The Self Image

by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais

The behavior of human beings is firmly based on the self-image they have made for themselves. Accordingly, if one wishes to change one’s behavior, it will be necessary to change this image.
— Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, Bodily Expressions translated from the French by Thomas Hanna

We act according to our ability. No one decides or plans what he does and knows how it should feel or what it should be. He does what he does and, only in the moment, feels what it is he does. In other words, everyone acts according to the image of himself that he has created during his life. This image is different from person to person. “To roll on the side” or “to turn the head” is done in one's own personal way. It should be that everyone will be himself as much as possible, but this self should be special, one of a kind, such that it allows a person to develop continuously.

What does it mean to continue to develop? In which direction? If you give an example to someone that he needs to be like this or like that, then he forces himself to adjust to this frame and stops being himself. He must be like he is taught, or what is demanded of him. This is the way that is used in the whole world not only in exercise, but in everything. People are educated in how they should be.

To a certain degree, many people are able to be what is demanded of them, but with most things, they are not able to be what is demanded of them. Why? Because they have their individualism, which is repressed, willfully or not. A person wants to find himself so he is able to be in a position such that he will feel:

“I am really alive. This is what I feel. This is how I would like it to be and I am really like this. And, if I am really like this, then I love myself. I love my habits. I love my face. I love my behind. I love all of my actions as they are.”

Because you cannot obtain something else. Other legs you can't obtain. Another face you cannot obtain. You make a person from what you have and give this person the greatest possibility to grow. Just as a child when it is small has characteristics that are not clear, grows, develops, and all of a sudden acquires strange characteristics. Those that are forced upon him are many more than what he develops by himself.

An adult is able to continue to develop by taking away from himself all of the inhibitions to this development. These inhibitions are so prevalent that everywhere I have gone or lectured I have found an open ear the moment you give any possibility to let people come closer to the idea that they are able to be what they want to be.

In other words, to begin to love those parts that they find in themselves that are not okay, even with the will, “If it is possible to do it, please, I am ready for anything.”

Groups of action

How do we do this? What does this mean? What needs to be done? If we look into what a person does while he is awake, it is possible to divide actions into four clear groups. One group is movements. He does movements with his body, with his eyes. The next group is sensations. This means he has six senses. With these senses he feels. He hears. He sees. He smells. He tastes. He is able to touch things. He feels himself in space in some manner of the kinesthetic sense. The third group is feelings. He is able to be sad, happy, anxious, angry, jealous, and embarrassed. He is able to feel himself inferior, to feel himself superior. Lastly, he has thoughts. So the groups of action are moving, sensing, feeling, and thinking.

And so, if we look at these four actions we find they are connected one to the other. It is impossible to distinguish a movement that is not connected in some way to a sensation, or with feeling, or with thought, and vice-versa. There is not a feeling that is not connected with a particular movement of the body, with a position of the body. However you take this, they will always be connected together: moving, sensing, feeling, and thinking.

Now, what about this person who I think everyone is able to become? It is difficult, but not as difficult as it seems if we deal with methods based on information that I want to suggest to you. Under the conditions of these groups of actions, an ideal man must be the smartest man with the best senses, with the nicest body in the world, with the best body in the world. This is an impossible thing because there may be one person like this in a generation. What about the rest of the people?

The rest of the people need to live with what they have. And so, with what I have, it is possible to develop and be connected in such as way that a person feels himself living a full life.

When we feels like this, we do everything we do in the best way we are able. This gives him complete satisfaction. In other words, he begins to live a full life. For this, it is important for all four of these groups of action to be connected, one with the other, at special levels for each action.

The undisturbed self

What are these special levels? Of course, each one needs to find this for himself. It is necessary to give people the possibility of distinguishing this. And so, the first thing we see is that thinking is something new in humanity. It is not something that exists with other animals, with monkeys, or with primitive humans. They have something, but to compare it with the thinking of Einstein, Beethoven, Bertrand Russell, or to any one of us is like comparing the ability of a bear to learn to the ability of the average person.

In feelings, people are completely confused. They are confused because their thinking disturbs them. This new thinking in humanity disturbs the feelings. If you check, you will see that most people do not allow themselves to feel what they are really feeling. The moment that they really begin to give into a feeling, they panic or become alarmed. They think, “I am not okay. I need to be like they taught me to be.”

By way of this process, it turns out that they learn some imitation, something unnecessary in our culture. Because without this, we are not accepted into our culture. That means everyone adjusts, forces upon himself an outside form accepted by others—father, mother, teacher, or lover. Everyone makes for himself a caricature of himself, and in the end feels that everything he does, does not satisfy him because he does not do what he feels. He does not feel any longer. He does not know how to distinguish.

