Do you live with arthritis or chronic pain? Have you sustained injury and opted not to do surgery? Are you living with neurological challenges? Moshe Feldenkrais, an engineer, physicist and established Black Belt in Judo, came to a similar crossroad in the 1940's after re-injuring his knee. Unable to enjoy Judo and soccer he decided to apply his rich scientific knowledge to the challenge of healing his own body. The healing modality he pioneered, the Feldenkrais Method, acts by increasing our awareness of movement. "Through awareness, he believes, we can learn to move with astonishing lightness and freedom-at almost any age..." writes Albert Rosenfeld in a 1980 Smithsonian article. Feldenkrais reached its first crest of popularity in the 70's and 80's. Today it's enjoying a revival internationally as it meshes with integrative medicine and morphs into other modalities such as Ruthy Alon's Bones For Life program.
"While conventional exercise typically involves the repetition of strenuous movements, the Feldenkrais Method takes a very different approach. Feldenkrais exercises involve no stretching or straining and require only minimal muscular effort," writes David Zemach-Bersin, co-founder of New York's Feldenkrais Institute, and practitioner, Mark Hirschfield, in Arthritis Self-Management. "The change, the improvement, is not something that is going to incur at the muscular level but actually at the neurological level. In other words, the way that the brain sends the messages to the muscles is whats going to bring about the change and improvement that we're looking for," Bersin explains in the video below.
Feldenkrais leverages focused attention and brain plasticity in a process called Awareness through Movement. This is typically done in groups as participants lay on mats exploring their body and it's movements to improve flexibility or other functions. Feldenkrais is also practiced one on one in a hands on series of lessons catered to an individual. People with chronic pain or neurological problems may seek this kind of treatment. Older participants or people with frail bodies may opt for a variation on classic Feldenkrais called Bones For Life. Bones For Life, established by Ruthy Alon, a long time Feldenkrais practitioner, works on bone strength, balance, and safety. Exercises help to protect joints from injury with the goal of improving bone resiliency. Like Feldenkrais, Bones For Life exercises are gentle. Unlike Feldenkrais these exercises use aids to achieve their means. "It's many faceted and covers a wide range of areas," a participant explains in the video below. "It was great because I found out I have a lot of things that bother me that I didn't know about until we got into the exercise."
Embedded in the philosophy of Feldenkrais is a generosity of knowledge so you'll find many youtube demonstrations and online exercise illustrations. It's easy to try Feldenkrais in the privacy of your home. Body builder, Dave Draper blogged about spending a year learning Feldenkrais at home. "Once hooked, find yourself a local practitioner. You can do this alone," he concluded, "but most will make faster, better progress with some guidance."
Some research documents Feldenkrais' benefits for people living with Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and head trauma. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society writes, "The Feldenkrais method helps people with MS learn to move with minimum effort and maximum efficiency....The resulting relaxation and awareness can benefit coordination, fatigue, flexibility, and spasticity." It's not uncommon to hear testimony about wider applications. In the video below, filmed at an Italian Feldenkrais Institute and subtitled for English speakers, psychiatrist Elisabetta Mascazzini states, "Traditional psychotherapy and pharmacology deal with the central nervous system. Various methods of therapy work on the peripheral nervous system, while the autonomic system is the great Cinderella...It is very difficult to reach the autonomic system but Feldenkrais can do it very well. Therefor, I find it good to integrate the psychotherapy work with the Feldenkrais therapy."
The Feldenkrais Method is taught through institutes, by private teachers and in senior centers. Interested? Search for a practitioner in your area. The exercises are gentle and strength building. They improve balance, relieve stress and pain, and help with brain fitness. Feldenkrais alone may not aid you in easing or overcoming serious health concerns but, together with other healing efforts, who knows? It may be the practice that enables your recovery.