Our human brain is incredibly complex. Intricately networked, and intertwined with our dexterous bodies, our brains coordinate our moving, sensing, feeling and learning. Out of a lifetime of experience laid down in the dynamic networks of our nervous system our sense of who we are and who we can become emerges.
When fashioning his unique movement lessons Moshé Feldenkrais recognized that our sense of ourselves – our self-image – is built on the foundation of our experience of moving.
During the evening presentation at the annual conference in Washington, DC, we will be exploring how awareness of our movement can bring about surprisingly pleasant discoveries about how we can move with proficiency and grace. The intriguing experience of this clever way to extend our movement repertoire raises a question:
“How do Feldenkrais lessons work?”
One answer lies in understanding how our brain orchestrates our movement. Using the metaphor of The Coordination Cascade (see Image A) we will see how Feldenkrais lessons impact all levels of our nervous system. From the prefrontal cortex to the spinal cord and back – Feldenkrais lessons improve movement coordination and refine our sense of our body. We will outline each step along the way, matching theory with practice by weaving an easy-to-do Feldenkrais lesson into the evening’s presentation. Here is what we will cover: The prefrontal cortex (1) is the highest neurological center for planning our behavior. The first to engage when we initiate an action the prefrontal cortex cooperates with other brain centers to regulate our:
- Body identity
- Social aspects of our behavior
- Behavioral flexibility and emotional regulation
The limbic system (2) is our brain’s emotional center. It imparts an emotional feel to our experience and our plans: curiosity, fear, pleasure, shame, lust or anger. Feldenkrais lessons help us refine a nimble balance between reason and feeling. We experience patience and vital self-respect. One of the surprises of the evening will be to experience how a Feldenkrais lesson influences what we believe to be an unconscious emotional process.
Attention (3) orchestrates the rhythms of our brain operations; directing which sensory and motor brain centers are engaged for action. We will discover how this works and why conscious direction of attention is so vital for our lives; along the way discovering a new capacity for flexible curiosity.
Two primary cycles of activity connecting many parts of the brain are involved in detailed planning of our movements (4). These networks operate between the premotor cortex, the basal ganglion and thalamus, which are buried deep within the brain, and the cerebellum, returning back to the motor cortex.
The sequence of movements in every Feldenkrais lesson enables our brain to prepare improved movement plans. The range, direction, forces and speed of each movement pattern is perfected for successful action. We experience a refined body image which is available for everything we do; finesse surprises us in our daily life.
Our movement plans are carried out by way of a complex system of neurological pathways (5) which originate in the motor cortex. As the neurological messages travel along these tracts to the spinal cord motor centers of the brainstem, which influence the muscles of our head, trunk and hips as well as our face and voice, are brought into the plan.
Centers in the thalamus, brainstem and spinal cord are sensory relay centers. They influence how our body sensations are processed. These centers are influenced by pathways which originate in the sensory cortex and other parts of the brain. Astoundingly, the awareness processes of the Feldenkrais lessons help prepare these tracts and direct their use for a successful action.
From the spinal cord to the muscles (6) each segment of the spinal cord regulates the activity of specific muscles. Feldenkrais lessons enable us to optimally engage these centers to mobilize our entire musculature. The ongoing movement is agile, efficient and safe.
Each step of The Coordination Cascade includes multiple feedback loops (8), a fundamental design characteristic of the nervous system. The awareness process which is mobilized during each Feldenkrais lesson assures the highest efficiency for these feedback processes. Recent theory and research in philosophy and science tell us how our brain uses this feedback to precisely coordinate our actions to fit our world.
Every Feldenkrais lesson improves our lives by engaging the natural resource most easily available to us: the rich plasticity of our neurological coordination cascade; a gift of our evolutionary heritage. Confronted with challenges as we make our way in a stressful world, Feldenkrais lessons enable us to continually refine our coordination and body sensation. We move successfully and gracefully. Each success strengthens and expands our self-image which becomes the foundation for our next action.
Roger Russell, MA, PT, GCFT, (1977) trained with Moshé Feldenkrais at San Francisco, Israel, and Amherst between 1975-1982. He has been a Feldenkrais Trainer since 1997, a physical therapist, movement scientist, and author. An American living in Germany, he is co-director of the Feldenkrais Zentrum Heidelberg. Russell has presented and organized Feldenkrais and science conferences in Paris, Seattle, San Mateo, Berlin, and Heidelberg.
Drawings by Susanne Mertner and Stephanie Schmidt, the copyrights belong to Roger Russell.