The Feldenkrais Method®

Spiral

Moshe Feldenkrais 1904-1984

The Feldenkrais Method® is a form of somatic education developed by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. It uses gentle movement and directed attention to improve function, to enhance one’s ability to think and move in domains in which one wants optimal or enhanced performance.

Moshe Feldenkrais based his method on scientific principles. His many inspirations included martial arts (he was one of the earliest Judo black belts in the west), child development, biomechanics, the Alexander Technique, brain research, psychology, and Eastern systems such as acupuncture and yoga. His approach is somatic, which means that it sees the mind and body as one whole.

 

Awareness Through Movement®


Feldenkrais® work is done in two formats. In group classes, called Awareness Through Movement® (ATM®), the Feldenkrais teacher verbally leads you through a sequence of movements in basic positions: sitting or lying on the floor, standing, or sitting in a chair. Each movement lesson addresses a functional movement skill. These lessons bring about enhanced awareness and expansion of movement patterns, greater mobility and flexibility, fuller breathing, more freedom and choices in movement and an increased sense of well being.

 

Functional Integration®

Private one-on-one Feldenkrais® lessons, called Functional Integration® (FI®), on the other hand, are tailored to each student’s individual learning needs; the teacher guides your movements through gentle, non-invasive touch. All lessons are designed for step by step improvement in movement abilities. In a typical Functional Integration® session, you lie or sit fully clothed on a low table while the practitioner touches and moves you in gentle, non-invasive ways. The intent of this touch is to explore your neuromuscular organization “the way in which you respond to touch and movement “and to have tactile communication with your central nervous system about how movement is directed and controlled. You learn to reorganize your neurophysiology in new and expanded functional motor patterns that result in improved movement.

 

The Feldenkrais Method® Philosophy

The Feldenkrais Method® focuses on the central organization of movement””the image in the motor cortex of the body in movement. The teacher presents some novel stimuli which the student then explores and attempts to incorporate into an action image. This is done without the intention of a particular outcome!  Thus the student is free to explore the sensory images and motor responses without forcing a particular type of response. Students develop a clearer image of how movement is controlled and performed. In this way it is possible to change old movement patterns and learn new ones. Because the work engages the student in a cognitive, sensory way, it gives the student the means to take charge of his or her own care and self-improvement.

 

Fechner Weber Principle

Fechner Weber principle says that the smallest difference in stimuli we can discern is proportional to the magnitude of the larger stimulus. This is the reason why slow gentle movements are emphasized in the Feldenkrais Method®. When you are doing movements with very little effort, your brain is able to easily register differences between various movement options and to pick the one that is most efficient.

Content Credit: Mary Spire

www.optimalmoves.com

Feldenkrais® and The Brain

In Feldenkrais®, we are expanding and refining the use of the self and our movement repertoires through awareness of movement. Through paying attention, and self-educating, we can develop better, more easeful movement and function. Through self-discovery and movement inquiry, vs. manipulation, we can find out what is possible for the body. There is a direct relationship between movement and thought. We aim to fully use ourselves for all movements. We become aware of habitual movement patterns and in so doing, expand our options for new ways of moving. We increase sensitivity and efficiency. We use gentle movements and directed attention to improve movement and enhance function. Through paying attention, we improve coordination, flexibility.

Feldenkrais® works with the unconscious brain and uses the eyes (the eyes initiate movement and action and help organize the body for motion), hands, and feet to initiate movements because it is in those areas that we have the most proprioceptors. As a result, we end up with better overall organization and balance. The body learns to hang its’ weight over the skeleton, using exterior anti-gravity muscles which evolved by nature. These muscles do not tire easily when the body is in balance with the line of gravity. The anti-gravity muscles are not requested by the conscious brain “the extensor muscles (these do not tire easily and their work is not registered by the conscious brain). Meanwhile, it is the flexor muscles that are reserved for voluntary movement.

When doing Feldenkrais® movements, we often lie on the ground to neutralize the forces of gravity. This also neutralizes our familiar responses to gravity. On the floor, we are more likely to use more infantile movements that we, hopefully, learned in early development. Feldenkrais discourages mindless repetitions as no two repetitions should be, or ever are, the same.

How do we help the brain realize that it has many choices for movement? How do we allow our subconscious to choose vs. manipulating our bodies to take on our ideas about posture? These are important questions to remember when practicing movements. Posture is often a manifestation of inefficient muscular organization involving muscles that hold up the skeleton. There is a relationship between inefficient body organization and pain so we look to stop the pain by making different movement choices. But fixing pain and problems is not the primary goal. The chief concern is efficient and easeful movement. We want to avoid “bad coordination” because it builds excess tension and internal stress.

Other Principles of The Feldenkrais Method®

Proximal vs. Distal

Proximal vs. Distal: Every movement uses different mixes of proximal and distal muscles. Efficient movement derives most of its’ power from proximal movements because we are moving closer to our center (the spine) and thus are more in the line of gravity where the weight of ourselves is less load on the anti-gravity muscles.

