Tag Archives: Feldenkrais research

Edward Yu: What is Feldenkrais? What is learning?

Edward Yu, Radically Transformative Fitness

The article below is from Edward Yu of Radically Transformative Fitness. I hope you find it as enjoyable and though-provoking as I did. If you would like, you can also download the article as a pdf and read it offline: What_Is_Learning_Edward_Yu

What is learning?

What is improvement?

What is Feldenkrais?

Most people spend their whole lives using their strengths to cover up and hide their weaknesses. But if you surrender to your weakness therein lies your pathway to genius. -Moshe Feldenkrais

To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish. -Yiddish expression

The Feldenkrais Method could be considered the art of learning how to learn or, put another way, the art of learning how to improve. Feldenkrais is in this manner a radical departure from conventional approaches to learning and improving because where Feldenkrais emphasizes exploration, thereby encouraging people to learn how to learn and learn how to improve, conventional approaches focus on mimicking and performing, which commonly results in trying to learn and trying to improve.

Cultural misconceptions

Our dominant culture posits that trying harder, whether in academics, athletics, dance, artistic endeavors, work, spirituality, emotional growth, parenting, relationships—indeed any subject you choose—leads to improvement. Consequently, it is easy to assume that improvement is commensurate to the amount of effort you exert. In other words, the harder you try the more you stand to gain—“No pain, no gain,” as my track coach was all too fond of saying. According to this model, people who try harder improve more and are therefore more likely to succeed. Conversely, those who do not try as hard do not improve as much and are therefore less likely to succeed.1

Of course, improvement alone doesn’t guarantee success. There is the added factor of talent, which supposedly plays a central role in the matter. We typically view talent as a head start or entitlement of sorts which endows the “talented” with special abilities. In contrast, we see a lack of talent as a handicap which forces the “untalented” to work harder just to keep up. Unlike effort, which is a choice, talent is “God-given,” genetically endowed or otherwise immutable: we are born with some measure or lack of talent and there is nothing we can do about it.
Thus, the simple equation for success is as follows: Success = Talent + Effort. The assumption here is that highly successful people: 1) are more talented, 2) try harder or, 3) are more talented and try harder. Of course this also means those of us who are not as successful are either not as talented, not trying hard enough, or lacking both talent and willpower.

Learning versus talent.

He was just ordinary, and I doubt whether any scout would have thought much of him in his first year. -Joe Martin, Muhammad Ali’s first boxing coach

How is it possible that I could share the classroom with a future Rhodes Scholar or run on the same track team as the eventual state champion, yet still perform so far below their standards—even while working just as hard? Their relative success must be due to superior talent—unless we acknowledge all the learning and improvement that has taken place outside of the classroom and off the track.2

To begin with, the theory of talent assumes that those with superior ability were born with it and those who are less talented must exert more effort to acquire a similar stature. Unheeded in this assumption is the fact that without hours upon hours of learning, superior ability would not exist. This is to say, much of what we deem superior ability via talent is actually superior ability via learning.

That we overemphasize the role of talent and willpower may have to do with the fact that so much learning and improving occurs outside of conventional settings such as the classroom or practice field (in the case of organized sports), even though these are the arenas where most of our learning and improving are supposed to occur. By focusing almost exclusively on talent and willpower, conventional approaches tend therefore to ignore what could be the most crucial factor in improvement.

Largely unacknowledged is the fact that every single human undergoes an enormous amount learning before reaching the age of five. And while it is true that even young children exhibit differences in abilities that we often associate with talent, it is also true that such abilities could not emerge without the gradual refinement of sensorimotor skills—otherwise known as learning—that occurs during early childhood. This is of course not to say that learning and improving end on your fifth birthday. There are enormous possibilities for learning throughout our entire lives—all the way, in fact, until we die—and it is the great ones who capitalize most fervently on these possibilities.

Even child prodigies like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart aren’t simply born playing piano concertos. While they appear, within particular domains, to be more advanced than their peers, their abilities do not emerge out of thin air as genetic determinists would have us believe, or operant conditioning as behaviorists would lead us to think, but rather a complex interplay of genetics and the environment in which the individual plays a crucially active part. Prodigious ability therefore, has as much to do with self-directed exploration—in a word, learning—as it does with either genetics or environmental conditions. And this means that anyone, including a prodigy, who wants to extend her learning to a master level, must spend several years beyond early childhood crafting her skill. Mozart himself did not complete his first masterwork until the age of 21—that is, after having spent over 15 years behind the piano and over 10,000 hours meticulously exploring music. So while he did exhibit precociousness in the field of music, he would never have come close to achieving what he achieved without having spent countless hours exploring and learning—even well after his fifth birthday.

Likewise, Michael Jordan who was viewed as the NBA’s most dominant player for several years, put himself through a rigorous self-learning program just to make his high school varsity basketball team (he was cut the first year he tried out). Despite this, little press is given to the extensive and painstaking explorations he undertook in his teens—explorations without which he would never have come to dominate the world of professional basketball.

Thus, in two renowned masters, Mozart and Jordan, we see a world of learning that has occurred in at least two stages: 1) early childhood and 2) some time later in life. Neither stage, however, has been given much attention.

