Anger and the Feldenkrais Method
Thursday, September 1, 2016
by: Molly Tipping, Feldenkrais Practitioner

Section: Art of Living

Recently a client, Daniel, asked me “What is the Feldenkrais® perspective on anger?”
Daniel had been attending Feldenkrais sessions monthly for a number of years and had a consistent home practice drawing on a wide range of CDs from many practitioners.
Aside from his interest in the Feldenkrais Method®, he was a keen martial artist and spent his days working as a statistician.
Daniel had come to me through a CD series I developed with Brigit Cosgrove called Move over Anxiety. Over the years, Daniel and I had explored these ideas, as well as pain reduction, improved movement and function, and strengthening.
When Daniel and I first spoke about anger, my response was general and not altogether different from what I might say on anxiety:
It is an experience of emotional impotence that affects an individual’s posture, muscular patterns, and her ability to achieve what she wants. When we understand our patterns and habits and find greater choice in our actions we can have a more mature experience with it.
But Daniel’s question sent me back to Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais’ written material to see what he said on the subject.
Moshe Feldenkrais spoke of anger, aggression, violence, power and impotence in his teachings and are recorded in the "Love and Violence" talk in the Amherst Training and his books The Potent Self and The Master Moves. In the Master Moves, we find his most discrete accounts of anger, specifically the distinction between aggression and violence.
He consistently stated that our experience and expression of all emotions, including anger, can be traced back to our earliest stages of development and while all emotions are a physiological and psychological process “the earliest interaction of the child with the external world is entirely physical. The earliest emotional movements become, therefore, associated or linked with muscular and postural patterns.” (The Potent Self, pg 82)
In other words, how we were parented, educated, and inculcated into our society shows up in our bodies, in our emotional competence (or incompetence), and our daily actions, relationships, and habits.
This distinction between aggression and violence is at the crux of what Feldenkrais asks us to consider when understanding anger. Knowing how we embody anger is perhaps the best place to start. Where is it located in you? What are its patterns, rhythms, directions, repetitions, connections, and relationships within your body, your relationships and to how you live your life? What fears or shame do you have around your anger?
Because we sense anger “long before it is externalized,” a simple body scan can help us you get clearer. (The Potent Self, pg 82)
Explore Yourself with this Body Scan*
1) Take a moment to sit comfortably and then consider something you feel angry about.
How does your posture or breathing change? Do you feel a change in your belly, do your eyes converge, do you feel changes in your jaw or facial expressions, how has your breathing changed, or maybe you notice something change in your dominant arm and hand or leg and foot?
2) Now slightly exaggerate this postural change a little. Everything about it exaggerate it just a little, make it more intense, connect the discrete feelings into one complete connected postural experience.
What are you doing? Are you digging your heels in? Holding your self back? Clenching your teeth?
Are you stopping yourself from doing anything? Maybe punching or crying?
3) And then stop and give up thinking about it.