Release vs. Stretch

Stretching is counterproductive: because of stretch reflex. For example, Feldenkrais® encourages movements that go with the tight and achy muscles rather than against them. In this way, the muscle can then release. Muscles do not release from stretch, they often usually just tighten back up. Stretching has for years been a part of physical culture despite little scientific evidence in its favor. Of course, stretching an aching muscle feels good temporarily. But the stretched muscle will then snap back and start aching again (sometimes even worse than before). A basic principle in Feldenkrais® is to go *with* the movement of an achy, tight muscle rather than *against* it (i.e., let it contract even more, either by external force or by a more proximal movement) and then it will suddenly release. This avoidance of stretching is one way in which Feldenkrais® is quite different from yoga.  Read more about Stretch Reflex

Plasticity

We are learning new movement patterns that create deep change in the body. BUT you will lose the new pattern many times before it is finally yours. The body/brain wants safety and stability over comfort and so to feel safe and supported, while replacing an old and habitual movement pattern or posture, takes time.

The Eyes

Peripheral vision is important. When we open up to our peripheral vision, we have more, and can notice, bodily sensations. We are aware of the big picture. Our hearing improves and other senses are heightened. The peripheral visual field is mostly concerned with movement. Narrowing vision or hard focus, on the other hand, shuts out other sensory input.

The Essence

Feldenkrais® is not an exercise routine, though Feldenkrais® principles can be incorporated into exercise routines (including yoga/Pilates/weight training/sports).

Content Credit: www.cs.princeton.edu/~arora/feldenkrais.html

 

From William S. Leigh: A Zen Approach to Body Therapy

THE HUMAN SPECIES is molded by instinct far less than any other animal species. We are unique because our nervous system is not wired in at birth. For the greater part we acquire our habits as we go. The calf drops from the cow clothed in fur, stands, finds a teat, and starts sucking. The human baby is born naked and helpless. It can only cry and flail about when its needs are not met. Animals are born completely wired with most of the patterns they will use during their entire lifetimes, and their brain size changes very little. Humans are born with the most complex and sophisticated nervous systems but with only one reflex operational at birth, the falling instinct which causes the baby to contract when dropped. We learn most of the patterns we need to survive, and at maturity our brains are five times larger than at birth. Compared with animals we have an infinite capacity to learn different patterns of behavior. The sophistication of our nervous system makes self-awareness and muscular refinement possible to a remarkable degree. We have the possibility of living gracefully in full awareness.

If our nervous system ultimately gives us an advantage over animals, it also allows us to learn inefficient, aberrated patterns. To perform the simple act of sitting, for example, we rarely align our structure and allow gravity to support us. Instead we clench our thigh muscles, strain our back, constrict our breathing, push our neck forward, and so on, eventually impairing not only our motor activity but our thoughts and feelings as well.

What we wire into our nervous systems are not separate patterns of movement, thought, and feeling, but entire experiences. The self records the movements, thoughts, and feelings of an experience as a whole. They are inseparable, and changes in any are reflected in changes in all.

Moshe Feldenkrais focused on changing maladaptive patterns by bringing into awareness the motor components of undesired behavior. He maintained that motor activity was essential for any behavior, not only observable physical movements but even for thought and feelings and even consciousness itself.

 

Excerpts from Two Lectures: Copenhagen Congress of Functional Movement and Relaxation, early 1970s.

M. Feldenkrais: “My contention is that the unity of mind and body is an objective reality, that they are not entities related to each other in one fashion or another, but an inseparable whole while functioning. To put this point more clearly, I contend that a brain without motor functions could not think or at least that the continuity of mental functions is assured by corresponding motor functions.

Let me substantiate this point by some striking examples: A) It takes us longer to think the number from twenty to thirty than from one to ten, though the numerical intervals are the same from 1-10 and 20-30. The difference lies in the fact that the time intervals are proportional to the time needed to utter the corresponding numbers aloud. This suggests that we actually mobilize the brain mechanism of the vocal apparatus. B) In counting objects we find, in general, the linkage of the motor parts of vision and verbalization keeping down the speed of thought to the rate of the motor elements. C) Most people cannot think clearly without mobilizing the motor function of the brain enough to become aware of the word patterns representing the thought”¦. These examples indicate that an improvement in speed and clarity of thought may be obtained by reducing the extent of movement and smoothing the performance of the muscular controls.

We have no sensation of the inner workings of the central nervous system; we can feel their manifestations only as far as the eye, the vocal apparatus, the facial mobilization and the rest of the soma provoke our awareness. This is the state of consciousness!

Let us consider feeling in more detail. A) I am buoyant, my breath even, my face at the point of smiling. I feel gay. My motor attitude is quite different when I feel disgusted. Then my face is like that of a man on the brink of or immediately after vomiting. B) I clench my lower jaw; my fists and breath are held; my pulse is accelerated; my eyes and head move in jerks, and my neck is stiff. I am angry and on the verge of hurting, but I am trying not to let myself go. . . . There is usually a clear motor pattern sufficient even for an objective evaluation of the intensity of feelings.

Not only individual development or abnormality can be followed through the soma but even wider cultural and racial attitudinal differences, such as the introversion, the non-attachment, the indifference of the Hindu and the looseness of his hip joints; and the extroverted, clinging, holding-on, time-is-money attitude of the industrial nations with their utter inability to sit cross-legged. And, of course, to soften and bring to normal one’s hip joints, one must spend time looking at oneself and giving up attachments.

