What Is It?
The Feldenkrais method is a form of “body education” that teaches students how to move their bodies more efficiently, improve coordination, expand range of motion, reduce stress on joints, and increase flexibility. (It is often referred to as “bodywork,” but this is a misnomer because the intention of the Feldenkrais instructor is to teach rather than perform direct structural manipulation.)
The Feldenkrais method is often sought out by those who have movement dysfunction and pain, and is also popular with dancers, actors, and musicians who regularly challenge their bodies with repetitive actions.
Russian-born physicist Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984) developed the method after he suffered a knee injury that was expected to prevent him from walking. A student of physics, psychology, and biology, and having achieved a black belt in judo, Feldenkrais blended his diverse interests and knowledge to create his method, which he conceived as he taught himself to walk again without pain.
How Does It Work?
The Feldenkrais method utilizes many strategies to teach students to listen to what their bodies’ are telling them. Predicated on the idea that the central nervous system plays an enormous role in a person’s comfort, the method encourages awareness of one’s skeleton, muscles, and joints, and also draws attention to negative patterns of posture and movement.
The intent of the practitioner is to enable a student to refine his body awareness, so that each body part participates more fully in every action. No one body part should be stressed more than any other. When a student unconsciously allows his skeleton to offer the support for which it was intended, the muscles begin to feel more relaxed and the consequent decrease in tension allows for expanded range of motion and flexibility (without the trauma or stretching exercises).
In teaching the method, the instructor may ask the student to repeat simple movements many times with slight variations. Doing so offers fine sensory cues to the central nervous system, and aids in shifting the patterns of automatic movement and posture so they’re more efficient and comfortable.
What You Can Expect
The Feldenkrais method has two components. Students may use one or both.
In Awareness Through Movement® (ATM) classes, which are taught to groups in a classroom, students explore basic movement themes to improve movement quality, awareness, and function. The themes utilize ordinary body positions, such as lying on the back, stomach, or side; standing; or sitting in a chair. In a typical hour-long ATM lesson, the class will focus on one movement theme, guided verbally by the instructor. Often the instruction will focus on the potential mobility in forgotten parts of the body, such as the thoracic spine or ribs of the chest area.
Functional Integration® (FI) individualizes the Feldenkrais method. It is a one-on-one learning process that usually takes place in a Feldenkrais instructor’s office. Sessions, which are tailored to meet a student’s individual needs, generally last 45 minutes to an hour. The student remains comfortably clothed, and frequently lies on a padded table. Positions such as sitting, kneeling, or standing may also be used.
The instructor uses slow, gentle touch and sometimes verbal suggestions to introduce movement relationships among the various body parts. Touch is used to communicate, not to correct, and there is no therapeutic pressing or stroking. The instructor’s goal is to bring sensory attention to habitual patterns, while also suggesting new options. Through exploration and experimentation, the student seeks an optimal, individualized style of movement. Changes occur spontaneously rather than through willful determination.
ATM classes are typically offered in a series of four to six sessions, meeting once a week. The schedule and frequency of the individual FI sessions is determined by a student’s goals and the recommendations of the practitioner.
Better body awareness, easier movement, and a sense of relaxation and well-being have all been credited to the Feldenkrais method. For those who come to classes experiencing pain, the sessions often reduce it; those experiencing movement dysfunction can improve strength and coordination.
While those who practice Feldenkrais always emphasize that the focus is on individual learning rather than on the treatment of a particular condition, students often report success with specific ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome and headaches. Some Feldenkrais instructors specialize in working with people with orthopedic and neurologic conditions that cause pain or limit movement, such as arthritis, stroke, whiplash, multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy. Others work specifically with performers or athletes in order to recover lost functions, relieve pain, or refine specific functions. Because most medical research measures isolated parameters rather than overall function, designing research specific to the Feldenkrais method continues to be challenging. While there have been a few studies evaluating Feldenkrais for those with multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and neck pain, most health claims for the method are based on anecdotal evidence.
How To Choose a Practitioner
The certified training programs for Feldenkrais practitioners are 800 to 1,000 hours long and accomplished over a four-year period. Graduates are qualified to give group ATM lessons after the first two years of training and individual FI lessons after the full four years. In the United States, look for a practitioner who is certified by the Feldenkrais Guild of North America (the professional association for the discipline), in Albany, Oregon.
It is not necessary to have other medical training to be a Feldenkrais instructor. However, many physical therapists, massage therapists, and other health practitioners have become Guild-certified Feldenkrais practitioners. Insurance rarely covers Feldenkrais sessions unless they are performed by a professional licensed in another health profession such as physiotherapy.
The Feldenkrais method is considered to be safe for everyone, not as a medical treatment, but as movement education.