The Feldenkrais Method is an educational system that uses movement to teach self awareness and improve function.
The Feldenkrais Method was developed by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984). The Biography of Dr. Feldenkrais shows his diverse fields of study and hints to the sources of the genius of the Method he developed.
Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais wrote extensively. Here are some excerpts of his works that will stimulate your thinking, and serve as an introduction to the Feldenkrais Method.
The Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education uses gentle movement and directed attention to help people learn new and more effective ways of living the life they want. You can increase your ease and range of motion, improve your flexibility and coordination, and rediscover your innate capacity for graceful, efficient movement. Since how you move is how you move through life, these improvements will often enhance your thinking, emotional regulation, and problem-solving capabilities.
The Feldenkrais Method is based on principles of physics, biomechanics, and an empirical understanding of learning and human development. Moshe Feldenkrais said, “We move according to our perceived self-image.” By expanding your perception and increasing awareness, you will become more aware of your habits and tensions and develop new ways of moving. By increasing sensitivity, the Feldenkrais Method assists you to live your life more fully, efficiently, and comfortably.
You can experience the Feldenkrais Method in two ways. Awareness Through Movement® lessons are taught in a group setting, with students following the verbal instructions of the teacher. Functional Integration® sessions are one on one lessons where the fully clothed student is guided through touch, movement and verbal instruction.
Excerpts from the works of Moshe Feldenkrais
From Moshe Feldenkrais, “Body and Mind”, 1980:
The way the mind and body are united has preoccupied human beings throughout the centuries. ‘A healthy mind in a healthy body’ and similar sayings show a conception of one kind of unity.
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; at least, the continuing of mental functions is assured by corresponding motor functions.
There is little doubt in my mind that the motor function, and perhaps the muscles themselves, are part and parcel of our higher functions. This is not true only of those higher functions like singing, painting and loving, which are impossible without muscular activity, but also of thinking, recalling, remembering and feeling.
The advantage of approaching the unity of mental and muscular life through the body lies in the fact that the muscle expression is simpler because it is concrete and easier to locate. It is also incomparably easier to make a person aware of what is happening in the body, therefore the body approach yields faster and more direct results. On acting on the significant parts of the body, such as the eyes, the neck, the breath, or the pelvis, it is easy to effect striking changes of mood on the spot.
A person is made up of three entities: the nervous system, which is the core; the body – skeleton, viscera and muscles; and the environment, which is space, gravitation, and society. These three aspects, each with its material support and its activity, together give a working picture of a human being.
Individually acquired action (ontogenic action) pertains to the senses. Such action can be altered or learned as one can become aware of the actual differences, such as the extent of the effort, its coordination in time, the body sensation, the spatial configuration of the body segments, the standing, the breathing, the wording, etc.
This kind of awared learning is complete when the new mode of action becomes automatic or even unconscious, as all habits do. The advantage of a habit acquired by awareness is that when it shows unfitness or maladjustment when confronted with reality, it easily provokes new awareness and so helps one to make a fresh and more efficient change.
My inmost belief is that, just as anatomy has helped us to get an intimate knowledge of the working of the body, and neuroanatomy an understanding of some activities of the psyche, so will understanding of the somatic aspects of consciousness enable us to know ourselves more intimately.
Techniques for Individual Teaching (Functional Integration®)
From Moshe Feldenkrais, “The Feldenkrais Method”, ND:
The manipulative technique is necessarily individual and custom tailored to fit the particular needs of the person.
From Moshe Feldenkrais, “Body and Mind”, 1980:
I begin with the person lying on his or her back. This position is meant to reduce most of the influence of gravity on the body, freeing the nervous system. The reaction of the nervous system to the pull of gravity is a habit, and under these circumstances, there is no way to bring the muscles to respond differently to the same stimulus, which is the major means of reeducating the body.
In due course I teach people by using thirty different body situations, going to sitting, standing, walking and balancing on […] rollers.
