“Movement is life, life is a process. Improve the quality of the process and you improve the quality of life itself.” ~Moshe Feldenkrais
Have you accepted that pain is just part of your life? Do you move in a way to try and ease the pain of a flare-up or past injury? Maybe you choose not to participate in activities you might enjoy due to a nagging dull ache or tension. Perhaps you think to yourself, “I could never do that,” “I’m too old,” or “my body isn’t capable.” Many people feel more fear around trying something new or challenging than they do with the same old routine, even if they know it isn’t good for them, but may feel more comfortable in the moment. Most people have suffered from at least a few physical injuries in their lifetime, whether mild or severe and often encounter a trigger later in life. In addition, many people suffer from chronic illness or self-limiting beliefs that hold them back. So what do you think about yourself? Are you confident in your own body? How do you think about your ability to affect your behavior and interactions?
The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education (FMSE) was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc. This method aims to increase the body’s mobility, teach movements that can ease the tensions and stress of life, and empower practitioners to live to their fullest potential.
Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais (1904–1984) was a distinguished physicist, mechanical and electrical engineer, an expert in martial arts, and one of the first “neuroplasticians” (i.e., someone who intentionally manipulates the connectivity of the brain with various exercises and techniques). After a severe knee injury playing soccer, Feldenkrais found himself unable to walk and dove deep into intensive self-study. As a result, he attained an excellent knowledge of neuroscience, gravity, the mechanics of movement, and learning theory. In the 1940s, not only did he use his expertise to heal himself, his revolutionary discoveries helped to create the new field of somatic education.
In 1949, he wrote his first book on the method he had been developing, Body and Mature Behavior, which explores the relationship between body and mind, the effects of emotion on posture, and somatic education. Then, around 1954, he began solely making his living by teaching his method, the Feldenkrais Method.
Feldenkrais had a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and spirit. He integrated his varied background (i.e., education, self-healing studies, martial arts [he was one of the first Europeans to earn a black belt in Judo], biomechanics, the Alexander technique, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, psychology, human development, neuroscience, biology, physics, engineering, and mechanics) to develop a method that could improve the quality and efficiency of body movements and overall wellbeing. His legacy continues to educate people and restore the optimal functioning of bodies of all types and ages. There are over 10,000 Feldenkrais practitioners worldwide with two types of lessons: one-on-one sessions with a guide/practitioner called Functional Integration; group classes called Awareness Through Movement with a teacher who provides lessons while guiding gentle movements.
Essentially, the Feldenkrais Method is the retraining of the body to reduce or eliminate pain, illness, and injury. It is based on the theory of somatic education; that is, the mind and body are one. Thus, to heal our minds, we must also heal our bodies. Feeling, healing, thinking, and learning can all be affected by how the physical body moves. Through the study of biomechanics (which includes kinesiology [i.e., the science of movement within a living body]), Feldenkrais observed how daily patterns and habits could create tension and strain, which can negatively influence various aspects of our lives (i.e., feeling, healing, thinking, and learning). Thus, Feldenkrais applied his extensive knowledge to develop a method of movement to heal and optimize the functioning of the body and mind by improving coordination, behavior, mindset, and mobility.
Feldenkrais theorized that the dysfunctional movements learned through trauma or environmental adaptation can severely limit one’s capabilities. However, he found this could be solved with his method of complete awareness and efficiency of movement. He developed internationally accredited training programs for his students in two modalities: Awareness Through Movement (ATM) groups and Functional Integration (FI) personalized, hands-on sessions. Both of these programs offer lessons based on science and an understanding of movement patterns designed to promote the improved organization of the self. They aim to create new neural pathways in clients and to enhance functioning.
Feldenkrais understood that each time we move, the emotions experienced in that moment are susceptible to being stored in the body. These stored emotions can then manifest as physical pleasure or pain. Additionally, we all perceive the world and respond to it uniquely. Behaviors are based on past situations and how one responded to them, which, in turn, is a factor in the development of one’s self-image. Often, self-image is underrated relative to one’s true potential. To change how we view ourselves, we must change the behavior and the stories we tell ourselves. There is no limit to improving mind, body, and spirit, and we are much more capable than we give ourselves credit for.
The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education uses: gentle, slow, repetitive, and sometimes playful movements; sensing and stillness exercises; intention on ease and wellbeing (reprogramming the brain); and attention to the entire body system as one whole. This re-education may enable one to live a more fulfilling life, empower one to use their body more intentionally, and live to their fullest potential.
There has been extensive research conducted on the Feldenkrais Method. Moreover, there is an entire federation devoted to studying this method, called the International Feldenkrais Federation. Because this methodology is so comprehensive, with many application modes, there is a broad spectrum of studies and articles. Common themes within the Feldenkrais research are compiled below; however, you can find more detailed information about this organization and its research at:
Qualitative research is a subjective approach to the study of consciousness and an individual’s direct experience. A common theme in qualitative studies on the Feldenkrais Method in both ATM and FI settings includes improvements in various types of chronic pain.
Feldenkrais in Dance and Theater
Many people in the performing arts fields utilize the Feldenkrais Method to enhance their performances. It is available for self-study using Feldenkrais’ book, Theatre, Dance, and Performance Training.
Throughout many interdisciplinary university departments internationally, more than two dozen dissertations have been written investigating various aspects of the Feldenkrais Method.
Effectiveness of the Feldenkrais Method
An article curated by Susan Hillier and Anthea Worly gives a thorough meta-review of the studies done on the effectiveness of the Feldenkrais Method and its applications over the last three decades. They reviewed seven meta-analyses that found supported improvements in balance in elderly populations. Other studies reported improvements in fine motor skills, contentment, and self-image. However, they identify potential biases, stating that the effects of the Feldenkrais Method seem to work on learning theory rather than disease-based operations. Thus, further studies would require better quality monitoring of individuals.
