Learning from our body





Awareness through Movement®. An alluring promise as well as the title of one of the books by Moshe Feldenkrais, the founder of a method called after his name. But we could also say: "Learning to move according to body wisdom" or "finding one’s own truest movement". The definitions which give the idea of a simple and, at the same time, very subtle philosophy are various and they can also introduce an explanation of the Feldenkrais Method®.
Let’s try to see what it is all about. All of us express ourselves, our own history, thinking and emotions through our own special way of moving. If we look at the people around us we see they do the most common activities (such as running, standing, breathing, grasping an object) with a different style. The actions are the very same but so personalized that often we are able to recognize an individual from his very way of moving, how his head is poised, how his hand moves.

Each single gesture can reveal a secret.
Thus, movement results from individual learning, an experience that belongs but to ourselves, despite the motor development of human beings shows shared patterns in its stages. It consists in a number of following milestones that somehow summarize the history of human species. To give an example:
The Feldenkrais Method®

is not a gymnastic

nor a therapeutic system,

but a method

affecting the movement

to help us know ourselves

and transform daily gestures

into well-being.


the infant, before walking, learns how to crawl like reptiles, then to walk on all four like mammals, then to walk supporting himself against furnitureswalls and eventually to walk all by his own. But finally each of us takes on a very personal walk.
Human beings create their own movement by trial and errors. Let’s think again about the toddler and all his falling down before he gets to the upright position! This wonderful and natural way to learn gets complex as we grow up into adulthood for a number of reasons, among which physical traumas, es-
A Functional Integration® by Ruthy Alon,
direct student of Moshe Feldenkrais

for example if we live in a continuous defensive or aggressive attitude for a long time, or if our shoulders, when we are children, are metaphorically loaded with too heavy weights. And suddenly we start to feel something wrong: it may be a difficulty in our breathing, a tic, a backache, neck ache, some pain in our limbs, a continual sense of fatigue or a real and true pathology (sciatica, hernia, etc.). Oftentimes it is simply a subtle sensation of awk- wardness, not feeling really "at home" in one’s own bo- dy, not trusting totally oneself and one’s own movements.
tablished habits which are no more functional, educational interventions, emotional stress, environmental influence.
How many of us, for instance, were told by our parents: "Straighten your back!" or "Sit at the table with your elbows back!" We have then tried to move without following the wisdom of our body but according to an imposed pattern. Too strong emotions can also contribute and affect our movement,
Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli physicist, studied and understood deeply the essential ways in which our nervous system learns, remembers, suggests a movement, and he created a practical method allowing to learn to move under the most favorable conditions. Movement and life strongly interconnect with each other: where we find one, we find the other one too. So, in order to experience a full life we need to


find a total freedom of movement, to express ourselves without any fear through our gestures.

Understanding who we are and how we move.
What is the Feldenkrais Method® about? We need to remind a basic concept: the teacher does not impose any "right" way to do an action, but rather helps the student to feel and perceive himself as he is doing the movements. An example: it cannot be taught how to breath, because there is not a "correct" breathe in absolute terms. We all know that after running we breath in a certain way, during me-
With gentle touches, communicating through direct contact,
inviting her to the harmony of spontaneus movement.

rent parts of the body. Only in this way we can find what is most useful for us. When the practitioner faces a pathology, or an aching part, he/she refrains from stimulating it directly, because the most natural response would be to stiffen. It does not surprise, then, that some ache in the shoulder, for instance, is dealt with through the functional movement of the ankles, the way one walks, sits, and so on.
In order to understand how the movement is something that has to do with the body in its wholeness it’s enough to think when we hurt the little toe. It is a part
ditation we breathe in a different way. Well-being is to find our personal most appropriate way to breath in every moment.
The Feldenkrais Method® initiates a process that enables us to reach this goal, operating on the organization of the movement of the body in its wholeness. It brings the person to understand that movement itself is a process that relates diffe-
of the body we never think about, yet when it is hurt we realize how much it takes part in many movements and how it is indispensable for our well-being.

