I present you with a short introduction to the Feldenkrais method that will help you discover something about the Feldenkrais treatments and the beneficial exercise’s that are so effective in resolving muscular-skeletal problems.
In some countries where more attention has been given to the idea that health is not the absence of illness but a resourcefulness for action, modalities such as the ‘Feldenkrais method for movement’ education have their rightful place. Countries such as Switzerland, Germany, Israel and even the USA have a health system through which you can be easily referred to a Feldenkrais practitioner.
If you have limited mobility or need assistance in order to recover after a Stroke or to manage better neurological conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis then Feldenkrais is for you. In the UK some of the leading acting and dancing faculties use the Feldenkrais practice as part of their training programs, recognising the value of such practice in relation to activities that require good body expression and skill. I believe that we are in a process of understanding and making better use of what this method has to offer in terms of rehabilitation and preventions as well.
When thinking of exercise most probably you would have considered Yoga or Pilates. When you were in pain and had movement difficulties you probably went to see a physio or chiro-practitioner. We have been living for a long time in a culture which has shaped our thinking and we have learned to separate treatment and prevention from improvement and care.
I have met many people who go to Yoga and Pilates classes who try to stretch muscles and engage core for strength without actually being able to develop a better way of sensing themselves in movement.
Many people are interested in their own well-being and are often familiar with the concepts behind the various skills such as Pilates or Yoga but are still unable to perform in the way they wish. I want to make it clear that I have nothing against Yoga and Pilates but the modernisation of these practises into an exercise medium has caused those disciplines to have suffered a lot during their adaptation. In the process some of the more important ideas where lost. Often in a yoga class the teacher will invite the student to stretch their muscles and it is because the teacher does not know that a particular muscle cannot stretch or for some other unclear reason such as a muscle problem that the student may have, which could cause pain in the movement.
What is important is that after two three decades the advice to stretch your muscles is as common as it could be and people get genuinely surprised or even offended when reminded that muscles can only contract and relax. In the Feldenkrais classes (group and individual) a lot of attention is given to the development of an ability to sense your own body parts in relation to each other in motion and in relation to the force of gravity.
Improved proprioception is the best way to navigate a body which has enormous freedom of motion. Almost all human joints have more than two degrees range of motion. Two degrees freedom is the allowed limit in engineering. If a machine has bigger range of free motion than two degrees, a feedback system has to be designed in order to account for the increased variability. Our human sensory system is a peculiar one it is designed not to compare values but to detect differences. Sensitivity increases with the decrease of the stimuli.
A simple example: if the street lamp is still on during the day it is highly unlikely for you to notice the light as you are exposed to the much brighter daylight. For comparison if it is dark the light coming from the same street light would be enough for you to see. In all Feldenkrais classes we have the chance to exercise our sensory capacity (proprioception), this is why the Feldenkrais movements are small, slow and performed with no effort. There are many pauses in between to provide the necessary rest for your nervous system. Once we are able to sense more, we have fuller control over the body parts and the body learns to move effortlessly.
The other extremely popular body concept is the core body strength. The truth is that the big muscles around the centre of the body (spine, pelvis) are some of the strongest and are designed to support the human skeleton. Equally important is to recognise that those muscles participate in the movements of the extremities such as the legs, arms and the head.
Almost all human bones are wrapped in muscles from all sides. That means that in order to engage a group of muscles we have to be able to let go in other places and groups that are antagonist to the first. It is this line of thought that allows us to understand that the engagement of the stomach muscles for example cannot happen if the muscles around the back are unable to let go. In the Feldenkrais method we teach muscle resilience which is the ability of the muscles to engage and disengage. We have to go in much more detail about the structure of the muscles, different types of muscles and the relations between those different types, if to explain why strength as we understand it does not solve problems such as back, neck, hip, knee and shoulder pain. This is not the focus of this article. As a Feldenkrais practitioner I have consulted a few Pilates teachers who have been looking for an advice to resolve RSI and chronic pain issues. In some cases the biggest change has come after the realisation that the core engagement at all cost might not be the best solution.
Now let`s imagine that you have pain, have had an injury and need some help. You can choose to go and see a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, an osteopath. Each one of those specialists will look at you from the perspective of their expertise. A physio will explain to you the observed imbalance and will begin the procedure, the chiropractor will align your bones and recommend physical exercises the osteopath will do the alignment for you and might or might not advise you. All will treat you and will help you feel better.
Now if you imagine that you are going to see a Feldenkrais practitioner with the same complains. The expertise of the Feldenkrais practitioner is in figuring out how your whole patterns and habits of movement relate to your condition. The Feldenkrais practitioner can help you discover and accept alternative solutions so you don`t have to relive the same situation in the future and can recover from it. In case of trauma by accident we can also see how the preferred movement solutions have facilitated the injury. First of all the Feldenkrais practitioner will be looking for your prominent patterns of organising for movement, related to the difficulty at hand. The next step, executed through a gentle touch and movement, would be to inform your brain that now he/she the Feldenkrais practitioner is taking over the muscle involvement supporting that inefficient body pattern. By eliminating the sensory feedback related to that painful organisation the Feldenkrais practitioner is able to begin to change it. We are trained to perceive the manifestation of an inefficient pattern through the whole system. You might come with a painful hip and be surprised that the individual (Functional Integration) session begins with your shoulders. A Feldenkrais practitioner will never treat only your hip but instead will lead you towards an integrated whole body-mind healthy function.
We use different language when talk about what happens during the Feldenkrais classes (group ATM and individual FI). We describe it as learning. Many people tend to understand the process of learning as mental activity only. What we have in mind is a different form of learning, one of the building blocks of a healthy, functional and adaptive life expression. Learning involves thinking, sensing, feeling and moving and any of those can be bettered. The way you sense (perceive), think (interpret) and feel (understand) influence your ability to move.
Written for Movement between Habit and Choice
by Nadia Chavka GCFP