Is Feldenkrais a Cult?!

There is a conversation on a private Feldenkrais forum related to some people’s perception of the Feldenkrais Method as a cult. The forum conversation is mainly regarding marketing. That is, finding better ways to explain Feldenkrais principles and introduce people to the work.

However, I know from my website database that many people search for the term, “Feldenchrist” on google. I have assumed that is some type of misunderstanding that comes about when some hears a foreign-sounding word and has to make some sense out of it.

I was curious if there was any information on the internet about Feldenkrais as a “cult.” I conducted a brief search on Google and previewed the first 100 or so websites that came up under the keyword phrase “Feldenkrais Cult.” The search led me to two listings (bold emphasis mine).

From QuakWatch.com

Feldenkrais Method® (Feldenkrais technique): Mode of bodywork originated in Israel by physicist and engineer Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc. (1904-1984). It is a form of “movement reeducation” whose alleged results include “increased levels of vital energy” (“renewed inner vitality”). The method has two “aspects”: (1) private, one-on-one instruction (Functional Integration), and (2) group instruction (Awareness Through Movement).

And from New Zealand Cults:

“Feldenkrais Method, The. Not Yet Rated. In effect a subset of Somatic Education, it is marketed in New Zealand under such names as Move To Improve. Basic idea seems to be that much body pain and physical restrictions (lack of movement) aren’t caused by old age but by learned habits and repetitive poor use of the body. OK so far. However the Feldenkrais Method, like many other alternative physical therapies, claims that by its application all sorts of things can be fixed, stress reduced, etc. There is no credible research evidence to substantiate such claims, and so is considered an alternative treatment. Although it is included in a prominant NZ online New Age resource listing, it may not be particularly New Age itself, but it and its practitioners often do have strong links to the New Age.”

The entries above, mild as they may be, are making insinuations without a shred of data and no attempts to define terms. Quakwatch mentions the “alleged results” of “increased vital energy.” What in the hell is increased vital energy? I have certainly never heard someone make that claim about the Feldenkrais Method and have no idea what it is or for what it stands. Could Quakwatch be kind enough to cite a reference for the quote above? Is that not standard scientific procedure? They are saying, in essence, “It’s not scientific, take our word for it.”

There is a growing pool of research regarding the Feldenkrais Method. Although it is certainly not overwhelming there are many attempts and many peer-reviewed articles concerning the Feldenkrais Method. (For a sadly outdated list that I have not updated recently, see: http://www.psych.utah.edu/feldenkrais/index.php (Sorry, the U of Utah deleted my website after I left grad school.

And the New Zealand cult network wants to associate the Feldenkrais Method with the “New Age.” Although, admittedly, it’s a meaningless term undefined by most who use it – including the people who write for the New Zealand cult network. I would think that a group attempting to steer people away from cults (a worthy undertaking) would do more to define what the heck they are talking about.

So called “scientific methods” when applied to human affairs are a notoriously slippery slope. I have been, and remain, completely shocked at the utter garbage that I was exposed to when undergoing a PhD program in Psychology at the University of Utah. The terms that were bandied about – latent variables, manifest variables, internal working models, cognitive structures, etc. etc. ad naseum. Sometimes the concepts are useful and can lead us into empirically testable hypothesis. Sometimes there is nothing behind them except an untested, naive belief that human behavior has “causes” that need scientific sounding names and numbers to describe them. Maybe they do – but if you can’t find one in the physical world, simply making a cause up and giving it a name is hardly science.

It’s not clear to me that “Feldenkrais Research” as it stands is going to do much better. I hope that in the zeal to gain the external stamp of approval from “science” that Feldenkrais Practitioners do not end up losing what makes the method so unique – helping living, breathing, human beings created actionable and meaningful differences in their lives.

So, is the Feldenkrais Method a “cult”? I think the answer is “no.” Though people can use the work in cult-like ways. Is there a “scientific basis” for it? Well, go to PubMed or another research website and you will find some evidence in support of the work.