Propensity and circumstance (otherwise known as luck)

Each of us is wholly unique, and our genetic inheritance lends powerfully to the adult we grow up to be. Yet as mentioned above, genetics is merely a foundation from which any organism develops. Along with DNA, innumerable circumstances contribute to the shaping or our person and thus, the honing of our so-called talents. And aside from circumstances under our direct influence, there are ones over which we have little or no say, such as who our parents are, where we attend primary school (if we attend school at all), or whether or not we have access to a piano or a basketball during our formative years.3 Without a supportive environment a person’s talents may never have the chance to emerge, much less flourish.4 Thus, even if we are supposedly predisposed from birth to conduct the Vienna Symphony Orchestra or lead a basketball team to its first national championship, external circumstances may prevent either from occurring. If Mozart, for example, were born into serfdom, it is unlikely that he would have played a single instrument, much less rocketed up the short list of “world’s greatest musicians.” This is for the obvious reason that serfdom does not generally afford opportunities for learning music. Similarly, if Jordan were born to upper middle class physicians, he would more likely have ended up working for the AMA than setting records in the NBA.5

Of course, highlighting external conditions does not exclude the fact that from birth, all of us exhibit propensities toward certain areas of development. Innate talent, in this regard, exists. Yet it cannot be extricated from learning, which at each and every moment of life—from birth all the way to death—continues to shape the way we move, sense, think and emote. Thus, no matter what so-called talents we exhibit we can continue to learn and thereby experience profound and often surprising changes throughout our lifetime.6 This means that while it remains nigh impossible to alter either our DNA or the social class into which we were born, we nonetheless have the option of learning at each and every moment in life. Learning, or lack thereof, consequently plays a never-ending role in the growth, decline, or stagnation of our abilities and our person as a whole.

Trying harder leads to…

If trying hard didn’t work. Trying harder is doing more of what didn’t work. -Charles Eisenstein

Even if we ignore the influence of so-called talent and circumstance we might conclude that over-achievers like Mozart and Jordan try harder than most people and this is why they are able to reach such great heights. Yet learning/improvement and trying to learn/improve are not equivalent. Ironically, trying harder often sabotages learning and improvement because it often means doing more of the same, or in other words, practicing old habits—whether physical, mental or emotional. From a neurological standpoint, trying harder can mean traversing already well-established neural pathways rather than creating new ones. In simple terms, trying harder is often doing more of what you are already doing. And while it may lead to some gain, your improvement will be minimal compared to what is possible. Trying harder then can be equivalent to trading the certainty of minimal improvement for the possibility of maximal improvement. It is in a sense, bypassing possible discoveries and thereby mortgaging your potential in order to experience instant (and often meager) gains. It is like stepping ever harder on the gas pedal while never leaving first gear: beyond a certain speed, adding more gas will do little but yield more strain on the engine.

What is learning?

When the mind is confronted with more information than it can absorb, it looks for meaningful and usually confirmatory patterns. As a consequence, we tend to minimize evidence that is incongruous with our expectations, causing the dominant worldview to bring about its own reaffirmation. -Frank Sulloway, Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives

Many people make the mistake of confusing information with knowledge. They are not the same thing. Knowledge involves the interpretation of information. Knowledge involves listening. -Henning Mankell, “The Art of Listening,” New York Times, Sunday, December 11, 2011

From a conventional standpoint, learning is something we do in school, and something that we can measure through standardized testing. It is something we exhibit by knowing the correct answer to the question, as exemplified by what happens on TV quiz shows. It is, in short, an accumulation of facts, otherwise touted as knowledge.
Yet what is the nature of this knowledge? Is it absolute and binary, as normally presented in classrooms, on television, or by the State Department? If so, how could the world have been flat yesterday and round today? Will it take on another shape tomorrow?

If we abide by convention, the more we supposedly know, the less room we have for uncertainty, wonder and doubt. And this can lead to unforeseen problems. When Galileo proposed a helio-centric world, for example, the all-knowing (and therefore, “learned”) Vatican knew, with no amount of wavering, that he should be put under house arrest. Likewise, when the New York Times, Fox News, or US President declares into existence “weapons of mass destruction,” politicians “know” without hesitation that the correct response is to carpet bomb another Third World country.

The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty…we take it for granted that it is perfectly consistent to be unsure—that it is possible to live and not know. -Richard Feynman

From a Feldenkrais standpoint, learning relies on wonder, curiosity and uncertainty. Each member in this triumvirate serves as a visa into unchartered territory, thereby allowing us to assume new and unpredictable positions—whether physical, emotional or intellectual. Learning from this perspective, means leaving behind certainty so that we can become more aware of ourselves, and consequently, the world around us.

From a neurological standpoint, learning is the process of creating new neural pathways through play and exploration—both of which by definition involve wonder, curiosity and uncertainty. Learning from this perspective happens only minimally in conventional educational settings, all of which tend to extinguish play, exploration, curiosity and uncertainty in favor of imitating and performing. In this manner, conventional settings tend to trade uncertainty for certainty, exploration for rote, imagination for being “right,” and learning for obedience.

Learning and constraints.

Feldenkrais trainer, Frank Wildman, often points out the difference between what a student needs to learn in order to serve the purpose at hand, and what she is able to learn. The two are rarely congruent and the conventional approach of holding tightly to the former generally confounds the majority of students. This is because what the teacher thinks the student needs is not necessarily what the student truly needs at any particular moment. And what she truly needs relates to how she is able to process information into useful knowledge—how, in other words, she is able to make sense of the virtually limitless amount of information both impinging on and available to her at any time.

Whether consciously or unconsciously employed, constraints are necessary for learning to occur in any field, from fine arts to theoretical physics to basketball to plumbing. In the broadest sense, constraints are the particular conditions under which we find ourselves (or our test subjects) at any given moment. Yet the conditions need not be accidental. We can deliberately choose our constraints as do researchers attempting to test out hypotheses, or children inventing rules to a game. Choosing our constraints narrows the field of virtually limitless information so that researchers, children, and the rest of us, can more easily make sense of and thus, organize incoming information. It follows that constraints are precisely what make both research and learning possible (and what prevent games from turning into random acts of chaos).

Albert Einstein, who fundamentally altered the Western view of the science, nature and indeed, the entire cosmos, could not have done so without carefully choosing his constraints. His creative genius could in fact be attributed to both a consistent and eminently novel use of constraints. One of his most famous thought experiments, for example, involved “constraining” the speed light to a constant velocity, thereby allowing for variations in time, space and mass. Einstein’s constraint led, over the course of ten years, to the Special Theory of Relativity.
Einstein is not alone.

