The Feldenkrais method

bernd the broter, modified 10 Years ago at 1/31/13 6:44 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 1/31/13 6:44 PM

The Feldenkrais method

Posts: 376 Join Date: 6/13/12 Recent Posts

Feldenkrais: I haven't found anything on this method, but maybe some of you have some experience with it. I did a workshop on it last weekend which sparked my interest. I'd really appreciate comments on your experience with the method.

The wikipedia page on this method isn't too extensive, this seems to be a better description:
description here.

This is the experience, which made me write this post:
I have quite some trouble with foot and knee pain. This was bad enough to prevent me from practicing walking meditation, so I had to find something to fix it. 'normal' physiotherapy has helped quite a lot, but a problem remains: I will have to change the whole organization of my body because it basically consists of bad habits. But as soon as you change one thing (position of the foot for example), the rest has to change also, and this is quite a difficult undertaking and, as I learned the hard way, doing it wrong makes you neurotic and leads to even more problems. What I found is the Feldenkrais method, which is designed to change movements of the body by retraining the nervous system. Intrigued by this prospect, I did a 4-hour workshop last weekend. It was officially a lesson of 'awareness through movement' about the feet, but lots of the exercises didn't actually seem to have to do anything with the feet.

My experience was this:
laying on the ground and do strange movements very slow. repeat them and intuitively search for an easy way to do it. Don't "try" to do the movement right or in some special way. Regularly we stood up and jumped or walked a few steps, often backwards. All the time I was thinking "how the hell is this supposed to ever change anything for good?", but still stuck to the exercise as instructed. Often the teacher would tell us what to focus on. Until this date I thought I had quite a good command/feeling of the body (several musical instruments, some tai chi, yoga practice, goenka-style body-scanning and walking meditation, and sports in general). But in the workshop all of those assumptions dissolved. For example we were told to feel, where the tension arises in a special movement. I knew it was somewhere there. I felt it. But I absolutely couldn't pinpoint where the hell it was located. This happened with all kinds of movements. After approximately an hour, we were told to stand up. I had a headache, a bit of dizziness and my whole body felt like jelly. Nothing of my previous body control seemed to be left. I could stand, but had no idea how this happened. I was completely dumbfounded. (Not really shocked - in the past i have gone through several rounds of dukkha nanas which had put me through 'worse' side effects...)
The teacher said, this is normal, may be the relaxation effect. If I'm not feeling well, don't push it.
After the full workshop it was different: the jelly-feeling had subsided, and there seemed to be a new kind of organization of the body. All the parts played together in a much different way than before. I can't even conceptualize what had physically changed, all I know was that it was completely reorganized. The one thing which was really noticable was that my hollow back had gone. After some time of walking meditation I always get back pain because of it. I could use force to make the back stay in a better position, but it would change back to the hollow back position as soon as I would relax. (In this case doctors tend to recommend strength training which didn't help me at all and which is probably bullshit advice, as I now guess.) This new position felt very undefined and much better than my usual body posture.
Sadly, this new position subsided after less than a minute. I knew it was there, but there was no way to go back there - I just didn't know how it had happened. The teacher said this is normal. If practiced regularly, you get enough awareness to have a permanently better posture and general body command.

My assessment of the method:
This stuff rocks. It actually changes the body coordination. You have basically no clue how and why it works, but the body will learn nevertheless. I hadn't at all expected it to work in such a profound way. Improving body coordination is something I have wanted to do for a long time. Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Yoga and Physiotherapy didn't work as hoped, but this seems to actually do the trick. I will definitely do a weekly course on in the next months.

I asked the teacher to give me the no-bullshit account, of how much work was really required to make a lasting change. She said, it would be best if everyone practiced 1-2 hours(*) every day, but permanent (slower) change would be possible if I did a weekly course, repeating the exercises for 30 minutes 3 times a week. Also she said that it would be a life path. It never ends.

(*) I should have asked if anyone practices it in the mahasi style with 18 hours a day. I will do that when I meet her again.

Well, at the moment I'm following the Mahasi tradition, so I'm not in need for a whole new life path at this point emoticon
Still, the method seems to be very interesting to me, and grossly underestimated. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

The proponents of the Feldenkrais method also claim that it will lead to psychological change: psychological behaviour is deeply connected to body behaviour, and by changing the latter, the former will also be affected.
This claim seems to be sound. If you look at someone, you intuitively know his state of mind very often just by reading his body language. If scientists are right in stating that it just takes someone 7 seconds to find out if another person is a potential romantic partner, then there is very much in this claim.
I'm reading 'the potent self' (written by Moshe Feldenkrais himself) at the moment, in which the author describes his view of how the mind operates, and how this is connected to the body. There are lots of observations which strike me as not trivial, e.g.: According to the author, the movement of the eyes influences the rest of the body. Thus using your eyes differently will change the rest of the body accordingly. The teacher in the workshop also told me it would alter the mind, but wouldn't give me the details.

