The Feldenkrais Method® Meets Formative Psychology®

SensAbility NewsletterThis is the article Sonja wrote for publication in the Issue:61 Fall 2013 for the Feldenkrais SenseAbility Newsletter


The Feldenkrais Method® Meets Formative Psychology®

by Sonja H. Sutherland

I am very excited that Stanley Keleman, the founder of Formative Psychology®, will give the keynote address at the upcoming Feldenkrais Method Conference. It is wonderful to experience Stanley Keleman “live.” His decades of embodied studies and practice are palpable. I have been studying with him for over twelve years and each time I hear him speak I am touched by the depth and breadth of his embodied understanding. His approach is inspiring, inclusive and comprehensive. As he describes in his book “Emotional Anatomy,” “Life is a whole event and not a series of sub-systems… all life is inter-connected, springing from a common single matrix.”

In his keynote address “Voluntary Morphogenesis and Personal Evolution,” Keleman will share his view of how humans function in the context of all of life and in relation to their inheritance, culture, society, and personal participation. He will discuss how our human shapes change over time and how we can participate in the changes.

The Feldenkrais Method® and Formative Psychology are both interested in human behavior from a movement perspective, not just as a means to improve movement, but to develop as human beings on a holistic level. They are both grounded in physics and biology, yet their perspectives are significantly different.

While the Feldenkrais Method focuses primarily on how we develop and learn from a neuromuscular skeletal perspective and how our brains make maps of our movements, the formative approach also includes how we grow and develop from a cellular perspective and in relation to our visceral, fluid nature.

KelemanStanleyweb“The early pulsatory pattern of cellular growth that develops and differentiates into our individual human anatomy is the timeless inherited forming process we all share. How each of us develops a personal self by voluntarily influencing what nature has given is the concern of Formative Psychology.” -Stanley Keleman

Keleman’s formative perspective offers a different frame from which to view the Feldenkrais Method. It adds new depths, layers and dimensions to understanding how humans function.

From Static Problems to Dynamic “Inter-actions”

Moshe Feldenkrais was a scientist and a highly creative innovator who developed a dynamic understanding and approach to how we move and learn. Whereas the mainstream medical model tends to be reductionistic and linear in thinking about bodies and their parts, the Feldenkrais Method looks at the functional relationships between many parts of a person and how a person moves in multiple planes of action simultaneously. This generates a very different way of perceiving and interacting with people and their circumstances. Instead of looking at what body part hurts and trying to fix it, Feldenkrais® practitioners address how people move, how they create movement patterns that contribute to their circumstance and how to help them influence these. This shift of perspective from dealing with a static problem to engaging with our clients in their dynamic interactions gives us both, practitioner and student, the ability to actively influence ourselves, each other, and the situation in fundamental ways. This is very effective, and the ability to participate in the forming of our actions is empowering. It generates joy in the present moment and hope for a future.

Just as the Feldenkrais Method provides a paradigm shift from the traditional Western medical model, the formative perspective provides another paradigm shift in how we view anatomy, emotions and behavior. It is inspiring, affirming, and very valuable in my continued growth as a Feldenkrais practitioner.

A Multidimensional Formative Frame for Understanding Human Behavior

Stanley Keleman is a pioneer in the field of somatic psychology, with a deep understanding of what drives people’s behavior and how to help people become the driver of their actions instead of being driven. Emotions are a part of our evolution as humans. Emotions are inherited, habituated and learned. We create and influence our emotions, sometimes involuntarily and other times voluntarily, by how we shape our bodies — our structure– in relation to our involuntary pulsatory movements found in all our cells, tissues, organs, and viscera. These pulsatory movements are also found in all personal and interpersonal interactions.

The formative perspective views our emotions as bodily movement patterns that are a part of every action we take. In the formative approach we hover on the anticipatory edge of executing an action and turn our attention toward how we shape our emotion or attitude and the intensity with which we do this. We use voluntary muscular effort to actively increase and decrease the intensity of our efforting in discreet steps. This generates feelings, sensations, and thoughts that, in turn, inform how we frame our thinking, and form our actions.

The formative approach provides a way to actively participate in growing and forming an emotionally embodied, richer, more personal, subjective dimension. And for me personally, it is deeply satisfying, fulfilling, and empowering to grow and influence how I relate to myself, others, and my environment.

Just as we all have habitual ways we move through space, we also have habitual, practiced ways we organize our attitudes and emotions. In my Feldenkrais practice, the formative perspective helps me to recognize how people muscularly form their attitudes and how this influences their emotions and their subsequent actions. The formative approach provides a way to engage people somatically so they can voluntarily influence their actions. Like in the Feldenkrais Method, the formative approach is not about correcting or fixing. In fact, it isn’t even about improving how one behaves. It is about engaging people in their emotional motor behavior pattern in a way that gives them the skill to influence themselves. It is about giving them the capacity to create and make choices, not telling them what to do or how to behave. This is synergistic with the Feldenkrais Method.

As a Feldenkrais practitioner, I crave anatomically-based holistic explanations for my experientially-based understanding of how humans function. The formative perspective provides this. It provides a frame for understanding human behavior that is inclusive, comprehensive, multidimensional, specific, and precise. It adds new dimensions to my understanding of the Feldenkrais Method and provides great benefit to my Feldenkrais practice and to my personal life.


I hope you will come to the conference and enjoy Stanley Keleman’s keynote address on Thursday evening, August 29th.

I would also like to invite you to join my morning classes at the conference.

Following Stanley Keleman’s keynote address, I will be leading a series of four one-hour morning classes where you can experience directly how the formative approach relates to the Feldenkrais Method. In my series of morning classes, we will experientially investigate Moshe’s four components of action: sensing, feeling, thinking and moving from a Formative framework. We will also explore topics such as: Awareness through Movement and Slow Attending, Dimensions of Voluntary and Involuntary Participation, and Forming a Personal Dimension.

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