Progress in any field relies on the continual invention or identification of new constraints, the illumination of old, forgotten ones, and the discarding of ones that no longer serve the purpose at hand.7 Progress in human development also relies on the ability to use, change and (re)invent constraints. Our use, in fact, begins at birth as each infant adheres assiduously—albeit unconsciously—to the constraints laid down by Newtonian physics (or God, depending on your point of view). Doing so makes it possible, over the course of months, for each child to learn how to crawl, stand and eventually walk.

What do you do in Feldenkrais?

In the Feldenkrais Method, practitioners carefully choose among a virtually limitless number of constraints in order to better address what students are able to learn at any given moment. And when students run into difficulties, practitioners will often alter the constraints, seeking a better match between their needs and abilities. In this manner, practitioners afford students more opportunities for discovery and learning.

Concretely, Feldenkrais classes normally involve slowing down and exploring movement to the degree that students can sense and therefore move themselves in fundamentally new ways. This process of methodical exploration and learning is what practitioners of the Method refer to as gaining awareness through movement. And the approach stems from the notion that learning is the process of becoming aware of what a moment ago, we were not aware of. Learning, from this perspective, could be considered the act of increasing awareness.

In light of this, Feldenkrais could be considered the art of bringing awareness to the process (i.e. exploring), rather than simply focusing exclusively on the end result (i.e. mimicking or performing). From this standpoint, improvement is not so much proportional to the amount of effort you exert or the number of facts you can recite, as it is to the amount that your awareness increases each time you explore a particular activity. By awareness, I am speaking of what you actually sense and feel in your body. I am speaking, in other words, of an increase in sense-ability. And because sense-ability generally increases with diminishing effort, improvement normally occurs most rapidly when you exert less effort rather than more. You could consequently say that improvement is inversely proportional to the amount of effort you exert. And from this standpoint it would be more apt to say, as Feldenkrais Practitioners often do, “No pain, more gain.”

Of course, this is not to say that you should never try harder, but rather that doing so as we are taught—that is, exclusively and therefore without attending to sense-ability—strictly limits improvement. And this brings me to the crux of the matter: if the greatest improvement occurs through increasing sense-ability, then it behooves us to make increasing sense-ability rather than increasing effort our main focus.

Learning can be involved in any activity

The aim is a body that is organized to move with minimum effort and maximum efficiency, not through muscular strength but increased consciousness of how it works…What I am after is more flexible minds, not just more flexible bodies. -Moshe Feldenkrais

“Improve at what?” you might ask. Anything. When you bring awareness to process, you instantaneously create new neural pathways outside the realm of habit. Over time, you will likely improve in ways that you never imagined possible and in places that you might never have considered (and by the way, imagination tends to be largely constrained by shared cultural values—but I’ll save this discussion for another article). It doesn’t matter who you are or where your so-called talents reside.

Feldenkrais and TMJ: The Mayo Clinic Gets It Wrong.

About 30 minutes ago, I read a statement on the Mayo Clinic website that noted:

“Severe TMJ disorders may need to be treated with dental or surgical interventions.” (From: Mayo Clinic)

That’s a simple statement that few would take issue with. And it seems to meet the unconscious expectations that many of us have, such as “Long term pain in body means surgery may be necessary.” As I have written previously on this blog, there is a great deal of research to suggest that pain symptoms do not always have a structural cause and it has been demonstrated that many people with defined “causes” do not necessarily have pain symptoms (See: Think Your Pain Symptoms Are Caused By a Structural Problem?)

However, the Mayo Clinic’s assertions are somewhat shocking because in the case of TMJ problems, there isn’t any reliable evidence that surgery or dental implants work for TMJ pain. Research organizations such as the NIH have repeatedly stressed that there is little evidence supporting surgery. For example,

“There have been no long-term clinical trials to study the safety and effectiveness of surgical treatments for TMJ disorders. Nor are there standards to identify people who would most likely benefit from surgery.” (From: NIH)

If you want more detail, I did a post about TMJ and Dental devices on my blog that promotes my Feldenkrais TMJ program. For those of you who do Feldenkrais-related work or are interested in doing so, using Feldenkrais for TMJ meets all of the suggested requirements put out by the NIH and NIDCR. Namely, that treatments should be

1) Conservative and reversible

2) Customized to a client’s special needs.

And treatments that can cause permanent changes in the bite or jaw should be avoided.

Even more to the point: “Simple self-care practices such as relaxation techniques, stress reduction, and biofeedback are often effective in easing TMJ symptoms.”

Carl Ginsburg: As Incoherent As He Wants To Be

Several months ago, I came across an article posted by Carl Ginsburg on Feldscinet.org. It was an article optimistically entitled, “Epistemology For The Feldenkrais Method.” I began reading the article and laughed. It sounded like it came from some pretentious postmodern philosophical treatise or a random sentence generator that can create plausible yet meaningless sentences from just a few seed words. Not quite being in the mood to deal with yet another confused thinker in the feldenkrais world, I clicked away.

I came back to Ginsburg’s writings just a few days ago only to find them gone! Or more accurately, hidden behind a firewall. FeldSci is presumably about sharing research ideas and making connections, but much like the FGNA itself, it chooses to hide its content behind a long application and approval process. Good luck with that. Few people know about Feldenkrais. Virtually no one outside of the Feldenkrais community knows of Feldsci. Are people going to give away their sensitive information to Feldsci? For what? To read an article on a method they have never heard of, by an author that they don’t know? Not likely. But such is the wisdom of FeldSci. Yet another exclusive Feldenkrais club that no one wants to join.

Ginsburg’s Epistemology

I managed to find a copy of Carl’s article that had been posted on the International Feldenkrais Federation website: http://iffresearchjournal.org/volume/4/ginsburg. After reading his often incomprehensible and poorly implemented ideas, I realized that perhaps it is good that FeldSci is hiding its content. Below is one of Carl’s paragraphs. He’s describing a Feldenkrais session:

“The experiential consequences of the lesson while personal to her situation and expressed in relation to her path in life in feeling terms was not an accidental outcome of the lesson. Observably, the shifts in her structure and functioning as measured by visual and touch observation at the end of the lesson, led me to predict to myself that she would have a different self perception and self feeling as a consequence of the lesson. The lesson itself was predicated on my ability to make precise contact with her in such a way that the small movements I made in this contact would evoke in her the necessary neuro-muscular and structural skeletal shifts that were necessary to a resolution of her discomfort.”

