What is Feldenkrais?
From people newly exposed to the Feldenkrais Method I've heard it described as "Movement 101", "Pre-yoga" and even "WD-40 for the body". Utilized by those with limited movement and olympic athletes alike it tunes the mind and nervous system in with body movements. It helps those with restricted movement, chronic pain and tension (including back pain and other common ailments), as well as neurological and psychological problems. For EVERYONE it relieves anxiety and helps improves flexibility, coordination, athletic and artistic ability.
More formally, as described by The Feldenkrais Institute: "The Feldenkrais Method explores the biological and cultural aspects of movement, posture and learning, and how our habits can constrain us to a small portion of our potential. Through our personal history, upbringing, culture, injuries, illness, etc., we each adopt patterns of physical and psychological behavior. These patterns are deeply embedded in our nervous system, and often become outmoded or dysfunctional, creating unnecessary physical, and psychological limitations. The Feldenkrais Method uses a process of organic learning, movement, and sensing to free you from habitual patterns and allow for new patterns of thinking, moving and feeling to emerge."
Feldenkrais is the best thing I never knew I needed!
It’s hard to describe what Feldenkrais is and what it does for you. You couldn’t summarize Feldenkrais in a 150-character Tweet. You have to experience it.
I had not heard of Feldenkrais until I met Lisa and the Real Health Studios team. To be honest, when Lisa explained it, it sounded like the most “hokey pokey” thing ever. That said, I’ve suffered from chronic back, hip, and joint pain for years, to the point where it has impacted my quality of life and impeded on things I was once able to do.
I felt I had tried absolutely everything else to help manage and alleviate my chronic pain, including yoga, regular acupuncture, regular massages, regular chiropractic adjustments, vitamin supplements, physical therapy, back braces, and analgesics. None of the holistic or medicinal measures were effective.
I had many sleepless nights and days where I couldn’t walk. Depending on my pain level, I might have physical side effects, like migraines and nausea. My last untried option was a pain management specialist, who offered me spinal injections and pain medications. I refused, fearing this option would only mask my pain without improving my overall quality of life or correcting my issue.
My previous yoga experience was pretty awful. A year ago, I tried a yoga studio but left one class in tears because the instructor wasn’t sensitive to my back pain and wouldn’t offer any modifications. I never went back. I had given up on yoga completely.
Then Lisa told me about Feldenkrais and Real Health Studios. Feldenkrais sounded strange, but I figured – why not? Nothing else had been successful up until that point, so trying something new and non-invasive seemed like a good idea. The instructor was amazing and worked with me at my level, offering several modifications when necessary based on my physical limitations.
I started attending Feldenkrais classes consistently, and now I notice a huge improvement. I have much less chronic pain, increased flexibility, and greater range of motion. I also notice other things, such as improved posture and an increased awareness of my breathing. I still have occasional flare-ups in my back, hips, and joints, but they are much less intense and more easily managed. Feldenkrais gave me the tools to manage my pain, and I feel really good about myself and the progress I’ve made. I look forward to coming each week and seeing continuous improvement.
My advice to anyone considering Feldenkrais is…Try it. Don’t be put off by fear or skepticism, wondering “will this really work for me?” You can either live in fear that your pain won’t get better or you can try something new to improve your quality of life. If you feel you’ve already tried everything else, what’s one more thing to try?
Everyone at Real Health Studios provides a warm, inviting, judgment-free atmosphere to relax and heal.
"Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement classes have been an amazing experience for me. One learns mindfulness in how the whole body (brain, muscles and skeletal structure) work together to reduce stress and pain and increase mobility. One of the first results I noticed was improved posture. Improved breathing has been another beneficial feature both in awareness and learning ways to make breathing easier. Alex's enthusiasm is infectious and her knowledge and willingness to explain techniques and answer questions helps me to integrate Awareness Through Movement on a daily basis. This is a lifestyle change rather than a quick fix that I would recommend based on these and other improvements I have experienced with Alex."
"I find (the Feldenkrais Method) to be much more useful than standard physical therapy. I also believe that the Feldenkrais Method can help older people achieve greater range of motion and flexibility, and help all of us feel more comfortable in our bodies."
— Andrew Weil, MD, www.drweil.com
For those wondering how Feldenkrais relates to yoga:
For current yoga practitioners, this excerpt from an article in the Yoga Journal - "Fill in Yoga’s Gaps with Somatic Practices" by Rhonda Krafchin | Aug 28, 2007 explains it well:
Most of us have a few asanas we quickly skate through, just trying to hold them with the least possible discomfort. The basic actions of these poses are so abstruse to us that we just can’t seem to get fully engaged, or achieve enough comfort so we can go deeper.
