Feldenkrais And Somatic Experiencing (Video)

Over the last year or so I have noticed more and more Feldenkrais practitioners writing and speaking about their experiences with Peter Levine’s “Somatic Experiencing,” often referred to as “SE” for short. I personally know about a dozen Feldenkrais practitioners who have either taken his training or are in one now.

The video below seems like a reasonable introduction to his work. Though I very much like the video by Dr. Levine, I wish it had a demonstration of Somatic Experiencing with a client, rather than focusing so much on explanations. If you really want to convince someone, show them a demonstration of a change – see it in action. Having that, explanations become more meaningful and believable.


Dr. Levine mentions the word “energy” many times in the video below as in “trauma as an energetic response.” Some of you may be familiar with Moshe’s ideas on “energy” from The Potent Self, Introduction page XIII, (First Edition):

“The energy analogy does not hold good for emotional urges because there is no question of energy here, but of forms of action. Aggression is a form of behavior, not an energy. There is no such thing as dammed-up aggression that increases in pressure until the dam breaks down and aggression flows freely. There is no screen to aggression that contains it and allows its accumulation and there is nothing in the nervous system or in any other part of a man where aggression can accumulate.

In the same way, there can be no question of the sublimation of libidinal energy, because there is no accumulation of libido in the form of energy. The sexual glands do not continue to be active, and sperm is not continually formed if there is no sexual outlet. There is a self-regulating mechanism at work here, as in all glandular secretion. There is probably less libidinal tension after a year of abstention than after a fortnight. (There is nothing in long-term sexual abstention that cannot be attended to in a few days or weeks depending on the health and age of the individual.)”

I do not think that Dr. Levine is speaking to “energy” in the way that Moshe is writing about. Rather, he is using the word “energy to describe the effects of trauma. That is, as a form of compulsive inhibition that inhibits aspects of a persons functioning and limits the development of forms of behavior.

Though I could be wrong.

Perhaps those of you who do both Feldenkrais and Somatic Experiencing have an opinion?

Somatic Experiencing By David Levine:

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6 thoughts on “Feldenkrais And Somatic Experiencing (Video)

  1. John Quinn

    I ain’t no expert on the this stuff, and don’t have a lot of self help books or even good science books coming in constantly in the mail or otherwise

    But I have picked up from Walking the Tiger – but it really annoys that in that and other such books when their path to solution is another god damned exercise. Give us a break! The overwhelming sadness of s/p trauma victims,such as incessent childhood beatings and molestation by one or more parents, that life has become an living hell, and I agree that their problem is that they cannot get aggression out. They become frightened creatures. they cannot lay claim to anything in life.

    So Levine’s ‘energy’ is really aggression, or aggression constipated.
    But I find Levine’s clenched hand swqueezing actually old hat and passe, He would do well to sudy the better fdenkrais solutions. AYs or ATMs.. Maybe Mr Levine’s pain books make more sense.

    I think that these ‘helpers’ help others so that they themselves might be helped by someone or some others, some day. Of course that day when they are helped, might never come. It takes some subtlety to get help from others and to realize that one might actually be loved someday, by others. Stranger things have happenned.This might involve an transformation of energy into love?.As one moves through life there are people we might love. even if we never see them again.

    {Writing is really hard.}

    Guten nacht already.
    John Quinn

    1. nagster Post author

      Hi John – Thanks for your comment. As I read and learn more about Levine’s work, it makes a great deal of sense to me. In fact reading and using some of his techniques has been very useful. I’m looking forward to working with a practitioner at some point.

      – Ryan

  2. Irene Gutteridge

    Hey Ryan

    (I’ve given a brief explain of SE and energy, and then some personal tales of why I decided to add SE to my bag of tricks)…Long comment but for those interested in how to work with trauma in your practice, keep reading)

    I’ve just completed my SE training, even has the pleasure of working one-on-one with Peter Levine this past October. The man, like Moshe was, is a genius of the human system and how to navigate it so it can heal and restore itself.

