« A healthy person is one who can fully live their unavowed dreams » 3
Why Feldenkrais ?
Learning. Curiosity. Awareness. Fun. Mind body. Movement. Neuroplasticity. Embodiment. Potential. Full living. Pain free. Quality. Creativity. Paradigm shift. Serenity. Dreams. Freedom. Life changing.
Those are a few words that come to mind when I think of Feldenkrais. It was not always the case. It used to be such a strange concept and mystery. But maybe I should start from the beginning.
A few years ago, I studied osteopathy. Osteopathy is an alternative medicine, which states the mind body connection and considers the ever present interactions between function and structure. It mostly consists of multiple manual therapy techniques including structural, visceral, cranio-sacral and fascial to help self healing and homeostasis. I was enjoying my studies, learning anatomy, physiology and so much about the human body. During the 3rd and 4th year of training, in the clinical setting of school, we started seeing patients. People would come for various reasons, from digestive troubles and headaches to various musculo-skeletal problems, back pain being a frequent complaint. I’d see people getting better but still found myself critical and pondering how we could help more. I remarked how much patients lacked bodily awareness or self awareness in general. How most of them lived sedentary lives. Furthermore, I also wanted to refer everyone to psychotherapists, and hated that we called them patients. Those were big clues pointing to my dissatisfactions, clash of values or how limiting I found it to be. I was near the end of my training, trying to figure out when and how to open my practice, thinking about my background as a movement teacher, taking into account all those years offering psycho-social or education counselling, the knowledge I had acquired and figuring out how to reconcile this with my new career. How could I mend the gap ? And … I stumbled upon the Feldenkrais Method®.
It first popped up on my Facebook feed, an article about the method being used to help people with chronic pain by facilitating better and more accurate bodily awareness to reorganize one’s nervous system. I was curious. There were key words that I could not steer away from. I read it and started my incursion into the world of Feldenkrais. It seemed to answer so many of my questions, I was hooked. And it was just the beginning. I never could fathom how it would transform my life.
So what is the Feldenkrais Method® ?
I first got into the theory of it. Bear with me here. The method was created by Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984) a distinguished scientist, physicist and engineer. He developed his method following an injury and based it on principles of physics, neurology and physiology to heal himself. By integrating his knowledge of motor and child development, psychology, biomechanics and martial arts, his method uses movement as the main point of entry to develop better awareness, and aim to offer a space and modality for better learning, to potentialize the organization of the nervous system through increased proprioception, interoception and neuroplasticity. It proposes ways to acquire better quality of movement, to improve functionality and ultimately discover our full potential. Ouf ! but what’s not to like about it ? I finally tried a class. And enjoyed it. But that was not enough for me, something called me and I wanted more. I started investigating about training programs to become a practitioner. Even though I had just finished osteopathy school, and the prospect of re-investing in a 4 year study seemed challenging, it just made sense. I could not shake it. I enrolled at the Feldenkrais Institute of New York, ready for the journey.
Now I’m in NYC for my first weekend of training. It’s friday night, I’m excited and scared, I don’t know what quite to expect. We start with an Awareness through Movement® (ATM) lesson. This is the group modality proposed by Feldenkrais. The teacher guides us through a serie of simple movements, asking us to focus our attention on our bodies and sensations. I feel restless, even find it a bit boring, we are experiencing the class, but no theory, no explanation or presentation as to how the training will proceed, it does not feel like school, what will I learn, how is that a professional training, I don’t know nor understand what they expect of us. I wonder … was it a mistake ? Registering ? But I’m here for the weekend so might as well give it a chance, get through the weekend. I can always cancel my participation after if it doesn’t work out. So I just breathe and stay with it. The next day starts the same way. I’m still hesitant. I have a Functional Integration® lesson planned for later, the individual one-on-one modality of the Method. I’m curious. It goes well, it seems a bit like receiving manual therapy, the touch is gentle, I can ask questions about what’s happening. I like the experience and feel better after, more relaxed. Now it’s lunch time.
