Practical Science on Movement and Pain

The Feldenkrais Method

The Feldenkrais Method is a system for learning efficient and coordinated movement. Students take lessons for a variety of reasons, including to improve physical comfort, reduce chronic pain, increase performance in sports or dance, or promote self-awareness for personal development. The Feldenkrais Method was invented by Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli engineer, physicist and martial artist.

The Man

Feldenkrais was a very brilliant and original character with an interesting bio that is worth a brief review, even at the risk of guru worship. Born in 1904 in Russia, he moved to Israel at age fifteen, where he worked as a laborer, then completed high school. In 1930 he moved to France and completed degrees as an engineer and physicist, and worked as an assistant with Nobel Prize winner Frederic Joliot-Curie. He studied martial arts with Jigano Kano, the founder of judo, and later became a European judo champion.

In 1929 he suffered serious injuries to his knees in a soccer match that caused doctors to recommend some fairly drastic surgery. Feldenkrais rejected the surgery and instead embarked on a detailed investigation into whether he could solve his knee problems by moving them in subtly different ways. His experiment succeeded and caused to him to become curious about the potential for physical and personal improvement that lay in changing the way we coordinate and use our bodies.

Over many decades Feldenkrais began developing and refining his method, based on an extensive study of human development as it relates to movement. Drawing on his previous background as a physicist, engineer and martial artist, he educated himself in a wide variety of other disciplines related to movement and personal development such as neurophysiology, dynamic systems theory, robotics, psychology, motor learning theory, evolution, and childhood development. By the 1950s he was teaching movement classes on a regular basis, and at one point taught Israeli Prime Minister David ben Gurion to do a headstand.

During the 1970s Feldenkrais developed a four-year program to train students in how to teach his Method.  Since his death in 1984, advances in neuroscience have largely confirmed the amazing accuracy of many of his theories, particularly his ideas about neuroplasticity and how movement, sensation, thinking and feeling are organized by the “self image.” For example in the 1980s, after completely revolutionizing the science related to infant motor development, Dr. Esther Thelen was astounded to realize that her “new” ideas about how humans learn movement had already been embodied in the Feldenkrais Method. She subsequently enrolled in a training to become a practitioner. It is not an exaggeration to say that Feldenkrais was way ahead of his time. Many other leading current experts in neuroscience are fans of the Feldenkrais Method, including Norman Doidge, Alain Berthoz, Oliver Sacks, and Michael Merzenich.

The Method

The Feldenkrais Method is taught in two forms: Awareness Through Movement (ATM) and Functional Integration (FI).  ATM is taught in a class format, where an instructor takes students through a series of movements, usually while laying on the ground. The movements are slow, gentle, novel and exploratory. The lessons are often based on developmental patterns by which babies learn to move, such as lifting a head or leg, or rolling to sit or crawl. Students are taught to direct significant awareness to subtle yet crucial aspects of movements that are nearly impossible to sense in more traditional exercise settings that incorporate more speed, strength and effort. Functional Integration is a one on one hands on session on a table where a teacher slowly moves the student’s body in patterns designed to achieve the same goal as an ATM – increased awareness and understanding of how to move efficiently.

Why it Works

For a better understanding of how and why the Feldenkrais Method works, you can read various blog posts that explain the science and reasoning behind the Method, including posts describing: Movement Efficiency; Making the Hard Easy and the Easy Elegant; Why Slow Movement Works; Skeletal Awareness; The Body Maps; Sensory Motor Amnesia; and Strategies to Cure Chronic Pain.

To Purchase ATM Lessons

Click here for information on four audio lessons and an e-book based on the Feldenkrais Method.