The Potent Self

A Study of Spontaneity and Compulsion
(1 customer review)


Author: Moshe Feldenkrais
Media: Book, Paperback, 288 Pages

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The Potent Self is the most psychological of all Feldenkrais’ writings. He 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 an extensive foreword 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.

In behavior, what matters in individual cases is not what most people do, nor the statistical average, but the individual personal experience.

Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais

The Potent Self

Table of Contents

  • Editor’s Note
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Introduction: Love Thyself as Thy Neighbor Energy
  • Human Capacity
  • Spontaneity and Compulsive Action
  • Motivation and Action
  • Resistance and Cross Motivation
  • Behavior and Environment
  • Habit Formation
  • The Power of Dependence and Maturity
  • Reward and Punishment
  • The Absolute and the Expedient
  • The Origin of Faulty Posture
  • Faulty Posture and Action
  • Body and Mind
  • A Clearer Picture
  • Action, Inhibition, and Fatigue
  • The Aim of Readjustment
  • Improving Action
  • Correct Posture
  • The Means at Our Disposal
  • Volition and Muscular Tension
  • First General Overhaul
  • About the Technique
  • Physiology and Social Order
  • On Sexual Apprenticeship
  • Clarifying Some Notions
  • The Vicious Circle
  • The Abdomen, the Pelvis, and the Head
  • Abdominal Control
  • A Little Philosophy
  • Cross Motivation
  • Premature Ejaculation
  • Is There a Way Out?
  • About the Author
  • Resources


Chapter 3: Motivation and Action

Urges to essential actions can be traced to body tension. We eat because we are hungry, we rest because we are tired, we dance because we are impelled to muscular activity. In each case the activity produced dissipates and relieves the tension. Most of the essential tensions, like the ones just mentioned, are more or less strictly localized in the body, and we have no difficulty in recognizing them and producing the action that relieves them. There are, however, some tensions which are not so easily identified, and where it is more difficult to produce the action needed to dissipate them.

These other tensions are more diffused. They originate in the higher nervous centers in many different ways and are rather difficult to identify, because the sensation they produce is not connected with a definite part of the body and because they rarely repeat themselves in identical conditions. The sensation of insecurity, for instance, can be produced in relation to so many different parts of the body, in such a variety of ways, different for each individual and different from time to time even for the same individual, that it is not always easy to recognize the tension as related to insecurity. It is therefore very difficult to believe that we are as ignorant as we are of what is happening in us, before the onset of awareness. We generally find some sort of rationalization for the sensation of longing, anxiety and irritability, so that we need not bother with it too much. When these sensations persist to the point of interfering with the joy of life, it becomes very important to be able to identify the tensions so as to know what to do to find relief, and not just wait for that to happen.

Definite, recognizable tensions motivate our actions. We shall extend the use of the word motivation to all actions. We shall therefore distinguish between conscious motivation, unrecognized motivation, and reflex motivation, according to the path and origin of the impulses that bring the muscles into action.

From The Potent Self: A Study of Spontaneity and Compulsion by Moshe Feldenkrais, published by Frog Books/North Atlantic Books, copyright © 1985 by Moshe Feldenkrais, copyright © 2002 by Michel Silice. Reprinted by permission of publisher.


Read a Review by Edwin Hines, NLP Trainer

“What is the theme? Feldenkrais talks about the development of the individual, how in human beings almost all behaviour is learned and depends on patterns of muscular tension to be enacted. These patterns of tension are intimately bound up with emotional sensation. As such, he shows that the mind and body truly act as a single system.

His idea is that these patterns of tension become automatic, and often inefficient for the task at hand. But because these patterns were often learned at a time when we were dependent on adults for survival, trying to change them requires overcoming the survival anxiety on some level. The result is that people get hemmed into patterns and behaviours, not daring to go outside of them, and in time forgetting that there is an outside.” Click here to read entire review.

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