And we’re back at it, having a group discussion about our experience of the morning, about a few principles of the method and another group lesson. That’s when it happens ; I let go. I’m in the moment. I don’t care anymore about where I should be, where I’m going, I am here, simply focused, paying attention to myself, I have no aim and slowly I begin to understand. It’s about the path, not the result, it’s about possibilities and learning. And Moshe states it so well :
« Organic learning is essential. It can also be therapeutic in essence. It is healthier to learn than to be a patient or even be cured. Life is a process not a thing. And, processes go well if there are many ways to influence them. We need more ways to do what we want than the one we know – even if it is a good one on itself » 2
« In traditional learning it is what we learn that is important. But the higher function of learning to learn is free of such restrictions. Learning to learn involves improvement of the brain function itself which carries it beyond its latent potential. To facilitate such learning it is necessary to divorce the aim to be achieved from the learning process itself. The process is the important thing … » 3
With that discovery, the doubts left me. Yes it was about movement and body awareness. For some it was about learning to deal with chronic pain or illness. But I realized, as if that was not enough, it could be so much more. I knew, I sensed there would be a before Feldenkrais and for sure an after. Which, half way through my training, brings me to this : What did I learn ?
Physically I reconnected with my body and its abilities. I always had good body awareness so that part was not the big surprise but nonetheless I saw changes. Practicing pole dancing, a specialized discipline, having had a few incidents, I’d grown more wary of dynamic movements. Somehow with Feldenkrais, by doing movement on the floor, slow ones, better organizing my whole self, I regained confidence. Got curious and able to get out of my comfort zone. And yes increased my body awareness and develop new capabilities.
Liberating creativity was a big one. With the Feldenkrais method there is no right way of doing something, there are infinite possibilities. We don’t talk about alignment, about shoulds, after all life is not planned, but we search for the ease, for pleasure, for different patterning. There are no mistakes, but opportunities to learn. Allowing myself to be in that space as opened up my creativity. It’s also allowed me to engage in new types of movements and training. I took the Floor Flow® certification with Marlo Fisken last year and I probably would not have had the courage to do so even a few years ago. Now I’m more and more able to show up to new opportunities, getting to believe that I am enough and ready. The perception of myself as shifted.
Looking for the ease. Being encourage to tend to different sensations, helps identifying needs and motivations. I’ve become more attuned to my body and it not being separate from who I am. Meaning I have new access to emotions, psychological and physical needs and ways to take care of myself. I have a better understanding of the mind body connection, how they can not be separate, and how they work together.
« The physical and mental components are not two series of phenomena, which are somehow linked together ; but, rather, they are two aspects of the same thing, like two faces of the same coin. » 3
With this, and everyone of us being different, I see myself more clearly. I’m more able to follow my impulses, know my dreams, make choices and be an active participant in my life.
« There are two major roads for changing a person’s behavior – either through the psyche or through the body. However, real change has to be brought about in a way which allows both the body and the psyche to be changed simultaneously. …The advantage of approaching the unity of mental and muscular life through the body lies in the fact that the muscles expression is simpler because it is concrete and easier to locate. » 3
«Each of us speaks, moves, thinks, and feel in a different way, each according to the image of itself that he has built up over the years. In order to change our mode of action we must change the image of ourselves that we carry with us… Such a change involves not only a change in the nature of our self image, but a change in the nature of our motivations, and the mobilizations of all parts of the body concerned.» 1
With each steps I evolved into the person I want to be, already am. And it has done wonder for my anxiety.
Lastly, if you come to an ATM class. You’ll find there are many periods of rest. They are as important as the movements. These moments are seen as precious times to integrate informations acquired. Like sleep helps to repair and rejuvenate, rest serves you and prepares you for another round of delicious learning. Experiencing it in the setting of classes has put a new light on those periods in my life when I do need to rest. I see the opportunities in them and I’m more indulgent toward myself. This is a gift. And probably a good protection against burn-out.
In conclusion, in a society where accents and value are placed on performance and results, where we use words like fight, push, no pain no gain, to describe life … the Feldenkrais way is refreshing and inscribed itself in a different paradigm.
And when you find that space, where rest is welcome, mistakes are allowed and even encouraged, where value is placed on process and experiencing instead of results, where approaching everything from a point of curiosity and learning is central, where discovery and exploration are joyful …
Then maybe, maybe the question is not so much why, why Feldenkrais but how … how Feldenkrais ?… and the how is all about learning, about being in the moment, and about how to integrate all of that juicy rich embodied way of living in your day to day.
Plus, it’s fun.
1- Feldenkrais, Moshe, Awareness Through Movement, Easy-to-do Exercises to Improve Vision, Posture, Imagination and for Personal Awareness, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1972.
2- Feldenkrais, Moshe, Elusive Obvious, Cupertino, CA: Meta Publications, 1981.
3- Feldenkrais, Moshé and Beringer, Elizabeth Embodied wisdom : the collected papers of Moshé Freldenkrais ; Berkeley, Calif. : North Atlantic Books, San Diego, Calif, 2010.
4- Feldenkrais Guild of North America, www.feldenkrais.com.