David Zemach Bersin And The Advanced Workshop That Wasn’t

Worst Advanced Training Ever?

Or Just Business as Usual?

Early in 2009, I took the most ill-conceived and, I am sorry to say, useless, advanced Feldenkrais training that I have ever encountered – A “Functional Integration Immersion” workshop taught by David Zemach Bersin in Berkeley, California. It has been nearly 8 months since I took the workshop, and I must say, I still find myself stunned by it.

I’m not proud to admit that it has taken me this long to write about the workshop and that it bothers me as much as it does. But I’m getting a little weary of the low standards for training that exist in the Feldenkrais community and I think it’s time for people to start speaking out. My apologies if I sound a little crabby. And I certainly don’t mean to state that all feldenkrais training is universally bad. But in this instance something was seriously amiss.

That fact that a person “studied personally with Moshe Feldenkrais” or is called a “Feldenkrais Trainer” should not give him or her a free pass to put out half-assed feldenkrais training. There is accountability in the real world, and I think it’s time to have some accountabilty in the world of Feldenkrais. It is possible. And it is necessary, if this work is going to reach it’s full potential.

“I have nothing prepared!!”

The workshop began in a manner that I found quite shocking. There were about 25 people, myself included, sitting or lying on the carpet in the training room. If you have ever been to a Feldenkrais training or workshop, you can picture the scene. In walks David Bersin. From the side of the room he starts speaking and says,

“Look, I asked you to email me if you had specific areas that you wanted to address in this workshop. Nobody emailed me, so I have nothing prepared!!”

Nothing prepared?! Jesus Christ. For a brief moment I stopped breathing. I spent $300 in tuition for a workshop and he is telling me that he has nothing prepared?! And it’s the participants’ fault for not telling him what to prepare? Imagine for yourself what you would feel. You have bought a plane ticket, traveled cross country, paid for a hotel room and meals, paid for a 3-day workshop…and the workshop leader tells you that he has not prepared?

I tried to tell myself that David said was using a technique or something. That he really DID prepare something but that he wanted to keep people on their toes. My delusion was soon shattered.

ATM to FI? No.

David had us lie down and do an Awareness Through Movement session. It was a brilliant ATM (one I have never encountered) and David taught it masterfully. I assumed that after the ATM- this being a “Functional Integration Immersion” – we might do some FI. You know, perhaps take the ATM and translate it into an FI or something? But I was wrong. Instead, David launched into a “show,” that I can only describe as something akin to religious revival meeting. He started talking about Moshe and what a genius he was, and how he could “make the lame walk, he could make the f*cking lame walk.”

Then what? Well just like in a religious meeting once you invoke the master and his brilliance, you must talk about the “fall from grace” and your plan to restore everyone to glory. That’s right, Bersin talked about the fact that, in his opinion, no one had reached the mastery that Moshe achieved, and that he (David) was upset by this and wanted to make things right. That he was passionate about and committed to the work…and then…?

FI Practice? No. FI template? No.

And then…nothing. Not a damn thing. David launched into a 90 minute lecture on the conservation of energy and mass. He threw out some of the obligatory “lines” by and about Moshe: The nervous system works well because it is invisible…You are not aware of the process of learning itself…you can’t separate learning form experience etc. etc. But his ideas were not connected to anything. There was no organization to help make the ideas usable nor actionable. And remember this workshop was a “Functional Integration Immersion.” While it was interesting to hear David Bersin quote and repeat some ideas from Moshe, would it not have been appropriate to teach something about FI? And maybe DO some Functional Integration?

So Much For The “Immersion”

We never got there. David took the easy way out. He gave functional integration and expected us to pick it up by osmosis. He talked about functional integration. He brought out the (seemingly obligatory) video of Moshe lecturing. And then – I kid you not – not until the last hour of the last day did we practice FI. And, we practiced ALONE. David was off in a corner talking to someone. If I remember correctly, it was his wife…or perhaps, it was the “assistant trainer” Carol Kress. Either way David didn’t want to be bothered by something so trivial as interacting with his workshop participants.