Relation to vipassana:
AFAIK the author wasn't involved in any kind of meditation. The method was invented by a geeky scientist who seems not to have been involved with it, at least he doesn't write about it. (judging from what I've read so far).
I guess that this method really doesn't lead to the same kind of insights vipassana does. It seems to be more concerned with 'normal psychological improvement'.
During mahasi walking and sitting meditation I have often noted the connection of body posture and state of mind. When getting the mind back on the breath/posture, the body posture would often change with it, often for the better. (**)
I used to think that this was already as good as it could get with any method. Turns out I was very wrong: Feldenkrais goes much deeper in this respect: this is about changing the behaviour of muscles you can't even consciously control! In my experience, normal relaxation techniques (PMR, autogenic training, MBSR, simple conscious relaxation) totally fail to address this. I didn't really expect that this kind of change was even possible.

(**) I reported this observation to the feldenkrais teacher at the workshop and asked, if Feldenkrais was about observing those connections. I think her answer was 'No' and she didn't really get what I was talking about.

Still, there are some things which strike me as very similar to Vipassana:
-the method seems to hit at the core of suffering caused by unhealthy body behaviour. It seems to be totally changed for good. To me this seems very different from the approach "do some sports, stretch, do yoga/tai chi to improve body, lose weight, and this will have some positive effect".
-no agenda in the practice. There are no direct instructions, such as "let your back be more relaxed, and everything will be better". You just do the 'exercises' very slow and pay attention to how it feels. The learning happens on its own. Trust the process and let it do its thing.
-Feldenkrais describes (in 'the potent self') that the skill of 'self use' determines how good you are at something. As an example, he cites voltaire, who perfected his 'self use' by neither rejecting nor refusing viewpoints. Feldenkrais seems to state that such a middle way is actually possible for the body learn, and thus will also be learned by the mind. This seems to be a very strong claim, but maybe there is something in it.

Okay, last remarks:
My first impression is that the whole thing is amazing (but still needs work for great effects), but for some reason rather unknown to the general public. Also it seems to oppose classic physiotherapy/orthopaedics in its basics, but it seems to be correct.
Unfortunately, a lot of mushroom culture seems to be involved there. At the workshop I was the only male person, and the only one who was younger than 40. That is, younger than 25 and felt totally misplaced. Obviously, I'm arguing on prejudices here, but lack of diversity like this seems to be a good indicator of mushroom cultures.
My impression was that most of the other participants were doing it as a relaxation technique and ignored how profound it actually is.
After the workshop, I talked to the teacher quite some time. When she realized that I was interested in the real deal and willing to do the work, her way of talking changed; she opened up and began talking more about her personal experience. I was under the impression that this is not something she encounters frequently.

So, if you have any experience with the method, or how it relates to meditation, or want to correct something I got totally wrong, I'd like to read your comments on it.
every3rdthought , modified 10 Years ago at 1/31/13 8:42 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 1/31/13 8:42 PM

RE: The Feldenkrais method

Posts: 5 Join Date: 10/11/12 Recent Posts
Hi Bernd,

(I am new to DhO but there doesn't seem to be a welcome thread so I will jump right in)

I have a little experience with Feldenkrais, which I also found interesting (and had one experience in particular where the 'experience of the body' felt completely different and much more free and pleasant) and wanted to pursue in terms of bodywork, but haven't done so yet in an organised way. I started reading Awareness Through Movement and I didn't agree with all of his arguments on a theoretical level, but the approach to the body and movement seemed to make sense and be quite different from most other body-based practices.

Moshe Feldenkrais, I believe, was influenced by judo which also has a relationship to aikido, which I've done, and aikido was very much about not 'trying' or 'efforting,' that is, not using willpower and strength to move or hold the body in certain ways, which is completely counterproductive - but rather allowing the body to do its own thing according to a natural flow principle, and doing that many times simply experiencing what it feels like and where it ends up when you do.

This chimed for me with an insight meditation practice in the idea, that you mention, that positive change doesn't happen by willing it or by brute-force modification, and in fact trying to alter experience this way is ultimately reinforcing the attitudes and behaviours that caused the problem in the first place. Rather, awareness itself is the primary thing, and can be trusted, and by exercising it those changes will come about on their own. A lot of our mental and historical 'stuff' that causes suffering is written into the body and may need to be experienced there as well as in the mental continuum where it usually seems to reside. My impression wasn't that on its own Feldenkrais was necessarily a practice which would have the same kind of outcomes as vipassana, but that it seemed like they might be really complementary. But as always, the issue is how much time in the day is there for meditation plus a dedicated bodywork practice... still, seems like it's worth pursuing...