Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-84) was an extraordinary human being who never stopped learning. He kept refining the Method named after him till the end of his life. (See Moshe Feldenkrais – Great Man and Inspired Teacher)
As a truly holistic approach to health and well-being, Feldenkrais learning can have amazing therapeutic effects and greatly improve posture, breathing, and physical skills. However, it is neither therapy, technique, nor exercise programme. Ultimately it aims higher in offering open-ended ways of exploration towards fulfilment of our aspirations. This is done by reconnecting us with the kind of organic learning through direct experience we all knew as small children. At the start of our life we achieved such marvels as getting up onto our own feet without instruction or help, and learning to walk and talk. At that time we happily explored, experimented, and learned until an intention was translated into effective action and satisfaction obtained. Sustained in this ‘research’ activity by our innate curiosity, we time and again experienced quite naturally what Feldenkrais students soon begin to realize consciously: With an appropriate attitude towards self and ‘task’ the impossible becomes possible – the possible easy – and the easy pleasant and elegant.
In this sense we can all regain the birthright nature allowed us to know and live most intimately as small children: the joy of being fully alive, spontaneous, creative, healthy and whole.
True Learning is Open-Ended
The Feldenkrais Method can best be described as an intelligently structured “learning-to-learn” approach. Its characteristic playfulness is modelled on natural learning-processes as found in childhood. ‘Making mistakes’ is encouraged since they may lead to unexpected discoveries and surprising results. Predetermined goals are avoided because they tend to inhibit real learning. Feldenkrais used to say:
“In knowing what to achieve before we have learned how to learn, we can reach only the limit of our ignorance”.
Good and Bad Habits
Most learning through immersion in experience results in reliable habits being established. However, not all of these habits are to our best advantage. And if we behave as if our habits are ourselves, as if it were impossible to find new and better habits, we may be in real trouble: “The habit should serve you, not you the habit. Habits are wonderful things. Use them for your good and not for your destruction.”
Feldenkrais learning is a powerful antidote against unintended self-harming, for instance wear-and-tear due to poor posture and inefficient action characterised by unnecessary effort. Instead of waiting patiently for, say, a hip replacement, we can take preventive action ourselves: learn to find release from habitually restricted patterns of behaviour; and discover better options that allow regeneration of the affected joint. People often talk about having truly surprised themselves when they find that Feldenkrais helps them to liberate unexpected potential. This invariably happens when the natural process of growing and maturing as a balanced human being kicks in again after having been interrupted by social conditioning and the demands made at school. Moshe Feldenkrais used to talk about “ridding ourselves of all the junk put into us with the best of intentions”.
“Movement is Life – Without Movement Life is Unthinkable”
The Method uses movement, life’s most natural manifestation, as the principle medium for self-discovery and self-help. Gentle exploration of familiar movement-sequences - and some extraordinarily unfamiliar variations - highlights parts of the body which seem like blank areas on an ancient map and usually remain immobile instead of participating in physical activity. By really feeling what is going on in a Feldenkrais lesson; by paying attention to the degree of comfort or discomfort - i.e. harmony, ease, and pleasure or effort, struggle, and frustration -, we can recover important aspects of ourselves that have been neglected and excluded since early childhood (from both conscious awareness and movement).
Most importantly, the intelligence of our nervous system is given a fresh chance to reassert itself and really do the job it is intended to do (not only in our early years but throughout our life): creating order in our perceptions, feelings, thoughts, and actions, and making sense of our experience. In this way our nervous system will continue to expand its scope and keep fine-tuning until our last breath. (See In-Depth Articles - An Emergent Science of Learning)
When we feel that this is happening, we are often utterly surprised, or filled with amazing joy. We might also begin to appreciate the extraordinary intelligence of the human nervous system. As Feldenkrais used to stress, this system has evolved throughout millennia of evolution. It is therefore ultimately far more clever and reliable than our intellect which was trained and conditioned in society’s educational institutions. As we start to reconnect with the fabulous potential of information and wisdom accumulated in our nervous system, we will also be able to relate much more healthily and responsibly with all embodied life on earth.
A Dual Approach:
Awareness Through Movement (ATM) and Functional Integration (FI), the two approaches within the Method, complement each other. Their effectiveness lies in ability to access our nervous system’s innate capacity to change and refine its own functioning.
• In ATM groups of students are guided, mainly verbally, to experience the body in space and action (i.e. learn to rely on the usually underused ‘proprioceptive’ and ‘kinesthetic’ senses) and thereby discover the implications of mind and body being one inseparable whole. Participants experience Feldenkrais classes as playful and interesting guided experiments.
• In FI an individual pupil/student learns exactly the same. Only this time s/he is guided mainly non-verbally through touch. Here the experience is that of being engaged in an extraordinarily sophisticated inner dance, involving a subtle, occasionally very entertaining, amusing, or somewhat puzzling conversation between two nervous systems, i.e. between the learner and the practitioner.
“Successful Action is Performed with the Least Exertion from Body and Mind”
Moshe Feldenkrais used to stress that such action always involves four components: thinking, sensing, feeling, and moving because they “never occur separately, never, not for an instant”. He knew from his own and his students’ experience: if we start using all these faculties with greater awareness (instead of living mainly in our ‘heads’ and emotions, as we usually do) we will find ways of successfully realizing our intentions because then “we have infinite means” at our disposal.
An immediate and very tangible benefit of participating in a Feldenkrais class (or having a few individual sessions) is a growing capacity to sense oneself – and in particular to feel how the physical work involved in any action can be properly distributed throughout the body. The strain on the hip joints, for instance, will be immediately reduced when the disks between the vertebrae in the spine begin to function as intended by nature, cushioning the impact of each step.
