The Feldenkrais Method is a teaching process named after its founder, Moshe Feldenkrais (1904 - 1984). His name is pronounced Mo-shay* Fell-den-krice. His last name rhymes with rice. It is a German/Jewish name, but he was born in the Ukraine.
The fundamental attitude of the Method is exploratory. It works through movement sequences that call for a high degree of inward focus. The sequences aim at increasing each personís awareness of his or her body, whether in movement or in stillness. The goals are very simple: to help each person feel better and to provide conditions under which each person can grow.
Since the Feldenkrais Method focuses on the body, it is usually called somatic education. But its principles can be extended into other fields, so that, at its deepest level, it takes part in the larger discussion, "How does a person learn?"
Role of Awareness
The main tool of the Feldenkrais Method is cultivating of the power of awareness.
Although we use one word "awareness," the faculty of being aware is not a single experience, but a continuum. The simplest way to talk about the continuum is to divide it into subconscious and conscious.
About 100 years ago, the American philosopher William James said that to the infant the world is a "whirring, buzzing confusion." We all begin like that! And, then, through the process of maturation each of us limits our focus and imposes structure on what is otherwise meaningless and excessive sensory data.
As the child explores his world, he needs conscious attention. When learning to use his hand, for instance, he has to pay very close attention -- how to rotate the arm, how to direct the hand to a specific location, how to grasp a morsel of food, and how to put it to his mouth. It is very beautiful to watch!
With practice, the pathways of motor coordination get "grooved in", and the child no longer needs conscious attention to bring a full spoon to his mouth. Now a lower order of attention takes over, conveniently called subconscious attention, and conscious attention is free for the next challenge.
This process of passing from conscious to subconscious control is called creating a habit. We need habits. They are very efficient because they 1) work quickly and 2) they economize conscious attention.
The problem is that habits can outlive their usefulness. Although they no longer serve the person, they continue to operate.
Awareness is often compared to a light. Habits operate under a very dim light, or even in complete darkness.
In the Feldenkrais Method we turn a bright lamp onto our habits of physical coordination. We bring them up, so to speak, from the basement to the top floor of the house. At this higher level we explore our human possibilities, make new choices, and then, conveniently, send the patterns back downstairs.
Consciousness awareness can never do the job of the subconscious, but it can help the subconscious by broadening its repertoire and keeping it up-to-date.
Here is something that Feldenkrais said while teaching a group class on the centrality of working with attention:
"You see, it is not important if you do well, or not well. It is important, if you pay attention. It makes all the difference when you pay attention. That means, it improves and by way of this, a person can distinguish better. But, if he begins to do an action and does not check, the movement can continue a hundred times and stay the same. So, the attention, the checking, is more important than the movement. The movement is just a means to teach the person to feel, to distinguish, and to check because this is what makes the difference. The rest is nothing." (AY 293, 5)
Learning vs. Treatment
Although the Feldenkrais Method is good for everyone, most people come to us because of pain. Since the onset of pain usually sends one along a path to a medical specialist, most people have an association, more or less conscious, that the Feldenkrais Method is also a form of treatment. But, as I have already said, it is not about treatment; instead it is about learning.
The key difference that I see between treatment and learning is in the activity level. In a treatment situation, the person seeking help is passive; in a learning situation, active. A second difference is that in a treatment setting, the horizon is usually limited to a return to a "normal" level of functioning; in a learning setting, the horizon is boundless -- because another discovery is always just around the corner. A third difference is that in a learning situation, responsibility for growth is shared.
Within this framework of learning, my colleagues and I call ourselves teachers or Practitioners, and we call the people who come to us students or clients.
Forms of Instruction
We present our work in two forms: individual instruction, called Functional Integration (FI) and group instruction, called Awareness through Movement (ATM). The two names, which Feldenkrais chose, are his attempt to capture in words the essence of a non-verbal exploration.
Functional Integration refers to a whole-person way of doing something. Function means any human action, such as walking, throwing a ball, rolling over in bed, or, even, jumping off a ski jump. And Integration means to do the action in a whole-body way. Very often analysis shows that when we injure ourselves it is because the whole organism was not well coordinated in making the movement. By improving the coordination, each movement becomes safer, more powerful, and more satisfying.
Awareness through Movement highlights the fact that the Method cultivates awareness. There are many aspects to healthful use of the body. In the western world, we are usually most attentive to muscular strength and aerobic condition. The Feldenkrais Method, by contrast, emphasizes this other aspect, often thought of as Eastern, which is the inner sensing of the body, whether at rest or in movement. Rather than the heart pounding and muscle straining which is a familiar experience in standard exercise, our practice searches for movement that has a quality of gracefulness, comfort and, even an inner stillness, all the while manifesting power and efficacy. In this "zen-like" action, one feels, at best, effectiveness without effort.
Who Can Benefit
Who should take a Feldenkrais class? The Feldenkrais Method is good for everyone. But you will get the most benefit, probably, when you feel that you enjoy attentive movement, are fascinated by how the body works, are willing to work patiently, and are interested in the relationship between body, mind, emotion and spirit.