How does Functional Medicine Parallel the Feldenkrais Method?

Patrick Hanaway, Medical Director of the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, will deliver the keynote address to this year's Feldenkrais Method® Conference. His presentation is entitled “Form Follows Function: Functional Medicine and the Tipping Point.”

Functional Medicine is a holistic approach to health that seeks the root of sickness and the road to wellness in the interrelationship of all the bodies' systems. Rather than identifying and treating illness on an “organ by organ” basis, Functional Medicine looks for the roots of a patient's symptoms in genetics, nutrition, exercise habits, and personal relationships, and offers an integrated plan to bring balance between the person's body and their environment. In Hanaway's Family to Family clinic, several practitioners work together as a team to develop a “therapeutic relationship” with the patient and create a multi-faceted health program for that individual's unique needs.

Hanaway sees a parallel between the approaches of practitioners of Functional Medicine and the Feldenkrais Method in that both are helping people to cultivate awareness of the habits that determine their health and offering them ways to create new patterns of living. Both approaches reject the idea of applying specific treatment procedures to standard categories of diagnoses, but rather seek to listen to the entire story of the individual's health and help the person to rewrite that narrative in order to redefine their possibilities.
I recently spoke with Dr. Hanaway about these connections.
How does Functional Medicine differ from the traditional Western medical model? Why did you become interested in this approach?
My experience with medical school was that it was a training in pharmacology and pathophysiology. I was disappointed that I wasn't learning about health. I began to study nutrition and explore other approaches including exercise, hands-on practices, herbalism, and Chinese medicine. Eventually I realized that these are all just different facets of the same diamond: looking at the body. But how we organize information has an impact on how we see.
In the standard approach there is a tendency to look at a disease, an organ, without asking where the function is imbalanced. And you don't get taught to have an awareness of the broader tools available to promote healing, rather than to suppress symptoms. I got my family medicine certificate and went to Western Alaska where I worked for two years on the Behring Sea with the Yu'pik people, learning and honing Western medical skills in emergency rooms. But it became clear to me that poor nutrition and lack of exercise were the source of a lot of the illness. I wanted to promote health and healing instead of applying band-aids.
Functional Medicine is a way of looking at the relationships of various functions in the body. We ask, “What are the places of imbalance and dysfunction in this individual?” thinking in terms of five domains.  
The first domain is assimilation; how I connect to my environment: how I breathe, how I eat, am I able to break down the foods that I have? If we have the right mix and the appropriate kinds of macronutrients (fats, carbs and proteins) and micronutrients (all the vitamins and minerals), then we have the ability to make cells that are healthy. If we don't, we don't!  
The second is our mechanism of defense and repair, the immune system. Is it in balance or are the things we eat, the way we move, the stresses we experience causing an activation of illness and disease?  
Third, we consider energy production and detoxification. Do the mitochondria produce sufficient energy? Are there toxins or infections present that might slow down the ability of that energy production to occur? Is the system able to detoxify?  
Fourth is the whole issue of communication: the hormones and neurotransmitters and how information travels through the body.

Finally, we take into account the structure of the system itself – does it have integrity? I'm not just talking about the myofascial system. I'm actually talking about the structure of the cell, the subcellular organelles, the organs, the body, family relationships, and the state of the surrounding community.
Primarily we focus on the body, but it's clear that function happens at every level of our being, so we're working to bring function into balance at every level of our being. We're listening to that person's story. We're evaluating their whole life. We give them space to tell their story and then tell them the story back in a way that they know we've heard it. That begins the process of helping to motivate them, and deepens the relationship and connection between us.
Functional Medicine has become much more widely known in recent years. What are your thoughts about the possibility of new models of health reaching a tipping point and entering more into the “mainstream”?
In 2014 I became the medical director of the Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. This is the second largest private medical provider in the country. There are regularly 1600 patients on the waiting list and the staff doubles every five months. Through the Institute for Functional Medicine, we have been teaching hundreds of thousands of people around the world. So the tipping point is very real. I have been living through it.
What are your goals as you think about bringing the story of Functional Medicine to the Feldenkrais community?
I'm coming to the Feldenkrais conference both to teach and to learn. It seems to me that there is a natural relationship between the teachings of Moshe Feldenkrais and what we do in Functional Medicine. And I want to begin a dialogue with Feldenkrais practitioners – as I have already begun to do with osteopaths, chiropractors and others – because right now Functional Medicine is mostly focused metabolically, with insufficient attention to structure and movement. It's an essential domain that needs to be worked on and I'm particularly interested in learning more about the Feldenkrais approach. I'm interested to hear how the practitioners think about structural integrity in practice. What is fascinating to me about Feldenkrais is that integrity and balance are found through movement. The key question is: am I prepared for dynamic movement in this world?  
In my personal experience, Feldenkrais practitioners are people with a skill for very deep listening. The one-on-one sessions I've had were extraordinary. I felt like my body was being cared for in a way that I had never experienced before.
The conference will take place in your hometown of Asheville, NC. Is there anything you'd like to say about it?
Asheville is beautiful place. I've lived here for twenty years. It's a very dynamic and open community. Many people come for the art, the music, breweries, but the natural world here is the real beauty. I'd like to encourage everyone who attends the conference to take some time to connect to the natural world – that's where healing happens.

Find out more about the Keynote.

Seth Dellinger is a certifiied Awareness Through Movement® teacher, a 4th-year student in the Feldenkrais Training Program of Baltimore with David Zemach-Bersin, central organizer of the DC Feldenkrais Festival, and writes a regular blog at