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The Feldenkrais Method is an educational system intended to give a greater functional awareness of the self. The method uses movement and awareness as the primary vehicle for learning. It is perhaps due to this focus on physical movements that the Feldenkrais Method is often classified as a complementary and alternative medicine. The Feldenkrais Method attracts the attention of those who want to improve their movement repertoire (as dancers, musicians, artists), who want to reduce their pain or limitations in movement, or who want to use the method as a way to improve their well-being and personal development. Advocates claim the Feldenkrais Method often improves movement-related pain (e.g. pain in backs, knees, hips, shoulders), and leads to better functioning in cases of stroke or cerebral palsy. A central tenet of the Feldenkrais Method is that improving ability to move can improve one's overall well-being. Practitioners of the Feldenkrais Method generally refrain from diagnosis, or referring to the Feldenkrais Method as therapy.
The Feldenkrais Method was originated by Dr Moshé Feldenkrais (1904-1984), an Israeli physicist and judo practitioner of Eastern European descent. Among his many published books was Awareness Through Movement where he presented a view that good health is a matter of positive functioning. Although many don't consider this a radical idea, it is in opposition to the standard medical definition of health that states good health is an absence of illness. Feldenkrais asserted his method of body/mind exploration resulted in better functioning individuals and helped to develop healthier and more emotionally mature people. He was more interested in the goal of holistic functioning rather than merely physical treatment, typified by his statement "What I am after is more flexible minds, not just more flexible bodies".
This goal is reflected in the code of ethics of the Feldenkrais Guild of North America which states that practitioners of the method do not undertake to diagnose or treat illness of any kind. Most proponents of the Method consider it to be a form of self-education and mind-body development, rather than a manipulative therapy.
Feldenkrais himself was a friend of Ida Rolf, who established the Rolfing method of bodywork. Feldenkrais' approach was more experiential, using self-discovery rather than manipulation. Some of the influences on Feldenkrais' work include Gustav Fechner, F. Matthias Alexander, Gerda Alexander, Elsa Gindler, G. I. Gurdjieff, Emile Coué, Milton Erickson, William Bates, Heinrich Jacoby and Jigoro Kano, all of whom were more concerned with awareness than with simple physical exercises.
The Feldenkrais Method is applied in two forms by practitioners, who generally receive more than 800 hours of formal training over the course of four years:
Awareness Through Movement
In an Awareness Through Movement (ATM) lesson, the teacher verbally directs students through movement sequences. Usually this occurs in a group setting, although ATM lessons can also be given to individuals. There are more than a thousand ATM lessons in existence. Most of them are organized around a specific movement function, and teachers lend their particular style to each lesson.
Moshé Feldenkrais gave the name to a series of demonstrations he devised when some of his scientific colleagues wanted to know how he was learning to walk normally with a seriously damaged knee. Being an experimental scientist himself, he gave them concrete directions on how to move to discover for themselves what he was learning.
Here is a small example: Cup your hands so you could drink from them and bring them to your mouth. Observe how you place your fingers. Which set of fingers lies inside the other? Perhaps the edge of this palm is also a bit inside the other. Now cup your hands again but reverse the way you place your fingers. Put the fingers that were inside to the outside now. Bring your hands to your mouth with the fingers reversed and observe how different it feels to do it this way.
This simple observation could become the first step in a lesson that would lead to a marked difference in your overall ability to move.
In ATM lessons, students temporarily set aside habitual patterns, thereby enjoying freer, easier movement, and gaining more accurate and complete perception of the body and movement in general.
Feldenkrais understood these changes to be improvements of the self image, which can be conceived in one sense as an arrangement of areas of the motor cortex relative to the body. The body image was depicted by Dr. Wilder Penfield in the form of a homunculus. Since activity in the motor cortex plays a key role in proprioception Feldenkrais realized that changes in our ability to move are inseparable from changes in our conscious perception of ourselves as embodied. This relationship is clear and open to introspection. Make a quick list of body parts you know you have but which you cannot feel consciously and compare it with a list of those you can feel. Which list contains the members you can move?
Thus Awareness Through Movement lessons are intended to do just what their name says. They improve awareness by using and improving the student's ability to move, and they do this by way of demonstration. Beyond the specifics of a lesson, students learn to simply explore, as children do in play.