The advantage of approaching the unity of mental and muscular life through the soma lies in the fact that the muscular expression is simpler. It is concrete and simple to locate. It is also incomparably easier to make a person aware of what is happening and therefore yields faster and more direct results.”

 

Moshe Feldenkrais had two basic, broad ideals guiding his work: Movement should be limited by the skeletal structure and not the musculature. And, action should be done gracefully with maximum efficiency. He wrote:

“The head movements must have no predilection for particular directions. The “normal” head should have easy access to all directions of the anatomically possible range. The limiting factor should be the skeletal structure and not the muscular impediments. It can be shown that every adult uses only a part of the theoretical possibilities of the human frame. The healthy co-ordinated movements of the body as a whole obey the mechanical principle of least action, while the muscles work in step and perform their task with the least expenditure of metabolic energy. In view of these principles governing the operations of the whole human frame one can decide on normal and abnormal behavior.

“I never deal with the affected member or articulation before an improvement in the head-neck relationship and the breathing has been brought about. This, in turn, cannot be achieved without a betterment of the spine and thorax configuration. Again the pelvis and abdomen must be corrected. In practice the procedure is a successive series of approximations, each one allowing a further improvement in the segment just dealt with.”

 

Go With the Tension

One of Moshe’s techniques was to go with aberrations until they released. Some aberrations occur when two antagonistic muscles or muscle groups oppose each other rather than cooperate. Moshe would exaggerate the aberration, forcing the dominant muscle to relax since he was doing its work and stretching the inferior muscle and rejuvenating it with a new, fresh flow of blood.

Take, for example, his work on scoliosis, a lateral curve in the spine. In scoliosis one psoas muscle is skinny and stringy with poor muscle tone. It is far too long in comparison with the other psoas muscle which is bunched up, thick, short, hard, and painful when worked. When a person with scoliosis lies down, the leg on the thick, hard side is shorter than the other and tends to turn out

Moshe would push this leg toward the head making it even shorter. Now the muscle which has been pulling the leg cannot work because Moshe is pushing the leg shorter than the muscle can pull it. Since the muscle cannot work, it has to relax. Then Moshe would stretch the other psoas muscle even longer. Being thus stimulated, the muscle gets new blood which brings nourishment and removes wastes. A new awareness is created in both muscles so that when Moshe lets go, both muscles are more balanced than before.

 

“Posture”

“The erect posture is a biological quality of the human frame, and there should be no sensation of doing, holding, or any effort whatsoever. The actual posture is always the result of what the frame would do thanks to inherent mechanisms and what we have learned to do by adjusting ourselves to our physical and social environment. Much of what we have learned is to the detriment of the system, for it has been learned under the duress of affection or the stress of hardship when immediate dependence on others distorted our real needs. The dynamic conception of erect posture is as follows: The body should be so organized that it can start any movement, that is, forward, backward, right, left, down, up, turning either way, without previous arrangement of the segments of the body, without any sudden change in the rhythm of breathing, without clenching the lower jaw or tensing the tongue, and without any perceptible tensing of the muscles of the neck or fixation of the eyes. In this state the head is not fixedly held in space, but is free to move gently in all directions without previous notice. If these conditions are maintained during the action, then even lifting the entire weight of the body is not sensed as an effort.”

“Many of our failings, physical and mental, need not be considered diseases to be cured, nor an unfortunate trait of character for they are neither. They are an acquired result of a learned faulty mode of doing. The body only executes what the nervous system makes it do. Actions repeated innumerable times for years on end, such as all our habitual actions, mould even the bones, let alone the muscular development. The physical faults that appear in our body long after we were born are mainly the result of activity we have imposed on it. Faulty modes of standing and walking produce flat feet, and it is the mode of standing and walking that must be corrected and not the feet. The extent to which our frame is able to adjust itself by learning s better use of control, the feet, the eyes, or wahtever organ it may be, will again adjust themselves and change their shape and finction accordingly. The transformations that can be produced and their rapidity, sometimes border on the incredible.

– M.F. “Body and Mature Behavior

The Feldenkrais Method® focuses on retraining the central nervous system via a series of pleasurable and simple movements to free a person from the habitual patterns of moving, thinking, and feeling that contribute to chronic distress and dis-ease. It emphasizes that through bodily awareness, muscular limitations can be corrected so that anyone can learn to function in a more fluid, less resistant manner during any activity. Awareness through movement consists of experiential lessons in how you can learn to use your body more intelligently. You may begin to realize that you can improve not only your movement, but also your thinking and the whole of how you use your whole body in your life. ATM lessons make you use a large variety of pleasant, interesting exercises “not dull, repetitive routines.”

Useful websites:

Feldenkrais Guild®   www.feldenkrais.com

Feldenkrais Resources www.feldenkraisresources.com

Achieving Excellence www.achievingexcellence.com

Feldenkrais Institute www.feldenkraisinstitute.com

Margit Galanter www.physicalintelligence.com

Mary Spire www.optimalmoves.com

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