Although one can make a certain kind of vague sense out Carl’s writing there is nothing remotely scientific nor specific about it. He gives the appearance of wanting to sound scientific by using scientific sounding language that one might find in a research article: “experiential consequences” “observable” “measured by” “to predict” etc. And he also throws in some language that one might use when operationally defining what one is studying: “self-perception” “precise contact” “skeletal shifts” – except without the definition part. Carl Ginsburg defines none of his terms, is measuring nothing, and is essentially writing in his own private language.

What is Carl attempting to do in his article? He writes:

“What I am trying to point out here is that the work I do in teaching through my hands or in classes for Awareness Through Movement (ATM) is a precise art and perhaps even a science.

Really??? How does Carl’s ill-defined paragraph above point out that what he is doing is a “precise art”? How? For starters we would need to know what the term “precise art” means to Carl Ginsburg. He doesn’t tell us. It’s impossible to understand what he is writing about without more detail. His description of his Functional Integration and ATM sessions as “perhaps even a science” is bizarre. Does he think that the Feldenkrais Method is a science? Interesting. “Feldenkrais: The New Science.” It does have a nice ring to it. But Feldenkrais pulls and uses ideas from many different scientific disciplines. It is not a science in and of itself. Carl might have a different view but he presents no argument or data that would back up his assertion

Carl goes on to say:

“How do you evaluate “a return to my home” and “a feeling of gladness”? How could an outside observer evaluate the precision of my touch without personally feeling what I can do and corroborate that my feeling sense is in fact precise in the way I claim.”

At this point, he seems to have the beginning of an answerable question. A damn good question – how can you scientifically evaluate a session? What are the standards that would apply? Unfortunately, he doesn’t answer it. Nor does he give any indication that he made any real attempt to do so. And I don’t mean talking about it nor thinking about it. I mean roll-your-sleeve’s-up and get-to-work action.

Literature Review

One way to answer the question Ginsberg poses is to take stock of the information that he has or is willing to gather. To start with, he could categorize his data source. In this case, the data are a particular student’s verbal descriptions of the outcomes of a feldenkrais session: “A feeling of gladness” “a return to my home.”

What do you do with those types of verbal descriptions? You start with a literature review and see what has already been done. You review published research to get a sense of how self-reported verbal statements are viewed in particular scientific communities. When are self-reports considered valid data? How have research studies using self-reports been conducted? Are other types of data that could be included such as scales and questionnaire? What are the limitations and benefits of such a study? How have they been conducted? Armed with this type of information Carl could begin to design a research study or case report and begin the process of doing research.

But unfortunately such a practical course of action eludes Carl Ginsburg. Or perhaps he’s just too lazy to do the work required. What he does instead is write nearly 8 pages of a mishmash of scientific name dropping, definitive sounding but illogical statements about the nature of science and reality, none of which he bothers to support with any type or rigor or indeed, coherent logic. In fact, rather than attempting a practical, research-based way of answering his question, he immediately goes into the world of the abstract:

“Are the standards of classical scientific investigation and the accompanying model of epistemology adequate to the task of dealing with the high level of complexity exhibited by living organisms?”

Well, quite frankly, who the hell knows the answer to that question? Can it really be addressed in an 8-page paper? Assuming Ginsburg could come up with a reasoned explication of what he means by “classical scientific investigation” and “epistemology”, there is perhaps an answerable question within his vague wording. But even then the answer to his question will come out of the doing. And that doing will likely consist in hundreds of studies conducted over decades by scientists in a variety of fields. Might it not be better for Carl to start with his original question about how to evaluate statements from a student and conduct a specific research study? Does answering the original question really require understanding and theorizing about classical scientific investigation?

But rather than clarifying his muddied question or getting back to his original one Carl goes even deeper down the rabbit hole, delving now into quantum mechanics:

“Classic scientific epistemology established a norm of scientific investigation that very successfully dealt with questions of pre-quantum physical science where clear-cut cause-effect relationships exist.”


“In physics, the discovery of atomic level phenomena has led to re-assessments of the notion of cause and effect and the understanding of the nature of physical entities.”

I believe – though it’s hard to tell with such muddled writing – that Ginsburg is referring to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which states that it is impossible to determine with great accuracy (and at the same time) both the position and momentum of any given electron or other subatomic particle. This fact has often been misconstrued to mean that causality and determinism are dead in physics and in the world at large. Essentially, the argument goes, “if you can’t know something simple like the exact position of an electron at a certain time, then linear cause and effect is dead.” On the contrary. There are areas in which using simple cause and effect thinking can be considered useful. For instance, when building a bridge, or a car. Perhaps these are the areas that Carl alludes to when he mentions “pre-quantum physical science”? It’s hard to know.

But cause and effect is not the issue. Not by a long shot. Quantum mechanics is not about whether cause and effect is useful or not or where it applies. Ultimately, the benefit of quantum mechanics is that it is highly predictive. It has been a resounding success and has allowed physicists to make greater and greater predictive statements about the physical world. I’m certainly no expert on quantum mechanics. I’m not even willing to call myself an amateur at understanding it. But a even a 30-second search on google of university websites and technology companies shows that it has many practical uses from nano technology to creating new and useful substances for engineering and computing, to “quantum tunneling” which has been used as a way for flash memory chips (found in USB drives and computers) to erase their memories.

The question though, is why Carl Ginsberg mentions quantum mechanics and what it has to do with his original assertions that Feldenkrais is both art and science and – in his view – hard to validate scientifically? Who knows! Not willing to tie together his thoughts, he moves on – yet again – to another topic. This time to a whole series of statements about how scientific ideas change based on new data, the meaning of those data and the particular worldview and assumption of groups of scientists.

