|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
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
|"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
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.