Feldenkrais Method

The Feldenkrais method takes a functional approach to reorganizing the body and behavior into new and more expand ed motor patterns. The method is a form of somatic education that works by teaching patients to become more aware of the habitual neuromuscular patterns and rigidities of their bodies and by expanding their options for new ways of moving. It focuses on the patient’s ability to regulate and coordinate movement by working through the nervous system.

Moshe Feldenkrais, a Russian-born Israeli physicist, mechanical engineer, and judo expert, developed his gentle method of bodywork in an attempt to rehabilitate his own knee, which he injured in an athletic accident. He studied anatomy, physiology, and psychology in the hope that he might be able to avoid surgery. The result of this search for a deeper understanding of the body and its functioning was the development of an entire philosophy of life that underlies the Feldenkrais method.

Feldenkrais came to believe that people practice a skill only until they achieve a desired goal. For instance, an infant sees adults and children moving around and doing things for themselves, and strives to do the same. Once he achieves that goal, he stops developing the skill that got him there. The same is true of such skills as speech and social interaction. Feldenkrais mainta,ined that “settling for whatever technique helps achieve a goalmeans that people tend to learn inefficient and unhealthful patterns of movement, speech, and emotional and social skills. As a result, most people learn to make do with 5% of their potential without realizing that their development has been stunted. In terms of movement, this means that people learn unconscious patterns of musculoskeletal behavior that limit their ability to function optimally.

Feldenkrais argued that habitual patterns of muscle movement underlie self awareness and emotional actions and reactions. “We know what is happening within us as soon as the muscles of our face, heart, or breathing apparatus organize themselves into patterns, known to us as fear, anxiety, laughter, or any other feeling,” he wrote. Because of the key role of the muscular system in the development and ordering of mental, emotional, social, and physiologic systems, Feldenkrais believed that his exercises could not only increase flexibility, coordination, and range of motion, but also lead to enhanced functioning in other aspects of life.

Training Classes in the Peldenkrais method are taught in either group sessions or private one-on-one sessions. Practitioners must complete 800 to 1,000 hours of training over a 3-year to 4-year period. The Peldenkrais Guild of North America in Oregon sponsors training programs, provides information to the public, makes referrals

Reported uses

Feldenkrais considered his technique to be a training method to improve coordination, flexibility, range of motion, and function, rather than a medical therapy. The method can benefit anyone young or old, physically fit or physically challenged but is especially useful for people experiencing chronic or acute pain of the back, neck, shoulder, hips, legs, or knees. Practitioners also report success in dealing with central nervous system disorders (such as multiple sclerosis, cerebrovascular accident, and cerebral palsy).

How the treatment is performed

The group classes require no special equipment. The private sessions require a table or chair on which the student can lie down or sit; pillows, blankets, and other props may be used to facilitate certain movements.

The Feldenkrais method uses two trademarked approaches: Awareness Through Movement, which consists of group lessons, and Functional Integration, which offers private lessons tailored to the individual student. In the group classes (which last 30 to 60 minutes), the teacher verbally leads the students through a series of exercises designed to help them become more aware of their bodies and develop new patterns of movement. The exercises are performed in a slow, relaxed way, progressing from easy movements to movements of greater range and complexity. The emphasis is on enjoyment and avoiding pain. A variety of different lessons may be used, depending on the students’ needs.

Functional Integration consists of gentle body work attuned to the individual student’s needs. The student is fully clothed and may lie on a table or be in a sitting or standing position. Through touch, the teacher senses the student’s patterns of neuromuscular “organization” and suggests more comfortable and functional patterns. The result ideally is more fluid movements and a decrease in “restrictive” patterns that create pain, tension, and stiffness. A typical session lasts 45 to 60 minutes.

Hazards

Because of its gentle technique, the Feldenkrais method is unlikely to cause any complications.

Clinical considerations

  • The Feldenkrais method may be appropriate for patients with limitations caused by accidents. It can be incorporated into a rehabilitation program.
  • Tell patient that it may take time to retrain himself to properly align his body.
  • Patient must be able to follow verbal commands for the Awareness Through Movement part of the method.

Research summary

The concepts behind the use of the Feldenkrais method and the claims made regarding its effects haven’t yet been validated scientifically.

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