Demystifying Feldenkrais
Didi von Deck

What is the Feldenkrais Method®?  This is not an easy question to answer.  While it is easy to say Feldenkrais is a body-mind practice, that is not really saying what Feldenkrais is and how it differs from other mind-body practices.  Feldenkrais needs to be experienced. Through experiencing Feldenkrais, people can understand.  Larry Goldfarb, a Feldenkrais practitioner who has spent his life trying to explain what he does for a living came up with a simple explanation: “I'm sure you've met people who can f*ck you up . . . But when was the last time you met someone who can UNf*ck you? I can UNf*ck you!"

So what does it mean to “UNf*ck” someone?  Well, throughout life, we develop habits of holding ourselves and habits of movement that aren’t always the best.   Our posture may not be what we would like, we may find it uncomfortable to stand for any length of time, and we may develop tightness or restricted movement in a muscle or joint or an area of chronic pain such as in our neck, lower back or along the shoulder. We may try to force ourselves to stand up straighter or try harder to stretch out an area of the body in order to improve ourselves and get rid of our discomfort.  But trying harder and putting more muscular effort into changing how we stand or move doesn’t always make things better.  In fact, trying harder and forcing more can make things worse.  We get more tension in our bodies, more pain, until sometimes the whole system breaks down.

Feldenkrais brings about change by taking the force out.  By slowing down and doing small easy movements, the body teaches the brain to rewire itself. When the effort is removed, the brain can notice differences between variations of simple movements and will naturally choose the most efficient way of moving. The results attained are again hard to put into words.  People feel better.  They may notice they move more efficiently.  Things that were hard to do become easier.  Pain lessens and may disappear.  All by doing some simple movements.  And noticing.  Becoming aware of the changes these movements create in the body.  The changes created in the mind.

And even if you don’t consciously notice, change occurs. The body and mind work together to create a whole new map or way of being that allows the skeleton to support you and your movements without excess muscular strain.  Without so much energy going into muscular actions that don’t produce results, more energy is available for the things you want to do.

Moshe Feldenkrais was a person.  He was a brilliant physicist who began to study how the body moved in order to help himself after an injury.  He became fascinated with the capability of the brain to change and he figured out how to use the connection between the body and mind to make that change happen--even before scientists realized the brain could change after adulthood and before neuroplasticity became a buzz word of the 21st century.  He developed thousands of exercises that anyone can do--anyone who is interested in moving better.  He taught people how to be curious about how they move because by becoming curious, they can always improve. The potential for improvement is limitless.  We can always become better.

These exercises are called Awareness through Movement® (ATM) lessons.  Lessons because Moshe Feldenkrais was interested in teaching people how to learn so that they can be in control of their own improvement.  He was not telling them how to move, he was teaching them to find the way they could move best. What works for each person may be different.  But the possibility for improvement is always there.

The movements in Awareness through Movement are small.  They are slow.  The goal is to reduce the effort.  Making small, slow, easy movements allows the brain to differentiate between different ways of moving and allows the brain to choose the most efficient way to move.  In our fast-paced society accustomed to trying harder and putting more effort in when things don’t seem to go our way, moving so slowly may seem strange at first.  It may feel to you that you are doing nothing.  But you are doing a lot.  You are rewiring your brain. And rewiring your brain changes more than how you move.  Rewiring the brain changes the way you approach life.  The body stores memories of the past, and our habits of movement are a gateway to our emotions, sensations and thoughts.  By learning to move differently, you may find you can release uncomfortable feelings and emotions as the muscles release excess tension and tone.  You may find after doing ATM’s for a bit that you respond to life’s ups and downs with more skill.  You may discover you have greater choice in how to react when things don’t go your way.  The effects can be far-reaching.

You may choose to try a Feldenkrais Awareness through Movement lesson because you have an injury, an area of chronic tension or pain, or because you wonder if you can do something you like to do better.  All of these are great reasons to do Feldenkrais.  And you will find improvement in movement and in areas you never expected.  You will notice that it is hard to explain the improvement in words.  But the improvement will be there.