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Feldenkrais was born in the Ukrainian town of Slavuta. In 1918, he left his family, then living in Baronovich, Belarus]], to emigrate to Palestine. There he worked as a laborer before obtaining his high-school diploma in 1925. After graduation, he worked as a cartographer for the British survey office. During his time in Palestine he began his studies of self-defense, including jiu jitsu. A soccer injury in 1929 would later figure into the development of his method.
During the 1930s, he lived in France where he earned his engineering degree from the Ecole des Travaux Publics des Paris, and later his Doctor of Science in engineering at the Sorbonne where Marie Curie was one of his teachers. During this time he worked as a research assistant to nuclear chemist and Nobel Prize] laureate Frédéric Joliot-Curie at the Radium Institute. In 1933, he met Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, who invited him to study judo with him. In 1936, he became the first European to earn a black belt in judo, and later gained his 2nd degree black belt in 1938. He was a co-founding member of the Jiu Jitsu Club of Paris, the city's first which still exists today. Frédéric, Irène Joliot-Curie, and Bertrand L. Goldschmidt took Judo lessons from him during their time together at the institute.
Just as the Germans were about to arrive in Paris in 1940, Feldenkrais fled to Britain with a jar of "heavy water" and a sheaf of research material with instructions to deliver them to the British Admiralty War Office. Until 1946, he was a science officer in the Admiralty working on Anti-submarine weaponry in Fairliegh, Scotland. His work on improving sonar led to several patents. He also taught self-defense techniques to his fellow servicemen. On slippery submarine decks, he re-aggravated an old soccer knee injury. Refusing an operation, he was prompted to intently explore and develop self-rehabilitation and awareness techniques through self-observation which later evolved into the method. His discoveries led him to begin sharing with others (including colleague J. D. Bernal) through lectures, experimental classes, and one-on-one work with a few.
After leaving the Admiralty, he lived and worked in private industry in London. His self-rehabilitation enabled him to continue his Judo practice. From his position on the international Judo committee he began to scientifically study Judo, incorporating the knowledge he gained through his self-rehabilitation. In 1949 he published the first book on the Feldenkrais method, Body and Mature Behavior: A Study of Anxiety, Sex, Gravitation and Learning. During this period he studied the work of G.I. Gurdjieff, F. Matthias Alexander, Elsa Gindler and William Bates. He also traveled to Switzerland to study with Heinrich Jacoby.
In 1951, he returned to the recently formed Israel. After directing the Israeli Army Department of Electronics for several years, in 1954 he settled in Tel Aviv where he began to teach his method full-time. In 1957, he gave lessons in the Feldenkrais method to David Ben-Gurion, the Prime Minister of Israel, enabling him to stand on his head in a Yoga pose.
Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and into the 1980s he presented the Feldenkrais method throughout Europe and in North America (including an awareness through movement program for human potential trainers including Will Schutz, Stanley Kellerman and Ilana Rubenfeld at Esalen Institute in 1972). He also began to train teachers in the method so they could, in turn, present the work to others. He trained the first group of 13 teachers in the method from 1969-1971 in Tel Aviv, including Mia Segal, Yochanan Rywerant, Gaby Yaron and Ruthy Alon — who has since researched and developed a Feldenkrais application for osteoporosis, Bones for Life. Over the course of four summers from 1975-1978, he trained 65 teachers including Anat Baniel, Thomas Hanna and Linda Tellington-Jones in San Francisco at Lone Mountain College under the auspices of the Humanistic Psychology Institute. In 1980, 235 students began his teacher-training course at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, but he was not able to continue with them through the end due to illness in 1981. He rehabilitated himself from consecutive strokes over three years until he finally succumbed and died in his home in Tel Aviv. There are well over 2000 practitioners of his method teaching throughout the world today.
- "Movement is life. Life is a process. Improve the quality of the process and you improve the quality of life itself."
- "If you know what you are doing, you can do what you want."
- "Without movement life is unthinkable."