This is new information to Carl Ginsburg?! He’s never taken a course in nor studied the history of science? What is new is his bizarre interpretation of the process of scientific change. There is, he states

“…is a myth of scientific proof that hides the question of interpretation.”

I was not aware of this myth. In fact, I can find no mention of it anywhere except Carl’s writing. Perhaps being such a cutting edge and original thinker he has created a new paradigm in the history of science. This “myth” of scientific proof is so pernicious that it has led to an “egregious” error:

“As an example, the drive in current medical practice is to find the nirvana of exactitude through data. This particular attempt at hard science can have unexpected consequences. Most egregious at the present is the near universal reliance on hard measurable data to carry out diagnosis and treatment. The attempt here is to eliminate the human observer and thinker.”

First off, let me say in no uncertain terms that Ginsburg’s assertion of “universal reliance” on hard data in medical practice is wrong. He is 100% wrong. What he is speaking to is something called “Evidence Based Medicine.” It has only been around since the 1990’s and it is in no way universally used. Do a quick search on google scholar, a university database or the web and you will see this very quickly. Various researchers estimate that 50 to 60% of medical practice is not based on research and is often based on concepts with very little or no evidence. That hardly qualifies as universal reliance. And in my view it is a tragedy. In an online article, Professors Kay Dickersin, Sharon E Straus, and Lisa A Bero, ask us to imagine a world without evidence based medicine. (article download) Here’s what they imagine:

“Most women with early breast cancer would still be undergoing mastectomy instead of lumpectomy and radiation. Now they can choose. Many babies born prematurely would still be dying from respiratory distress syndrome, not having the advantage of a mother who took corticosteroids or of being given surfactant themselves. Pregnant women in Boston might still be taking diethylstilbestrol to prevent miscarriage, on the enthusiastic recommendation of well respected local experts, with the result that many of their children would be developing reproductive abnormalities and cancer. A boy with asthma might have his treatment changed every six weeks as new drug samples are dropped off at his doctor’s surgery. The choice of drug to help prevent a second fracture in an elderly woman might be made on the basis of television advertisements. Finally, without evidence based medicine, precious health resources might have been spent unnecessarily.”

Is this something that Carl Ginsberg is in support of? Apparently so. Why? It’s hard to tell. Perhaps, since he can’t design research studies that demonstrate the efficacy of various ideas labeled, “Feldenkrais,” then by god science must be epistemologically flawed. All of it! Let’s just throw it out!

Contrary to Ginsburg’s claims Evidence based medicine (EBM) it is not something that is just about data and it is not trying to “eliminate the human observer and thinker.” According to one of the pioneers in evidence based medicine, Dr. David Sackett

“the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of the individual patient. It means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research.” Sackett D, 1996: http://www.bmj.com/content/312/7023/71.extract

EBM does have a role for clinicians and no one is trying to “eliminate the human observer and thinker.” Where did Carl come up with that idea? It certainly wasn’t by doing any research. As with quantum mechanics, in EBM I’m no expert. Not even an amateur. And there are of course, alternate views about EBM. Many are upset about it and think that it is unnecessarily restrictive. Many have recognized that it can be impossible to implement as when a disease or disorder (and yes, A METHOD) has not been studied and there is no evidence-based treatment to consider.

But Carl doesn’t bother with nuanced distinctions. Perhaps because he didn’t bother to look in the real world for evidence. Nor does he bother to quote ideas that contradict his and deal with those ideas. He wants to engender research? It might be useful to actually do some. I have done something here that Carl Ginsburg, PhD, Certified Feldenkrais Trainer apparently feels no need to do. I have attempted to verify what I know and speak. Not in broad generalizations but contextualized with any evidence that I can find. Is it too much to ask that a “Feldsci” author and “Feldenkrais Trainer” do the same?

The idea of contextualization is critical. A fact that Ginsburg seems to know, but not understand. For example, he points to the work of E.L Gendlin who wrote:

“Science does not include its context. One result of this is that when it has a satisfactory analysis, it finds no reason to pursue the existence of anything it has not found. Then it claims to know all the factors.”

Now we are really going of the deep end. This is amazing. Science does not include its context? Ok, then. What is the context for that statement? Can we have some examples? Gendlin is accusing the scientists of making broad, sweeping generalizations about the world, ignoring how local contexts, beliefs, assumptions, the interpretation of data (etc.) can affect those generalizations. I’m guessing that there are many that do. But there are many scientists in many fields, who operate under different methodological constructs and who can view a set of data and come up with different ideas about that data. Carl himself cited several in his article. Contextualism can be found in many places. Different viewpoints can and do bump against each other as scientists attempt to come up with coherent explanations or a way of dealing with – or rejecting contradictions. Context for many scientists is part and parcel of the work that they do.

But what I find most amazing about Gendlin’s assertion is that he is making the mistake that he accuses scientists of making. By stating, “science does not include its context” he is making a sweeping, broad generalization about the world, ignoring how local contexts, beliefs and assumptions effect his own generalization. Gendlin does not include the context for his own assertions about science, making the same logical mistake that he accuses others of making. In other words, Gendlin’s reports on scientists are to be accorded factual status, while scientists’ reports on what they do are not. Such arrogance. Not to mention incoherence. This is hardly an advancement in thinking or a new paradigm.

Shall I keep reading?

At this point, I had a difficult time reading the rest of Ginsburg’s article. Though I did read it many times. To me, he has lost any credibility as writer and thinker. He does not tie his ideas together. He often distorts or simply does not understand research that he cites and fails to cite research when he should. And his message is deeply confused. He wants to make the case that science cannot help document what feldenkrais does:

“Is there any way to establish public validity? As long as “experts” insist on a standard epistemological process, it appears not possible. I contend this standard is both limited in its application, and such insistence a political maneuver to protect the socially agreed upon consensus. But worse, I contend that following a fixed protocol and standard procedure would fail to achieve consistent results.”

Got that? In his view, science isn’t likely to help. So what to do? Make recommendations of what kind of scientific studies to do!

