The Feldenkrais Method

by Dalia Sofer
(Reprinted from the June/July '95 issue of
Healthmap Magazine)

When you're walking down the street, chances are that you're not thinking about the way you're walking, or what muscles you are using, or whether the pressure of every step is hurting some part of your body. Your goal is to use your legs to arrive to your destination, without much awareness of the process. The same happens when you bend to pick up a piece of paper, when you hold a pen to write, when you lift your arm to hail a cab, or when you perform any of the thousands of activities
that we all engage in daily.

So accustomed are we to your own individual way of moving, that we cannot fathom the countless possibilities of movement that our body is capable of. As babies, we have no prior experience of a certain movement, so we experiment with our bodies until we learn how to crawl, stand, sit, walk, or talk. What we learn throughout the years, we adapt to, and we repeat during our adult lives.

Awareness of movement is a concept that prompted Moshe Feldenkrais to develop the Feldenkrais Method® -- a method that allows people to find more effective ways to move. Two techniques are used: Functional Integration®, which is a technique that is tailored to the individual, and involves hands-on manipulation; and Awareness Through Movement®, a technique that creates the effect of manipulative teaching to a group of people. Participants aren't taught how to perform movements.

They are taught to learn new ways of movement. They are taught to experiment with their bodies. Classes take place with participant most frequently in a lying or sitting position. Marcy Lindheimer, director of the Feldenkrais Learning Center, who began practicing the Feldenkrais Method®due to chronic back problems, explains that "in an Awareness through Movement class, the students explore movements which are a part of a particular function, such as reaching, turning, or bending to pick something up. Each movement variation gives the student an opportunity to find a better organization of the movement."

Another significant aspect of these sessions is that there are no right or wrong ways of doing things. There is only each individual's own way. The environment is non-threatening, non-competitive, and prone to self-inquiry and self-exploration. According to Feldenkrais, "movement or its absence shows the state of the nervous system, its hereditary endowment, and its degree of development." This, how the body moves is directly related to the patterns of the nervous system. In order to discover new ways of movement, we must re-program the old patterns of the nervous system by re-introducing it to new ones.

Layna Verin, in an article called The Feldenkrais Phenomenon, explains that "when we move, an image of the movement is transmitted to the brain. If our self-image is distorted, that distortion is incorporated in the message. Each time the movement is repeated, the distortion is repeated, its repercussions in the body becoming more and more destructive. If a new message can be transmitted to the brain, a change takes place in the cortex, freeing it from the old patterns, and the brain will transmit new messages to the body. This reversibility is distinctively human, and is what makes re-learning possible."

The Feldenkrais Method®has four principles at its core: ease of movement, the absence of resistance, the presence of reversibility, and comfortable breathing. In his book, The Potent Self, Feldenkrais indicates that "in good action, the sensation of effort is absent, no matter what the actual expenditure of energy is. It suffices to observe a good judo man, an expert weight-lifter, a figure-skating champion, a first-class acrobat, a great diva, an Arabian horseman -- in fact anybody who has learned to perform correctly mental or bodily actions -- in order to convince oneself that the sensation of effort is the subjective feeling of wasted movement." Furthermore, the sensation of resistance is produced when the muscles of the body prepare themselves to achieve a certain act, but do so in conflict with the rest of the self. We often try to remedy this situation by using what we call "will power." But "only immature people need will effort to act," says Feldenkrais."The mature person clears up all the irrelevant motivations and uses interest, necessity, and skill unhindered by unrecognized emotional urges."

The recognition of resistance is of utmost importance, because in ignoring it we will continue to act against ourselves, we will not be able to get rid of it, and when we see other people succeeding where we continue to fail, we will label ourselves with some kind of deficiency and turn away from the activity all together. Reversibility means the capability to discontinue or reverse an act without effort, and without any change in attitude. This does of course take into consideration reflex actions or inertia. "The importance of reversibility," explains Feldenkrais, "is that it is possible only when there is fine control of excitation and inhibition , and a normal ebb and flow between the parasympathetic and the sympathetic. The test of reversibility holds good for all human activity, whether it is viewed from the physical or the emotional standpoint." Lastly, comfortable breathing is desirable. Many people hold their breath constantly. Their body image propels them to continuously rearrange their throat, their chest, and their abdomen before they even speak. "In some the disturbance is so manifest," indicates Feldenkrais, " that the chest is fixed in the position of inspiration or expiration continuously. This upsets the normal ventilation, and has profound effects on the acid-base balance of the blood."