    The “energy” question is hard to answer, but you are not correct in what you write about compulsive inhibitions that doesn’t allow proper functioning. A little history…

    Peter’s original work, his thesis (which you can download here http://www.somaticexperiencing.com/) is about accumulated stress in the body and the consequences on the nervous system, therefore whole body functioning.

    What he came across while seeing people as a grad student, doing ‘mind-body’ relaxation exercises before they even has a name, is that Humans, just like animals in the wild need to ‘discharge’ and resolve movement patterns that were suppressed and not acted out after traumatic events. i.e., if a deer is hit by a car, and is knocked out, but not dead, when its body is back online, just before it gets up, it will ‘shake’, tremble and discharge “energy” that was trapped in the body from the insult/injury. This release of energy is necessary for the body to return back to normal nervous system functioning – animals in the wild do this, the recover, they are not traumatized, the don’t develop PTSD, they either live, or they die from injuries.

    Humans need to go thru this process when injured, attacked etc., but their higher brain centres and social ‘decency’ screws up these motor acts and discharge needs – our emergency response measures and comforting that often happens after injury, or the ‘oh I am OK’, get up and bounce back before the severity of the injury is processed – have thwarted our bodies, natural animalistic needs for self-negotiation and completion of traumatic events, which then leads to ALL sorts of nervous system dysregulation, and from what Dr. Levine and his colleagues are seeing, many of the psychosomatic and syndromal, autoimmune disorders, not to mention PTSD that are so prevalent in our culture. Even the simple lack of properly orientating back to the environment after trauma – a key element in his work – is very rarely encouraged in many settings that deal with trauma. As Feldenkrais practitioners this basic piece of orienting back to the here and now and to the environment, I think, is a key piece that we don’t press upon enough in our classes and FI’s. I actually firmly believe that if we brought a person to orientation multiple times during a lesson the lesson would ‘stick’ better and the effects better received. (just a hunch on my part)

    One thing that is interesting is that animals, when held in zoos, do get traumatized. Humans are kind of in this predicament – we aren’t in our natural environments anymore, we can’t emit bodily processes that are natural (passing gas, belching, sneezing) without needing to be excused or hiding ourselves. Our natural rhythm is messed up with our work schedules, our needs for rest and exercise are rarely met, the list goes on.

    From a blending of Feldenkrais perspective, I decided to take the training when I realized that a big piece was missing in working with people, especially people with multiple injuries, and especially those who have suffered from sexual abuse. Just having them lie down on a table, or floor, and have their fronts exposed to a ‘stranger’, no matter how caring and empathetic I am, still caused them to freeze up and in many ways dissociate from their body. I only realize this now, after doing the training and learning about the nervous system and trauma. Now, when I practice I quickly assess, based on observation, affect and history how to best start, we may not lie down for 4 sessions, we may work in standing (because you can’t dissociate to the same extent when your anti-gravity muscles are needing to keep you up), many things have changed in my practice and the results are glaringly different from a positive and successful perspective.

    I firmly believe that not understanding some of the principles and theories that Dr.Levine has brought to the study of trauma and working with trauma is doing a disservice to our clients. We end up being the chiro or Physio that keeps manipulation the same joints without really understanding the root cause. I know we go much deeper into looking at the whole body, but the nervous system and how it responds to present day ‘stimuli’ as a result of past trauma is a necessary to understand – afterall, we say we work with people’s nervous systems but how many of us actually truly understand how the nervous system works.

    Dr. Levine just published a book of his 40 years of work called “In an unspoken voice” I highly recommend all Feldies pick it up. If anything it is worth it for the run down of the nervous system, the branches of the vagus nerve and their importance, and then the case studies. One case study in particular, which deals with frozen shoulder is a MUST read for Feldenkrais practitioners and any health care provider who is stumped with really complicated injuries that don’t seem to respond to anything…..

    I wrote a blog post on the viscera and SE on my old blog here http://pure-feldenkrais-whistler.blogspot.com/2010/10/kids-will-go-bananas-when-adults-fake.html

    I’ll be writing more about the nervous system, SE and Feldenkrais at my new blog, http://www.thehumangroove.com. (subscribe if you want to get updates!)

