The Potent Self: A Study of Spontaneity and Compulsion

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Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc., a visionary scientist who pioneered the field of mind-body education and therapy, has inspired countless people worldwide. His ability to translate his theories on human function into action resulted in the creation of his technique, now known as the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education. In The Potent Self, Feldenkrais delves deeply into the relationship between faulty posture, pain, and the underlying emotional mechanisms that lead to compulsive and dependent human behavior. He ...

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Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc., a visionary scientist who pioneered the field of mind-body education and therapy, has inspired countless people worldwide. His ability to translate his theories on human function into action resulted in the creation of his technique, now known as the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education. In The Potent Self, Feldenkrais delves deeply into the relationship between faulty posture, pain, and the underlying emotional mechanisms that lead to compulsive and dependent human behavior. He shares remarkable insights into resistance, motivation, habit formation, and the place of sex in full human potential. The Potent Self offers Feldenkrais' vision of how to achieve physical and mental wellness through the development of authentic maturity. This edition includes and extensive Forward by Mark Reese, a longtime student of Feldenkrais, in which Reese discusses many of the important ideas in the book and places them in the context of Feldenkrais' life and the intellectual and historical milieu of his time.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The heritage of Moshe Feldenkrais proves its mettle year by year, as his original vision takes root among the thousands of practitioners and students who carry his method forward. His often brilliant turns of mind are scattered among a handful of books left to posterity. The Potent Self is one of the most important."
—Don Hanlon Johnson, Professor of Somatics, California Institute of Integral Studies; editor of Groundworks and Bone, Breath, and Gesture

"The radical roots of Moshe Feldenkrais’ Method are clearly apparent in this book, displaying how his work evolved from his concerns about the deleterious effect of family and society upon the growth and development of human beings. Mark Reese’s new Foreword beautifully traces the historical and cultural context in which the book came about, and brings to life the current relevance of Feldenkrais’ thinking of fifty years ago. The Potent Self is still potent. It is well worth reading and rereading."
—Carl Ginsburg, Ph.D., Feldenkrais Trainer

"Moshe Feldenkrais has created a towering body of knowledge. There is no other theory or practice that delves so knowingly and deeply into the relationship between the body, its reflexes, its habitual levels of muscular tension, and gravity. Feldenkrais [is] as seminal to somatics as Freud was to psychology."
—Robert Shaw, M.D., Medical Director, The Family Institute of Berkeley, CA

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781583940686
  • Publisher: North Atlantic Books
  • Publication date: 11/7/2002
  • Pages: 292
  • Sales rank: 522,935
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc., is the founder of what is today called the Feldenkrais Method. As a result of suffering debilitating injuries, Feldenkrais began an intense exploration into the relationship between bodily movement and healing, feeling, thinking, and learning. In the process of healing himself, Feldenkrais made revolutionary discoveries, culminating in the development of the method that now bears his name. There are two aspects to his method: an individual manipulatory technique of neuromotor education called Functional Integration and a group technique called Awareness Through Movement. His unique and subtle approach to facilitating human change and to improving functioning is spelled out in a number of influential books, including: Awareness Through Movement, Body and Mature Behavior, and The Elusive Obvious. Dr. Feldenkrais is also the author of a number of books about Judo and one of the first Europeans to hold a black belt in the art. Today there are nearly four thousand Feldenkrais Method Practitioners around the globe. His insights contributed to the development of the new field of somatic education and continue to influence disciplines such as the arts, education, psychology, child development, physical and occupational therapy, sports enhancement, and gerontology.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Human Capacity

Intelligence has been defined as the "ability to think abstractly, the "capacity to acquire capacity," the "adaptability to new situations," and the "ability to grasp complex relationships." Furthermore this elusive ability can be defined in many other ways—but we know of none that satisfies everybody. The ability in question is not sufficient in itself even to pass any one of the tests devised to measure it. One may have all the potential "intelligence" to enable one to think abstractly, to acquire skill, to adapt oneself to new situations, to grasp intricate relationships—and yet come to nothing. A healthy way of use of oneself is necessary to make use of any faculty. People with mediocre "intelligence" (whatever this may mean), but with a healthy drive for using it, generally manage to achieve what those with so-called superior ability could have done, but did not.

