The Brain That Changes Itself

I’ve just finished a book that’s very popular with the Feldenkrais community (I’m quite late to the party, actually): The Brain That Changes Itself, Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, by Norman Doidge. It’s a fascinating read consisting primarily of stories and studies illustrating neuroplasticity, the science on which the Feldenkrais Method is built. The author ends the often very uplifting book with an interesting warning, using a paraphrasing of Rousseau (who died in 1778) speaking about the popular concept of his time known in French as perfectibilité (the idea of the changeable, improvable nature of humankind).

[Perfectibilité] provided hope, but was not always a blessing. Because we could change, we did not always know what was natural in us and what was acquired from our culture. Because we could change, we could be overly shaped by culture and society to a point where we drifted too far from our true nature and became alienated from ourselves. While we may rejoice at the thought that the brain and human nature may be improved, the idea of human perfectibility or plasticity stirs up a hornet’s nest of moral problems.

 

I find myself making many references in my teaching to how we hold our pelvises forward or “tail tucked,” keep our knees close together in seated, collapse from our true height in order to socialize, etc… — all ways that we deny the most natural, functional, and sustainable self-use dictated by our anatomy in order to meet cultural expectations of what is proper.

Doidge’s book is full of remarkable stories of healing and human improvement, but he ends by reminding us that neuroplasticity can lead both to human improvement and rigidity. Attempting to become aware enough of ourselves and our interactions with the world to know the difference is a primary goal of Feldenkrais study.