Stanley Keleman’s Formative Perspective & its Relevance to Feldenkrais Practitioners®

This is my article that was published in the Feldenkrais Professional Publication, “In Touch”:

KelemanStanleywebStanley Keleman, a pioneer in the field of Somatic Psychology for over forty years, will share his Formative perspective on human growth and development with the Feldenkrais® community at the keynote address of the Feldenkrais Method® Conference in San Mateo, CA.

It will be a wonderful opportunity to be inspired by the breadth and depth of his decades of research and embodied studies. Keleman continues to deepen and develop his formative perspective, discovering new connections between his work and modern scientific research in cellular and neurobiology and forging new dimensions of somatic understanding on how we can participate deeply and fully in forming a personal, maturing life.


There are both strong similarities and significant differences between Keleman’s Formative Psychology® and the Feldenkrais Method of somatic education. This is what provides a rich opportunity for learning. Both are grounded in science with a commitment to an educational approach toward human growth and development. Feldenkrais was deeply informed by physics; Keleman asserts that “Psychology is Biology.”

Formative Psychology views human growth, functioning, and development from a biological perspective: How does animate life function and form? We’re mostly water. We bathe in the ebb and flow of our own inner sea, in the tides of our cellular life. Beginning at the cellular level, pulsation is the rhythmic in and out of all animate life. It is an organizing principle of how life functions —gathering and extending, contracting and expanding, swelling and shrinking, lengthening and shortening. We grow in relation to this biological inheritance and we can voluntarily participate, influence, and form it as well.

Anatomy is an ever-evolving, dynamic, living, pulsatory process. “Anatomy is behavior. A change in behavior is a change in anatomy,” says Keleman. Our emotions and attitudes are behavior patterns that are a part of every move we make. Emotions are learned, habituated, and inherited behavior patterns that establish how we come to recognize ourselves, how we create meaning, shape our perspectives, and engage our world.


In the Feldenkrais Method, we often emphasize reducing our effort, whereas in the Formative approach, we differentiate the act of efforting itself. The Formative approach hovers on the anticipatory edge of executing an action, recognizing that how we shape our emotion or attitude is itself a motor behavior that informs, influences, and becomes part of our action pattern. By turning our attention toward how we shape our emotions or attitude, we enter into a visceral, subjective, personal dimension. Using voluntary muscular effort to differentiate the intensity of the shape of a behavioral pattern in distinct steps, we generate sensations, feelings and thoughts that give us feedback regarding our behavior. In turn, this informs how we frame our experience and how we can further influence our motor responses.

Connecting our actions and its feedback with our cortical understanding creates a web of experientially based understanding. We create a rich library of somatic emotional behaviors, giving us more choice in how we approach our actions and circumstances.

How is this relevant for a Feldenkrais practitioner?

The Formative perspective provides new ways to understand how humans function. It supports how we can grow new connections and dimensions in what we are already doing as Feldenkrais practitioners, as well as how we can further develop ourselves.

Emotions are part of our evolution and our inheritance. Emotions are bodily movement patterns that are a part of every move we make. As movement educators, it is very useful to pay attention to their role in how we move, learn, make meaning, grow, and develop.


For four mornings in a row starting Friday, August 30th, I will teach a series of one hour experiential sessions. We will explore how the Formative approach relates to the Feldenkrais Method. We will investigate Moshe’s four components of action: sensing, feeling, thinking and moving from a Formative framework. We will also explore other topics such as: Awareness through Movement® and Slow Attending, Dimensions of Involuntary and Voluntary Participation, and Forming a Personal Dimension.

I look forward to seeing you at the Conference!

Sonja H. Sutherland, MA, GCFP, (1997) is a Feldenkrais practitioner with over twelve years of ongoing studies in Formative Psychology®. She maintains a private practice in Berkeley and teaches workshops and retreats in the US and Europe. Sonja holds a black belt in Aikido and a Masters in Dance.

Attend Sonja’s morning class, “Experience How Stanley Keleman’s Formative Perspective Relates to the Feldenkrais Method” Friday, August 30- Monday, September 2 at 8:15-9:15AM.

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