Modern psychologists seem to agree that intelligence is an inherited quality; that is, we either have it, or we do not, and we can do nothing about acquiring it. I am convinced on theoretical grounds that the inheritance of intelligence will be discredited. But at present it is of little practical consequence whether intelligence is inherited or not. The truth is, we can improve our ability to think abstractly, to adapt, and to grasp complex situations, simply because most of us have never learned to use any of these abilities to the full.

To illustrate my contention about intelligence not being an inherited quality, let us examine some other human functions, because this is the important point to keep in mind:namely, that intelligence is a way of functioning, and nothing else.

If we tried to find out whether riding horses is an inherited quality or not, it would depend entirely on the kind of society in which the survey would be carried out. In a society that placed a premium on efficient riding, we would find people asserting that Alexander the Great or Attila the Hun were "born riders," that they had inherited the body, the character, that really fine cavalier posture, and so forth, without which no amount of riding could possibly make one into a real horseman. It would be established—by correctly applied statistics, carried out on families of knights and of ordinary people—that there was a correlation between riding ability and the social position of the family. We would find a higher R.Q. (riding quotient) among children of kings, followed in succession by knights, soldiers, town dwellers, and the learned professions.

In our time and society, there is a premium placed on intelligence, and we find higher I.Q.'s among parents of children who have achieved a better social standing. We would achieve exactly parallel correlations, if, instead of I.Q., we compiled statistical data for spending ability on the same children. In all these surveys the results would prove a clear correlation, which would indeed prove that the correlation methods are correct and indicate a correlation when it exists. However, if we deduced from the high correlation coefficient that the R.Q., or the spending ability, is an inherent quality carried by genes, we would be as near reality as we are when we affirm that the I.Q. is.

Inherited capacities are, on the whole, fairly evenly distributed in the population. We rarely find men with double the capacity of the average man—people who are twice as heavy, who can run twice as fast, who have twice the strength of the ordinary man are difficult to come by. The same is true of people having only half the average abilities. Intelligence as measured by the intelligence quotient (I.Q.) is no exception. The average I.Q. is 100, but people with an I.Q. of 200 are even rarer than those with an I.Q. of 50.

The enormous disparity in intelligence that we find in men in most walks of life cannot therefore be explained away solely by inheritance. On the other hand, the differentiations in I.Q. that can be experimentally obtained by using various methods of thinking and training lead to a wide range of differences, comparable with and often wider than those attributed to inheritance. I believe that there is no essential difference between what we call a genius and everybody else except that the so-called genius finds the correct method of using himself—sometimes by fortunate circumstances, but more often by searching for it. Once the method is found and the new pattern is clearly presented, many can do as well and often better than the originator of the method.

There is no genius whose followers have not improved on him. Once a better method of using oneself is known—whether in thinking, juggling, swimming, or acting—there are large numbers of people who can equal or even surpass the original discoverer. This shows that the elements necessary for the discovery are latent in each of us; the genius only provides the pattern coordinating these elements into a whole. In other words, the method of using oneself and the urge to do so is what we generally lack. This distinction is very important, because we can do next to nothing about inheritance, but quite a lot to improve the method of use of oneself in order to release the creative urge.

Some of the great intelligences have recognized that their ability was mainly due to their method of using themselves. In his Confessions, for instance, Jean-Jacques Rousseau repeatedly insists on his lack of "natural" gifts and attributes all his achievements to his system of using himself, which took him many years to come by. He found his way by trying to read an author without approval or criticism; i.e., without emotional bias. His system was to learn to present the idea the author had in mind as clearly as possible, to the extent of being able to formulate it as well as the author would have liked. After prolonged apprenticeship in this skill, he found that his ability to formulate the ideas of other men clearly and vividly was increasing at a pace with his ability to think for himself. The methods he used before tumbling onto this idea never yielded anything comparable to what he obtained later in life.

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    Posted July 26, 2012

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