The Feldenkrais Method

posted on | updated on | by Zuri Girl

The Feldenkrais Method is quickly becoming a popular new treatment for… everyone! If you have an injury, chronic pain, or are looking to get a better workout, or just want to relieve stress, the Feldenkrais Method can help you to feel lighter and better. It was developed by the very smart Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), who was an engineer, physicist, inventor,and one of the first Europeans to earn a black belt in Judo inventor. In developing his method, he studied among other things, anatomy, physiology, child development, movement science, evolution, psychology, a number of Eastern awareness practices and other somatic approaches!

ZuriGirl got the chance to chat with local Feldenkrais practitioner Ivan Wolfe, and we feel better already!

Zuri Girl: Why is the Feldenkrais Method becoming so popular nowadays?
Ivan Wolfe: [Laughs] It’s not so popular yet, but it’s gaining in popularity. But Feldenkrais is quickly gaining popularity all over the world  because it has widespread acceptance in the medical and artistic community as an effective learning method.  Doctors recognize the importance of giving an educational tool to their patients so that they can take more responsibility for their own health and well-being, and that’s what the Feldenkrais method is about.

Zuri Girl: Ok, you just said Feldenkrais is difficult to explain but go for it. How would you describe the Feldenkrais Method?
Ivan Wolfe: The Feldenkrais Method is way of learning how to move your body more freely and easily, to carry less stress in the body, and to stop doing the things that cause you pain. It is learning through and with the body. It is not the verbal/intellectual learning we are used to from school. It is learning through, and with the body – the kind of learning we knew as children as we learned to crawl, stand, and walk, but lost touch with growing up. This kind of learning is called somatic education.

ZuriGirl note: watch the adorable video to get a better idea for yourself of just how this method works.

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Zuri Girl: How exactly does it work?
Ivan Wolfe: The Method takes advantage of your brain’s ability to adapt, change, and improve, which reduces limitations or discomfort caused by the way you currently organize your movements. Poorly organized movement plays a significant role in most muscular/skeletal complaints. By slowing down your movements and noticing how your body functions, you gain feedback in which your nervous system can gain self-awareness and improve functioning. It’s important to know that you cannot learn about this method by reading about it – you have to experience it because it is a somatic [physical] approach. 

Zuri Girl: How is the Method taught?
Ivan Wolfe: The Method is taught in 2 formats: group classes and workshops in Awareness Through Movement, and individual lessons in Functional Integration:

1. In Awareness Through Movement classes, the practitioner guides you through a sequence of gentle and non-strenuous movements. Attentive repetition helps you to discover how to move more comfortably and efficiently. Here you are active and learn from feedback provided by your own movement.

2. In a Functional Integration lesson you typically lie on a low, padded table wearing loose, comfortable clothing. The practitioner uses gentle touch to explore your habitual patterns of organization and movement, and to suggest easier and more functional ways of being. Each lesson is adapted to your specific needs; here the feedback is enhanced by the practitioner’s trained awareness and skilled touch.

Usually people immediately feel improvement in posture, lightness in movement, and some freedom from discomforts.

Zuri Girl: So the Feldenkrais Method gives me the tools to help myself?
Ivan Wolfe: Yes, what I find so appealing about the Feldenkrais Method is the opportunity it offers us for greater control over our  lives. It’s not something that someone does to you; it’s a way of getting in touch with knowledge and capability you didn’t know you possessed, and using that to make your life better. It’s an organic intelligence which we  all possess, which as children allowed us to learn how to walk, and which allows us to become our own teacher. It doesn’t mean that we stop taking classes or engage in sports that interest us; it means we can learn to take better care of ourselves while pursuing these activities.

Zuri Girl: Who can benefit from the Feldenkrais Method?
Ivan Wolfe: Feldenkrais provides a tool for self-exploration and self-improvement that can benefit everyone, from the seriously impaired to the normally function to the highly functioning. All sorts of people benefit from the method: people with chronic pain, tension, and fibromyalgia, people recovering from an injury or a surgery, people with neurological limitations such as MS, stroke or cerebral palsy. Emotional stress, whether they are the stresses of everyday life or result from trauma such as violence or sexual abuse, are held in the body as patterns of tension and lack of awareness. The Feldenkrais Method can provide a gentle, safe way to unlock those stresses and restore self-awareness. World class athletes like [basketball star] Julius Erving and [PGA golfers] Rick Acton and Duffy Waldorf have improved their performance with the Feldenkrais Method, as well as renown musicians like violinist Yehudi Menuhin and cellist Yo Yo Ma. And, some other famous people like [Israeli Prime Minister] David Ben-Gurion, Helen Hayes, and even Whoopi Goldberg.

Zuri Girl: How is Feldenkrais different from other treatment therapies and well-being practices (such as yoga, pilates, acupuncture, chiropractic work…)?
Ivan Wolfe: Feldenkrais is different because it is a learning process and it is not a treatment. It’s gentle and non-invasive. For most therapeutic treatments, their ultimate source of knowledge is external. In medicine, for example, it resides in the body of scientific medical knowledge, ie. pathology, treatment effects. The medical practitioner is assumed to know more about that knowledge than you do, and so takes on the role of an authority figure. He determines what action should be taken and applies it to you.

The ultimate source of knowledge on which the Feldenkrais Method draws is your innate organic sense of rightness and comfort. The Feldenkrais practitioner is not an authority who will teach you the “right” way to move, or do anything else. Instead, his or her job is to help you uncover and remove the unconscious blocks that keep you from accessing your organic sense of rightness and comfort, so you can draw upon it more freely and effectively.

Zuri Girl: Anything else we would want to know about the Feldenkrais Method?
Ivan Wolfe:  Personally, I have found the Feldenkrais Method to be invaluable in learning how to deal with my injuries as a professional dancer, and getting me more in touch with myself at all levels – physical, emotional, and mental. The first time I experienced the touch of a Feldenkrais practitioner, my reaction was Finally! I’m being touched the way I’ve always wanted to be touched! It’s like the experience of returning home….into my body.

Curious for more info? Check out the Swiss Professional Association of Feldenkrais Practitioners (German) or the International Feldenkrais Federation website (English). For more information about Ivan Wolfe, please check out his personal website.

Zuri Girl Tip: Many Swiss health insurances recognize and cover the Feldenkrais method – check with your insurance company!

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Contributed by Zuri Girl: Lisa Christen. Lisa’s blog The Real Housewife of Zurich chronicles her mishaps and sarcasm as she transitions from being an American career-woman to a Swiss Hausfrau in Zurich. She often embarrasses her husband in her posts, so enjoy!
Photo credits: Ivan Wolfe and The Feldenkrais Institute.

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