Studies on the Feldenkrais Method have been criticized for reflecting practitioner bias. They are also criticized for generalizing conclusions that claim it supports better body organization, but there is little evidence for its purported health benefits. Lastly, the Feldenkrais Method is a practical method that focuses on improving the client’s life through movement modification and neuroplasticity. However, unlike traditional talk therapy, it doesn’t aim to resolve and heal any of the client’s psychological issues.
You should find a practitioner with whom you feel safe as you might be working with this person for several lessons that may be spread out over time. As you work through these lessons, you may feel more stable in your body, which can spark confidence as you begin to become more aware of yourself and better able to express yourself. You may develop a feeling of empowerment within your body, your mind, and your spirit. Most students are pleased to experience a new level of calmness. Some students report that moving with more grace and ease results in increased calmness in other areas of their lives. Many aspects of life may become more manageable. Perhaps you feel empowered to try new things, or maybe you begin to feel more content in your current state or excel in your current endeavors. One client’s experience with subtle eye lessons improved their vision so much that they rarely reached for their prescription glasses anymore. Overall, most people feel calmer and lighter.
During ATM classes, the clients will meet together in small groups for around 30 to 60 minutes. A guide will give gentle, verbally-directed lessons focusing on particular functions and areas of the body. There are over a thousand of these movement sequences that range from small and easy movements to those with greater range and complexity that can engage the entire body. For example, you might be in a standing position and learn to engage your pelvis rather than your lower back, or you might lie on your back and sense when there is pain or pleasure feedback so that you can apply methods that can influence neuromuscular repatterning. The slowness of these movements can give your body time to register all of the different options so you can choose the right one moving forward. The awareness of the senses is of paramount importance through which you will learn to release limitations and rigidities, relearn new ways of sensing, moving, and experiencing, and, ultimately, learn how to effortlessly move in these new, healthier ways. Awareness can change posture and behavior.
The FI approach employs a one-on-one private session that uses biomechanic communication. Since the body does the “talking,” some practitioners may prefer to work with minimal dialogue so that they can focus on reading your body and movements. You will be fully clothed. There will be no invasive or forceful touch involved in applying this method; however, the practitioner may manually manipulate your body on a table. Sometimes props are used, or the client may be sitting in a chair. Whatever the case, the practitioner is watching for feedback expressed by your body and, in turn, they will provide you cues through touch or verbal instruction. This should, ideally, be a comfortable and safe setting that will allow the student to receive these customized upgrades. This method provides an opportunity to learn how to free your body and mind from unhealthy patterns and to continue using these techniques in your daily life to alleviate pain and tension.
One of the main reasons students seek out the Feldenkrais Method is due to pain. After just one session, you may experience a significant reduction or elimination of pain resulting from increased awareness of how you carry yourself in relationship to your environment. Thus, having more awareness and control over your physical body may result in no longer needing medical devices or pain killers. Through either FI skilled manipulation or the student’s own conscious self-touch, the client will learn to refine their own movements and become better functioning human beings.
This Feldenkrais Method can benefit you whether you’re someone who approaches thoughts and emotions from a physical or spiritual perspective. This method integrates both science and spirituality, positing that the consciousness of being in the physical bridges the mind-body connection. However, keep in mind that transforming movements takes time, and each student is ultimately guided to find their own way with each lesson. Moreover, it may be beneficial for the seeker to try both ATM and FI sessions to discover which benefits you the most. Both modalities can help correct posture by teaching you exercises to notice your alignment. You will make new connections with and within your body through mindfulness practice. Bear in mind that this method is more of a learning process rather than a therapeutic experience. Through this learning process, you will learn how to go with tense or sore muscle movements rather than against them. This self-discovery can invigorate the body, and you may feel more confident.
Feldenkrais established a guild for his method in 1977. The name was later changed to the Feldenkrais Guild of North America (FGNA) in 1997. This guild is a professional organization dedicated to promoting awareness of Feldenkrais’ method and his work. Members include practitioners from accredited training programs, such as the North American Training Accreditation Board [NATAB]). There are also other accredited training boards as well as several guilds and associations all over the world. Although there is no license required to become a Feldenkrais Method guide, practitioners are often professionals trained in various related fields (e.g., acupuncturists, chiropractors, dentists, counselors, osteopaths, physical therapists, yoga teachers, and other medical professionals and bodyworkers). Additionally, all guides must have completed their certification through an accredited professional training program. Guides are initially qualified to teach ATM, and they can further their education to become an FI practitioner after two years. If they choose to continue with FI training, they develop hands-on technical skills in the third year, and during the fourth year, they are finally able to practice with people outside the program.
Practitioners have been trained to develop a keen sensitivity and ability to connect with clients. Your practitioner may attune to you by asking you questions and observing your body and movements. Since there are individual and group sessions available, it’s important to understand which might be better for you. Perhaps ask yourself the question, “Am I more likely to follow through with the integration in my own life best by taking group classes or with a very personalized approach?” It’s important that you approach the lessons with accountability so you can incorporate them and transform your life.
You may also learn different things from different types of guides. While both types of guides (i.e., ATM and FI) try to individualize their teachings for each client, the FI practitioner spends all of their time focused on the client’s specific needs and lessons. Often, clients will initially take a few ATM classes and then begin with an individual FI guide. You might also need to consider the difference in cost. ATM classes cost around $15–$25 per class, whereas an FI guide might charge $100 to $200 per session. There might also be limited FI practitioners available in your location.
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