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The Feldenkrais method is a form of somatic education that focuses on the relationship between movement and thought. It was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, a student of judo. His approach is a synthesis of his studies of judo, a deep understanding of anatomy and an expertise in teaching special needs children.
The method began as a way to attain optimally efficient movement mechanics to prevent or recover from injury, but its applications have broadened to include the treatment of
Feldenkrais focuses on the elimination of old habit and making the body as receptive to new information as is the body of a developing child.
Like applied behavioral analysis, Feldenkrais was developed based on the natural developmental process in children. It emphasizes
- Learning to learn
- Visualization before actualization
- Analyzing and eliminating habitual movement
- Fostering the mind-body connection
- Learning using touch
- Mental presence and awareness
According to Feldenkrais, the state of full-body relaxation emphasized in both types of Feldenkrais allows the adult body to simulate a child’s receptivity to stimuli, mimicking the state of being a child who has not yet gone through the developmental processes of learning to stand, walk, reach, and otherwise interact with his environment.
Approaches to Feldenkrais
Functional Integration (FI)
FI is a one-on-one approach to Feldenkrais. The advantage is a series that is tailored to the student’s needs, as well as ample opportunity for touch. Feldenkrais argues that touch can be highly therapeutic, and when used correctly can serve as an external tool to connect the mind with the body internally. On the role of touch in his technique, Feldenkrais wrote:
"I suggest… that sensory stimuli are closer to our unconscious, subconscious, or autonomous functioning than to any of our conscious understanding."1
Ideally, in Functional Integration, muscular effort is eliminated by external touch. Unfortunately, FI is not widely available due to the expense of private lessons and the scarcity of practitioners.
Awareness Through Movement (ATM)
ATM takes place in a class format, and is better suited for uninjured people as a preventative, rejuvenating practice. In an ATM class, students are verbally directed through simple, minimalistic actions, which are mostly done lying on the back. Lying supine automatically eases the lower back into a neutral place that eases the severity of its natural curve, reducing any pain or tension, requiring very little conscious action from the student. The exception to the supine position is the occasional walk around the room, incorporated to allow the student to assess the changes that are taking place in the body and experience them while the body is active.
The actual exercises are secondary to the mental presence that is required.
"The movement, by itself, does not create the changes that people experience; it is the quality of being in the here and now with awareness that provides the opportunity for new choices."2
Who Should Use Feldenkrais?
Individuals who may benefit from Feldenkrais Method fall into three groups:
- Patients with specific physical complaints or chronic pain
- High-performing individuals, including athletes, artists, actors, musicians, dancers, martial artists, singers, etc.
- Individuals with specific conditions, such as learning disabilities, movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, stroke, and autism.4
Evidence on How It Works
Moshe Feldenkrais used Functional Integration to treat Nora, a stroke victim in her sixties on whom he wrote a case study in 1977. She confused right and left, could not perform everyday tasks such as putting on her shoes or glasses, had trouble speaking, reading, and writing, and was generally anxious and bewildered.
The objective was to regain the patterns that Nora, previously fully functional, had possessed before the stroke. Over a period of three months, Feldenkrais noted improvements in Nora’s reading, writing, speech, and general motor activity.3
One study suggested that a course in the Feldenkrais method in the context of a larger treatment program for various eating disorders may result in an improved body perception and acceptance.
Another study on multiple sclerosis patients compared 8 weeks of Feldenkrais method versus sham treatment in 20 patients. The treatment group showed no objective improvement in the measures of dexterity or in a MS symptom inventory. However, there was an improvement in perceived stress and lowered anxiety.4
1Johnson, Don Hanlon. Breath, Bone, & Gesture. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1995.
2Lessinger, Carol. Dance Kinesiology. Ed. Sally Sevey Fitt. United States: Schirmer, 1996. 325-331.
3Feldenkrais, Moshe. Body Awareness as Healing Therapy. Berkeley: Somatic Resources, 1977.
4 Jain, Sanjiv MD et al. "Alexander technique and Feldenkrais method: a critical overview," Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America 15 (2004): 811–825.