The Feldenkrais Method was originated by Dr Moshé Feldenkrais (1904-1984), a Ukrainian-born Jewish physicist and judo practitioner who moved to Israel and eventually became an Israeli. He presented a view that good health means functioning well—working well, having satisfying relationships with emotional maturity, able to access a full range of responses to any situation (“Awareness Through Movement”) – this is opposed to the medical health as in not ‘sick or disabled’ or health in any abstract sense. He asserted that his method of body/mind exploration leads to improved functioning (health) through individuals becoming more aware and finding improved use; this focus on exploration and awareness is typified by his statement “What I am after is more flexible minds, not just more flexible bodies”.
This goal is reflected in the code of the Feldenkrais Guild of North America which states that practitioners of the method do not undertake to diagnose or treat illness of any kind. Most proponents of the Feldenkrais Method consider it to be a form of self-education and mind-body development, rather than a manipulative therapy.
Feldenkrais’ approach was more experiential, using self-discovery rather than manipulation. Some of the influences on Feldenkrais’ work include Gustav Fechner, Gerda Alexander, Elsa Gindler, Jigoro Kano, G. I. Gurdjieff, Emile Coué, William Bates, Heinrich Jacoby and Mabel Todd, all of whom were more concerned with awareness than with simple physical exercises.
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.
Awareness Through Movement
In an Awareness Through Movement (ATM) lesson, the teacher verbally directs students through movement sequences and various foci of attention. Usually this occurs in a group setting, although ATM lessons can also be given to individuals, or recorded. There are more than a thousand ATM lessons in existence. Most of them are organized around a specific movement function, and teachers lend their particular style to each lesson.
Moshé Feldenkrais gave the name to a series of demonstrations he devised when some of his scientific colleagues wanted to know how he was learning to walk normally with a seriously damaged knee. Being an experimental scientist himself, he gave them concrete directions on how to move to discover for themselves what he was learning.
Feldenkrais understood these changes to be improvements of the self image, which can be conceived in one sense as an arrangement of areas of the motor cortex relative to the body. The body image was depicted by Dr. Wilder Penfield in the form of a homunculus. Since activity in the motor cortex plays a key role in proprioception Feldenkrais realized that changes in our ability to move are inseparable from changes in our conscious perception of ourselves as embodied. This relationship is clear and open to introspection. Make a quick list of body parts you know you have but which you cannot feel consciously and compare it with a list of those you can feel. Which list contains the members you can move?
Thus Awareness Through Movement lessons are intended to do just what their name says. They improve awareness by using and improving the student’s observation and attention to the way they move.
Resources and external links
• International Feldenkrais Federation (official organization for coordinating the Feldenkrais Method internationally)
• Feldenkrais Resources (clearing house for books, audio-programs, and other materials related to the Feldenkrais Method)
• Feldenkrais Movement Institute (article introducing the Feldenkrais Method)
• Institute for the Study of Somatic Education (a variety of articles on the Feldenkrais Method including some rare ones)
• AchievingExcellence.com (dedicated to the promotion of the Feldenkrais Method by offering a wide selection of books, CDs, DVDs, downloads, articles and free videos)