Ways of knowing Feldenkrais

For the past quarter-century I’ve been engaged in the practice of the Feldenkrais Method, a revolutionary approach to human development created by Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli physicist, engineer, and deep thinker about the nature of being human. Over that time the number of Feldenkrais practitioners has grown, from less than one hundred when I began to study with Moshe to several thousand now. The evolution of that community of practitioners into a coherent profession is still in process, in part because the complexity and heterogeneity of the Method makes it difficult to achieve consensus on just what it is that we do and what the profession should look like.

This series of posts will explore the question of knowing the Feldenkrais Method, from a practitioner’s point of view, or perhaps more accurately, the meta-question of understanding the ways in which practitioners might know the Method. I want to look, in particular, at the kinds of individual knowing that might usefully serve a practitioner in her practice, as well as the kinds of collective knowing that might usefully serve the practitioner community as a whole in defining the profession and in understanding the collective activity in which we are all engaged.

I do not believe there is a single best way of knowing the Feldenkrais Method, but rather that it can be understood in varied ways and from varied perspectives. Practitioners can, and do, come to different but nonetheless valid ways of comprehending the nature and practice of the work. This flies in the face of our cultural preference for unambiguous right answers, which stems largely from the contemporary mythos that science provides such answers and is the best way of knowing available to us. I’ll address that issue later by examining the epistemology implicit in that view of science, and its limitations, drawing on Thomas Kuhn’s work on The Structure of Scientific Revolution. As an alternative I’ll outline a multimodal epistemology that can support and provide legitimacy to the idea that diverse ways of knowing can peacefully coexist.

Exposure to diverse perspectives on the Method can enhance our growth as practitioners by encouraging our personal understanding to evolve and coalesce into something that resonates with and works for each of us individually,. The Feldenkrais community as a whole will be better served by fostering and encouraging diversity of understanding than by seeking to enforce consensus about the work and how it should be practiced. That seems like a pretty simple proposition on the surface, but as we look deeper the complexities become more daunting. Addressing those complexities will require reexamining and questioning some very basic assumptions about knowing that we usually take for granted. The first step will be to lay out some basic ideas and definitions.

Some basic definitions

I’ll use the term knowledge to encompass the descriptions and explanations that we construct of the world around us and our interactions with it. There are many kinds of knowledge, ranging from the kinds of clearly articulated, formalized knowledge found in textbooks to the unarticulated intuitive gestalts we all have for how the world works and how we function in it.

Knowing will refer to the processes of acquiring, having, and organizing knowledge, and a way of knowing will refer to a way of approaching those processes. An epistemology is a “theory of knowledge,” perhaps containing its own definition of what constitutes knowledge and how it can be acquired and validated. The concepts of epistemology and way of knowing are interrelated, in that any epistemology suggests a way of knowing, and any way of knowing rests on and can be seen as an instantiation of some epistemology — perhaps more than one. The difference is that way of knowing refers more to the knowing-related processes as they are applied in the world, while epistemology refers more to the rationale and justification for those processes.

The specific issues I want to address include the kinds of knowledge that might be useful to us as Feldenkrais practitioners in understanding and practicing our craft, the ways of knowing through which we might acquire and organize that knowledge, and the sorts of epistemology that might support those ways of knowing. Some of my earlier thoughts can be found in my article on “Epistemology and the Feldenkrais Method” in the IFF Academy Feldenkrais Research Journal Vol 3. That thinking has been further focused by my participation in a panel discussion on Research on the Feldenkrais Method: How Can We Know About What We Do? led by Jim Stephens at the 2008 Feldenkrais Annual Conference and by my current participation in a Guild committee on Feldenkrais continuing education and professional development.

The mindset I bring to bear has been shaped by four decades of interest in more general questions of how we human beings compose our perceptions of the world and manage our interactions with it. This interest initially grew from unease about the ways that formal methodologies were applied to the analysis of public policy choices, and led to my reservations about excessive faith in scientific methodology. Some of those earlier reservations are described in my article “‘Squishy’ Problems and Quantitative Methods,” an edited version of a talk I gave at a CIA Symposium on Analytical Methodology in 1973. Those concerns evolved into the more general interest in perception and mind-body questions explored in my book The Reality Illusion and to my study with Moshe Feldenkrais.

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One thought on “Ways of knowing Feldenkrais”

  1. Great article Ralph. The definitions are clear. I look forward to the future installments and more discussion on knowledge and knowing within the Feldenkrais Method. Hope to see you soon in Vancouver. Vita

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