When you visit a Feldenkrais practitioner for an individual hands-on session, that’s called Functional Integration.
So I’ve heard, Moshe Feldenkrais was aware that Ida Rolf called her individual work with clients “structural” integration. But he was not trying to change his student’s structure.
Instead, in part to distinguish his work from Rolfing, he wanted to emphasize that he was creating conditions for his students to learn something new about their function.
What’s a function?
Anything that serves a purpose: standing, walking, sitting, running, reaching, pushing, pulling, lifting, resisting, seeing, orienting, balancing, thinking, sensing, feeling and doing.
The last four items on that list, Feldenkrais taught, are elements of every single action we make.
That’s why he often spent a lot of time teaching people to do a single thing in multiple ways and with multiple points of attention.
He not only taught biomechanical efficiency, but also brought students’ attention to their emotional drives.
Again and again, he emphasized that our thoughts – for example, “I’m no good,” or “I’m going to figure this out before the others do” or “this is impossible!” – change the web of muscular tensions that we use to organize the movements of our skeleton.
These kinds of thoughts, just as much as the arrangement of the spine and the limbs, are part of what Feldenkrais calls the self-image, the operating idea we have ourselves that shapes everything we do.
How do we learn to do new things?
By refining the self-image.
In a Functional Integration session, the practitioner gives the student information with her hands. Each point on the skeleton that is touched by the practitioner’s hands becomes a focus of attention in the student’s experience.
The practitioner can also provide feedback to the student in motion.
For example, the practitioner may follow the balance of muscular tensions around the pelvis in order to guide its movement through the simplest pathway for the student at any given moment.
During the course of a session, by making a variety of small movement experiments, the practitioner can help the student sense and feel new things, potentially leading to the discovery of a new overall muscular organization
Returning to the example above, the student may now find that that additional pathways of movement of his pelvis also become easily available.
A session may also include verbal interaction not unlike a Feldenkrais group class (Awareness Through Movement), where the practitioner speaks to orient the student to try different experiments and sense particular internal sensations.
When it comes right down to it, there is really no limit to the number of ways that the practitioner and client can creatively interact through language and touch in order to improve function.
Back to that name – what is integration?
The word integration points to the longer term process at work in the Feldenkrais Method.
It’s the answer to a question students often ask at the end of a session when they feel something new that they like.
“How long can I keep this?”
The (not always satisfying) answer is “it depends.”
Because what has changed is the self-image, and the self-image is a tricky thing.
After the session, when the student has discovered a new biomechanical organization – likely shifting his emotional and mental experience as well – he is in an unfamiliar place.
Even if he is delighted with his new state of being, it’s not likely to hold if he has no idea how to create the new organization on his own. His interaction with the practitioner may have given him new feelings and ideas, and he may be grateful to her for the experience, but now he needs to learn how to “own” what he has discovered.
One way he can do this is by carrying out familiar functions while his new experience is still fresh. This makes it possible for his nervous system to have a felt experience it can clearly recognize as being better than the “old way.”
The end of the session is a crucial moment because this is when the strength of our deep habits – the basic blueprints of our self-image – come into play.
Now the practitioner will usually ask the student to experiment with function to begin this process of recognizing the features of the new pattern that has emerged. She may even ask him to intentionally recreate his old habit for comparison.
This is important because the crucial difference is often quite small. For example, it could amount to a slight shift in where he rests his weight on his heels.
But if the student can recognize what that small difference makes possible – to breathe better, do less work with the muscles of his back, orient his eyes to more of the horizon, and move without restriction – he will quickly begin to orient not only to the bottom of his feet, but to his overall experience .
Over time, he may automatically adjust his weight over his feet spontaneously whenever he feels a shortness of breath.
This is the deepest level of integration– when the student continues the inquiry begun with the practitioner even when he is on his own.
He makes his own new discoveries and forms new questions to ask in the next session. He begins to recognize his own habits and perhaps even starts making his own experiments with non-habitual actions.
In other words, Functional Integration is a learning process to help facilitate the integration of a higher level of function into student’s life experience.
If, for example, you have a scoliosis in your spine, Functional Integration will not “fix” it.
Instead, it will provide you with the opportunity to learn how to move your unique spine in more ways with less pain and more pleasure.
These new options are sure to ripple out into a new overall experience of yourself that goes far beyond the shape of your skeleton.
When you come for a Functional Integration session, whatever your question or concern, the assumption is never that there is “something wrong with you” that needs to be corrected.
The starting point is the incredible capacities you already have and how we can grow them into something even better.