The Feldenkrais method is an educational system that allows the body to move and function more efficiently and comfortably. Its goal is to re-educate the nervous system and improve motor ability. The system can accomplish much more, relieving pressure on joints and weak points, and allowing the body to heal repetitive strain injuries. Continued use of the method can relieve pain and lead to higher standards of achievement in sports, the martial arts, dancing and other physical disciplines.
Pupils are taught to become aware of their movements and to become aware of how they use their bodies, thus discovering possible areas of stress and strain. The goal of Feldenkrais is to take the individual from merely functioning, to functioning well, free of pain and restriction of movement. Feldenkrais himself stated that his goal was, "To make the impossible possible, the possible easy, and the easy, elegant."
This method of re-educating the nervous system can be beneficial to a wide range of people, including athletes, children, the elderly, martial artists, those who are handicapped, people with special needs, and those suffering from degenerative diseases. It has also proved popular with artists, particularly musicians, a number of whom have used Feldenkrais to improve their performance.
The Feldenkrais Guild of North America (FGNA) states that over half of the those who turn to Feldenkrais practitioners are seeking relief from pain. Many people who have pain from an injury compensate by changing their movements to limit pain. Often these changed movements remain after the pain from the original injury is gone, and new pain may occur. Feldenkrais helps students become aware of the changed movements and allows them to learn new movements that relieve their pain. Apart from the obvious physical benefits of more efficient movement and freedom from pain and restriction, Feldenkrais practitioners assert that there are other positive benefits for overall physical and mental health. Feldenkrais can result in increased awareness, flexibility, and coordination, and better relaxation. Feldenkrais practitioners have also noted other benefits in their students, including improvements in awareness, flexibility, coordination, breathing, digestion, sleep, mood, mental alertness, energy, and range of motion, as well as reduced stress and hypertension, and fewer headaches and backaches.
Musicians and athletes can improve their performance in many ways when they learn to use their bodies more efficiently. Feldenkrais can also help injured athletes regain lost potential and free them from pain and restriction of movement.
There are numerous accounts of the remarkable results obtained when Feldenkrais is taught to handicapped children so that they can learn to function despite their limitations. Handicapped people can learn to make full use of whatever potential they have, and to have more confidence in their abilities. Practitioners who specialize in teaching Feldenkrais to those who have handicaps have in many cases allowed the patient to discover ways of performing tasks which were previously thought to be impossible for them.
The elderly, whose movements are often restricted by pain and stiffness, can learn to overcome these obstacles with Feldenkrais instruction. In some instances even severe cases of arthritis have been conquered. Theoretically, Feldenkrais can make possible renewed levels of energy and freedom from restriction.
Moshe Feldenkrais (1904–1984) was a Russian-born Israeli physicist and engineer who was also an active soccer player and judo master. He devised his system in response to his own recurring knee injury, which had restricted his movement and caused him great pain over a long period of time. Feldenkrais believed that repeated muscle patterns cause the parts of the brain controlling those muscles to stay in a fixed pattern as well. He thought that the more the muscles are used, the more parts of the brain can be activated.
Feldenkrais is described a being a dual system, with two components: "Awareness Through Movement" and "Functional Integration." The system aims to re-educate the body so that habitual movements that cause strain or pain can be relearned to improve efficiency and eliminate dangerous or painful action.
Feldenkrais helps to translate intention into action. In practice, an individual can learn to achieve his or her highest potential, while at the same time learning to avoid and eliminate stresses, strains, and the possibility of injury.
During this session, the patient wears comfortable clothing, and may sit, stand, walk, or lie on a low padded table. The practitioner helps the pupil by guiding him or her through a number of movements. The practitioner may use touch to communicate with the student, but touch is not used to correct any movements. The purpose of this session is to increase a student's awareness of his or her own movement and become open to different possibilities for movement. The instruction can be focused on a particular activity that the student does every day, or that causes him or her pain. The student can learn to alter habitual movements and re-educate the neuromuscular system. This type of session is particularly useful for those who suffer from limitations originating from misuse, stress, illness, or accident. It can also help athletes and musicians perform to the best of their ability by increasing their possibilities for movement. It offers students the potential for improving their physical and mental performance in addition to heightening the sense of well-being.