How specific could you be about what you sensed? Consider:
  • location,
  • tone,
  • direction,
  • pattern, and
  • relationships.
How specific can you be about what you felt?
Was it powerlessness, loathing, defiance, aggression, violence, or something else? Maybe it was a cocktail of emotions?
We can fail to understand anger because we may not allow sufficient time to fully consider, sense, and feel it in ourselves. But we may also fail to understand it if we use the term too broadly. Anger may be used to describe frustration, which is an essential phase in learning. As a practitioner, frustration is something I often support clients through when they’re learning a new movement pattern. Anger may be used to describe fear, which is an instinctive response to danger and may be an individual’s habitual response.  Anger may be used to describe aggression, which, as Feldenkrais says, is a natural part of our biological repertoire for survival and success. Anger may be used to describe violence, which is action intended to elicit fear in another (or the self) and can be subtle and pervasive or have more damaging consequences. And anger can also be the secondary response to more vulnerable feelings of pain, sadness or helplessness, in which anger serves as a distraction or protection for deeper hurt in times of injury, illness, and disease.
If we consider Feldenkrais’ distinctions of aggression and violence in the context of animals and children, we can see its biology. Puppies and kittens bite, scratch, pounce, and chase instinctively; caring mothers may be shocked when their bundle of joy bites at the nipple, snatches a toy, pulls hair, throws cutlery, and kicks and screams.
If we consider these actions in an alternative context, people bite ravenously into a juicy apple, kick vigorously when boot scooting, scream as their favorite band arrives on stage, pull hard when reaching sexual climax, snatch quickly when playing tag, and punch repeatedly after acing a tennis serve.
Actions, when considered in context, do not equal anger. But are they aggression? Moshe would say yes. This distinction can leave some people uneasy. And in writing this article, I have had many fruitful and at times "warming" conversations with clients and peers as we wrestle with how we feel about these distinctions. Surely aggression is not something we want to cultivate!?!
But “aggression is essential to life” and a human being needs to be able “to caress and to kill.” “Without cutting trees we couldn’t have toilet paper and without killing the beast we would have no meat.” (The Master Moves, pg 167 - 168)
In modern terms, to steal the soccer ball from an opponent, a striker must play aggressively, to save a child from oncoming traffic, a parent must be swift and aggressive, and to show leadership, a CEO must make calculated and aggressive decisions.
But we “inhibit aggression in children, which is idiotic. It’s incorrect. It’s because we don't distinguish between aggression and violence. But aggression is an essential part of life.” (The Master Moves, pg 164)
If a child’s early expressions of aggression are confused with violence, parents or teachers may try curb their behavior. Alternatively, other parents may encourage aggressive behavior. This may allow a child to “fit in” but it can also lead to a chronic sense of powerlessness and a lack of confidence as a natural biological choice is curbed from the outside.
For some people, the challenge is defining the meaning of the words "aggression" and "violence." There have been many times in other literature where I have come across the word aggression being used to refer to violence. The challenge to see where my (and my clients) ideas fit with this has provided wonderful material for conversation and yielded interesting insights:
  • An older client who prided himself on being a kind man and “not having an aggressive bone in (his) body” later commented as he struggled to open a chocolate wrapper “Perhaps I could do with a little more aggression.”
  • A young dancer made a connection between his anger and anxiety; acknowledging that he found himself verbally attacking his teachers, his fellow students and himself, if only in his head because he struggled with competition and an inability to put himself in the spotlight and his anger was helping him cover up his anxieties.
  • A young lady, annoyed that she kept “picking fights” with her husband, remembered that she had often got into fights at school. She noted, “I struggled to stand up for myself any other way.” Later commenting “Perhaps I still don’t know how to stand up for myself.”
Feldenkrais would often say "do not just agree with me." One of his reasons for this, I believe, is that submission inhibits our capacity for true learning. In reflecting on anger however, submission can be a dangerous and fertile ground for eroding an individual’s sense of autonomy and allowing anger to take hold.
For this reason, it’s vital to take sufficient time to consider what you think, sense, and feel and to put your autonomy at the forefront of your questions. “What do you sense and feel?” “What do you agree and disagree with?” “What choices do you have?”
We may not choose our initial learned and embodied responses to anger, or any emotion, but as adults we have choice in how we act now. Do we want to repeat our habits or learn new ways of attending and responding? Whichever way you choose, it is your choice now.

*This body scan is informed by Feldenkrais Practitioner Andrew Wright’s work on anxiety.

Special thanks to Daniel Christensen for his thoughtful questions and input.

Molly Tipping is a Feldenkrais Practitioner, Pilates Instructor, and has a Bachelor or Arts in Dance. She has been working in the field for over 15 years and currently runs a private practice in Western Australia assisting clients with anxiety, injury recovery, chronic pain, learning difficulties and dance technique. Find out more at:

Image of man by Rangizz.
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Comments (2)
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Larry Goldfarb
9/16/2016 4:59:13 PM
You definitely gave me some food for thought, Molly. I like the chocolate wrapper story. Good on ya and thanks!

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