Overcoming Community Prejudice to Discover Yochanan (2013)

by Rob Cohen

My first experience of Yochanan was watching him giving a friend a lesson in Amherst.

Introducing this homage page at Feldyforum, a discussion forum for Feldenkrais Teachers, Rob Cohen contacted me and wrote;

Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to create a homage site to Yochanan on the internet. Yochanan offered a unique contribution to the method, seeking a clarity of theory, application, and pedagogy of high standards and unswerving purpose. After the Guild was formed and he chose not to work under the direction of those junior to him, his influence within the international structures of the work became marginalized. I hope that the site grows and that his idiomatic way of looking at the work is not lost to posterity.

So I replied. Please write something more - and he did.

My first experience of Yochanan was watching him giving a friend a lesson in Amherst.

Frankly it scared me. My, admittedly limited, experience of Functional Integration lessons was that they were done slowly, with great subtlety and there was a lot of reflexive deep breathing. Yochanan’s lesson appeared much faster, stronger, and contrary to all of my neophyte understanding of the method. I assiduously and successfully avoided all contact with him during my time there. My friend on the other hand idolized him and was disparaging towards some of those who I chose to take lessons with.

My willingness to disparage and dismiss Yochanan without making an effort to understand his way of looking at the work was shared by many throughout the community. Many believed him to have an overly mechanistic understanding of the work that failed to grasp its multidemsionality. After Moshe became ill it was easy to ignore Yochanan as his love for the work did not overcome his impatience with meetings, politics, and small talk. When standards were set for trainings he found those conditions inharmonious with how he wanted to teach and chose not to work under the direction of those with 20 years less experience and they in turn chose not to work to create bridges to one of the 3 assistants Dr. Feldenkrais brought to teach them – the same story with Mia Segal. So those who organized the structure and terms of the international community of the work went their way and Yochanan went his. His dismissal by the Guild as a teacher went so far as to not offer his 1st book for sale!!??

When I came back to the work, after being away 20 years, my choices of whom to study with were guided by my knowledge and experience from Amherst, so my negative view of Yochanan continued. After I joined FeldyForum and started to read Eva Laser who was trained by Yochanan and had no Guild or IFF credentials, her advocacy for Yochanan eventually aroused my curiosity. In addition, I spoke with a few trainers who shared how important his mentoring was to their development. Gradually I bought a few DVDs of lessons he had given and then bought the recording of his Stockholm training, despite the limitations I was warned about. What I found surprised me.

Watching and listening to Yochanan revealed a teacher who had labored long and hard to know what he was doing so that he could do what he wanted AND to be able to articulate that process.

Yochanan deeply believed that the work is scientific and repeatable. Not scientific and repeatable in the sense that you can make thousands of Apple computers that will all perform the same programs and achieve the same results, but in the sense that the work can be successfully taught to those with the requisite desire, openness to learning something new, and willingness to dedicate themselves to mastering the material. So the work could be taught so as to create new practitioners who could then each in their own handwriting work with their students. He was exceptionally clear about the subjective nature of the work – that the criteria of success were the student’s acceptance of an intervention, not whether the practitioner did it “right”.

I was surprised to see that Yochanan was a profoundly sensitive practitioner

At the level of sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system communication he was operating at a very high level. I got to see that what I had seen in Amherst as too quick and strong was really the product of a very advanced level of facility. He could just get results, his student’s acceptance of interventions, -more quickly than I was used to seeing. It had just become easy for him. It was the manifestation of his passion to develop the skillful means necessary to apply the principles of the work. This became evident during his demonstrations which for the benefits of the students in the training were slowed and broken down to show how technique and principles become one in successful communication with another system.
Did I find Yochanan the perfect teacher or practitioner? No, like his teacher, he could belabor a point to death, probably the product for them both repeatedly experiencing not being understood. What I find most unfortunate when I think of Yochanan in relation to the Feldenkrais community, is that he had so much to offer that was needed, especially to those who most strongly rejected it.

Every day in my practice I see people who are getting horrible medical advice because the insights of our work are still so little known in mainstream healthcare. Just yesterday I saw a 9 year old boy who had been in pain for months and limping badly. He had seen a number of orthopedic specialists most of whom thought that the problem was in his hip and that he needed either to have a hip replacement or have muscles lengthened. One specialist said that his hip was fine, that the problem was a mild case of Cerebral Palsy. To make a long story short by the end of the lesson he was walking perfectly with no pain in his hip. The real source of all his problems was heel pain and everything else was compensation. He probably has Sever’s disease, a self-limiting condition that will heal as his growth plates mature. The parents had been close to giving in and having a hip replacement. None of the orthopedic specialists had the diagnostic tool of educated touch informed by the Feldenkrais Method. Yochanan’s efforts to systematize, explain, and articulate could have been a starting point for the international community to accomplish this, thereby achieving a wider acceptance of our work.

Rob Cohen
Stone Ridge, New York 

You can find information about Rob Cohen at his website http://www.embodiedtransformations.com

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