What is Formative Psychology®?

People often come to my Feldenkrais office for relief from aches and pains, and to improve their mobility and functionality. Often people do not realize that their attitudes and emotions are action patterns that are an integral and fundamental part of their complex actions. Attitudes are part of every shape we make and every step we take.

Attitudes & Emotions are Action Patterns

We each develop our own unique movement signature in how we walk, talk, and gesture that is as distinct as our individual hand signature. And a fundamental part of what makes our movement signatures unique is how we shape and express our attitudes and emotions.

Helping people work directly with their own bodily attitudes empowers them to influence their reactions and to form new ways of relating to themselves and their world. This deepens self-contact and develops an inner somatic responsiveness and resiliency, providing fertile ground for learning new ways of moving and functioning.

What is Formative Psychology®?

Stanley Keleman, founder of Formative Psychology®
Stanley Keleman

Formative Psychology®, pioneered by Stanley Keleman, is a multi-dimensional somatic approach to human behavior that is rooted in anatomy and the language of the body — how we express ourselves through our gestures and the physical shapes we make. Formative Psychology addresses how we form, express, and influence our attitudes and emotions to form an inner personal dimension in our life.

Our anatomical structure is our embodiment in the world. At conception each person is given a biological and emotional inheritance but it is through voluntary effort and self-management that this constitutional given fulfills its potential for a personally formed life. We are citizens of two worlds, the embodiment we inherit and the embodiment we form through voluntary effort.

— Stanley Keleman, centerpress.com


The formative perspective and approach add depth and dimensions to my understanding of human behavior and functioning. This, in turn, informs my work with clients — how I perceive and receive my clients, and how I empower them to engage themselves in their inner self-learning, relating and forming in their lives.

Formative empowers Self-Influence

Our bodily attitudes and emotions orient and inform how we shape our perspectives, create meaning, and engage our world. The formative approach empowers people to influence how they physically shape their feelings and reactions, approach and relate to their circumstances, form their responses and their responsiveness, and form their own meaning, value and sense of identity.

IMG_1025Life pulses, Humans pulse

The formative perspective offers a pulsing understanding of anatomy as emotional behavior. While the Feldenkrais Method focuses primarily on how we learn from a neuromuscular skeletal perspective, the Formative perspective emphasizes the importance of our fluid, visceral, pulsing nature. We human beings are mostly made of water. We bathe in the pulsing movements found in all our cells, tissues, organs, and viscera. Our whole being pulses — our heart beats, our brain and every neuron pulses, all our organs, viscera, tissues and cells pulse. We pulse within ourselves as well as with others. Our pulsations give us a dynamic, flowing structure, a frame for organizing and orienting how we are in the world and provides the foundation for how we function and feel.

TahoeContemplationsVoluntary Participation empowers Self-Influence

In my Feldenkrais practice, it is very useful to help people influence how they are reacting to and approaching their physical dilemma or predicament. Using voluntary muscular effort in a process of inquiry and discovery, the formative approach engages the patterns of one’s attitudes and instinctual reactions, teaching you how to differentiate these action patterns to form richness and depth in how you relate to yourself and your life circumstance. This empowers self-influence on a very fundamental level and opens the door to deeper learning and self-forming.

Biology begets Psychology

Emotions are a part of human evolution and our biological inheritance. We are born with ways we instinctually function and reflexively react to the world around us. It is out of, and in relation to, our biological inheritance that we grow, develop, and form the personalized ways we think, feel, and behave. Our biology begets our psychology.

In our culture, we emphasize talking as a means to solve problems cognitively. While having an insight can initiate a change in behavior or provide an incentive to change, insight does not necessarily lead to a sustainable change in behavior. Everybody has in some situation “known better”, but changing behavior often requires more than a cortical knowing. It requires a shift in our action patterns, a body-based shift in how we approach ourselves, our situation, our interactions.

Linking Language to Behavior

Through my years of practice as a Feldenkrais practitioner, I have experienced again and again the potency of what I call “kinesthetic conversations”.  In these hands-on, non-verbal, body-based interactions between myself and my clients, I tap into deep inherited behaviors that resonate through and influence my clients’ functioning in many dimensions of their life. Bringing language to a multi-dimensional experience can potentially reduce learning instead of supporting the depth and breadth of its learning potential. However, Formative Psychology® provides a framework of thinking and languaging for myself and my clients that emphasizes, deepens, and supports non-verbal learning.

Thinking and languaging are actions. Just like we have habits in how we move, we have habitual ways we think and express ourselves both verbally and nonverbally. Formative Psychology helps people to differentiate their behavior patterns, including their attitudes, emotions, thinking and languaging, to form new ways of behaving and being in the world. The formative approach connects nonverbal behaviors and experiences with language that is descriptive, open-ended, generative, distinct, and non-judgmental, and provides a framework for understanding which empowers self-growth, discovery, and self-forming. The formative approach adds richness and depth to my work and empowers my clients to further connect and deepen their learning.

 Formative Exercises — Somatic-Emotional Practices

Man disappearing into the distance walking on a sandy beach close to the sea with footprints

Keleman’s formative somatic practices are invitations to participate in the fundamental forming and editing of our attitudes and emotions. Working directly with the somatic patterns of our attitudes, we generate an internal kinesthetic conversation between our immediate reactions and our voluntary participation in the forming of our responses. This allows us to influence our reactions to form new ways of perceiving, approaching, and orienting our lives and ourselves — creating a richness and depth in our behavioral possibilities.

Stanley Keleman’s formative approach taps into our inherited resources and provides a way to actively participate in growing and forming an emotionally embodied, subjective, personal dimension in our life.

Forming an Emotionally Rich Life

Through voluntarily connecting our cortical and muscular efforting, we can participate in, and influence the intensity and shaping of our pulsing, emotional selves. Over time, this grows and develops an inner somatic responsiveness and resiliency which deepens self-contact and informs how we relate to ourselves and others. The formative approach supports the forming of a personal, emotionally rich inner life of self-influence which can be shared with others.

For more information about Formative Psychology, visit Stanley Keleman’s website.

You can read my article published in the Feldenkrais newsletter: The Feldenkrais Method®Meets Formative Psychology®

click image below to see evolution animation

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