Feldenkrais Method: A Starting Guide (Video- Steven Shafarman)
What is Feldenkrais Method? Why it can help both peak athletes who want to enhance their athletic performance and the elderly who want to move more freely again? How did Moshe Feldenkrais develop this method? CJ Liu interviews Steven Shafarman on his book “Awareness Heals” The Feldenkrais Method for Dynamic Health”.[mwm-aal-display]
What is Feldenkrais Method?
“The Feldenkrais Method is a form of somatic education that uses gentle movement and directed attention to improve movement and enhance human functioning. Through this Method, you can increase your ease and range of motion, improve your flexibility and coordination, and rediscover your innate capacity for graceful, efficient movement. These improvements will often generalize to enhance functioning in other aspects of your life.
The Feldenkrais Method is based on principles of physics, biomechanics and an empirical understanding of learning and human development. By expanding the self-image through movement sequences that bring attention to the parts of the self that are out of awareness, the Method enables you to include more of yourself in your functioning movements. Students become more aware of their habitual neuromuscular patterns and rigidities and expand options for new ways of moving. By increasing sensitivity the Feldenkrais Method assists you to live your life more fully, efficiently and comfortably.” Frequently Asked Questions (The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education) http://www.feldenkrais.com/frequently-asked-question
In “Awareness Heals: The Feldenkrais Method of Dynamic Healing”, author Steven Shafarman explains that the Feldernkrais Method was inspired by Moshe Feldenkrais’s observation of children and noticed how they effortlessly learned spontaneous movement. Moshe observed how babies explored, imitated, and curiously found comfortable and easy ways of walking, moving, sitting, and talking just through trial and error. Think about a baby with a big heavy head, shifting bones, and little muscle strength, why do they sit, walk, and move perfectly? And what causes them to lose this perfection in movement.
Moshe Feldenkrais theorized that as we gained in muscle strength and mastered a particular skill like walking, bending, etc., that instead of continuing our exploration as we did as babies, we settle on that one known way of movement.
The Feldenkrais Method reintroduces our bodies to new options and more efficient ways of moving our skeleton and muscles. The Feldenkrais Method helps us explore beyond our habitual ways of moving and uncover some of the bad habits we have unknowingly picked up over the course of time. These bad habits generally result in inefficient movements, which result in friction, production of heat/inflammation, and will eventually lead to physical limitations as we age.
In the Feldenkrais Method we regain our childlike curiosity by becoming aware and sensing and experiencing not only the structural support that comes from the skeleton and bones such as the hip joints, but also by using our muscles efficiently by allowing our big muscles to do more of the heavy lifting, which results in more efficient movement. Unlike many conventional Western approaches, Feldenkrais Method looks at the body as a connected system with levers that work with and against gravity. In a Feldenkrais Method you will not only focus on one part of the body, but how the entire body moves as in integrated whole.
VIDEO INTERVIEW- click on time stamp
- 0:19 What is Feldenkrais Method?
- 1:20 How do Feldenkrais sesssions work on mind, body, and soul?
- 3:25 Why is awareness such an important part of Feldenkrais Method?
- 6:16 What is a brief history of Moshe Feldenkrais, the creator of Feldenkrais Method?
- 19:01 Why children are models for ideal movement?
- 27:00 How Feldenkrais lessons focuses on the whole body versus just the parts?
- 31:56 Why are current exercise trends, which are focused on building certain muscles, versus a body system so problematic?
- 44:04 How does the Feldenkrais Method relate to neuroscience?
- 45:31 Why disturbing out habitual patterns creates an opportunity to learn a new way of doing something?
- 46:24 How does Feldenkrais Method affect the central nervous system?
- 48:18 How you can experience more joy with Feldenkrais sessions?
- 41:10 How the subtle work of Feldenkrais Method can have profound effects?
How was the Feldenkrais method developed by Moshe Feldenkrais?
Feldenkrais Method is named after Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais who was a Ukraine born physicist with an academic training in mathematics, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering. The Feldenkrais method is a reflection of the integration that Moshe did across many disciplines and all aspects of his life.
Moshe Feldenkrais created the Feldenkrais Method as a means to avoid surgery for an old knee injury. Doctors had told Feldenkrais that he would never regain normal movement unless he had surgery. Moshe studied everything he could find on anatomy, physiology, neurophysiology, exercise therapies, psychotherapy, yoga, hypnosis, and acupuncture in hopes of finding an alternative solution.