“First we need to document our work with video, interviews, follow up, postural assessment, etc. We need to analyze our better lessons and keep notes about what seemed to succeed. A lot of material from the training groups and individual practice is already available even though it has not been used for formal evaluation. We can learn to use this material in a way that expands our understanding. For example, noting how the practitioner may use an unusual position and try it out to see what effect it has and then compare with alternatives. Second, we need to train ourselves to observe the material and find other expert evaluators to find out what can be seen in the documentation.”

Why do we need to do that? What case has Carl made? Without a proper context, it’s impossible to understand what he is saying. He uses words like “postural assessment” and “formal evaluation” that are not grounded in any specific methodology that would make them understandable. Different scientific fields have different meanings for the terms that he uses. Scientists in those fields would interpret them with their own field-specific meanings. They would use differing methodologies to study them. As for his admonitions to “train ourselves to observe the material” and “find other expert evaluators” they are so vague as to be completely vacuous.

If FeldSci’s mission is to publish articles such as the one Carl Ginsburg wrote, I don’t envision the organization being taken any more seriously than the Feldenkrais Guild. And I have to wonder why Carl’s article was published at all. Because he’s a trainer? Because he knew Moshe personally? According to the FeldSci website, Carl is a “Gold Sponsor” of the organization, giving them a donation between $2500 – $4900. Perhaps they published his article just to say, “thanks for the donation!” Whatever the reason, publishing that kind of incoherent, unsubstantiated writing isn’t going to help anyone.

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Frank Wildman: Learning Is The Missing Link

I spent a considerable amount of time last month scanning documents and books and such into my computer, getting ready for my cross-border move. In the process, I came across an article that Frank Wildman published in the Physical Therapy Forum called, “Learning – The Missing Link In Physical Therapy: A Radical View of the Feldenkrais Method.” I was told that someone in the field of Physical Therapy, called the article “Satanic.” I find that rather humorous. Here’s a brief sample of the article:

“Today, there are a large variety of techniques available in physical therapy and many diverse schools of thought brought to bear upon the patient population. However, the many theoretical and clinical inconsistencies and occasional discrepancies between techniques point up to a lack of agreement as to what basic principles of human functioning underlie effective treatment. I observe an unfortunate lack of any integrated, comprehensive theory pertaining to the function of the brain and body that could include all modalities of patient care.

Many therapists resolve this dilemma by using an eclectic approach. They might problem solve a particular neurological case by using some NDT here and a little PNF there, depending on the type of condition, or sometimes according to what seems to work best at the moment. This can create problems, since assumptions underlying the operational models of PNF about how the brain actually functions are quite different than the models used for NDT. It is as though there are two different brains with mutually exclusive principles of operation in the same patient’s head.”

And later:

“In order to develop a conceptual framework to integrate the current procedures in Physical Therapy, a model must be developed that would include all aspects of human functioning from motion to emotion. As is the current focus in physics, there is a need to discover a unified “field theory” to encompass all the types of clinical cases that are worked with piecemeal in the hospital and clinic today.

At the heart of this more potent conceptual framework for physical therapy should lie the recognition of not only the enormous capacity for learning that exists in the human being but also the overwhelming need for it.”

Though the article is over 20 years old, it’s still an interesting read. The ideas in the article could be extended to psychology and medicine and a variety of other fields. Hell, you could even take a look around the larger Feldenkrais communities and apply it there as well. I don’t know where Frank stands on the issues now, or even if he considers them at all, but here’s a link to the article if you want to view the pdf: Wildman Learning Feldenkrais. You can also find the full text version on Frank’s website: Radical View of the Feldenkrais Method

Enjoy – Ryan

Science is an essentially anarchic enterprise…

Paul Feyerabend

Paul Feyarabend

[and this] theoretical anarchism is more humanitarian and more likely to encourage progress than its law-and-order alternatives. – Paul Feyarabend, Against Method (Fourth Edition), page 5.

“The idea that science can, and should, be run according to fixed and universal rules, is both unrealistic and pernicious. It is unrealistic, for it takes too simple a view of the talents of man and of the circumstances which encourage, or cause, their development. And it is pernicious, for the attempt to enforce the rules is bound to increase our professional qualifications at the expense of our humanity. In addition, the idea is detrimental to science, for it neglects the complex physical and historical conditions which influence scientific change. It makes our science less adaptable and more dogmatic: every methodological rule is associated with cosmological assumptions, so that using the rule we take it for granted that the assumptions are correct.”
Outlines of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge.

Increasing our professional qualifications at the expense of our humanity? Sounds familiar. Guild dues are going up. Renew soon.

Feyarabend is the exception that demonstrates that not all scientists are myopic brain-dead idiots. Just most of them.

Feldenkrais Research

I just received an anonymous email from – I presume – a member of the public, asking me:

Where might one find and review the “30+ outcome studies that have been conducted on The Feldenkrais Method.” cited in your critique of Dr. Gorski?

I no longer have a complete list of Feldenkrais Research, as my initial compilation is at least 3 years out of date: Feldenkrais Research Archive and I don’t currently have the time or desire to keep up to date on the latest research in that area. To be perfectly blunt, I find outcome research boring and relatively unhelpful from both epistemological and philosophical perspectives. Yes, you can reduce your view of a phenomena to that which can be quantified and replicated and yes you can do that over and over again coming up with some type of verbal-semantic roadmap to guide your belief. But have you really learned anything? Has it changed your ability to sense, feel, and act?

On the other hand – I do understand why people want to do it and I applaud their efforts. It’s just not my cup of tea.

If you do want to get a sample of the research go to PubMed and search for the term “Feldenkrais”:


You will find about 40 studies. It’s not all of the studies on the Feldenkrais Method, but it’s a start. Beyond that, I cannot be much help.

Feldenkrais Google Search Trends (Deceiving!)

Feldenkrais Search Trends

I was initially puzzled – and annoyed – at the chart below. It show a 5-year long decline in the number of people searching on Google for the word, "Feldenkrais." Surely that can’t be right???