Awareness through movement
Feldenkrais's martial arts background can be clearly identified in many of the aspects of Awareness Through Movement (ATM). During group sessions, pupils are taught to become acutely aware of all their movements and to imagine them, so that they can improve the efficiency of their actions in their minds, and put them into practice. Pupils are encouraged to be disciplined about practicing their exercises, to achieve maximum benefit.
Awareness through movement is described as an exploratory, nonjudgmental process through which pupils are encouraged to observe and learn about themselves and their movements. The range of this therapy is wide, and there are thousands of different lessons designed to help specific areas.
No preparation is necessary for the practice of Feldenkrais, and all are encouraged to seek help from this system. No condition is considered a preclusion to the benefits of Feldenkrais.
As with any therapy or treatment, care should be taken to choose a qualified practitioner. Feldenkrais practitioners stress that the body must not be forced to do anything, and if any movement is painful, or even uncomfortable, it should be discontinued immediately and the patient should seek professional help.
No known side effects are associated with the practice of Feldenkrais.
Research and general acceptance
Since Moshe Feldenkrais began to teach his method, it has gradually gained acceptance as an education system. Published research using the method can be found in United States and foreign publications.
Alon, Ruthy. Mindful Spontaneity: Lessons in the Feldenkrais Method. 2nd ed. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1996.
Bratman, Steven. The Alternative Medicine Sourcebook. 2nd ed. Chicago: Lowell House, 1999.
Feldenkrais, Moshe. Awareness Through Movement. New York: Harper, 1991.
Rywerant, Yochanan. The Feldenkrais Method. Chicago: Keats Publishing, 1991.
Shafarman, Steven. Awareness Heals: The Feldenkrais Method for Dynamic Health. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 1997.
Somerville, Robert. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Tiburon, CA: Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1999.
Stillerman, Elaine. The Encyclopedia of Bodywork. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1996.
Thomas, Richard, and C. Norman Shealy, eds. The Complete Family Guide to Alternative Medicine. Dorset, UK: Element Books Ltd., 1996.
Zemach-Bersin, David and Kaethe, and Mark Reese. Relaxercise. New York: Harper, 1990.
Feldenkrais Guild of North America. 3611 SW Hood Ave., Suite 100, Portland, OR 97201. (800) 775-2118. (503) 221-6612. Fax: (503) 221-6616. <http://www.feldenkrais.com/>.
Jill S. Lasker
Cheryl Branche, M.D.
MOSHE FELDENKRAIS (1904-1984)
Moshe Feldenkrais was born on the border between Russia and Poland. When he was only a boy of 13, he traveled to Palestine on foot. The journey took a year, and once there, young Feldenkrais worked as a laborer and cartographer, also tutoring others in mathematics. Moving to France in 1933, he graduated in mechanical and electrical engineering from the Ecole des Travaux Publiques de Paris.
Feldendrais became the first person to open a Judo center in Paris after meeting with Jigaro Kano. He was also one of the first Europeans to become a black belt in Judo, in 1936.
Obtaining his Ph.D. at the Sorbonne, he went on to assist Nobel Prize laureate, Frédéric Joliot-Curie at the Curie Institute. During World War II in England, he worked on the new sonar anti-submarine research.
Prompted by a recurring leg injury, he applied his knowledge of the martial arts and his training as an engineer to devise a method of re-integrating the body. The concept was that more efficient movement would allow for the treatment of pain or disability, and the better-functioning of the body as a whole. Later on, he would begin to teach what he had learned to others in Tel Aviv.
In addition to many books about judo, including Higher Judo, he wrote six books on his method.
Neuromuscular—The body system of nerves and muscles as they function together.
Repetitive strain injury—Injury resulting from a repeated movement such as typing or throwing a ball.