His inspiration for the Feldenkrais Method came from watching babies move while at his wife’s pediatric practice. Through replicating the process young children learn to move and function, Moshe began to heal him. The key in healing was careful, minimal movement coupled with a keen awareness of his movements. Additionally, Moshe applied his scientific training and observational abilities to analyze the mechanics that made his martial arts practice in judo more effective. By extending his understanding of Judo to other areas, Moshe began to understand efficient movement for any person (young or old) or any activity.
“Every person I have worked with has taught me in a different way that all pains and problems involve lack of awareness”. p8
What is the goal of Feldenkrais Method?
As explained by Shafarman, Feldernkrais sessions focuses less on pain and more on the enjoyment of living as freely and fully as you choose by enhancing your self-image and helping you access a greater range of possibilities in movement.
How do bad habits creep into our movements?
Bad habits are sometimes formed by minor or major injuries or moving our bodies in asymmetrical or repetitive unconscious ways (e.g.- think about how we type into our handhelds at the stop light, or sleeping on only one side of our bodies). Over time, we forget what full fluid motion feels like and our bodies assimilate these unnatural patterns as “normal”. Ultimately, our bad habits results in forgetting how to move efficiently and effectively.
8:57 How bad habits now create injuries later in life
How would an injury affect our whole body?
Steven Shafarman explains that we often forget that our whole body actively engages in everything we do such as walking, sitting, lifting, bending, twisting, etc. Even when we are doing something seemingly simple, like sitting in a chair, we are moving all parts of our body from our feet up to our pelvis, to the trunk, and all the way up to our heads. Anytime we bend, turn, or move, it initiates a domino effect across the body. While we may intuitively understand this, often times we are unaware of how these systems are connected. So, if an injury occurs, we most likely focus on a particular body part. As such, an isolated injury (e.g.-foot injury) can show up in our necks, or shoulders.
“All but the most delicate movements of the eyes, face, or hands require you to shift some weight and adjust large muscles in your trunk. Your brain constantly monitors input forms all sensory receptors, every muscle, each joint in the skeleton, the entire surface of the skin, and all internal organs.. In all that you do, you act as a complete person. “ p11
Shafarman offers the example of a common injury like stubbing your toe. When we stub our toe, we are likely aware of the shooting pain coming from that particular toe. In response, we develop a habit of shifting the way we walk to avoid adding pressure to the pain in our foot. While we are likely conscious of this small change of movement, we are less aware of how the entire body compensates. Shafarman explains that an innocuous injury like a stubbed toe results in a limp that causes a chain reaction up the body. He explains that with a limp, the ankle and knee stiffens, the pelvis and hip joints twist asymmetrically, which translates to imbalances in your back and neck. The impact travels all the way up to your upper body and even affects the way you turn your head or swing your arms.
The effects of limping may linger with increased tensions in your back muscles, shoulders, or hip joints. While these changes are very subtle, when they are multiplied by the thousands of movements we make everyday, they can lead to significant problems after a few years. Over time, these lead to inefficiency and potential physical problems.
“Back pain is an example of a common problem that is often related to bad habits. For many people, back pain is chronic and costly. Treatments typically identify some specific cause-muscles too weak or too tense, the spine misaligned, or nerve pinches- and then try to correct the problem with drugs or surgery, exercises, or manipulations, psychotherapy, or relaxing technique. Numerous techniques can provide relief, at least temporarily. For lasting benefits, however, people need to learn more efficient ways of moving. When you move comfortably, and effectively, muscles will contract only when necessary while remaining loose at all other times, and the spine will continually align and realign appropriately for what you are doing”. P9
How are habits changed?
“It is only when we try to change habits through force of will alone that we struggle and usually fail. When you clearly experience increasing skill and comfort with a different way of acting, even the most deeply tooted habit can be replaced instantaneously. Habits are dysfunctional when they involve some discomfort or pain, but any pain can serve to remind and motivate you to learn a more effective alternative. In fact, most of us already know alternatives and with awareness these can be easily accessed and integrated”. P172.
49:37 how long does it take to change a habit!
Who is Feldenkrais lessons for?
Anyone at any age can benefit from the Feldenkrais Method. Because the movements are so gentle and subtle, even older folks in wheel chairs can use the Feldenkrais Method. Shafarman shares his list of clients and what they’ve been able to accomplish through Feldenkrais lessons.
