Researching the Feldenkrais Method

What are the optimal methodologies for conducting research into the Feldenkrais Method? While there is a clear set of lessons and techniques applied across Feldenkrais trainings, there is no equivalent set of methodologies for researching the Feldenkrais Method. The question of research has become more acute with the ever-increasing number of publications referencing the Feldenkrais Method. These individual studies research the Feldenkrais Method on an ad-hoc basis, and do not describe generalizable or meta-theoretical approaches to researching the method.

Determining optimal methodologies for researching the Feldenkrais Method requires a working definition of it. One methodology may be to breakdown the components of the Feldenkrais Method for analysis. However, this approach also has its limitations, exemplified by the analogy of the well-known Indian parable of the blind men encountering an elephant. Each describes the characteristics of the elephant based on his limited information. Grabbing the tail, the first man concludes that the elephant is a rope. The second feels the elephant’s rough and knobble knee, declaring it to be a tree trunk. Feeling its writhing trunk, the third considers it to be a snake. The parable assumes an inherent referential instability arising from the limited perspective of the observer, necessitating interdisciplinary perspectives. However, the parable is especially pertinent to the Feldenkrais Method, since its field of practice in terms of first-person experience of movement and intersubjectivity is inherently resistant to positivist research methodologies associated with medical research, such as Evidence Based Medicine. In addition to a constitutive approach, research methodologies applied to the Feldenkrais Method also need to account for embodied processes related to emergent phenomena and self-organizing systems.

The Feldenkrais Method is, of course, eponymous with its founder, Moshe Feldenkrais. This is fitting, since the method he developed provides a chronicle of his life, detailed in Mark Reese’s magisterial biography A Life in Movement. This biography details the constituent components of the FM according to different stages of Moshe’s life until 1951, including: Eastern European and Hasidic background, training in the martial arts, especially Judo, Physics studies in Paris, and encounters in London with Alexander, Gurdjieff and Jacoby. Each of these components can and have been used as the basis for developing research into the Feldenkrais Method.

Many of Feldenkrais’ theoretical ideas were laid out in his various writings, including, but not limited to the two important book publications, Body and Mature Behavior and The Elusive Obvious. While these writings provide important resources for researching the FM, they do not constitute research into the method itself, in the same way that the Huang-di Nei-jing or Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor provides the basic text for acupuncture, but cannot be considered a manuscript detailing methodologies for researching acupuncture.

Arguably, exploratory research lies at the heart of the Feldenkrais Method. Comparing differences is integral to every Awareness through Movement (ATM) Lesson. Similarly, each Functional Integration (FI) session requires the practitioner to explore and validate somatic hypotheses. The kind of creative hypotheses arising in a typical FI lesson may be compared with the abductive inferential processes described by pragmatist philosopher, C.S. Peirce. For Peirce, abduction provided a kind of non-inferential reasoning in distinction from the recognized inferential processes of induction and deduction. The process of abductive reasoning works through relating a creative intuitive hypothesis based on a single occurrence to subsequent experimental validation analyzed in terms of a statistical series. Abduction is essential for the retrospective reconstruction of case from effect that occurs in clinical case-based reasoning. However, while these abductive hypotheses are essential for expansion of scientific hypotheses, by themselves they do not constitute research, but require further scientific methods of validation. In summary, while the Feldenkrais Method is very close to the field of research, it requires an explicit set of research methodologies to ground it in scientific practice and validate its practical techniques.

Cliff Smyth has described different areas of contemporary research into the Feldenkrais Method into the following categories: systematic reviews; descriptive reviews; outcomes studies (e.g., movement, body image, pain, function, quality of life and mood); mechanisms of action (e.g., neurophysiological changes, muscular changes); teaching strategies; experiential learning; and arts research (Feldenkrais Awareness Summit Presentation, 2019). Most of the research studies into the Feldenkrais Method explore its efficacy in terms of outcomes. These have been of benefit in showing value of the Feldenkrais Method in movement science and health. In the process of operationalizing an outcome and selecting a measure for a trial, many tacit assumptions are made about the nature of the phenomenon studied, while not addressing the various ways in which the Feldenkrais Method may impact that variable and measure. Moreover, outcome trials are conducted with a particular health condition or population, and are often then seen as not generalizable to other conditions or populations. Also, importantly, these kinds of studies do not cover the subtlety of the Feldenkrais Method as an experiential somatic educational and therapeutic practice. Making explicit the tacit dimension of the Feldenkrais Method will be an important aspect of determining and establishing research methodologies suitable to the Method on firm foundations.

To gather more information about the nature of the Feldenkrais Method and ways in terms of lived experience there a number of possible approaches that immediately come to mind. For example, micro-phenomenological interview techniques may provide one possible means of analyzing the lived experience of a Feldenkrais ATM or FI lesson, by the client as well as the practitioner. Additionally, correlating first-person experience and third-person neuroscience as proposed by Francesco Varela in the field of neuro-phenomenology also provides a promising methodology for the Feldenkrais Method in relation both with ATM’s and FI’s. I personally consider the Feldenkrais Method a form of psychobiology. Researching the Feldenkrais Method would, therefore, benefit from psychobiological research methodologies – a topic I hope to expand in a further Newsletter.

An important take-home message from this Newsletter is that the field of research into the Feldenkrais Method is wide-open for development. The IFF Working Group encourages the engagement of the Feldenkrais professional community with academic research. It is a core interest of the Group to help support the articulation of optimal research methodologies into the Feldenkrais Method, and develop ways of teaching research skills among the community of Feldenkrais students and practitioners. We will address some of the options for research methods in coming editions of this Newsletter and planned online events about research.

In addition, to help support this goal, the digital IFF Feldenkrais Research Journal will be publishing a special volume dedicated to researching the Feldenkrais Method, with myself as guest co-editor together with the Journal’s General Editor, Cliff Smyth. We are looking especially for papers on research approaches and methodology, for example, empirical-quantitative studies, outcome studies, qualitative studies, phenomenological approaches, consciousness studies, neuroscience and cognitive science, psychobiology, kinesiology and movement science, arts and creative practice. This special volume will mainly rely on invited paper submissions. However, if you are interested in submitting a paper for review, please see the IFF Feldenkrais Research Journal for Website submissions. I and the other Journal editors are looking forward to reviewing the journal submissions, and continuing to develop and support creative approaches to researching the Feldenkrais Method, and distributing among the broader Feldenkrais community.*

* This piece was initially published as a Headline article in the recent IFF Research Network Newsletter:

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