Whence SomaticWell?

This is my first SomaticWell blog post. I am using it as an opportunity to narrate a little about the origins of SomaticWell.

The founding of SomaticWell as a center for the application of integrative neurobiology and somatic therapeutic practices, especially the Feldenkrais Method® and play has been thirty years in the making.

I recall participating in a case discussion at the bedside of an elderly African gentleman dying from tuberculosis as a medical student at the University of Cape Town during the late eighties. Naturally in the context of a teaching hospital, the discussion centered around the clinical signs and symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis – coughing, fever, sweating, weight loss, etc. However, what was striking for me at that particular moment was the shock of witnessing a dying man. The larger social context influencing the determinants of health in then apartheid South Africa was not at all alluded to. While I have always loved medicine, I had the realization that commonly described problem of dehumanization in medicine is inherently connected with a crisis of reasoning in Western medicine.

Following my medical education, I spent the next decade reflecting and researching about the tacit-intuitive dimensions of clinical reasoning – following my hunch that clinical intuition presents an intellectual resource for the re-humanization of medical practice. The results of this period of reflection are encapsulated in my book manuscript, “Intuition in Medicine: A Philosophical Defense of Clinical Reasoning (University of Chicago Press, 2012). This book researches embodied reasoning in medicine, especially in terms of clinical intuition and Aristotelian practical wisdom – phronesis. (While incorporating analytic philosophy, and decision analysis, my philosophical approach is firmly embedded in Continental phenomenology – Edmund Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Emmanuel Levinas.)

During this period of personal exploration, I also fell down the rabbit-warren of somatic practices. In 1995, I was living in Jerusalem and was invited by a Gestalt therapist friend of mine, the late Lilith Schlesinger Baader to a weekend Bioenergetic workshop. It is safe to say that this workshop changed the direction of my life. The purpose of Bioenergetics, with roots in the psychotherapeutic work of Wilhelm Reich, is to dissolve one’s defensive body armor. Following two days of extreme movement, breath-holding, deep-breathing, and group dancing, I experienced a volcanic emotional release, including an-out-of-body experience. My personal insight from this workshop has never left me –

that for my mental and physical health I needed to continue exploring embodied processes, movement and dance.

In 2006 I participated with dance professor Sondra Fraleigh in a two-week retreat in her East-West Somatics training program in Upstate New York. This experience was both amazing and daunting! I was the only guy amongst a group of mostly professionally trained female dancers. Sondra’s incredible teaching, as well as the non-judgmental support of the group helped me to feel embraced and become more in touch with my inner self through somatic movement. This was my first exposure to the term “Somatics, referring to the first-person experience of having a body, which since then has become a life-passion. At the end of the workshop we all sat around in a circle and placed folded anonymous messages into a container. Each of us was invited to pick and read a message to the group. One person wrote, “I am a dancer!” My fellow participants – all trained dancers – assumed that I had written this message. (I hadn’t, though I might as well have done!).

Sondra’s East-West teaching also includes hands-on body work. I had never been exposed to such magical one-on-one body work practices. Every time Sondra demonstrated a technique, or elicited some incredibly subtle information, I enquired about the source of the material, and she responded that this was from the Feldenkrais Method, with which she was intimately familiar, having herself completed a four-year Guild certified training.

In 2008, I moved to Montreal to complete a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Neuroethics at McGill University. I was present at the founding Neuroethics conference in San-Francisco in 2002. The Postdoctoral Fellowship at McGill afforded me the opportunity of deepening my study of the brain, neuroscience and ethics. At the same time, I took up the opportunity to study the Feldenkrais Method in David Zemach-Berzin’s training at the New York Feldenkrais Institute. While I have explored many Somatic modalities during the past two-decades, such as Continuum and Body-Mind Cenering, at the time the Feldenkrais Method was attractive for me in terms of its well-defined structure, accessible for the average athletic person such as myself, as well as having strong intellectual roots in neuroscientific research. Working as a Feldenkrais practitioner meant that I could integrate data from neuroscience in my clinical work.

As I have emphasized in some of my own Somatic writings, the Feldenkrais Method also has strong associations with phenomenology – the philosophical method of studying conscious experience developed by Edmund Husserl. The founding of SomaticWell then brings together my personal experience as a medical doctor, as a Somatic education practitioner particularly with the Feldenkrais Method, as a philosopher of medicine and the brain. These three arenas, i.e., neurobiological sciences, somatic practices and phenomenology, together constitute the discipline of Clinical Neurophenomenology.

With the wisdom of hindsight, I can see that my personal journey over the past three decades has been to develop this discipline of Clinical Neurophenomenology.

Founding SomaticWell is the practical culmination of my own “hero’s journey,” and the beginning of an exciting new chapter. In my journey, I have been privileged to live, study, and practice in many countries – South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, France, Canada, Denmark, and most recently Israel. Each of these contexts has provided invaluable life-experience and understanding that informs the tacit background for the development of the SomaticWell approach.

One of the main purposes of this blog will be to provide a space for reflection and sharing on this intellectual and experiential approach. Reflecting my own diverse personality and interests, this blog will be both theoretical and practical, providing a space to convey concepts and subjects close to my heart and mind. In philosopher Eugene Gendlin’s words, the founder of Focusing, it will facilitate “Thinking at the Edge.”

My passionate interest childhood neurodevelopment has also led me to specialize in working with children with neurodevelopmental disabilities, especially autism. In this SomaticWell blog I shall also share insights coming out of my work with infants and children with neurodevelopmental disabilities, especially autism – applying integrative neurobiology, personalized nutrition, somatic therapies, Feldenkrais Method, play and more.

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