- Athletes who want to enhance their performance in a sport.
- Actors/Performers – Musicians who want to improve their artistic ability by becoming aware of muscles they haven’t used in awhile, which affected their ability to perform.
- Chronic Pain (pain of the back, neck, shoulder, hip, legs or knee, etc) – Feldenkrais sessions helps relive chronic back pain, shoulder tension, and most other musculoskeletal difficulties.
- Find easier ways to function with Neurological disorders such as Stroke, cerebral palsy, or multiple sclerosis.
- Many Seniors who want to move without strain or discomfort can benefit from good posture, balance, mobility, and flexibility.
VIDEO INTERVIEW- click on time stamp
14:38 How a 98 year old woman gained vitality through Feldenkrais lessons?
15:31 Why Feldenkrais Method can be for both gold medalists and their grandparents?
17:14 Why Dr J, a basketball star legend, went to visit Moshe Feldenkrais?
36:56 Why Feldenkrais Method works for all ages?
Benefits of the Feldenkrais Method
Over the last few weeks, I started Feldenkrais sessions to compliment my visits to the chiropractor and SOMA body work. I was repeatedly told that if I didn’t address the habits that initially caused these imbalances, then I would be back at the massage table starting all over again. My end goal was for vitality and to address a string of annual debilitating injuries from plantar fasciitis to a painful back injury.
So far, I’ve done three Functional Integration private sessions. One of which, the practitioners introduced new strategies for moving through gentle hands on manipulation and one 60 minute group Awareness Through Movement (ATM) class where the instructor talked a group of us through body movements. Immediately, the work translated to stronger standing yoga poses, and walking with more fluidity. While the pain still exists, it is less than before. I’m also much more conscious when I’m doing everyday movements like turning my body, standing up, etc.
Here’s how Steven Shafarman explained his experience:
“I benefited significantly from these lessons, feeling taller, lighter, stronger, more agile, better coordinated, and generally healthier” p5
The below sections describe the benefits that you may get from using the Feldenkrais Method
A typical response to pain is to avoid any movement that may hurt. While this response is helpful for a limited time, continued immobility prevents healing. Feldenkrais Method teaches that instead of interpreting pain as a signal to avoid moment, we can use it as a guide to help us move more skillfully. Shafarman explains that his first goal with someone in pain is to help the person find a subtle movement that they can do comfortably, which essentially breaks the pattern of pain and immobility and enables healing to occur.
Recover from Stress
One of the easiest ways to change stress is to alter your breathing. Shafarman explains that anyone who stiffens their body and breathes shallowly will create stress, anxiety, and depression if they habitually breathed that way. Shafarman offers breathing exercises in his book to learn how to breathe more freely.
The key to training for an athletic or an artistic performance is awareness. Shafarman explains that training without awareness can have a negative effect if the training strengthens bad habits and overworks already tight muscles. Mindless repetition reduces awareness. Athletes and performers can benefits from knowing how to move their body more efficiently. The goal is to have muscles from every part of your body from the tips of your toes to the top of your head contract only as needed with no wasted effort.
Feldenkrais Method teaches us how to move more freely and spontaneously, which results in a general experience of pleasure similar to one you may have experienced when you were a child. Shafarman shares that even a slight improvement in a person’s condition will result in increasing pleasure.
Here are examples of recent success stories pulled from Feldenkrais.com. This offers what students have been able to accomplish after work with the Feldenkrais Method (Source: Frequently Asked Questions (The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education)http://www.feldenkrais.com/frequently-asked-question
- 42 year old computer programmer with incipient wrist problems is able to increase his speed on the keyboard after learning how to use his arms and hands more efficiently.
- 28 year old woman goes through her third pregnancy, but the first one without back pain.
- 55-year old woman is able to lift her affectionate 2 year old granddaughter without straining her back.
- 40-year old cellist becomes so creative in developing new, less strained positions to play in that she was able to extend her musical repertoire.
- 9-year old with learning disabilities can read a full page competently and has gained self-confidence in his intelligence.
- 19-year old diver is able to visualize and perform the complex series of movements needed to accomplish an intricate endeavor more proficiently.
- 78-year old man walks a mile daily, free of chronic knee pain he’s had for 30 years.
- 32-year old man learns to reuse his hands after a crippling auto accident.
