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Continuing Ed: The Feldenkrais Method

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A Functional Integration sessionA Functional Integration session. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy The Feldenkrais Guild“Continuing Ed” is our regular look at workshops, programs and other methods of bodywork that can enhance your skills as a Pilates teacher.





By Nicole Rogers

The Olympic gold medal-winning Italian fencing team recently revealed Feldenkrais as their “secret weapon,” and many others rave about the benefits—pain and stress relief, enhancement of artistic and athletic performance, improved posture and balance. But it may be easier to experience Feldenkrais than to explain it.

The method was invented by a man named Moshe Pinhas Feldenkrais, with a long and impressive resume including degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering, a D.Sc. in physics from the Sorbonne, work on a Van de Graaf generator used for atomic fission experiments, and extensive knowledge of Judo and Jujitsu. Before his death in 1984, Feldenkrais taught small groups of practitioners to continue teaching the method we know today as Feldenkrais. Now there are approximately 6,000 practitioners around the world.

The Feldenkrais Method is an educational system designed to improve awareness through movement. The Feldenkrais Institute of New York puts it this way: “An integration of biology, neuroscience and psychology, the Method explores the biological and cultural aspects of movement and posture, and how habitual ways of moving, feeling, and acting can constrain us to a small portion of our potential.” In other words, as humans we ordinarily learn to move well enough to function, but our abilities to function with greater ease and skill remain to be developed. The Feldenkrais Method teaches—through movement—how we can improve our capabilities to function in our daily lives.

There are two ways in which Feldenkrais is taught:
Awareness Through Movement – group classes
Functional Integration – a hands-on, one-on-one session with a practitioner

O-Sel Nyima is a Pilates instructor and Feldenkrais practitioner in Brooklyn, NY. She invited me to her home to explain more about Feldenkrais and how it enhances her Pilates instruction.

Q. What was your first experience with Feldenkrais?
A. It was completely by accident. I just saw a flyer for a workshop and the workshop was “From Performance to Perfection.” It was a workshop for dancers and actors, people who performed. I’d always had this issue in my pelvis, having had a really bad accident years ago, which nobody had ever sorted out. I’d been to chiropractors and acupuncturists, I’d done Pilates, I’d done everything under the sun. And it was I think by the end of the first morning of this workshop, when suddenly the pain disappeared. And I don’t know what I did to make it [go away]. We were just doing these lessons really slowly, moving around in slow motion, just exploring the sensations of the movement, and two or three hours later—no pain. Gone. And I thought oh my goodness, all these years I’ve tried to find out how to do something with this pain and a couple of hours of Feldenkrais and that was it.

I also had this really bad shoulder injury, again from an accident, and my mobility was compromised a lot. Again, I’d tried everything, tried every exercise system. Pilates had been the best exercise system for it, in increasing the range of motion and so on. But I had reached a level where it wasn’t really progressing with Pilates. And then with Feldenkrais, I started to feel my mobility increasing again. And it wasn’t so much from work that was done on the shoulder, it was work done on other parts of the body, particularly the ribcage and pelvis, and that set off improvement in the shoulder.

Q. Then is that what made you want to teach Feldenkrais?
I think that almost everyone goes into Feldenkrais because of some issue they’ve got. It tends to attract a lot of musicians because musicians get carpal tunnel and Feldenkrais fixes it for them, and they become teachers. But I think what I liked about it was the element of magical mystery. It’s difficult to explain it, and yet it seems to have these magical qualities to it. I think it’s because you’re working with the central nervous system and the brain. You’re doing everything very slowly and quietly and with awareness—and that actually affects the brain.

Q. How has it affected your teaching as a Pilates instructor?
I think it’s completely affected it. One of my Feldenkrais teachers used to say, “When you look at a body, you have to look at it as though it’s a crime scene.” And so, you don’t focus on what [your clients] are telling you, because they probably aren’t telling you the full story. If you actually look at their body and the way they move, you’re like a detective. You kind of suss out how they move. You know in another life, I would have liked to have been a forensic scientist [laughing].

I think Feldenkrais taught me to look at people’s bodies in a different way. As opposed to just what they tell you, you’re actually looking at the history, the trauma, the self-image, the personality—you’re looking at every layer of what this organism is in front of you.  It’s up to you to work out what they require to improve. Just because they say they’ve got a bad neck, that might not be where you start. You might actually start at the feet or the knee. So when I get a Pilates client, I tend to look at them like that, because generally Pilates people turn up because they’ve been told they need core strength or they need to improve their back or posture.

So I tend to look at the body as a crime scene, and try to see what they are doing with their body that is not helpful. I try to get them to do some Feldenkrais to begin with, simply because if we can clear away any issues that they may have, they actually have a better awareness of themselves in order to learn an exercise. And I think having an awareness of moving and the sensations that it encourages is really the most important thing for people when they’re trying to do anything, whether it’s fencing or horse riding or running, or Pilates.

