HomePublicationsThe Tracker MagazineVol 2, No. 1, Winter 1983

The Tracker Magazine - Vol 2 No. 1, Winter 1983

The Feldenkrais Method
Rahina Sherry Friedman

From the wisdom of the sacred circle, we learn the teachings of the number 4: The sacred powers and qualities of the 4 directions, the 4 basic elements of earth, water, fire and air, and the 4 aspects to our being - body, mind, emotions and spirit. We learn that to survive and improve ourselves we need to address each of these aspects of our being.

This is an article about the Feldenkrais Method of Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration. It is a method designed to improve the four functions of thinking, feeling, sensing and movement. Based on increasing body-mind awareness through improving the functioning of the nervous system, this method is totally compatible with, and complementary to those teachings Tom Brown, Jr. shares with people in his various courses. By re-educating and developing the body-mind connection, the Feldenkrais Method leads to greater sensitivity, flexibility, coordination and awareness. These are necessary not only for survival, but for learning to live with a greater spiritual at-oneness with our brothers and sisters of all the kingdoms of nature.

What is the Feldenkrais Method? What is it based on and how is it relevant to those interested in survival and wilderness training? How is it related to the wisdoms Tom Brown shares in his courses? These are some of the questions I hope to address in this article.

What is the Feldenkrais Method? It is a system that was developed by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, an engineer, physicist, and Judo black belt. The teaching involves slow, gentle movements and guided awareness to teach the individual's nervous system new patterns. We help individuals become more aware of the habitual chronic use and misuse of their body. People learn how to release fixed muscular tensions, strains and fatigues that are both a part of everyday living, and especially likely to occur during a survival situation. Also, with the increased sensitivity developed through this method, one is better able to learn skills and abilities needed in a survival situation.

This system is based on sound neuromuscular principles. The Feldenkrais Method actually uses the body as a metaphor, for it is the nervous system, the brain, and all its tributaries of neural pathways that direct and control our movements. One nervous system governs the ability to sense, move, think and feel. So, in effect, we use the body to train the nervous system. And what we hope to teach the nervous system is the same as what Tom Brown hopes to teach the nervous system - new opportunities, new possibilities, new pathways which lead to a fuller, richer, and longer life.

We have some 10 trillion brain cells with countless possible pathways each leading to different options, behavior and movements. The more of these neural pathways we develop and utilize, the freer we are. For example, if you know of only one route between your home and your work, then you have only one possibility one degree of freedom. If there is a road jam, you are stuck in it. If you know of many different possible routes, you have more choices, more freedom. Similarly, if you are out in the wilderness and you only know one way of doing something and that way is unavailable to you, you are again stuck. So, in order to maximize your freedom, your chances for survival, you must have more possibilities, and each possibility is based on accessing a different neural pathway. There is another aspect to this, too. Remember the joy of suddenly discovering a new path to follow on what had been a familiar trail. Having a freer body-mind leads to a greater sense of joy and adventure.

One of the basic things we're interested in, as Feldenkrais practitioners, is improving functioning. But what do we mean by functioning? Let's take for example the need to rotate one's spine in relation to the horizon. This is a very simple but extremely basic function for survival, as it addresses the need to be able to perceive and attend to the world 360 degrees around oneself. Four out of five of the sense organs (sight, hearing, smell and taste) are located in the head. These sense organs are called the teleceptors. In his book, The Body of Life, Feldenkrais Practitioner Thomas Hannah says:

"Even though the teleceptive senses are permanently fixed in one direction, the world surrounding us has 360 degrees of direction. If we wish to sense what is going on, we have to…swivel the head around to the left or to the right, pointing the face whichever way we want to point the teleceptors. This means that the structural and functional center of our body - the spinal column - must be capable of rotating the head in whatever direction we need to face ... The ability to turn and face in any direction is a survival function not simply of human beings but of all living creatures from amoebas to mammals." (Pages 50-51)

Let me give you an opportunity to experiment with a few simple movements that will improve the function of rotation. Read through this next paragraph, then do what's suggested here in a very slow, gentle, observing manner.