From Moshe Feldenkrais, The Elusive Obvious (Meta Publications, 1991):
Functional Integration is essentially nonverbal. It is effective because the injured person […] has lost the ability to help himself. Their self-reliance is so compromised that most treatment produces only superficial improvement, if any at all. (In Functional Integration)… the deepest kinesthetic sensations formed in early childhood are affected. The person withdraws from what happens in the outside world and is completely absorbed with attending to the internally occurring changes. The smoother eye movement, the rotation of the head, the change in pressure distribution on the soles of the feet, the reduction of intercostal tensions, the completion of the antigravitational muscular patterns for a clear feeling of vertical upright standing cannot occur without a complete change of neural functioning of the intentional or motor cortex and of the sensory one.
The muscular tonus becomes more uniform and is lowered. A feeling of well-being prevails. The breathing becomes regular; the cheeks more colored. The eyes are brighter, wider, and moister and sparkle. At the end, one rubs one’s eyes as if awakening from a restful dream.
Group Techniques (Awareness Through Movement®)
From Moshe Feldenkrais, “The Feldenkrais Method”, ND:
The group technique (Awareness Through Movement) was created to produce the effect of the manipulative teaching in the greatest number of people. (The word teaching indicates that the changes in the self-image are produced by the pupil, through becoming aware of his changed body image.)
From Moshe Feldenkrais, “Body and Mind”, 1980:
For example, a particular group I have taught consisted of men and women suffering from sciatica, discal hernias, frozen shoulder and similar complaints. Other groups may be composed of teachers, actors, singers, dancers, etc.
I begin by asking people to lie on their backs (after the same principle of reducing gravity) and learn to scan themselves. That is, they examine attentively the contact of their bodies with the floor and gradually learn to detect considerable differences – points where the contact is feeble or non-existent and others where it is full and distinct. This training develops awareness of the location of muscles producing weak contact through permanent excessive tension, thus holding parts of the body up off the floor. Some improvement in tension reduction can be achieved through muscular awareness alone, but beyond that no improvement will be carried over into normal live unless people increase their awareness of the skeleton and its orientation.
I usually make clear that the point of my work is to lead to awareness in action, or the ability to make contact with one’s own skeleton and muscles and with the environment practically simultaneously. This is not ‘relaxation’, for true relaxation can be maintained only when doing nothing. The aim is not complete relaxation but healthy, powerful, easy and pleasurable exertion. The reduction of tension is necessary because efficient movement should be effortless. Inefficiency is sensed as effort and prevents doing more and better.
The gradual reduction of useless effort is necessary in order to increase kinesthetic sensitivity, without which a person cannot become self regulating.
Another important feature of the group work is the continued novelty of situation that is maintained throughout the course. Once the novelty wears off, awareness is dulled and no learning takes place. If a configuration needs repetition, I teach it in tens and even hundreds of variations until they are mastered.
All exercises are arranged to produce a neat change in sensation at the end of the lesson and usually a more or less lasting effect. This enables pupils to find connections between different parts of the body, as for instance between the left shoulder blade and the right hip joint, or between the eye muscle and the toes.
To produce the mental ease necessary for the reduction of useless efforts, the group is repeatedly encouraged to learn to do a little less well than is possible when trying hard to be less fast, less vigorous, less graceful, etc. They are often asked to do the utmost and then deliberately to do a little less. This is more important than it might seem. For if enabled to feel progress while not tensing, pupils have the sensation of being able to do better, which induces more progress. Achievements that otherwise need numerous hours of work can be obtained in twenty minutes with this attitude of mind and body.
Special mention must be made of very small, barely perceptible movements that I use extensively. They reduce involuntary contraction in the muscles in an astonishing way; in a few minutes by working on one leg or arm, for example, it may be made to feel longer and lighter than the other.
