Body in motion
What is Feldenkrais?
It’s learning and educating our body and nervous system to move more effectively through self awareness and nonhabitual movement. So we as teachers teach people how to use their bodies and, working with the brain and the nervous system, to improve specific functions. That would include everything from dancing or playing a musical instrument to improving your golf game to everyday activities like standing up, better balance, avoiding falling. It basically helps people improve movement in general, from athletic people to people with severe physical limitations.
Kaisar [Permanente] in the Bay Area offers Awareness Through Movement classes … for members for things like stroke, cardiac patients, breast cancer rehab, muscular dystrophy, MS, chronic pain, but also for any member who want to take classes because it has a wide level of beneficial effects. It really helps you come back to your body and reconnect. I often say reconnecting your brain and body because as adults, our movements become extremely repetitious in contrast to how we learned as children and at the infancy level, when we had two criteria: efficiency or effectiveness, like ‘Can I grab that thing?’ and no pain. Those were the two parameters that helped us go through the process of discovery. But as adults we don’t employ the process of discovery anymore in our physical bodies. … Our experience narrows, and we begin to lose capacity, not per se because we’re aging but because we stop using this process of discovery. We keep doing the same things over and over. It’s only when we’re in pain or hurt ourselves, or we can’t do what we used to do that we become interested in ‘What can I do now?’
Really its emphasis is on brain plasticity, understanding physics and martial arts and child development. This is all the arenas Dr. [Moshe] Feldenkrais was active in and studied and had in his life and blended. The form is really dictated by each person’s body and limitations. I never strain. I never do anything that hurts because that cuts off the communication with the nervous system. All of the exploration we do with these little, small, gentle movement sequences are very, very gentle and safe. But people still have to pay attention in following the movement. For example, if I say ‘lift your shoulder,’ the anticipation of the brain in figuring out what that means for you is a really important component for this. If I have 15 people in a class, it may look like they’re doing 15 different movements because they’re exploring themselves and finding their own experience with their attention. This is what makes neurons fire, this is what helps cognition, and it’s also what makes it feel good.
How did you get into it?
Living in San Francisco in the 1980s, I’d had a lot of athletic injuries, and in my early 40s, they were beginning to cause me trouble. I was still running every day but was beginning to have some pain. At that time I was a Kaiser member, and I’d had a friend who’d graduated from Dr. Feldenkrais’ Amherst training, which was the last training he’d done before he died in 1984.
So I had this really painful right shoulder, which I still have. I went through all the traditional treatments and all the nontraditional treatments available in San Francisco. And my friend said, ‘Gee, let me introduce you into the Feldenkrais method.’ I did some one-on-one lessons with her and then the class sessions, which are called Awareness Through Movement. For me, it was extraordinary, and what I saw was the way I habitually carry tension in my back, chest and my shoulders. Little by little, I began to understand how to release that. That’s another point about Feldenkrais: Rather than breaking habits in the traditional way, it’s more a question of learning new ways.