By Kathy Saul
It is unlike chiropractic, yoga, tai chi or massage. Feldenkrais (rhymes with rice) is unique. Developed by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, a Russian physicist, engineer and expert in judo, the Feldenkrais method is a form of somatic education. Which means it is an experience of the body rather than the soul or mind. The idea of the Feldenkrais method is to improve the body’s movement and ability to function through gentle movement. Practitioners claim that with this method a person can increase their range of movement, flexibility and coordination. In turn, these improvements then bring about enhanced physical functioning.
The method is based on a combination of physics, and biomechanics with movement sequences designed to draw attention to areas of our physical being normally forgotten. The basic idea of Feldenkrais is to move smarter not stronger. It is not an exercise program but rather a way to explore how we move. Pupils are taught to become aware of their movements and to become aware of how they use their bodies, thus discovering possible areas of stress. Once we become awareness of our habitual neuromuscular patterns and body tightness we can begin to develop new ways of moving more efficiently and with increased comfort.
Movement can create chronic pain when we move in ways, which do not consider how our bodies are made. Practitioners say the method can help relieve pressure on joints and weak points, and allow the body to heal repetitive strain injuries. Continued use of the method can relieve pain and lead to higher standards of achievement in sports, the martial arts, dancing and other physical disciplines. The goal of Feldenkrais is to take the individual from merely functioning, to functioning well, free of pain and restriction of movement.
Some of the conditions treated with Feldenkrais are arthritis, back problems, cerebral palsy, depression, headache, migraine, neuromuscular disorders, over-contracted muscles, repetitive strain injury, stress, and stroke. Christine, who is a member of Stroke net and a practitioner of Feldenkrais states,” I find that my movement overall, both stroke and non-stroke related have improved. Like everything else it takes time and is not a miracle cure.”
Online I came across this statement by a stroke survivor who says the method improved his post stroke neuropathy and gait.
“My right foot has suffered from neuropathy resulting from a stroke I suffered four years ago. By the fall of 2006, this neuropathy had progressed to the point that I did not feel comfortable walking. My right foot would give out on me, without warning and I would stumble. I considered carrying a cane, but chose to consult with Michael Wesson instead. After just two visits, Michael had coached me to a dramatic improvement. He recommended exercises designed to increase my lower torso mobility and coached me back to a traditional amble. With Michael’s guidance, I replaced the gait that I had developed in compensation for the neurological damage caused by the stroke. My new gait is balanced and confident. I would heartily recommend Michael’s skill as a Certified Feldenkrais® Practitioner. His work has allowed me to walk with confidence.”
Dr. Brian McKenzie,
Not all stroke survivors who tried Feldenkrais therapy had the same positive outcome as Dr.McKenzie, Christine and others. One Strokenet member stated the Feldenkrais tapes “put him to sleep.” A caretaker wrote saying after a year and a half of Feldenkrais therapy neither she nor her husband saw any physical improvement in her husband’s stroke deficits. They both agreed, however, that the therapy was relaxing and soothing.
Feldenkrais can be used in our daily lives to make our brains more efficient. When our movements cause pain, we use our brain to protect us from the painful sensation and using our brain in this manner makes us less efficient. As we learn to move in harmony with our physical body, we become comfortable and that results in increased efficiency.
Feldenkrais movements are taught in group lessons called Awareness through Movement or on a one to one basis called Functional Integration. As the corrective movements are learned, the brain is reprogrammed to effect lasting change. This is achieved by consciously performing a series of easy, small, fluid movements that mimic everyday actions. These movements open new nerve pathways so that eventually a movement that was previously only possible under conscious control becomes involuntary and automatic.
Awareness Through Movement
Working with a group, the Feldenkrais teacher takes students through small, simple sequences of movements that gradually evolve into more complex and larger ones as the class progresses. The movement can be performed on the floor or while sitting or standing. Many of the movements are based on movements we make each day such as opening a door or ironing a shirt. Other movements are focused on bringing awareness of our posture or range of movement. Students are instructed to feel and sense their movements and to become aware of the interaction of their body’s muscles and joints as they move. Students progress at their own pace and no movement is ever forced or painful. The idea is to become aware of the body and how it moves. When movement is done correctly, it should be easy and painless. Once correct movement is discovered and used, old painful habitual patterns will be forgotten and correct movement becomes instinctive.
Functional Integration and Feldenkrais
This in a one-to-one form of the Feldenkrais Method is usually conducted with the student lying, fully clothed, on a massage table. The student is asked to relax fully, become completely passive and to let the practitioner guide his or her movements. The teacher moves the student’s body and limbs through various movements tailored to the individual while the student is focused on how each pain free movement feels. Since the movement is so easy, relaxed, and fluid with the student exerting no unnecessary physical effort, the muscles relax and tension is gradually reduced. The sensory nerves then transmit this message to the brain and the movement is learned.
Both group and one-to-one forms of the Feldenkrais Method may result in increased coordination and flexibility and a decrease in muscular tension. As a student feels more relaxed, their energy increases, they breathe more deeply and easily because everyday movements take less effort and strain. The result can have psychological and emotional benefits, such as increased self-awareness, clarity of thought and improved self- esteem.
To see demonstrations of Feldenkrais, click
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