importance.  An immense field for inquiry is opened once th organic ties of social orientation are followed up into the muscles, nerves and skeleton.  NOt only can individual development or abnormality be followed through the body, but so can even wider cultural and racial differences in attitudes.    The introversion, the attachment, and the indifference of the Hindu with corresponding looseness of hip-joints, and the extroverted, holding-on, time-is-money attitude of the industrial nations (with their utter inability to sit cross-legged), are a few examples.  Of course, to soften and bring to normal one’s hip joints, one must spend time, look at oneself, give up something, detach oneself from something else.

In human beings a “normal” action can be either unconscious and automatic or fully conscious and awarded.  Almost all activity which evolved phylogenetically with the human species is common to the entire animal world.  This activity becomes more and more complex or awarded with the higher members of the tree of evolution.  still, phylogenetically acquired activity is always expressed in abstract terms and is, therefore, unchangeable as there are no means to affect an abstraction.  On the other hand, individually acquired action (ontogenetic action) pertains to the senses.  Such action can be altered or learned as one can become aware of actual differences, such as the extent of the effort, its coordination i time, the body sensation, the spatial configuration of the the body segments, the standing, the breathing, the wording, etc.

This kind of awared learning is complete when the new mode of action becomes automatic or even unconscious, as all habits do.  The advantage of a habit acquired by awareness is that when it shows unfitness of maladjustment when confronted with reality, it easily provokes new awareness and so helps one to make a fresh and more efficient change.

My inmost belief is that, just as anatomy has helped us get an intimate knowledge of the working of the body, and neuroanatomy an understanding of some activities of the psyche, so will understanding of the somatic aspects of a consciousness enable us to know ourselves more intimately.  Tension is self-destructive,.  In the future, we should be able to direct the forces that generate tension not just o release it, ut in order to improve human functioning.


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