But whatever the exercise or the principle used, the lesson is so arranged that without concentration, without trying to sense differences, without real attention, pupils cannot proceed to the next stage. Repetition, just mechanical repetition without attention, is discouraged, made impossible in fact. Many exercises consist in attending to the means of achieving a goal and not to the goal itself, which is an important way of reducing tension. All these exercises aim at achieving mental and physical cooordination and in particular good erect posture and correct action.
Finally, 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.
Susan Hillier : Associate Professor: Neuroscience and Rehabilitation, University of South Australia
The Feldenkrais Method is a way of exploring movement, posture and breathing through hands-on touch, used by dancers, musicians, athletes, actors and people living with and rehabilitating from a range of illnesses and injuries. Terms integral to the method such as awareness and integration are not easy concepts.
But think of it this way – in order for any system to work at its peak, it needs a mechanism to receive feedback on its performance so that it can adjust and improve.
Remember how you learnt to play a musical instrument or play a new sport. You became aware of feedback to improve; you listened to the sounds you were making with the violin and adjusted how you used the bow or where you put your fingers to make a better sound.
When you used a tennis racquet, you monitored where the ball landed after you hit it to gauge how to adjust to strike the next ball. Then you monitored the new way and either continued to adapt and integrate and the cycle of improvement hopefully continued.
If you didn’t adapt then you probably got stuck in a habit or relatively fixed way of being. So we use our senses for feedback (sound, vision, touch and body position/motion) to learn a new skill or to refine and improve an existing skill – to learn to perform better.
We become aware of the effects of what we are doing, try new ways and then we integrate those ways that work better.
This ability to make sense of our sensory feedback in more and more refined ways is what people do in Feldenkrais – you can become more discerning and so your quality improvement loop gets more accurate. You can use this improved sensitivity to (body) feedback to improve all kinds of performance.
In the performing arts, awareness of one’s self is pretty critical – where you are in space and how you are moving, the way you are producing voice, producing body language, how to adapt to the role or song or action in any given moment.
It is this ability to pay attention to subtle feedback and respond that makes the difference between perfect pitch or effortless coordination and simply “close enough”.
In Feldenkrais lessons, this ability to attend and respond is systematically practised. Carefully crafted movement sequences are delivered either in class or in one-to-one sessions.
Moshe Feldenkrais illustrating the function of the human skeleton in sitting. Wikimedia Commons
You practise sensing these subtle distinctions of your performance. You learn how to learn; you practice the foundations of improvement.
Moshe Feldenkrais was a polymath who had a background in engineering, martial arts, hard science, child development … and an incredible curiosity.
He realised during his own rehabilitation from soccer injuries that if he paid better attention to what he was doing he could perform better – and the key things to pay attention to were these ideas of how he was using himself; sensing effort and, by contrast, sensing ease; being aware of the feedback and adjusting and experimenting with better ways of performing an action or task.
He famously taught the then Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, to stand on his head at the age of 77.
Feldenkrais refined the method over many decades before he died in the mid-1980s. The method is now being taught in many areas – from health and well-being clinics, through to acting, circus and voice training in many performing arts schools.
Feldenkrais famously said what he wanted was “flexible minds, not flexible bodies”. He was interested in minds that could use feedback to find flexible solutions, minds that could move beyond automatic, mindless, repetitive habits of thinking, feeling, sensing and moving. Minds that could self-reflect, find new ways and change. Creative minds!
In Feldenkrais you practise sensing subtle distinctions in your performance. EPA/Franck Robichon
Feldenkrais is in many ways a simple message that can be incredibly hard to put into operation. It is finding resonance in the current understandings of mindfulness and the ability of the brain to change (neuroplasticity) and puts these ideas into action.
The evidence for the effectiveness of the method is growing, particularly in areas where body awareness is paramount such as balance and dexterity. There is also evidence for finding greater comfort and ease for people who have been injured.
In the area of performing arts there are no research trials as such but a growing interest in the phenomenology of learning in the arts context. Self-reflective practice and generating creativity are emerging themes from the work to date and will be the subject of future study.