- "What I'm after isn't flexible bodies, but flexible brains. What I'm after is to restore each person to their human dignity."
- "..make the impossible possible, the possible easy, and the easy elegant."
- "I believe that the unity of mind and body is an objective reality. They are not just parts somehow related to each other, but an inseparable whole while functioning. A brain without a body could not think..."
- "...self-knowledge through awareness is the goal of reeducation. As we become aware of what we are doing in fact, and not what we say or think we are doing, the way to improvement is wide open to us."
- "Find your true weakness and surrender to it. Therein lies the path to genius. Most people spend their lives using their strengths to overcome or cover up their weaknesses. Those few who use their strengths to incorporate their weaknesses, who don't divide themselves, those people are very rare. In any generation there are a few and they lead their generation."
Books about the Feldenkrais Method
- Body and Mature Behavior: A Study of Anxiety, Sex, Gravitation and Learning. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1949; New York: International Universities Press, 1950 (softcover edition, out of print); Tel-Aviv: Alef Ltd., 1966, 1980, 1988 (hardcover edition).
- Awareness Through Movement: Health Exercises for Personal Growth. New York/London: Harper & Row 1972, 1977; Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1972, 1977 (hardcover edition, out of print); Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1972, 1977; San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1990 (softcover edition).
- The Case of Nora: Body Awareness as Healing Therapy. New York/London: Harper & Row, 1977 (out of print).
- The Elusive Obvious. Cupertino, California: Meta Publications, 1981.
- The Master Moves. Cupertino, California: Meta Publications, 1984, (softcover edition.)
- The Potent Self. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985. Harper Collins, New York, 1992, (softcover edition.)
- 50 Lessons by Dr. Feldenkrais. Noah Eshkol. Tel-Aviv, Israel: Alef Publishers, 1980 (written in Movement Notation).
Books about Jiu jitsu and Judo
- Practical Unarmed Combat. London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1941. Revised edition 1944, 1967 (out of print).
- Judo: The Art of Defense and Attack. New York and London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1944, 1967 (out of print).
- Higher Judo (Groundwork). New York and London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1952 (out of print). Xerox copy available from Feldenkrais Resources.
Articles and transcribed lectures
- "A Non-Specific Treatment." The Feldenkrais Journal, No. 6, 1991. (Lecture from 1975 Training Program, edited by Mark Reese.)
- "Awareness Through Movement." Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators. John E. Jones and J. William Pfeiffer (eds.). La Jolla, CA: University Associates, 1975.
- "Bodily Expression." Somatics, Vol. 6, No. 4, Spring/Summer 1988. (Translated from the French by Thomas Hanna.)
- "Bodily Expression (Conclusion)." Somatics, Vol. 7, No. 1, Autumn/Winter 1988-89.
- "Learn to Learn." Booklet. Washington D.C.: ATM Recordings, 1980.
- "On Health." Dromenon, Vol. 2, No. 2, August/September 1979.
- "On the Primacy of Hearing." Somatics, Vol. 1, No. 1, Autumn 1976.
- "Man and the World." Somatics, Vol. 2, No. 2, Spring 1979. Reprinted in Explorers of Humankind, Thomas Hanna (ed.). San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979.
- "Mind and Body." Two lectures in Systematics: The Journal of the Institute for the Comparative Study of History, Philosophy and the Sciences, Vol. 2, No. 1, June 1964. Reprinted in Your Body Works, Gerald Kogan (ed.). Berkeley: Transformations, 1980.
- "Self-Fulfillment Through Organic Learning." Journal of Holistic Health, Vol. 7, 1982. (Lecture delivered at the Mandala Conference, San Diego, 1981, edited by Mark Reese.)
- Moshe Feldenkrais Biography from the International Feldenkrais Federation
- About Moshé Feldenkrais and The Feldenkrais Method by Mark Reese
- A Concise Biography of Moshe Feldenkrais by Mark Reese
- Bibliography of the Feldenkrais Method compiled by Mark Reese
- Some History from the Australian Feldenkrais Center
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