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Feldenkrais Method

A somatic (aka holistic) approach, the Feldenkrais Method improves everyday functions like walking, typing and eating by bringing a strong awareness to movement patterns and thought processes.

By Zeel Editorial Staff, Last updated: August 15, 2012

The Feldenkrais Method is not an actual style of exercise, so don't expect to break a sweat or tone your abs. That said, these highly specialized techniques can be used to enhance the quality of your workouts when you hit the gym.

Accepted as a form of somatic (holistic) education, the Feldenkrais Method aims to help individuals forge a connection between their bodies and their minds. Students of the Feldenkrais Method gain a better understanding of their neuromuscular and biomechanical make-up. (Non-science-y students needn't worry; skeletons, diagrams and images may be used to enhance your understanding.)

Performed either in a group or a one-on-one workshop, (group classes are called Awareness Through Movement; private sessions are known as Functional Integration) the Feldenkrais Method may improve simple movements like walking down a staircase, sitting at a computer or lifting a fork. By bringing awareness to and improving the ways in which these otherwise habitual actions are performed, the Feldenkrais Method enhances ease of movement, flexibility, range of motion and coordination.

Origins of Feldenkrais Method: Dr. Moshe Pinhas Feldenkrais is credited as the founder of the Feldenkrais Method. A mechanical and electrical engineer with a background in Jujitsu and self-defense methods, this Russian-born physicist initially began exploring the founding ideas of what would come to be known as the Feldenkrais Method to tend to his own knee injury, which he incurred while escaping from Paris during WWII.

Dr. Feldenkrais published his first book—Body and Mature Behavior— in 1949. In 1954, Dr. Feldenkrais relocated to Tel Aviv, where he directed the Israeli Army Department of Electronics and, for the first time, began teaching his eponymous technique.

The Feldenkrais Method was presented in Europe and in the United States in the late '50s. As Dr. Feldenkrais continued to publish a number of books on the practice, the movement grew in popularity.

Benefits of Feldenkrais Method: The Feldenkrais Method provides its students with a newfound understanding of basic movements. Through one-on-one or small group lessons, students learn to isolate inefficiencies in current movement patterns while exploring new avenues of movement.

In essence, anyone can benefit from the Feldenkrais Method. Besides improving range of motion, agility and flexibility (whether this refers to riding a bicycle or typing on a computer), the Feldenkrais Method can also improve acute back, neck, shoulder, hip, leg and knee pain. Central nervous system conditions, including multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and stroke, may also be addressed with the Feldenkrais Method.

What to Expect: The Feldenkrais Method can be implemented in a group or private setting.

When held in a class, it may be referred to as Awareness Through Movement. During a group lesson, a certified teacher leads a number of students through basic movements (i.e. lying on the floor, standing up or sitting down) using verbal cues. Classes range from 30 to 60 minutes and consist of simple, gentle movements. Students may be asked to "explore their imagination" while performing everyday tasks like reaching for an object or looking over their shoulder.

Private sessions, on the other hand, are known as Functional Integration. These lessons are customized to meet a pupil's individual needs. Also led by a certified instructor, the teacher typically guides their lone student through a series of movements using their hands. Movements may be completed while in a standing, seated or lying down position. Unlike a massage and other relaxation modalities, the hands-on, highly communicative practice is performed while fully clothed.

Recommended sessions: Though a single lesson can provide noticeable improvements in the physical and mental condition of the body, students are encouraged to participate in regular sessions. The Feldenkrais Method is meant to be a gradual process.

Getting ready: There is no preparation required prior to a Feldenkrais session. Comfortable, uninhibited clothing is recommended to allow students to move with ease, though clothing should also be fitted enough so an instructor can see and adjust their student's bodies.

Celebrity Devotees

The Feldenkrais Method is wildly popular among athletes and celebrities alike. From NBA all-star Julius Erving to professional golfers Rich Acton and Duffy Waldorf, the subtle improvements are sought out by numerous A-listers to ensure peak performance.

Other celebrities who have used the Feldenkrais Method include funny lady Whoopie Goldberg, world-renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma, former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and celebrated anthropologist Margaret Mead. Legendary songwriter Willie Nelson was also a Feldenkrais student.

Risks

The Feldenkrais Method is a gentle form of somatic education. There are no known contraindications.

Who shouldn't do it: Most people can benefit from the Feldenkrais Method. Individuals with anemia, low blood pressure, who are pregnant or who have balance problems should inform their instructor ahead of time, as this may affect techniques performed while lying down.

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