The Graph is deceiving. What it is actually showing is a change in search habits. People, in general, are doing much more complex searches on Google. Their knowledge of Feldenkrais may actually be increasing and they are doing more knowledgeable and specific searches.

This is the graph for the same period as above. But for the search “Feldenkrais Therapy”

And for “Feldenkrais Exercises”

Feldenkrais Practitioner:

Here’s some other Feldenkrais search terms that are increasing:


1.    feldenkrais übungen     +160%
2.    feldenkrais exercises     +110%
3.    feldenkrais therapy     +110%
4.    feldenkrais practitioners +100%
5.    feldenkrais méthode     +90%
6.    feldenkrais paris     +80%
7.    feldenkrais metodo     +70%
8.    methode feldenkrais     +70%
9.    feldenkrais institute     +60%

The biggest trends are likely not showing because the numbers are too small for google to bother tracking. These are the long keyword searches such as the ones below. Below are actual searches that people typed to reach this blog. There are about 500 unique searches that people type every month:

feldenkrais for carpal tunnel and thoracic outlet
feldenkrais lesson for the core
feldenkrais lessons online free
feldenkrais exercises for emotional integration
feldenkrais classes salt lake city
feldenkrais abdominal breathing, posture correction, and nerve glides
copyright feldenkrais free atm nagy
cervical degenerative disc disease feldenkrais
bone mineral content related to bone healing
alexander technique opinions about rolfing
david zemach-bersin training in berkeley bad teacher Ha ha!!
power of feldenkrais on you tube
amherst training videos on youtube    
the work of moshe feldenkrais cd/dvd
the goal of feldenkrais to move in any direction
sample atm mp3 feldenkrais
moshe feldenkrais quote intimacy choice
moshe feldenkrais book self defense moti nativ
more flexible than a child lesson feldenkrais
link between rolf, alexander feldenkrais
judo: the art of defense and attack feldenkrais download


The take home message: Don’t be shy about using long sentences and blog post titles (or page titles) when you write about your work. “Feldenkrais for your grandma so she can slap the sh*t out cha mama.” That’s totally fine. You may not get many visitors, but the ones that you do get will be looking for exactly what you are talking about.

By the way: Google searches are getting longer and longer in general: Ryan Nagy: Keyword Searches

Feldenkrais Trainings: How Many Graduates Start a Practice?

Have you ever wondered how many people graduate from Feldenkrais Trainings on a yearly basis? Curious how many of those people actually start practices?

Paul Rubin’s Answer

Last month on the FeldyForum, Feldenkrais Trainer Paul Rubin stated his belief that most people who graduate from a Feldenkrais professional training program end up using the work in some type of professional context such as a Feldenkrais practice, physical therapy practice, dance practice etc.

When someone on the forum asked him where he was getting his data from, Rubin made some vague reference to a straw poll that he had conducted. I am not surprised that a trainer would want to see himself, his trainings, and perhaps the profession at large, as able to successfully launch careers in the Feldenkrais Method. However, I was stunned that Paul would simply put forth his own assertions – with no supporting evidence or data – and expect people to believe what he was saying. Several people, myself included, said as much.

Rather than owning up to the fact that he had no reliable nor meaningful data, Paul began engaging in a whole series of ad hominem attacks, many of which were directed at me. Apparently, the fact that I challenged him to provide some evidence for assertions means that I am frustrated individual, who is preaching gloom and despair – blah blah blah.

I don’t remember exactly what Paul wrote and I have since canceled my membership to the FeldyForum and can’t go back to check. But suffice it to say, that in the absence of having any evidence or reasoned response, Paul Rubin saw fit to attack me personally. In fact, at one point, Rubin refused to even speak to me directly, writing, “someone said…” and wrote that I was “claiming to be an expert.” Point taken. If you disagree with Paul Rubin, you become a nameless, faceless “other.” And being unable to meaningfully criticize my views he attacked my credentials. I am truly sorry that he is in that space. Not only does it serve no purpose for anyone and degrade both him and the method, but it in no way supports his case.

The Research Answer

After a few days, Paul did manage to find a survey done by Rob Black (currently the FGNA President-Elect) in 1997. (PDF Download: Snapshot of Feldenkrais Practice. Rob’s survey was a valiant first attempt, and does provide some very interesting data about the state of the Feldenkrais Method 12 years ago. For example, it has data on practitioners reported income and satisfaction with their work.

However, like most convenience sample studies it has major limitations. For example, it’s not clear that Rob had access to contact information for those who were not in the guild database and may not have been practicing. We don’t know how many attempts were made to contact people, some regions of the country where not represented, and overall, there is no way of saying that the study is representative of the population of Feldenkrais practitioners 12 years ago, let alone today.

Again, it’s great that the attempt was made, and I am sure at some point that FGNA (The Feldenkrais Guild of North Americal) will follow-up up. However, one study does not constitute an answer to the question:

“How many people take Feldenkrais Trainings and actually start practices?”

Who else might have an answer to the question?

The IFF’s Answer

The IFF (International Feldenkrais Federation) has been doing a great deal of work in the area of developing competency profiles and attempting to improve the practice of practitioners. In a 2008 report, they stated:

It’s sobering but true. Only a fraction of Feldenkrais training program graduates are still
practicing members of their guild five years later.

(IFF Competency Profile, p4)

Note: The full IFF competency profile can be downloaded here: www.feldenkrais.com/download/profession/IFFCompetencyProfile.pdf

How they know that “only a fraction” are practicing members of their guild 5 years later, I do not know. Though I would hope that the report, compiled by representatives of Feldenkrais Guilds worldwide, has some factual basis for the assertion. I would certainly give it more credence than Paul Rubin’s dubious assertions.

Personal attacks on my character and intelligence notwithstanding, I cannot find any reliable or meaningful data on the efficacy of Feldenkrais trainings. If anyone can send me information, published or not, please do so, or leave a comment on this post.