Professional athletes who have enjoyed the benefits of Feldenkrais Method include basketball star Julius Erving and PGA golfers Rick Acton and Duffy Waldorf. Celebrities who have used Feldenkrais Method include Norman Cousins, Margaret Mead, former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Helen Hayes and Whoopi Goldberg. Famous musicians include violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and cellist Yo Yo Ma.
How Does the Feldenkrais Method Differ from Massage and Chiropractic?
In both chiropractic and massage work, the patient is passively receiving work done by a practitioner. A chiropractor works with your bones and nervous system, whereas a massage therapist works your muscles. The end goal of both treatments is to change and fortify your fundamental structure. If you are able to hold your body with a stable foundation, then you will be able to self-improve the overall function of your body.
The Feldenkrais Method is more about learning through active participation by engaging in awareness and felt experience.
What happens in Feldenkrais sessions?
Here are some things that you would expect in either a Functional Integration or Awareness Through Movement (ATM)class
- Slow, gentle movements where students move in a pain free way.
- Focus on systems learning versus a goal on a specific body part (e.g.- no back pain).
- Focus your attention on sensing differences in the front, back, right, left side and how you carry weight (e.g. – most of my weight is on my entire left foot, and my right foot has only weight in the center).
- Improve movement and accept what the body can do at that moment versus striving for perfection from the onset.
Here’s two different ways you can learn Feldenkrais Method.
What Happens in an Awareness Through Movement® Lesson?
“Awareness Through Movement consists of verbally directed movement sequences presented primarily to groups. A lesson generally lasts from 30 to 60 minutes. The lessons consist of comfortable, easy movements that gradually evolve into movements of greater range and complexity. These precisely structured movement explorations involve thinking, sensing, moving and imagining. Many are based on developmental movements and ordinary functional activities (reaching, standing, lying to sitting, looking behind yourself, etc.), some are based on more abstract explorations of joint, muscle, and postural relationships. There are hundreds of ATM lessons, varying in difficulty and complexity, for all levels of movement ability.
The emphasis is on learning which movements work better and noticing the quality of these changes in your body. Through increased awareness, you will learn to abandon habitual patterns of movement and develop new alternatives, resulting in improved flexibility and coordination” (Source: Frequently Asked Questions (The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education) http://www.feldenkrais.com/frequently-asked-question)
What Happens in a Functional Integration® Lesson?
“Functional Integration is performed with the student fully clothed, usually lying on a table or with the student in sitting or standing positions. At times, various props (pillows, rollers, blankets) are used in an effort to support the person’s body configuration or to facilitate certain movements. The learning process is carried out without the use of any invasive or forceful procedure.
Functional Integration is a hands-on form of tactile, kinesthetic communication. The practitioner communicates how you organize your body and, through gentle touching and movement, conveys the experience of comfort, pleasure and ease of movement while you learn how to reorganize your body and behavior in new and more expanded functional motor patterns.
In Functional Integration the practitioner/teacher develops a lesson for you, custom-tailored to your unique configuration at that particular moment, relating to a desire, intention or need you have. Through rapport and respect for your abilities, qualities and integrity, the practitioner/teacher creates an environment in which you can learn comfortably” Learn about what happens in an individual Functional Integration lesson (Source: Frequently Asked Questions (The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education)http://www.feldenkrais.com/frequently-asked-question)
- 37:06 What are different ways to experience Feldenkrais Method? What is the difference between doing an awareness (ATM) group class or doing a private functional integration season class?
- Feldenkrais exercises: Sitting and Turning: https://soundcloud.com/feldenkrais-guild-r/sitting-and-turning
What to try after a session?
Shafarman suggests that a good time to review your Feldenkrais lessons is just before a familiar exercise or activity. He offers that many of his students report that their skill and scores in tennis or golf are improved as they integrate lessons into everything from their aerobic classes, exercise equipment, or other fitness activities.
About Steven Shafarman
Steven studied philosophy, psychology, and human development in college. A few months after he graduated in 1976 he met Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, engineer, judo master, neuroscientist, and creator of the Feldenkrais Method. Dr. Feldenkrais asked Steven to travel with him as his appointment secretary in 1981, the last time he taught in the United States. As a Feldenkrais Method practitioner, Steven has taught in Europe, Israel, Argentina, Australia, and around the United States. He has also studied and taught yoga and other approaches to movement education and healing. He is the author of six books, including Awareness Heals: The Feldenkrais Method for Dynamic Health.