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Feldenkrais Method FAQ
What it is, what it's for, basic concepts
What is The Feldenkrais Method?
The Feldenkrais Method® is a way to learn to move with better coordination and comfort. Students take lessons to reduce pain, improve physical performance, or develop mindful awareness of the body. The method was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli engineer, physicist and martial artist.
What are Awareness Through Movement Lessons?
Feldenkrais classes are called Awareness Through Movement® (ATM) lessons. There are hundreds of different lessons, and each focuses on a particular functional theme, such as flexing the spine, mobilizing the hips, or coordinating the feet and ankles.
During a lesson, students make a series of variable movements and pay close attention how they feel. The goal is to experiment with different ways to move, build a wider repertoire of useful options, and better awareness of which options work best. At the end of a lesson, students often notice that the target movement feels surprisingly efficient and comfortable.
Click here for a quick sample lesson.
Why are the movements in Feldenkrais so slow?
The movements done in Feldenkrais are characteristically slow and gentle, having an almost tai chi like quality. Slow movement has several benefits:
makes it easier to explore new ways to move
reduces perception of threat that might inhibit exploration
makes it easier it notice subtle differences between different ways of moving in terms of muscular effort or tension
Why do Feldenkrais lessons happen on the floor?
For similar reasons explained in the answer to the previous question about slow movement: Lying on the floor with multiple points of support makes it easier to explore novel movements, by reduces the demands of balance. For example, it is easier to mobilize the spine into a wide range of positions on all fours compared to standing.
Another advantage is that the floor is a source of proprioceptive feedback. You can easily sense the alignment of the spine while lying on your back by paying attention to which parts touch the floor and which do not. The floor is like a mirror which increases body awareness.
Why do Feldenkrais lessons use unusual movements?
Many Feldenkrais lessons involve the use of novel movements or unusual constraints, such as trying to roll from your back to sitting while holding a knee or foot. These constraints encourage use of non-habitual movement patterns and stimulate creativity. They may also promote coordinated movement between distant body parts.
Why don’t lessons include instructions about the “right” way to do a movement?
Feldenkrais famously said that it is “incorrect to correct.” What he meant was that people learn movement through experimentation, not trying to consciously apply advice from a teacher.
Thus, Feldenkrais classes rarely involve demonstrations of the “right” way to move, or telling a student they are moving the “wrong” way. Instead, they create a process by which the student can learn for themselves what works best for their own body.
This means that any improvements made during the class are likely to be more robust and authentic than those which come from imitation of textbook form.
Why the rolling and crawling?
Feldenkrais was influenced by his study of infant motor development. Many of his classes involve developmental movements such as rolling, crawling, or reaching. These involve fundamental movement patterns that form building blocks for more complex actions.
Why all the resting?
There are frequent rest periods in Feldenkrais classes, even when the movements don’t create physical fatigue. This is because most of the “work” in Feldenkrais involves concentrating mental energy on the movements, and concentration remains sharper when rest periods are included.
Is Feldenkrais exercise?
Feldenkrais considered his method education not exercise. The movements are not designed to create significant loads on the muscles and joints, but instead to improve body perception and motor control. This is why Feldenkrais said “I'm after flexible brains not flexible bodies.” Here are some similar distinctions: Feldenkrais is more about the nervous system than the musculoskeletal system, and more about software than hardware.
How does Feldenkrais educate the nervous system?
Feldenkrais developed some original and simple concepts to explain how his lessons might improve motor control and perception. The following paragraphs address three of them: developing the “self-image”; curing “sensory motor amnesia”; and reducing “parasitic tension.”
What is the self-image?
Feldenkrais said that we move and feel in accordance with the self-image, which is the way the brain represents the body through cortical structures like the sensorimotor maps. These maps affect our coordination and also our conscious perceptions about the body, including the feelings of pain, pleasure, fatigue, energy, stiffness or ease.
Feldenkrais believed these maps were plastic and dynamic, built from constantly changing cognitive, emotional and sensory inputs. For example, your current “image” of the low back might be that it is not able to move freely into flexion in a forward bend. But that image might change quickly if you find a novel way to move the low back into flexion, perhaps on hands and knees.
Feldenkrais’ ideas about the self-image were speculative at the time he developed them, but gained support from subsequent research in neuroscience and pain science.
What is sensory motor amnesia?
Sensorimotor amnesia means you have basically forgotten about your ability to move in a certain way, even though that movement is useful, and you are capable of doing it. This term was coined by Thomas Hannah, one of Feldenkrais students, and the inventor of Somatics (which is very similar to Feldenkrais.)
Sensorimotor amnesia might happen after an injury or a long period of inactivity. It’s a bit like forgetting words in a language that you haven't spoken for a while. The good news is that the words come back easily with a little practice.
What is parasitic tension?
“Parasitic tension” occurs when a muscle is overactive and gets involved in movements where it isn’t really needed. For example, you may hold your breath, tighten your jaw or raise your shoulders when you are performing some coordinated activity with your hands. Feldenkrais lessons make it easy to discover and release parasitic tension, because the movements are very slow and gentle.
Is there research on the Feldenkrias Method?
There are numerous studies looking at the effectiveness of the Feldenkrais Method as a way to treat pain, improve balance, and affect a wide variety of other conditions related to movement or posture. Many of these studies have found positive effects, but the effect sizes tend to be small to moderate, and the overall quality of the studies is not great.
A systematic review summarizing the state of the research was done in 2015, concluding that:
Evidence for FM has become substantially more promising since we last looked at it systematically … Further research is required; however, in the meantime, clinicians and professionals may promote the use of FM in populations interested in efficient physical performance and self-efficacy.”
Edzard Ernst, a prominent skeptic of alternative medicine, discussed the review in this blog post:
The evidence for FM has become substantially more promising since we last looked at it systematically. The indication for which the evidence is most convincing is the improvement of elderly people’s balance. Considering that FM is virtually risk-free and inexpensive, I feel that it is one of the rare alternative therapies that could be integrated into clinical routine.
A more recent systematic review, done in 2020, finds more additional evidence in favor of the FM, concluding that: “research clearly supports the effectiveness of the FM for improvement of balance and chronic pain management.”
My read of this research supports my personal observations, which is that Feldenkrais is not a miracle cure for pain, but that it is one of the many forms of exercise that has small to moderate effects on pain, and that some people will benefit greatly from trying it. This is especially true for people who enjoy mind-body practice, are curious about exploring their bodies, and whose pain seems to vary with psychosocial variables.
How do you know so much about Feldenkrais?
I am a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner. I completed a practitioner training in 2012 and have been studying and practicing Feldenkrais for almost twenty years.