In a Functional Integration lesson, the practitioner uses his or her hands to guide the movement of the student, while the student lies on a padded table or floor. All of the movements are done in a range and at a speed that is comfortable for the student. This allows the student to feel safe, and gives the student the opportunity to observe the movement in detail. Through precise touch and movement, the student learns how to eliminate excess effort and strain and thus move more freely and easily. Lessons may be very specific in addressing particular issues brought by the student, or can be more global in scope.
Feldenkrais first taught the method in Tel Aviv to 13 students. He later came to the United States in the early 1970s, where he taught at Esalen. He subsequently gave two professional trainings in the US, in San Francisco (1975-77) and Amherst, Massachusetts (1980-83).
Relationship of Client to Practitioner
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One vital element of the Feldenkrais Method that is not often described is the relationship of the practitioner to the client. Simply asking a client to move, or physically manipulating a client, will not generally bring about the kind of change Feldenkrais envisioned. In his book, The Elusive Obvious, Feldenkrais likened his work more to "dancing with someone" than to "healing him". By this he meant that in the interaction between practitioner and client, the two are interrelated in a fundamental way.
A practitioner must be prepared to undergo the same level of change as that which will occur in the client. When the practitioner makes verbal or physical contact with the client, the two become a single system, in the same way that two dancers are moving as one. With a genuine connection between practitioner and client, the client notices more. For example, if a practitioner moves a client's shoulder in a circle and begins to notice what quality circle the client can comfortably make, then the client may also notice; in fact, if a practitioner notices how her own body moves in relation to the client as she moves his shoulder, the client is likely to notice even more. The two experience a quality of movement which is fundamentally satisfying to the nervous system, a nonjudgmental, purely curious type of attending, where the system receives neutral information and can use it to improve upon itself. This kind of neutral information gathering most approximates the quiet exploration of a baby lying on its back learning how it will roll to its side for the first time.
The kind of connection necessary for true change is usually more difficult in a verbal Awareness Through Movement(R) lesson because of the nature of human language, which is far less exact and more prone to misinterpretation than pure movement. Nevertheless, it is possible to speak to a client in a way which creates a more profound connection; generally, the best practitioners give less in the way of direction, preferring instead to suggest questions that the client may ask themselves as they move. "When you lie upon your back, do the two sides feel the same, or is one side different? How is it different?"
The fundamental necessity of a genuine interaction between client and practitioner is an elusive aspect of the work and makes the training of the practitioners difficult. Because one is essentially learning how to open a client to self-understanding, practitioners spend a great deal of time pursuing this process in themselves. To someone who prefers a diagnostic approach to self-improvement, or a rigid set of tried-and-true techniques, training in the Method, and even the experience of it, can be frustrating.
Yet, this does not mean that the Feldenkrais Method lacks hard-and-fast principles. The Feldenkrais Method, especially as exemplified by the thousands of Feldenkrais’ lessons available in published form, takes advantage of the body’s mechanical aspect to create the greatest possible sense of change and improvement. Clients are led over time to be able to sense how best to align themselves so that they can take maximum advantage of the structural power of their bones to stand or to lift things; they are taught how to move from a lying position to a sitting position using the minimum of strain and effort, generally by relying on the use of spiral movements that take advantage of the body’s design. The important thing is that clients learn these things through a process of internal discovery, rather than by emulation. The relationship of client to practitioner is what makes the internal discovery possible for a person who has little experience thinking in this way.
- Feldenkrais, Moshé (1981). The Elusive Obvious, pp. 7-9, Cupertino, Calif.: Meta Publications. ISBN 0-916990-09-5.
Influence on Somatics
Somatic disciplines influenced by Feldenkrais include: Hanna Somatics, Rubenfeld Synergy, Tellington Touch (for animals), Anat Baniel Method, Sounder Sleep System, Bones for Life, Liberation Through Movement, and others.
- International Feldenkrais Federation (official organisation for coordinating the Method internationally)
- Feldenkrais Guild of North America (online lessons, background of the Method, and practitioner listings.)
- Australian Feldenkrais Guild (practitioner listing, professional training, and general information on the Method in Australia)
- The Feldenkrais Guild UK (practitioner list, classes and workshops in The UK)
- Feldenkrais Resources (clearing house for books, audio-programs, and other Feldenkrais related materials)
- Feldenkrais Movement Institute (article introducing the Feldenkrais method)
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