An hour lived…with touch.
The Feldenkrais Method® is formed of two basic parts: the


Functional Integration® lessons and the group classes called Awareness through Movement®.
Who participates in the Functional Integration® lesson lies on a table and wears comfortable clothing. The teacher intervenes on the student through gentle touches in order to favor the letting go and relaxation and to make the joints do little movements. The hands of the teacher guide the student, helping him to reorganize the habitual movements that are unsatisfactory or altered by some injury. Communication and learning take place through the touch, in a direct and adequate way to achieve important functional changes.
"The teacher offers to the student his/her own expertise and level of awareness (…)" writes Ruthy Alon, a direct student of Moshe Feldenkrais. And she also says: "The more the person feels to be guided, listened, touched with respect, the more his joints acquire inner space and some muscular areas are available to abandon the unnecessary protections." Nothing is imposed, the
teacher rather proceedes through attempts and careful listening of what is happening.
The Functional Integration® les- sons can last between half an hour and a whole hour, and most of the time they bring immediate benefit. But the Feldenkrais practitioners do not like to encourage dependence in their students (although it might be pleasurable) and, as soon as it is appropriate, they suggest their students to join in an Awareness
through Movement® class.
In the group lessons the teacher invites the students to do a small movement and "feel" it, perceive it in all its aspects and implications. What muscular areas contract to make the suggested movement? How does the breathing change? Is there a tendency to breathe in during the action or after it? What does it happen to the hips? Where does the movement take the students? If the legs, the arms or the feet are in a dif-


ferent position, does the movement become more or less easy?
Each student has the time he needs to do the movement. In this way it increases the awareness of the body and the relations between the parts. The mind, relaxed by the appropriate pace of the lesson, quiets down and gets ready to feel. The movements are pleasurable, comfortable but also inhabitual, in order to draw the attention of the nervous system and let it discover different ways to move that are more economical and functional. Through such movements, done with curiosity, one can refresh and review forgotten patterns of movement, or find out new ones, verifying one’s own potential and freedom of choice. The Method initiates a process that brings back the brain to its highest functions: exploring, seeking, learning, and creating.
As one can perceive, the most interesting feature of the Feldenkrais Method® is that it does not stand within the duality illness-healing but in the fertile pair learning-educating.
One achieves significant improve-
ments in movement, but the Feldenkrais Method® is not gymnastics. There can be great motor recovery as well as good rehabilitation, especially through indivi- dual lessons of Functional Integration®, but it is not a medical therapy, physiotherapy nor manipulation. People acquire greater self-confidence in their own possibilities and see real emotional changes taking place, yet it is not psychotherapy.
The Method helps to achieve more awareness of movement, flexibility and coordination, a better motor organization for those people suffering from orthopedic and neurological problems, less pain, psychophysical well-being, better art and sport performance, greater learning abilities. It releases some stress, tackles problems connected to sedentariness or hyperactivity, and the contact with oneself is deepened. In fact one learns to get to know oneself better, finds new ways to do the same actions. Superfluous efforts are recognized so that they can be eliminated. One learns to develop one’s own human potential that
is often poorly used. Anxiety and fatigue are replaced by confidence in one’s own possibilities and the joy of movement. The results are lasting because it has been brought out to light something that the student already possessed and will not forget but that becomes naturally part of his life. For example, a person can find again lightness and flexibility he/she had lost in the course of a sedentary life. But if he/she already knows that it is not possible to change the habit of sitting at the desk for eight hours a day, few simple movements done in the evening will remind his/her body of the experience of freedom done with the Feldenkrais Method®.

A valid "tool" for everybody.
To whom is this Method most appropriate? It can be useful for sportsmen to improve their performance, actors to know and exploit all the potential of their body, as well as ordinary people who wish to learn how to move better, in a smoother way and greater coordination, or for those who


suffer from muscular pain, backache, sciatica, motor and spine problems. It is useful in physical and psychological rehabilitation, in children re-education when children are affected by different kinds of problem. It is very important in gerontology, to help the elderly not to stiffen. And the number of fields in which it can be helpful is increasing. We must also notice that there is no counter-indication. To put it briefly, the Method is so "universal" that it is spread all over the world (in Israel, the United States, Australia and Europe).

A system stemming from an incident.

Moshe Feldenkrais, born in Russia in 1904, moved to Palestina when he was 14 (he took part, with many other youngsters, in the construction of Israel, working also as a labourer). In 1928 he got his university degree in mechanical and electrical engineering, and later, when he got a PhD in physics, worked with Pierre Joliot-Curie (the husband of the Nobel laureate in physics Marie Curie). In the meanwhile he became a Judo Black Belt. This experience and his scientific education came together in his method, that he began to develop after an incident to his knee. He took care of the rehabilitation of his knee on his own. In 1949 he published his book Body and Mature Behavior where he presented his theories to the world, and later he founded the Feldenkrais Institute in Tel Aviv and devoted his time to teach in Europe, the United States, Israel, where he died in 1984.