Ryan’s Opinion

My personal opinion, (yes, that’s right my opinion) is that many people who take trainings have no intention of becoming practitioners, even if they state that as their goal. Currently, it’s difficult to find intensive experiences of the Feldenkrais Method without going to a training. Many people realize the value of the work and – I think – take trainings because they want a deeper experience of themselves and the method than they can get in a weekly class or weekend workshop. If that is true, it represents a huge opportunity, not just for Feldenkrais trainers, but for practitioners and assistant trainers.


I’d be willing to bet that those taking a feldenkrais training for largely personal reasons would be willing to spend money for less-expensive, but equally valuable intensive workshops. That is, they might be willing to attend a 1-week, 2-week, or even month-long workshop that would allow them to go deeply into the work without having to pay for the additional costs associated with the certification process (administration costs, staffing costs etc.) In addition to costing less, the workshop could be conducted by any practitioner willing to take the plunge and could serve as a valuable pathway for more people to learn about the work. It might also appeal to a much larger segment of the population.

And one last time – the question of how many people graduate from Feldenkrais trainings and then successfully create practices? I do not know.

And neither does Paul Rubin, nor anyone else in the Feldenkrais community.

Like it or not.

cheers – Ryan

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Feldenkrais Research? Show Me The Data.

There seem to be more and more voices within the Feldenkrais community making calls for research on the method. You may know about the IFF Research Journal that has been in existence for several years. They have some useful articles. There is the “Esther Thelen Fund” whose goal is “…to foster the specific communication and coordination needed for collaborators to generate new research projects”. One of the fund’s latest projects is a website for collaboration (using outdated technology, I might add), for which Roger Russell and Pat Buchanan make a rather confused and half-hearted statement for in Growing a Community for Research. And let’s not forget David Zemach Bersin’s recently created “Feldenkrais Research Foundation.” Described as “non-profit devoted to initiating and supporting scientific research on The Feldenkrais Method.”

Gosh! It all sounds official and exciting. Surely, there must be some research coming that will fill everyone’s practice and have people banging on the doors to schedule sessions and enroll in classess.

Horaah for research!!!

Not just yet.

The problem is that no one is making specific, rational arguments for how research will help the average practitioner trying to make a living with the work. And to be perfectly blunt, I’m not convinced that any of the groups have the slightest care whether or not research is a boon to the practitioners who are in the trenches actually doing the work.

To be clear, I’m not against research. And I am not speaking to taking advantage of, and using, the huge amounts of useful research that has already been published. Rather, I am speaking about the grandiose “me too” efforts of Feldenkrais trainers and PhD’s who seem to think they can spark a revolution by publishing in scientific journals. We are a small community on a tight budget and before more money is spent on research, we need to understand the pathways to how it might help. We need to understand the costs involved. And we need to have some idea of the return on investment. We need also to compare the return – if any – to that which could be made on other endeavors, such as advertising, outreach, viral marketing, changes in access to materials etc.

Is There Data Supporting Feldenkrais Research?

In the article Growing A Community for Research, Roger Russell and Pat Buchanan attempted to make a case for research by making an assertion:

“It is true that students, practitioners, and other stakeholders would benefit from research that advances our knowledge and understanding of the Feldenkrais Method.”

“It is true”? That does not sound very scientific. Roger and Pat take it as a given that students and practitioners would benefit. Interesting. If science is the backbone of their inquiry, then let us ask them to provide some data and the basis for their hypothesis. As I used to write on the papers of my Psych 3000 (Introduction to Research in Psychology) students “the goal of science is to disprove, not to prove.” And science does not prove, it only lends evidence for or against some propositions. So let’s do a good deed and rephrase what Pat and Roger are saying, so they can attempt to be scientific in their endeavors:

“There is evidence to support the idea that students, practitioners, and other stakeholders would benefit from research that advances our knowledge and understanding of the Feldenkrais Method.”

Ok, good. Now, Roger and Pat need to show us what the evidence is. And we need some references so we can verify what they are saying. But that is only the beginning. If they can show us specific, verifiable, benefits, we need to ask who should conduct that research and how it will be supported.

Who Will Pay For Feldenkras Research?

When I was working towards a PhD at the University of Utah, I did work in research laboratories that often had budgets in excess of $250,000 per year. Think about that – a million dollars over a 4-year period to conduct research. You might ask what comes out of such a budget. I’ll tell you. It’s usually the publication of a couple of articles during the grant and a few afterward. There will likely be some conference presentations and sometimes (though rarely) a book or a monograph.

And the end result? A statement that “more research is warranted.” Research universities get grants of millions and dollars to produce research articles, the vast majority of which have little effect in their own fields, let alone in the larger world. What can we expect the various feldenkrais research foundations to spend? $10,000? $50,000? $150,000? Whatever, the amount is, it’s not enough. It has a snowballs chance in hell of making an impact. Which isn’t to say that I am against it. But let’s be clear about what we are doing and what we are up against.

And let’s also be clear about the motivations of people who produce research. It is usually their job to design and conduct studies. You’ve heard the phrase, “publish or perish”? Researchers get paid to publish. That’s what helps them get tenure, and promotions, and new grants. Which is fine. But keep in mind – they are not getting paid to help you build a practice.

In the quote above, Roger and Pat mention that we would “benefit” by Feldenkrais-based research. As you may guess by now, I am not convinced. But again, let’s be scientific here and give them a chance to make a research-based argument. Roger and Pat, what do you mean by “benefit”? Would the benefit be helping the method reach more people ? If so, which people? And how? Or are you talking about some other benefit? And how are the actions that you are taking now going to engender the specific outcomes that you hope to achieve? Please explain.

The various “foundations” are asking for support and money and yet they have not made anything other than a vague and untestable assertion that research is a good thing. And again, I ask:

Good for Who? And at What Cost?

No one has bothered to answer these questions, let alone generate specific, testable, reasearch-based hypotheses that could help us move forward in an intelligent, efficient manner. For that reason, for now, I say “Show me the data.”

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