The Feldenkrais Method – ‘Yes, I can!’

The what?!  Felden…Christ…?!  

You would be forgiven, and certainly not be the first, to say that.  The Feldenkrais Method is little known, and often a bit of mystery to those who do encounter it.  But the dramatic positive effects it can have, in spite of that initial confusion, has ensured it a very faithful following.

So why might you want to book a session, or lesson (we don’t call them treatments, more of that below)?

I can help you learn how to do things in everyday life, comfortably and pleasurably.  Perhaps you’re over 70, and want help with your balance when you go for a walk; or you want to be able to play with your grandchildren on the floor; or joint pain is preventing you from leaving the house and going shopping easily.

Perhaps you’re a bit younger, and suddenly can’t do something you’ve taken for granted – like running, or sitting at a desk to work, or have long-standing musculo-skeletal pain which you just can’t shift.

Or maybe, you’ve experienced trauma and have no particular physical symptoms.  And it’s really getting in the way of accomplishing your everyday tasks. You may want to ground yourself better, release long-standing muscular tension and find your way out of habitual actions.

The method works really well for situations which arise from habitual, often long-standing, circumstances.  It’s not aimed so much at reduction of pain in an acute situation, due to a recent trauma, say.

That’s all very well…

But why is this Feldenkrais thing so little known? It’s been around since the 1950’s, why  hasn’t it caught on?  More good questions!  And I hope the answer will be illuminating.

The answer is certainly not because the method is a wishy washy ‘alternative’ practice with little substance.  Moshe Feldenkrais, its inventor, is one of the great ‘unknown’ people (outside Israel) of the 20th century.  As well as being a pioneering martial arts exponent – he introduced Judo to mainland Europe – he was a hard core scientist, a leading researcher in the Curie laboratories in the 1930’s.  He fled Nazi occupied France with one of the very, very few cache’s of ‘heavy’ water in a suitcase.  His first major work – Body and Mature Behaviour – was acclaimed by  luminaries of the scientific and medical community when it was published in the 1940’s.  His breadth of life experience, and burning curiosity allowed him to draw on very different cultural and intellectual traditions which few could do.

Is it just a marketing thing, that it hasn’t taken off?  The name doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, and reveals nothing about what it is.  That’s definitely not from want of trying – two or three generations of practitioners have attempted to define it in a catchy way.  The problem is it’s so broad, and the potential so great, that it’s very difficult to pin down.  

One of his first students recently said that the best name for it would be ‘Yes, I can!’  

The method enables you to do things in your life which you otherwise would not be able to do; or as Feldenkrais said to make the impossible possible, the possible easy and the easy elegant.

‘Yes, I can!’

Optimism and positivity are at the heart of the method. In many ways it seems to defy logic. The idea that miracles can happen are central, a reflection of Feldenkrais’s Hasidic cultural roots, as his biographer Mark Reese explains. 

As a young man he experienced a terrible injury to one knee while playing football, and after a long convalescence, he could walk again but suffered from significant limitations.  Some while later he then injured the ‘good’ knee and thought he would again have to return to his bed to recover.  To his astonishment, however, he woke up the next morning to find his initial ‘bad’ knee had completely recovered overnight, so that he wasn’t incapacitated.  Something had happened which medical science could not explain.  

C’mon…stop beating around the bush!  How does it work?

Feldenkrais in time worked out that it was not so much the knee that was causing him difficulty, but rather the integration of his nervous system with his muscles and bones was the problem.  He had understood what is now termed ‘neuroplasticity’, the concept that our nervous system is much more amenable to change than medical science gave it credit for.  

And it is developing our awareness of ourselves which is the main tool in changing our nervous system in a positive way.  As Dan Siegel says in Mindsight:

One of the key practical lessons of modern neuroscience is that the power to direct our attention has within it the power to shape our brain’s firing patterns, as well as the power to shape the architecture of the brain itself.

It is remarkable that Feldenkrais was so many decades ahead of the science.  He discovered a way for people to find unknown options in movement, through re-wiring their neurons.  And, quite quickly, this opening up of possibilities spills out into all aspects of our life – not just movement.

And so what do you do in a session…or lesson?

As I mentioned earlier we call the sessions a lesson, not a treatment.  I would certainly not be ‘curing’ you, a passive patient.  My aim is for us together to understand why you are having difficulties, and to learn together how to solve this. For sustainable change, it’s essential for you to own this understanding for yourself.  This can take some time; ideally I would be looking to work with clients for up to 10 lessons, but fewer can also be very beneficial. 

We give individual lessons mainly through touch, gently moving clients. Individual attention allows us to focus on issues which specifically relate to somebody.  We also give group lessons using verbal instructions, rather than through touch, (though I do not teach group classes at the Church Street Practice.)  However, I can give you audio lessons with verbal instructions to practise at home and embed what we’ve done together.  Ideally it is the beginning of a long-standing practice in your own time, or at group classes in the longer term.

I said earlier that the method defies logic.  It’s more than just a turn of phrase.  One of our main strategies as practitioners is to bypass the seemingly ever present mind, and it’s conscious endeavours.  Sometimes we try so hard to change things, but in fact what we need to do is stop trying, and forget about what we perceive to be logical.  Often, we need to find the easy way, not to focus on harder and faster.

So, with very gentle movements in sessions, we bypass attempts to improve voluntary action – and Lo and Behold – you will find much greater freedom in a particular movement.  In some cases pain can be significantly reduced quickly, as we can break the cycle of predictability which sustains some chronic pain.  

One of Feldenkrais’s great insights was that we can only learn in a pleasurable environment.  We always avoid discomfort, only increasing range of movement when your nervous system has caught up with itself.  Many clients experience this as deeply relaxing. 

Developing awareness is our main tool towards improvement, and the gentle movements amplify this effect. The aim is to reveal what Feldenkrais called the ‘Elusive Obvious’ – habits which we no longer recognise in ourselves – and enable you to leave them behind.  

Yes, you can too.

Do get in touch if you have any comments or questions, and I very much hope to meet you soon.

A bit more reading if you’re interested:

Doidge, N; The Brain’s Way of Healing, Penguin, London, 2016

Feldenkrais, M; The Elusive Obvious, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley CA, 2019 

(with a new introduction by Norman Doidge)

Reese, M; Moshe Feldenkrais, ReesKress Somatics Press, San Rafael CA, 2015

Siegel, D; Mindsight, OneWorld, London, 2010

Ed Bartram, May 2022