When we accept the challenge of taking care of our own comfort, doing things gently and slowly, without undue effort, and keep listening to the body, we may once again begin to live the unity of body and mind that most of us knew as babies and toddlers. And then we will understand the meaning of typical Feldenkrais assertions like “Anything that we do comfortably must involve the entire body, the entire self”.
“Just Change Your Image!”
Moshe Feldenkrais’s most accessible book AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT begins with the words: “We act in accordance with our self-image”. He goes on to explain that this self-image is “conditioned in varying degrees by three factors: heritage, education, and self-education”.
Ultimately we can only influence the direction and quality of self-education. The entire Feldenkrais Method is founded on one crucial insight: Trying to improve specific skills and actions – as we all attempt to do whenever we are not satisfied with ourselves - is not going to alter the way we have been conditioned to think, feel, and act. This conditioning determines our (mostly unconscious) self-image; and as long as that remains the same, nothing will really change for the better. The gap between image and potential capacities can only be bridged through “finding better ways of acting by changing our way of acting."As new skills and competences are developed through active exploration, a person’s self-image will also begin to alter. This in turn will entail tangibly real changes in thinking and behaviour. Such a process of continuous self-improvement or self-education may ultimately culminate in what Moshe Feldenkrais called “the potent self”. Such a possible self enjoys freedom from compulsive conditioned behaviour, self-reliance, capacity for self-observation, self-reflection, and responsible thought and action.
“The more you understand, sense, feel...the less alienated you’ll be from yourself and the world”.
(For an example of a dramatic change of self-image – from self-proclaimed ‘clumsy’ Professor of Chemistry to highly skilled Feldenkrais teacher and trainer – see Resources: A Very Human Process, an interview with Carl Ginsburg)
“We are all Brain-Damaged – Most of us use perhaps 5% of body-brain potential”.
In Moshe Feldenkrais’s experience those who are called ‘handicapped’ or ‘brain-damaged’ are sometimes more highly developed as human beings than so-called ‘normal’ people. The explanation: In the best of cases, such individuals get the right kind of support and encouragement to develop their innate potential to the fullest extent instead of curtailing it by joining the ‘rat-race’ as most of us had to do. Here is Moshe Feldenkrais at his most outspoken:
“Which of us, after all, is not brain-damaged, in the sense that we allow many areas of our brains to atrophy through misuse or non-use? We settle for so little! As long as we can get by, we let it go at that. We can have terrible posture and movement patterns and habits which are distorting and damaging to our bodies and brains – and still be classified as ‘normal’. Most of us use perhaps five percent of body-brain potential. Who are we, then, to call other people brain-damaged simply because their particular deficiency produces visible effects that we label ‘disease’?”
(See Applications of the Method: Helping Children with Cerebral Palsy)
A Step in Conscious Evolution
In a process of continuous “approximation”, taking us gradually closer to what we are really capable of, we can begin to neutralize some, if not all, of those debilitating characteristics society has fostered in us since birth (a need to please, mindless achievement-orientation, competitiveness, and sometimes crippling self-consciousness). Replacing such narrow attitudes by conscious awareness – i.e. seeing and also understanding what we are doing to ourselves, to others, to the planet as a living entity - will no longer seem impossible. This transformation also entails rediscovery of a childlike sense of wonder and delight in co-existing and co-operating with our fellow humans and all the myriads of living creatures who happen to share our brief historical moment on this planet.
Such an awakening happens to many people as they experience greater harmony, stillness, and inner peace during a Feldenkrais lesson. Those who may have practised motionless meditations for years (despite all the discomfort long sitting involves) may suddenly find themselves enable to pursue their highest spiritual aspirations in a profoundly practical (and less painful) manner because:
“The path to the infinite and eternal begins here and now in the way we breathe, sit, walk, and function at every moment. The same word, ‘grace’, describes both spiritual attainment and aesthetically satisfying movement. Awareness heals and reawakens one’s sense of wholeness, of being fully alive, which is the essence of spiritual experience.” (Steven Shafarman, AWARENESS HEALS, p. 184 – See Resources, Books about the Method)
Neither age nor physical condition need be an obstacle to Feldenkrais learning. The Method is for anyone who is interested in exploring and extending their ability to respond more skilfully to life’s many challenges and obtain a greater degree of freedom of choice.
• However most people come to Feldenkrais lessons because of some disability due to rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, RSI (repetitive strain injury - often due to long hours working with their computer or practising a musical instrument), 'frozen shoulder', whip-lash injury etc. – or simply because the Method is their last hope of learning to cope with crippling back-pain.
See Applications of the Feldenkrais Method: Frozen Shoulder: They tell me what to do...but not HOW
• Enlightened parents in search of gentler, less intrusive means of assisting their children with cerebral palsy often find that the Method is just what they have been looking for because their kids love it and respond very positively to the characteristic playfulness.
See Applications of the Feldenkrais Method:
See also Articles: Feldenkrais Learning and David Bohm’s Dialogue Model
• Sportspeople and performing artists (musicians, dancers, actors) discover unexpected ways of improving their poise, co-ordination, and performance skills. This also gives the body a chance to heal itself after injury and prevent further damage.
Adolescents often suffer from back-pain (especially following sports injuries or resulting from sitting at a computer for long hours), but the skeletal misalignment responsible for such problems can easily be remedied.
See Feldenkrais on Air: Broken arm, bad back, and depressed – but very soon a changed child
The Method – Brief Overview. Self-Development Through Body-Mind Learning