Saybrook University Mind-Body Medicine student and Feldenkrais Method practitioner revives a critical venue for scholarly discourse.
By Cliff Smyth, M.S., Ph.D. Student
What is the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education?
Israeli physicist Moshe Feldenkrais once wrote: “Movement is life. Life is a process. Improve the quality of the process and you improve the quality of life itself.”
Those were powerful words, indeed—words that became the cornerstone of the Feldenkrais Method of somatic education. This method of learning from the lived experiences of our bodies emerged in the early 1970s at the height of the “human potential movement” in North America.
Feldenkrais’s approach to movement functioned as a catalyst, influencing mind-body practices from somatic psychotherapy to mindful yoga and dance-movement therapy. It also resulted in the professional field of Feldenkrais Method practice.
Many people who have experienced the Feldenkrais Method—through Awareness Through Movement classes, for example—have discovered how developing bodily awareness and improving bodily organization can result in less pain and greater function for a heightened sense of self-efficacy and well-being.
Why I believe the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education is important
During my term as President of the International Feldenkrais Federation (IFF, the UN of Feldenkrais organizations), I supported the creation of the Feldenkrais Research Journal, which was published for a total of four years between 2004 and 2008. It sadly fell into abeyance as the work ended up with just a few people to support it.
Feeling it is too important to lose, I recently set about finding a way to revive it. Over the span of a year and a half, I recruited a team of eight other Feldenkrais practitioners who had the academic training, research experience, and writing skills needed to bring this important journal back into print.
They are all busy professionals but made the time for this project, and for that I am grateful. As I say in the Editorial for Volume 5, “It takes a community to create a journal.”
My Saybrook Experience Helps Resurrect the Feldenkrais Research Journal
Part of what drew me to the Mind-Body Medicine program at Saybrook is how congruent it is with my work and goals as a Feldenkrais practitioner. Now I am using what I have learned from my studies at Saybrook in resurrecting this professional journal.
With the emergence of the “mindfulness” paradigm in health care, there is greater awareness of the importance of mindfulness of the body. This developing self-awareness requires changing habits of moving, sensing, feeling, and thinking.
Laura Schmalzl, at UC San Diego, and her colleagues, have put forward the construct of “movement-based embodied contemplative practices” as an important area of research in neuroscience and beyond. Catherine Kerr, at Brown University, and her colleagues, have also been doing cutting edge research into the neuroscience of embodiment and mindfulness.
We are at a point where research itself, and scholarship discussing what needs to be researched and how it can be researched most effectively, is essential for all the innovative mind-body approaches that have emerged in the last decades.
Society and the development of our field require us to document outcomes, to improve practice, and explore possible mechanisms of action. Publishing quality articles and journals is a vital project for Feldenkrais Method and similar practices. But they also need to be read. To that end, the IFF has also created a Feldenkrais Studies Database.
Find Out More About the Feldenkrais Research Journal
I invite you to have a look at the Journal. There you will find a wide range of research papers on Feldenkrais applications in health, the arts, and other fields, as well as some lively discussion on how to research somatic and mind-body practices such as Feldenkrais. You will also find interesting papers on the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of this mind-body approach.
My Editorial for Volume 5 reviews the last eight years of publishing and scholarship in the Feldenkrais Method.
I believe the return of this journal is coming at an important time in society and in health care. But we can’t do it alone. As the journal comes back to life, we also want to widen our readership—opening opportunities to contribute to people from the fields of somatic practices, psychology, and philosophy to health care and beyond.
Moshe Feldenkrais drew on the scientific method in the design of his classes. You can experience this kind of first-person research—for your own self-care—by trying a live or recorded Awareness Through Movement class today.
Cliff Smyth is founder and editor of the Feldenkrais Research Journal and a practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method at the Feldenkrais Center for Movement & Awareness in San Francisco. He is currently a student in Saybrook University’s Mind-Body Medicine program, pursuing a Ph.D.