The Feldenkrais Method®

"I am not seeking to develop flexible bodies, but flexible minds...
I am interested in the re-establishment of our human dignity"
- Moshe Feldenkrais

Named for founder Moshe Feldenkrais, the Feldenkrais Method uses movement and the cultivation of deep self-awareness to assist people in living fuller, more satisfying lives. While known for its effectiveness in working with physical difficulties, this work is also helpful for working with emotional, mental and relationship challenges. People who participate in this work often experience:

  • Pain relief
  • Movement enhancement
  • Clarity of thought
  • Increase in positive emotional states

The work is taught in two forms: movement classes called Awareness Through Movement® and a hands-on modality called Functional Integration®.

Awareness Through Movement® is highly regarded as a sophisticated, enjoyable sensory-motor approach to learning both new ways of moving, eliminating pain and increasing self-awareness. The intention is to learn to move in less effortful, more organic ways through diverse, ingenious movement experiments. These lessons are helpful and interesting for people at all levels of ability including those who are extremely healthy and those with serious injuries. Part of Feldenkrais' genius was his creation of over a thousand different movement lessons, a collection more diverse than perhaps any in the world.

Functional Integration® is an individualized, usually hands-on modality that gently and respectfully explores human movement potential. Through the interaction of practitioner and student, new and improved modes of movement, action and thought can be learned. F.I. lessons are specifically designed to meet the needs of each person.

Both Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration® are based on the evolutionary development of the human nervous system, the innate capacity of the human brain to learn and, in fact, are two sides of the same coin. Two of the most helpful views for understanding the Feldenkrais Method are: 1) knowing the influences upon the founder, Dr Moshe Feldenkrais, and 2) appreciating the diversity of people who are benefited by this work.

Who was Moshe Feldenkrais: A brief biography

Moshe Feldenkrais was born in 1904 in the Ukraine and lived the majority of his life in Israel. At the age of 13, he left his family and traveled with fellow villagers to Palestine. One story on this journey immediately expresses some of the character of the man. One day pork was being cooked on an open fire. The smell was wonderful and Moshe was hungry. Having been raised in a kosher home, he was forbidden to partake. Somehow, though so young, Moshe began to question this restriction. "Why," he said to himself, "should I forbid myself this food simply because my parents had certain beliefs? Can't I make a different choice?" Moshe proceeded to take a portion of the meat and subsequently vomited his guts out. Insulted by this inability and his apparent lack of internal freedom, Moshe went back for another portion; again he couldn't keep it down. After a few more rounds, he finally was able to digest the food. His idea was not that it was bad to be Kosher or that dietary restrictions are inherently wrong, rather that human beings should be able to choose in freedom their path in life!

Placing freedom and choice high on the scale of qualities, which 'make a human, human', is central to understanding Feldenkrais. To be able to question our motives and historical conditioning and then to make a choice in freedom is one of our highest values (we will see later how this relates to posture, breathing and other functions).

As a young man in Palestine, Moshe was both a very physical man, laboring to build Tel Aviv and academically quite gifted, particularly in math and science. During this time, as part of a group of men who were defending the Jewish settlers, he learned Ju Jitsu, a martial art, from an Englishman. His other passion was playing football (soccer). These interests prove very significant for it is through his passion for the martial arts that he learned much about movement and through a soccer injury that he was later motivated to learn how to heal himself.

Two other influences were developing strongly in Feldenkrais. His relationship with his future wife who became a pediatrician was very important, both personally and because of his growing interest in child development and how behaviors are learned. He also was fascinated with methods of mental control and autosuggestion. The work of the Frenchman Couei which involved deep relaxation, self-hypnosis and positive thinking were of interest to him.

Moshe went to Paris to study at a technical school and the Sorbonne and later to work in the Curie laboratory doing radioactive research. He studied mathematics, physics and engineering. Equally significant during these years, through of a martial arts handbook he had written in Palestine, Moshe was introduced to Professor Kano, the developer of modern judo. The Japanese who were having difficulty spreading judo in Europe were impressed with this book and decided to train Feldenkrais over many years to help them in their mission. The judo school he founded in Paris is still functioning.

During World War 11, Moshe escaped from Paris and went to work in Great Britain for the allies. After badly re-injuring his knee and being told that surgery gave him a 50% chance of having a limp for life, he studied anatomy, physiology and the evolution of movement to teach himself alternative ways of moving. He added these new studies to his understanding of mechanics and gravity from his scientific training and movement from his judo training to facilitate his own healing.

While living with a group of scientists in Scotland, Moshe began to formulate his ideas about human learning and wrote the manuscript for his first book "Body and Mature Behavior: A Study of Anxiety, Sex, Anxiety and Gravity". During this time FM Alexander and the teachings of GI Gurdjieff also influenced him.

Some distinguishing characteristics: from an early age Moshe demonstrated a remarkable curiosity and insatiable need to learn new things. He was strongly influenced by the study of: judo (which grew from real life needs of self-protection in a hostile environment), physical sciences (which taught him about gravity and other basic environmental constraints), child development (which taught him about optimal strategies for learning) and various schools of self-awareness (which helped him realize the vast potentials within the human being.

Finally, the titles of some of his books offer an interesting lens into his thinking: "Body and Mature Behavior: A Study of Anxiety, Sex, Gravitation and Learning, "The Potent Self- A Guide to Spontaneity", "Awareness Through Movement" and "The Elusive Obvious".

Another valuable lens to help you understand this unique methodology is to appreciate the diversity of people who are benefited by the work. When I look at my schedule of classes and private sessions this week here are some of the people that I see:

  • A 65 year old man who has been recovering lost function resulting from a stroke. After completing physical therapy, he came seeking further improvement in movement along with the elimination of pain;
  • A woman with severe back pain and consequent limitations on activities including picking up her baby;
  • A basketball player wanting to play at a higher level;
  • A person sent by a psychologist for somatic help with anxiety/stress issues, particularly fear of the future and breathing difficulties;
  • A man with no specific difficulties other than a sense of boredom, wanting to be more aware of himself and awake in his daily life;
  • A young child with cerebral palsy seeking to learn to crawl and hopefully walk;
  • A yoga teacher seeking new ways of helping her students;
  • A man with severe hip pain and insomnia who would love to hike again;
  • A woman with chronic pain from fibromyalgia;
  • A doctor who originally came seeking relief from stress related difficulties now comes because of the life benefits of being more aware of himself and his environment;
  • A child with asthma;
  • A ninety two year old woman who originally came for a back ache and now continues because she loves learning to move easier and becoming more aware;
  • A professional actor/singer learning to perform with greater ease.

As you can see, the range in intention, age and health is enormous. Part of what keeps the work so interesting for practitioners is the diversity of people with whom we get to work. While the method isn't right for everybody, anyone with an interest in learning and a willingness to attend to themselves can learn from this approach.

Finally, remember that the work is taught in two main forms: Awareness Through Movement® (ATM) which are often presented in group form (though individual lessons are possible) and Functional Integration® (FI) which is a one on one, usually hands on, approach. There are literally many hundreds of movement lessons in the ATM repertoire, perhaps the most diverse body of movement in the world. The lessons occur in every conceivable position. Whereas in ATM you are learning by moving yourself in accord with verbal instructions from the teacher, in FI gentle touch or 'guided movement', is the main means. In both situations the interest of the teacher is the same: 1) to present new, alternative movement patterns to the brain and 2) to activate the awareness potential of the person.

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