Feldenkrais began developing his method from the time he suffered a knee injury while conducting antisubmarine research during World War II. Long days on a ship were detrimental to a knee that he had injured in a soccer accident a few years earlier. Upon medical examination in England, he was told that his only hope was to have knee surgery, which nonetheless ran a fifty percent chance of proving unsuccessful, meaning that he would have to use a cane for the rest of his life. Unwilling to take the surgeon's words as command, Feldenkrais took his health into his own hands. His vast knowledge of motion and movement, which stemmed from his experience as a physicist, an engineer, a mathematician, and a judo master, helped him to restore his knee while discovering and understanding the realm of human movement as well as the motivations behind it.

Dennis Lerri, a Feldenkrais practitioner in Mill Valley, California, who studied personally with Moshe Feldenkrais, indicates that "in the Feldenkrais Method®, each person already presents the ideal body, the ideal way to move. For may of us this is a difficult concept to grasp. We take pain, 'poor' posture, or limited movement as symptoms of something wrong. Yet each person makes the best possible choices given his or her 'perception of choices.' The practitioner's task is to create conditions for more choices."
The Feldenkrais Method® can be useful to a range of people, from musicians, to professional athletes, to people with some kind of chronic problem, to those with severe disabilities. Anat Baniel, an internationally renowned teacher of the Feldenkrais method, explains in an interview published in Medical Problems and the Performing Artist, that "the Feldenkrais Method® addresses the movement aspect of music making, which is often taken for granted. This means that the student is somehow supposed to do the necessary movements correctly without undergoing any specific movement apprenticeship. What this method has to offer is the understanding that playing an instrument demands a highly complex use of the neuromuscular apparatus. It offers a systematic, gentle, and global approach and technique to provide a person with sensory-motor training, which will serve as an important ingredient in high-quality performance."

Likewise, for many dancers, the Feldenkrais Method® is a valuable ingredient of training for more efficient movement. In The Feldenkrais Journal, a performing dancer expresses how the study of Awareness Through Movement affected her: "My more mobile body does indeed feel different, larger, fuller, 'more there' and at alert," she says. "I no longer hold my stomach in or pull up, which I'm sure led to the rigidity (I used to have) in my spine. In some ways, I'm more accepting of my body shape instead of trying to change it. I'm pleased with getting it to work better, hence feel better, both of which have been achieved through the Feldenkrais Method®."

Marcy Lindheimer indicates that the Feldenkrais Method®can be profoundly helpful for children and adults with cerebral palsy - a condition that affects the motor functions, as well as for people with multiple sclerosis, people who have suffered a stroke, or individuals with serious injuries. She stresses however that the Feldenkrais Method® is not therapy. Rather, it is an educational method which can be utilized by people in the activities of their daily lives, such as picking up a baby, or working at a computer, as well as by those with serious movement difficulties. "Our motto is, 'no pain more gain,'" she continues. "When you experience pain, your brain gets busy protecting your body from the painful sensation. This makes you less efficient and less available for learning It is most advantageous to stay within the boundaries of comfort." Boundaries of comfort? That's certainly refreshing news after everything most of us put ourselves through daily. It's too bad that we allow ourselves to undergo pain, while ignoring the incredible potential of our brain to perform actions more efficiently, and with minimal effort and strain. It's been said that most humans use less than seven percent of their brain capacity. Perhaps we need more people like Feldenkrais to snap us out of our accustomed mediocrity.

Moshe Feldenkrais has written several books on his method: Body and Mature Behavior, Awareness Through Movement, The Elusive Obvious, The Potent Self, and The Case of Nora.
Awareness through Movement is often recommended as the best introduction to the Feldenkrais Method To further your reading, proceed with The Case of Nora and The Elusive Obvious.

In New York City, please call Marcy Lindheimer at (212) 362-8597, or visit our website for information on classes, workshops, and private sessions.
The Feldenkrais Learning Center
2109 Broadway, #9-93
New York, NY 10023-2130


"Feldenkrais Worth the Search, Fans Say" / San Diego Union-Tribune

/ Lawrence Wm. Goldfarb

"All the Right Moves" / Elizabeth Kaufman, American Way Magazine

"Exercise in Awareness" / Liz Brody, The Los Angeles Times

"Yoga & Feldenkrais"
Taught by Kevin Kortan

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