  3. nagster Post author

    Beautiful Irene, thanks. That makes a great deal of sense – on many levels. I’m in the process of moving, so may not have time to make detailed comments for a while. I will likely pick up the book – assuming it is on Amazon kindle. – Ryan

  4. Poster

    I’ve studied the world and reality for quite a while now, and one of the few things I found is this: whenever you think you have understood how the world works, or how a human works … you’re heavy on the woodway.

  5. Tom Tabaczynski

    Interesting post. Might comment on the Feldenkrais passage. The ‘energy’ issue goes back to the background in Freud and his student Wilhelm Reich who basically reinterpreted Freud in terms of the energy metaphor, further developed by Reich’s student Alexander Lowen who developed Bioenergetics.

    I discuss this at length on my blog which I know is rife with academic verbiage something I hope to deal with over time.

    It’s one the theoretical issues that Feldenkrais is trying to deal wit vis-a-vis psychoanalysis because he draws heavily on that but his psychology is more ‘motor psychology’ of the pragmatists (John Dewey) and his teacher F. M. Alexander. Interestingly, he really gets stuck on this point.

    Levine is a body psychotherapists and seems to be in the lineage from Reich, perhaps via Lowen.

    I don’t know how literally Lowen and Levine take the energy metaphor. If I recall, Reich later reworked it in terms of ‘vibration’ as a kind of universal force that he could utilise to make rain etc.

    In my own case, I’m not totally convinced that you can simply dispense with it in favour of muscular tension the way that Feldenkrais does.

    First, Feldenkrais follows Alexander in viewing sexual dysfunction in terms of poor learning, lack of expertise, anxiety and impotence. For Reich the ‘body armour’ was muscular tension that ‘locks in’ the emotional ‘energy’, and so getting rid of the muscular tension/body armour aims at rebalancing the energy.

    In dealing with sex Feldenkrais takes the F.M. Alexander’s route and sees better body coordination, including in sex, as a way of dealing with anxiety. Problem is: what is ‘anxiety’? Well, it’s basically the fear of falling down. Everything is ‘reduced’ to poor co-ordination and inappropriate response that then locks-in muscular tension and leads to impotence and regressive behaviour. In Reichian body psychotherapy on the other hand ‘energy’ is a way of talking about emotions as being causally distinct from muscular tension. Otherwise there is no ‘causal relation’ which needs ontologically distinct processes. You use body tension to repress strong emotion. But body tension and strong emotion are separate processes.

    Second, experientially speaking I think that the energy metaphor works better in cases of certain therapeutic or aesthetic experiences. You experience that there is dammed up energy (as Reich would put it); or that energy flows through your body; or that it is released or balanced or whatever. So in sex this will manifest in the quality of the orgasm and how ‘energetically balanced’ you feel. Also, in doing certain kinds of exercises like certain yoga postures or Katsugen Undo you feel an emotional release which has the vibration effect that he’s talking about in this video.

    Also, libidinal energy functions in psychoanalysis to explain aesthetic experience. I discuss movement practices like Contact Improvisation and Tango which experientially for me are more ‘energetic’ practices and involve sensual and/or sexual pleasure. It is hard for me to apply Feldenkrais concepts of expertise, although they are definitely helpful: eg., you want good coordination when doing tango, and CI is in a sense just Feldenkrais with a partner. But the partner does make a difference to the ‘energetics’ of it.

    Finally, I know that Thomas Hanna in one of his papers expresses opposition to Reichian Therapy, and sees somatics as preferable. But this is a different issue. ‘Energy’ seems to be more of a theoretical issue than anything else. If we speak of ‘vibration’ its perhaps makes more sense. The question is whether, when talking perhaps metaphorically about energy or vibration, you’re dealing with a separate set of emotional, aesthetic and sexual phenomena, with emotion and pleasure.

    So I’m not sure that I agree with Feldenkrais and Hanna and would see somatics and bioenergetics as complementary.

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