The Feldenkrais Method

Moshe Feldenkrais (1904 – 1984)

is an educational system intended to give individuals a greater functional awareness of the self. The method uses body movement as the primary vehicle for learning in the human organism.

It is perhaps due to this focus on body movements that the Feldenkrais Method is often classified as a complementary and alternative medicine. People interested in the Feldenkrais Method are predominantly individuals who either want to improve their movement repertoire (as dancers, musicians, artists), individuals who want to reduce their pain or limitations in movement, or individuals who want to use the method as a way to improve their well-being and personal development. Advocates claim the Feldenkrais Method is a very successful approach in cases of movement related pain (e.g. pain in backs, knees, hips, shoulders), and learning better functioning in cases of stroke or cerebral palsy.

A central tenet of the method is that improving someone’s ability to move can improve their overall well-being; and practitioners of the Method generally refrain from referring to conceptions of illness, diagnosis or therapy.

Overview

The Feldenkrais Method was originated by Dr Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), an Israeli physicist and judo practitioner of Eastern European descent. Among his many published books was Awareness Through Movement where he presented a view that good health is a matter of positive functioning. Although many don’t consider this a radical idea, it is in opposition to the standard medical definition of health that states good health is an absence of illness. Feldenkrais asserted his method of bodywork exploration resulted in better functioning bodies and minds and created healthier people. He was more interested in the goal of holistic functioning rather than merely physical treatment.

This goal is reflected in the code of ethics of the Feldenkrais Guild of North America that states practitioners of the method do not undertake to diagnose or treat illness of any kind. Most proponents of the Method consider it to be a form of self-education and mind-body development rather than a manipulative therapy.

Feldenkrais himself was a friend of Ida Rolf, who established the rolfing method of bodywork. Feldenkrais’ approach was more cybernetic and informational. Some of the influences on Feldenkrais’ work include Gustav Fechner, F. Matthias Alexander, Gerda Alexander, G. I. Gurdjieff, Emile Coué, Milton Erickson, William Bates, Heinrich Jacoby and Jigoro Kano, all of whom were more concerned with awareness than with simple physical exercises.
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Techniques

The Feldenkrais Method is applied in two forms by practitioners, who generally receive more than 800 hours of formal training over the course of four years:

Functional Integration (FI) is hands-on form of tactile, kinesthetic communication between a practitioner and student. The practitioner communicates to the student how to organize movements. Through precise touch and movement, the student learns how to eliminate excess effort and strain and thus move more freely and easily. Lessons may be very specific in addressing particular issues brought by the student, or can be more global in scope.

Awareness Through Movement (ATM) lessons are verbally directed movement sequences given primarily in a group setting, though they can also be given to individuals. There are more than a thousand distinct Awareness Through Movement lessons in existence. Lessons are generally organized around a particular function, and practitioners lend their particular style to each lesson.
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History

Feldenkrais first taught the method in Tel Aviv to 13 students. He later came to the United States in the early 1970s, where he taught at Esalen. He subsequently gave two professional trainings in the US, in San Francisco (1975-77) and Amherst, Massachusetts (1980-83).