We have done this many times in movement. You have seen how many disturbances there are in the mind. And, in feeling it is incomparably worse. It is so bad because there is no place where this is touched upon, not in the school, not at home. Nobody thinks of this. Nobody is interested in this. Who is interested in this?

The moment the person is disturbed in this manner, that his feelings are so against his personality, he cannot adjust to life. What he does, does not interest him. He begins to do something for two minutes and then asks, “This is not interesting. What is interesting about this? I will never achieve it, no matter what. Let's leave it alone. I will take something else.” In the end, he goes to the cinema.

Only those who fall into the hands of a psychiatrist who is worth anything (and ones that are worth going to are one in a thousand) take some of this mud away, allowing the person to return more or less to this framework that is forced upon him just like on everyone else. This we call “healing.”

If it succeeds, it is complete healing. In other words, they take a person who did not find himself—is not able to agree to things that were forced upon him, and that he forced on himself—and they organize him so he is able to accept what is forced on him so he won't be much different from the miserable forms that walk in the world around him. He then is called a healthy person—in other words, an average person, miserable like all of us.

Look closely and it simply hurts.

Think for a minute of what we are doing, how we live, how in every generation we ruin half of humanity, how between one peace and the next peace we live with those fears, with disturbances. What happens to children? If we talk sincerely about it, something needed to be done a long time ago. This generalization that I give you begins to be something that many people understand and begin to talk about in different ways and with different approaches that arrive at the same conclusions. These are things that everyone can agree with. It is nice, but what do we do?

Learn to distinguish what you want

First of all, we said that we live with an image we created for ourselves. This image is not what we would really like to be. If I will take any person and ask him, “Do you agree with yourself, do you agree with how you are? Do you agree with and love all your actions? Do you think you act to the best of your ability, to the best of your pleasure? Do you allow yourself to live life?”

You will see that not one in a thousand is able to answer that most of the actions in his life—all of his sensations, feelings, and thoughts—that in all of this, he says, “This is the best I would be able to do. If I were to live again, I would do exactly the same as I have now.”

You will not find one in a thousand who will agree to this. But, not one of us knows what to do. And, of course, the large things are always simple. They are so simple that it is hard to see them. We will start from something very simple: the self-image.

There is a movement image, a sensory image, a feeling image, and a thought image. Improving all of these fields, in a full way, is a work for life. But, to our luck, we are built in such a manner that it is unnecessary to do this because there are these four interconnected groups of action.

It turns out that if, in one of these groups, a person finds for himself those expressions that were forced on him, expressions that are not himself and not what he wants to be, if he succeeds in discovering what he really is and in distinguishing what he really wants, then the thoughts, sensations, feelings, and the rest of his actions help him to make a generalization.

It turns out that in every situation he has the potential for development. To the degree that this development grows and grows in one of these areas, it allows him to move himself in the direction that he wants for himself. This is very important because, by way of this, the person actually feels that he has grown, that he develops, and that he is not being healed.

We are basically good

There is no problem of healing here. Healing means to return to a situation that was okay. The psychiatrist who works on a person never brings him back to the position he was in before. He helps get rid of those ideas and those things that, during development, were rejected in some way, held back, or intended in the wrong direction. This usually happens when the person must give up on his feelings without knowing how to agree to the giving up. If he has feelings, he must suppress them, change them without his feeling them or agreeing to the change. He slowly goes into himself, changes his own way to that which is demanded without ever agreeing with it himself. This is the most difficult thing.

We see these disturbances in the body, in the muscles. Most people feel, “With me, my legs are not okay. My eyes are not okay. My breathing is not okay. My digestion is not okay. My sexual organs are not okay. My mouth is not okay. I do not speak as I would like to. I do not move or perform as I would like to. How people relate to me is not how I would like.” This we do first of all with the body. Because, from one area, we can learn about the other. It is possible to correct the self-image.

The moment we see these disturbances in the body image and distinguish them, there is no need to do anything to do it better. The natural tendency of all living creatures is to go in the direction that helps them, which makes them better.

In all tribes, in the places farthest away from our culture, there is culture and progress form generation to generation, progress in a social direction, in the direction of communal life, in the direction of helping one another, without it being necessary to suppress this original part within us. There is no need to suppress. If you do not disturb the person, he turns into what he is. Man is basically good, and not as it is written by religions, also by other people, that man is bad from youth.

The evidence is that each person, when you help him find himself, becomes more comfortable with himself and with others. Each time you help someone who is disturbed, when he becomes more of himself, he becomes better to himself and to others.

I will try to give you the possibility to see that this real image of ours, even with goodwill, is distorted from the ignorance of all humanity. Something is done that disturbs the person from really becoming a person. First of all, we will begin to correct this body image. We will try to start in this way so you can distinguish what it is.

Transcribed and edited by Erin Ferguson from AY lesson #303