A personal tale: changing focus and learing more
Friday, February 8, 2008
by: Irene Gutteridge, BSc, GCFP

Section: Introduction

Seven years ago, I was recovering from a serious injury and struggling to get back to 100% function. I stretched functionally, but it didn’t increase my mobility; I did the best corrective exercises given to me by the best there was, but I was still weak and lopsided; I sought out hands-on therapies by quality therapists, but kept going back for more. Something was drastically missing in my regime – but what was it? My incredibly sound training in kinesiology and fitness training was not cutting it. In 2002, I serendipitously came across the work of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), the founder of the Feldenkrais Method®, and it not only facilitated my recovery and truly transformed my entire well-being, but now six years later, I am trained as a Feldenkrais® practitioner and am able to work with people in capacities I would never have dreamt of.

What exactly is the Feldenkrais Method?

Dr. Feldenkrais was a physicist, mechanical engineer and martial arts expert who developed his unique style of working with humans after teaching himself how to walk again after a disabling knee injury. The intricacies of this Method and its uses for improving human function are endless, and are similar to the complex nature of how the human brain & body work. Perhaps this parallel is why its use as a tool for learning and exploring human movement and function can be applied to everyone: from athletes to the elderly, from stroke victims to laborers and from performing artists to yogis.

If he were still alive, Dr. Feldenkrais might challenge the classic training mantra, "no pain, no gain" and replace it with "more brain, less strain." He wrote, “The aim is a body that is organized to move with minimum effort and maximum efficiency, not through muscular strength but increased consciousness of how it works.”

This quote from the man himself demonstrates the need for “awareness through movement” for improvement, not just brute strength and mindless repetition. Feldenkrais lessons are structured around the brain’s capacity to learn, refine its action and function in its environment.

His teachings tap into biological functions unique to humans - attentive use of senses, thoughts, feelings and intention-based movements. How a person explores movement is of greater interest than the movement itself. Such principles facilitate an optimal environment for human learning and holistic functional refinement, similar to the natural and spontaneous processes infants and children experience when the nervous system first develops.

How is it taught?

The Method is taught in either group lessons called Awareness Through Movement®, or one-on-one called Functional Integration®. In an Awareness Through Movement class, individuals heighten and refine their awareness of themselves through their own movement. In Functional Integration, the practitioner guides the student through movements using non-invasive and non-coercive touch. The intent of both forms is to integrate the muscular, skeletal and neurological systems all with the environment and within a movement pattern specific to the person.

Feldenkrais created thousands of lessons while he was alive. Done in an array of orientations (supine, prone, sitting, standing, side-lying) as well as in a moving context (from supine to sit, prone to kneeling, standing to supine), the level of complexity in these lessons is limitless.

And beyond…..

Currently small pockets of national level (downhill skiing, kayaking, fencing) and recreational (runners, triathletes, weightlifters) athletes have incorporated Feldenkrais’ unique principles into their training regime with much success, and the rehabilitative sciences are beginning to learn about this unique form of sensorimotor learning that has aided people with stroke, spinal cord injury and cerebral palsy. Even business executives and schoolteachers benefit by learning how to sit and think with greater ease and clarity. The incredibly biologically intelligent nature of the Feldenkrais Method has the potential to impact how we look at and treat the human being in the 21st century.

What a few people have to say about the Feldenkrais Method:

“As a top level athlete, I always need to be feeling at my best, both in body and mind - being better connected with what my body is doing and how it’s feeling. The day after I had a private lesson, we had an on-snow training session and I noticed right away that my skiing was effortless. I had better feel and connection on my skis and in my boots. Also, my energy wasn’t depleted at the end of the day. It was just amazing!” -Britt Janyk

“I’ve had wonderful success with the Feldenkrais Method, both as a hands on treatment and as a set of awareness movements that have got me back in touch with pain-free activity. After trying all sorts of different modalities (physiotherapy, chiropractic care, Pilates, weight training, and massage) I went to [the]Feldenkrais [Method] as a last resort. I wish I had gone as a first resort! After a number of lessons, I was able to move freely. My back pain abated and I was able to resume running, biking and swimming - which as a triathlete makes up most of my training. With consistent practice I was able to take 30 minutes off of my Half Ironman bike split, leading to a personal best. I also achieved a personal best marathon time - relatively pain free!” -Brandi Higgins, Whistler Swim Club Coach and Triathlete

“In modern and Western society we tend to reach higher levels of performance by using more effort. In the Feldenkrais Method we learn a different approach which is based on completely the opposite idea: by reducing effort and with a clearer goal-oriented motivation, we work on the quality of action.” -Kurt Kothbauer, Head Conditioning Coach, Canadian Alpine Ski Team, Feldenkrais practitioner.

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