Science and Research for the Feldenkrais Community – Newspaper Science Nr. 1

By Roger Russell, MA, PT

Most Feldenkrais practitioners are certain that the Feldenkrais Method is effective based on their own experience in Awareness through Movement and Functional Integration as well as feedback from their clients. Given this kind of personal experience, most Feldenkrais teachers would like the Feldenkrais Method to be more widely recognized in their society. They want Feldenkrais to be taught in schools, in university programs, for sports teams, in rehabilitation clinics and other institutions.

Roger Russell, MA, PT. Training with Moshé Feldenkrais in San Francisco, Amherst and Israel (1975- 1982). A movement scientist, physical therapist and Feldenkrais trainer he is co-director of the Feldenkrais-Zentrum in Heidelberg, Germany. Since 1975 he has been intrigued by the network of ideas which stands behind the practical methods that Feldenkrais developed.  He is one of the initiators of the Feldenkrais Science Network and a leading participant in the FGNA/FEFNA symposia Movement and the Development of Sense of Self (2004) and Embodying Neuroscience (2012) as well as presenting Feldenkrais in conferences in Paris, Berlin, Oxford and Heidelberg.

The task of scientists and researchers is to utilize the tools of their discipline, be it neuroscience, biomechanics, psychology or sociology, to distinguish between personal beliefs and facts that in some manner can be observed, recorded, quantified and analyzed. This includes doing research and constructing hypotheses and explanations that can give decision makers certainty about what the Feldenkrais lessons could offer for the people their organization serves.

Science is a process of inquiry done in a community of people open to doubt and seeking knowledge that is reliable. Science stipulates, in its rules of thinking, that even the most trusted beliefs, knowledge and authorities may be questioned. Scientists are trained to observe, describe and explain in a way that requires a place for critical reflection, and testing of what seems to be certain knowledge by carefully examining their observations, which they call data. Evidence can also be generated by reflective, critical enquiry and interpretive approaches used by the social sciences.

Moshe Feldenkrais capitalized on both strategies. He attended carefully to his own experience, but he also returned to science to clarify his understanding. His method of discovery learning which emerged from this synthesis of subjective experience and objective science challenges many beliefs about how people move, how they can learn and how they can develop. As a result, many procedures of the Feldenkrais Method raise questions about the reliability and effectiveness of a method that focuses fundamentally on individual experience.

Each scientific discipline has recognized theories about the phenomena being explored. For example, organic chemistry, physiology, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, biomechanics, developmental psychology, sociology or anthropology are all relevant scientific disciplines for understanding how Feldenkrais lessons work. Each offers a different perspective about human movement and learning. Scientific training in each discipline has a different focus, different research methods, and different scientific languages. Some emphasize objective, measurable facts, others emphasize human subjectivity. Most scientists spend their working lives within a single discipline after participating in a long and demanding training.

This diversity of scientific perspectives is still based on the process of reflective inquiry that is fundamental to the scientific search for verifiable evidence. In the IFF Research Network Newsletters many authors will address this rich ground of epistemological perspectives and research methodologies. Feldenkrais teachers can turn to is this club of diverse scientists to evaluate their experience. The results can convince institutional decision makers to support to Feldenkrais teachers across many fields of human development, education, athletic and artistic performance and health. In other words, research can help establish a more secure place in society for the Feldenkrais Method.

In the future the IFF Research Network will provide a series of Newspaper Science articles for Feldenkrais teachers around the world.* It will outline in short articles many topics in science and research. For the reader unfamiliar with the language of science, research literature is hard to decipher. Therefore, in the Newspaper Science articles scientific terminology will be translated into everyday language.

Among the themes we will address are:

  • What is research and how is it done?
  • How and why research is different from public relations?
  • How are scientists trained to do research?
  • How can research answer these questions about the Feldenkrais Method:
    • Is the Feldenkrais Method safe?
    • Is the Feldenkrais Method effective?
    • How and why is the Feldenkrais Method effective?
  • How can research emerge from either a theory or an experience in Feldenkrais lessons?
  • What is a good scientific theory?
  • What is a good explanation?
  • What is the “philosophy of science”?
  • What are possible shortcomings of science itself?
  • How to read scientific literature and research reports.
  • How can science support the Feldenkrais Method in the future?

For those Feldenkrais teachers who are interested in engaging in a more academic discussion of the themes we cover, the International Feldenkrais Federation Research Working Group has initiated a IFF Research Network which you can join as members by answering our survey.

We look forward to sharing the expertise available within the IFF Research Network with our Feldenkrais colleagues around the world.

* I am referring to newspaper reports of recent scientific developments. Those articles summarize scientific fields, explain the fundamentals of that science, describe theories, highlight research results and elaborate on why they are important. The articles can be read by any interested person without scientific training. My Feldenkrais colleague, Deborah Bowes in San Francisco, is the source of this idea. See, for example: Science – The New York Times.

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