Q. Explain the difference between group classes and private sessions.
The private session is hands on and it’s called Functional Integration. It’s basically designed to teach the client how to function in a way that they want to, whether it’s sitting at a computer nine hours a day or running a marathon. And the classes are called Awareness Through Movement lessons. They both have tremendous advantages. Some people like to learn themselves, like in a class where the teacher is just giving them instructions on how to move. Some people relate to that much better than hands on.

If you’re doing a hands-on session, the teacher’s actually touching you and moving you around. You might not necessarily be aware of what’s going on, it just might feel nice. Then you get up and you feel good and everything moves better. But in the Awareness Through Movement lesson, the client really has to be involved in the process, or rather it’s really much more possible for the client to be involved in the process. They’re supposed to be involved in the hands-on session too, but quite often they just lie there and feel good. [Laughs]

Q. What age range can practice Feldenkrais?
Anyone except Alzheimer’s people, because you have to have some kind of memory of before and after. And it’s really good with babies. A lot of babies with cerebral palsy and all these kinds of conditions have Feldenkrais and it’s extremely useful. I’m actually working with a girl who went through the windscreen of a car. She’s only 16. She was in a coma and she is very badly brain-damaged. There’s a whole bunch of us Feldenkrais practitioners—we go in every day and just do some work on her. We’ve managed to get some movement back in her feet and her hands and her arms. So it works with anyone with any condition.

Sometimes you don’t even know you’ve got something you need to change. I have this client who’s 72 who’s a former polio victim, so he was paralyzed as a kid. I gather that at that time when someone recovered from polio, they were encouraged to do a lot of physical activity, which he did, and through that got all sorts of torn rotator cuffs and dodgy knees, etc. And so his son bought him five Feldenkrais sessions. And he’s this big kind of Manhattan businessman—tough warrior type. He had no idea what Feldenkrais was, but he clearly had to accept this gift from his son. So I turned up, and he had no idea what I was doing to him. He’d lie on the floor, and I’d do whatever I was doing, and then at the end of it, he’d get up, he’d say, “Thank you very much,” shake my hand and go off. I had no idea whether he liked it, what his opinion was, he didn’t tell me. After his five sessions, he continued. After about two months, he said, “Well I don’t know what it is you do and I have no idea how to describe it to people, but all I know is I don’t need to be the first one out of the subway door anymore. I feel like I’ve become more mellow, more relaxed. I seem to just be able to function in the world in a much more stress-free way.” What I’ve observed about him over the past few years is that he’s really become a very fit 72-year-old. His joints are all moving nicely. He has this hour of the week when he completely relaxes, and it’s stress-free and it sort of makes him a better person to be with, but I see him more as a person who you wouldn’t really say looks 72 just because of the way he moves. He’s very fluid.

Q. Any other success stories?
My marathon man. He’s 60 now, and he ran the Great Wall of China in May, having completed marathons in all 50 states. He’s only been running five or seven years. He can now run pain-free—no pain in his ankles, hips or shoulder—and he can recover so astoundingly well for a man of that age who’s not necessarily a natural athlete. Again, if you asked him what Feldenkrais does, he wouldn’t be able to tell you, but he also said to me that his family likes him more since he started doing Feldenkrais. [Laughs] It has all these weird effects, not just on a physical level, but mentally and emotionally.

Q. Why should the Pilates community be interested in Feldenkrais?
I think Pilates trainers would benefit from doing Feldenkrais themselves just so they could understand that sometimes the organism or human being lying in front of them might respond in a different way. There may be other options for movement. It deals a lot with imagined movement. That’s how Feldenkrais actually healed himself from a knee injury. He imagined movement and spent three months imagining how to move, and it did affect actual movement when he was ready.


Locations: Worldwide

Structure: All Feldenkrais practitioners must complete 740-800 hours of training over a three- to four-year period. Trainees participate in Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration lessons, lectures, discussions and group process and watch videos of Dr. Feldenkrais teaching. Eventually students teach Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration under supervision.

Cost: Tuition runs approximately $4,200 per curriculum year. The exact cost may vary depending on the location of the training program. Contact a Feldenkrais professional training program in your area for costs specific to that program.

For More Information: Visit feldenkrais.com or call 800-775-2118. Feldenkrais CDs, DVDs and books by Moshe Feldenkrais available at achievingexcellence.com.

Nicole Rogers is a Pilates instructor and writer. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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Posted on Friday, November 21, 2008 at 01:47PM by Registered CommenterAmy Leibrock in , , | Comments3 Comments

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Reader Comments (3)

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



December 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRuth

I too have had the "magical" experience of Feldenkrais. Stuff happens and I am blown away...the body truly finds it's own path. I am looking at getting certified as well, but was very surprised at how much of Feldenkrais has been used in Pilates, at least from my experience. I have started hosting an ATM class at my studio and am so happy to see a response from my community. Thank you for the input!

December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah McKeever Watson

Hi, this is a great site - I heard all about your plans and am excited to read the unbiased reviews on the Pilates Training methods and equipment.

December 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPilates Training

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