By the way, the “Assistant Trainer” Carol Kress, had no presence in the workshop. She was relegated to the role that most Feldenkrais Assistant Trainers play, which is to essentially stay in the room and say nothing and do nothing. If we had done a substantial amount of FI, perhaps she could have helped. But I must say that it was comical to see the blank look on her face the multiple times that Bersin look at her and at the group and said:

“So what do you want to do?! What should we do?!!”

Carol didn’t have anymore ideas than did David. I guess she wasn’t expecting to have to teach the workshop for him and provide the structure.

Passion is Not Competence

That David Bersin cares deeply about the Feldenkrais Method, I have no doubt. Nor do I doubt that he is passionate about the work. But the last time I checked passion and caring are not substitutes for competence. And they sure as heck aren’t substitutes for planning, preparation and a well thought out plan for teaching. Charging money for a workshop and then showing up without preparation or thought is inexcusable. And saying nothing and doing nothing when a “trainer” completely disrespects the time and commitment of people who come to his workshops is equally inexcusable. I am embarrassed for myself and embarrassed for the group for not demanding better. I would have gotten more out of my time had I gone to my hotel room and did ATM or simply practiced with the other practitioners there. Bersin’s presence was irrelevant.

For the record – David Bersin is a brilliant practitioner. He is what Malcom Gladwell would describe as an “outlier,” someone whose work is extraordinary. I have seen David give Functional Integration sessions that are breathtaking and that engender truly astonishing changes in the people he works with. That is one of the reasons that I attended his workshop. However, I have seen no indication that David Bersin knows how to teach Functional Integration. In fact, I would be willing to bet that David does not think FI can be taught in a workshop setting. I could be wrong. Perhaps I am wrong. But I can tell you I saw nothing in his workshop that would convince me otherwise.

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5 thoughts on “David Zemach Bersin And The Advanced Workshop That Wasn’t

  1. Meredith

    Hi Ryan. Thanks for commenting on my new blog and for this post. I had a somewhat similar experience observing a training session with David and attending an Introduction to Feldenkrais with him. He’s extremely charismatic and a brilliant practicioner in terms of allowing my body to feel the effects of Feldenkrais, but I wasn’t as clear about his means for imparting his knowledge onto other people.

    I feel like there’s a bit of a tension here between the method encouraging us to do less and requiring less effort, and the amount of preparation that’s needed to be able to train other people. I feel like David is possibly moving too far in the direction of doing less. Hopefully he’ll take your and others’ feedback into account for future trainings.

    1. Ryan Nagy

      Meredith – Great hearing from you. Good luck with blogging. You are using the same WordPress template that I use for one of my private blogs. It has a nice clean look! One of my favs – Ryan

  2. Vidyut

    I admit that I am not a Feldenkrais practitioner. However, I am into behavioural science. I guess the mind approach to the mind-body combo. It is a dilemma I have experienced often too, when trying to learn from genius, but genius that has become so subtle, that there is no ‘presentation’ that can latch to it and convey it to others. It has become a personal mastery, but not method.

    I can relate with your frustration at being unable to ‘get your teeth’ into the process ‘as promised’. I have often wondered what stops me in these moments from asking for more. However, I have often gone through exactly this.

    Sometimes a rank newcomer can provide such transparency to the process that the learning is larger than what the teacher knows. Other times, a master is so adept that the learning becomes almost intangible. I guess teaching and practicing are different skills.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Jen

    Hi My name is jen I am a student and I am writing a report on the method of Felden Krais. I was wondering if one of you, could possibly tell me of any negitive side effects or Contraindications this method may have? I have been researching it over and over, and in my conclusion there is no bad about the method, But due to the fact that it is worth marks to be right I figured I would ask someone who seems to be a lot more informed then I. Look forward to hearing back! P.S Dave I have had the same problem with in my collage, and I completely know how you feel
    Thanks Jen

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