According to the Feldenkrais Method, our problem may be that we’re up against a deep neurological pattern—perhaps an unconscious freezing up around an old injury, perhaps simply habit. As we grow, say Feldenkrais teachers, our bodies settle into habitual patterns—the way we sit, stand, walk, work at a computer, or jump back into Chaturanga Dandasana—movements so common we’re no longer aware of how we do them, or of having other choices. Often, these habitual movements aren’t optimal for us. They can lead to pain, or, at the very least, an inability to reach our full potential. Feldenkrais training offers a way to rearrange our body awareness down to the deepest neurological level. This enables us to make a wider range of movement choices, because the body is shown possibilities that were previously hidden.
An athlete, engineer, and nuclear physicist, Moshe Feldenkrais developed his method in an effort to cure his own chronic, debilitating knee problems. The work eventually evolved into two components, both centering on self-observation which flows from gentle, guided movement. In Functional Integration, a teacher’s touch provides the guidance; in Awareness Through Movement classes, a teacher verbally leads students through a small series of sequential movements. “Moshe Feldenkrais developed thousands of Awareness Through Movement lessons, and many of them were based around asanas,” says Lavinia Plonka, a yogini and the director of The Movement Center in Morris Plains, New Jersey.
Oddly enough, beyond a few books in his personal library, there’s no evidence that Feldenkrais ever practiced yoga. “I don’t know if anyone ever actually saw him doing it,” says Plonka. “Yet he developed all these lessons that obviously show a tremendous knowledge of how to get into these postures.” Lotus, Frog, and Shoulderstand are just a few asanas that Feldenkrais broke down into a series of as many as five or six Awareness Through Movement lessons. “I’ve used those little sequences,” says Plonka, “to help yoga students begin to understand how to connect with the movement necessary for a posture, instead of just working on the outer shape of the posture.”
In her own yoga, says Plonka, “Feldenkrais gave me an anchor of self-study. By moving very slowly, by listening attentively to my habitual approaches to things, I was able to translate that to my own personal yoga practice. I began to be aware of ways that I used myself in my yoga that were counter-productive.”
Inspired by Plonka’s explanations, I booked a Functional Integration session with Ralph Strauch, who was trained by Feldenkrais himself in the early 1980s. As I lay on a low, padded table, Strauch advised me that it was more important to think about how I felt rather than any of the specific work he was doing, which involved gently bending my joints.
When Strauch finished with my left side and asked how I felt, I realized that I was aware of that entire side of my body. Not just in a broad sense: I could sense each fiber, each muscle, every bit of skin and bone. The sense of awareness extended from the bottom of my foot to the top of my head. I felt lighter and longer. In contrast, my right side felt lifeless. I could sense only portions of it, and my back and leg felt jammed up with sciatica.
“What you’re feeling,” Strauch explained, “are two different ways of organizing yourself. Right now, your right side is still organized more in your habitual way. The left side is another possibility. I didn’t create it. It was there all the time; you just don’t normally use it. The fact that you feel a difference in your face, which I haven’t touched at all, indicates that we’re working with not just the mechanical results of the movement, but with some deeper neurological change.”
Much of the neurological repatterning in Feldenkrais work happens on an extremely small scale. It reminds me of my early experiences with yoga. I had no trouble understanding large-scale movements; when a teacher told me to bring my knee to a right angle I could see the intent and work toward it. But when a teacher asked me to turn my outer thigh in, or pull my kidneys down, or engage mula bandha, such subtle movements were much harder to grasp. I no longer had a connection to these places in my body. However, with time, effort, and instruction, my brain found a way to reestablish the links. Feldenkrais seems to work on similar principles.
Even for those with injuries and chronic pain, Feldenkrais’s gentle method allows the body to remain in an easeful, and therefore receptive, state—so the information you get through a teacher’s touch or voice isn’t drowned out by discomfort and can be integrated on a neurological level.
As physical therapist and Feldenkrais teacher Jane Diehl of Redondo Beach, California, explains, “We want the body to understand that it’s possible to move and be comfortable. Once you understand that, you have more options for movement creating flexibility.”
So when we’re stuck in our asana practice, Feldenkrais can offer a way to move ahead. “The purpose of Feldenkrais work is to allow you to do whatever you do better,” says Diehl. As a complement to your yoga practice, Feldenkrais can help your body to understand the range of actions possible in an asana, so you can move more deeply into poses you find difficult.