Stand up in a comfortable space. Close your eyes. Bring your right arm up to your shoulder height. Then turn your body slowly to the right going to the limit where the movement has no strain in it, and remains easy and gentle. The only stipulation is that you cannot actually pick the feet up and turn around using feet. When you get to the limit of turning right with your arm and body, open your eyes and see a marker on the wall indicating how far you've gone. Come back to the front now and rest. Then take your right arm up at shoulder height again and move it to the right, but take your head and move it to the left. Do this slowly 5-10 times, arm and shoulder right, head left. Do this as smoothly arid simultaneously as possible. Watch your breathing, observe when you breathe in and out in relation to the movements. Then rest, for a moment. Then close your eyes again, bring your right arm tip to shoulder height and once again turn your body around to the right. When you get to the limit, open your eyes and see if you have added a few degrees to your rotation. Then repeat the movement bringing the right arm to the right and the head to the left, only add this time the eyes to the right so they follow your hand. Do this 5-10 times, then rest, then repeat the first movement of turning around to the right. See if you've gone further. Then take the pelvis and turn it to the left with the head, while the eyes and right hand go to the right. Do this 5-10 times or so, as smoothly as possible without interfering with the breathing. Then do the original. movement and see if you have gone further.

Most people who do this above series of movements discover that by the end they have greatly increased the range of rotation from the beginning. These movements are designed to improve the function of rotation, not by repeating the actual turning movement to the right, but through differentiation. Using different parts of the body in this differentiated fashion frees up the old neural pathways and allows the body to turn further. By breaking up the "wired in" habitual patterns, one is able to function better. You never know when you might need to have the ability to keep your head still but move your eyes independently, or as in stalking, keep the upper part of the body very still and contained while the lower part, with finely attuned differentiated movements, tests and reacts to the environment.

There are some very basic similarities between the principles used in the Feldenkrais Method and the teachings that flow through Tom Brown.

Both teachings are concerned with improving functioning and with improving the quality of our relationship to ourselves, to what we are doing, and to our environment. You may not necessarily have framed what Tom teaches in this way, but it most surely is a very basic ingredient. Tom speaks of this in countless ways; for example: in separating want from need, or in perceiving all of nature as our brothers and sisters, expressing gratitude for the gifts we are constantly receiving from the trees, plants, animals, or in developing a relaxed attitude towards cold weather. Feldenkrais speaks of this in learning how to break up specific patterns in our way of thinking, moving, and perceiving ourselves.

As Feldenkrais practitioners, we often work with people who have postural problems, have been in accidents, or are confined to wheelchairs or beds, partially paralyzed. Many of these people have lost the ability to do one or more functions such as walking, rotating the body, or lifting the hand above the head. In many cases we can teach these people how to access new neural pathways which are not damaged and which can be utilized to do the movement or perform the function. For, in the majority of cases, not all the neural fibers have been damaged, and learning and re-training can occur.

Another aspect to improving functioning that we use in the Feldenkrais work is to have people imagine doing the movement or activity. This organizes the neural patterns and thus enables us to carry out the function more effectively. There has actually been some research on this. One half of a basketball team was asked to mentally practice their shots at home and the other half physically practiced as usual. When they got back to the courts, the half that practiced mentally performed better.

A very basic similarity in the teaching of Feldenkrais and Tom Brown is that both are interested in teaching the student how to learn. In part, both use the "coyote" method of teaching - that form of gentle trickery that teaches and encourages the individual to explore and discover for oneself.

In the Feldenkrais Method we never tell a person what to feel. We may suggest that they pay attention to certain differences it body sensation, or differences in degree of ease of movement. We may help individuals create images that enable them to release the tensions in their body or move with more ease.

For both Tom Brown and the Feldenkrais Method, awareness is a key to adapting, learning, change and effectiveness. As a Feldenkrais practitioner, awareness is curative in the sense that awareness leads us to develop our consciousness, and this is likely to help us function better in any situation we find ourselves in.

One last and important similarity is that both teachings are designed to give people tools to learn with, tools to observe with, and tools with which to go on improving the quality of their life.

The Feldenkrais Method is taught in two different ways. One involves the laying on of hands through one-to-one gentle touch, the second involves leading the person through the verbal sequence of movement. This can be done in a one-to-one session or in a group of any size. There are currently Feldenkrais Practitioners throughout the United States and Canada. To locate one in your area, contact the Feldenkrais Guild in San Francisco. To contact Rahina Sherry Friedman directly, write Box 222, Oakland, NJ 07436, or phone her at (201) 825-4936.

Editor's Note: Rahina is a Feldenkrais Practitioner with a master's degree in Psychology.

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