The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education

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The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education 7 Patricia A. Buchanan Des Moines University, USA 1. Introduction The Feldenkrais Method of somatic education is an integrative approach to learning and improving
The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education 7 Patricia A. Buchanan Des Moines University, USA 1. Introduction The Feldenkrais Method of somatic education is an integrative approach to learning and improving function among people of varying abilities across the lifespan. With an emphasis on increasing self-awareness through lessons that stimulate sensing, moving, feeling, and thinking, certified practitioners or teachers of the method propose to take advantage of the human capacity to self-organize behavior (Buchanan & Ulrich, 2001; Ginsburg, 2010). People have used the Feldenkrais Method to enhance their function in many aspects of life, including performance at work, in sports, or in the performing arts. However, estimates are that many more have used it to recover from injury, manage pain, reduce stress, or improve other health-related conditions, either as complementary or alternative approaches to traditional Western medicine. Because of this usage, some groups, such as the United States National Institutes of Health s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine [NCCAM], 2004), view the Feldenkrais Method as a form of complementary and alternative medicine, despite the broader self-identification as a learning method. Method founder Moshe Feldenkrais, DSc, ( ) was cautious about the constraints he perceived would be associated with establishing his method within a medical model and the broadly held allopathic emphasis on disease of his time (Feldenkrais, 2010). Despite medicine s growing biopsychosocial perspective, identification with it remains controversial today among practitioners. Some recognize the improved access that may be afforded by that association, while others express apprehension, as did Feldenkrais, about the limitations on this learning method that may follow. Despite these concerns, Feldenkrais and practitioners of his method would likely agree with the broader definition of health espoused by the World Health Organization. Feldenkrais viewed health as the ability to be flexible and adaptable in life, to recover, and not simply be free from illness or injury (Feldenkrais, 1981, 2010). Similarly, the World Health Organization defined health in the preamble to its constitution as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (World Health Organization, 1946). Thus, in this context, the Feldenkrais Method is an approach to promoting health. In this chapter, I address four purposes. First, I provide an overview of the Feldenkrais Method including background on its originator, descriptions of the two main approaches to 148 A Compendium of Essays on Alternative Therapy delivering lessons (Functional Integration and Awareness Through Movement ), and a theoretical foundation grounded in dynamic systems theory. Second, I describe what is known about Feldenkrais practitioners (teachers) including the certification process, standards of practice, and the practice profiles of United States practitioners. Third, I place the Feldenkrais Method in context with other complementary and alternative medicine approaches. Finally, I review the English language peer-reviewed research regarding the Feldenkrais Method and summarize the available evidence regarding its efficacy and safety. 2. The Feldenkrais Method Feldenkrais had a broad view of health and the role that learning plays in being healthy. He argued, It is certainly not enough to say that not asking for medical or psychiatric help is proof of health (Feldenkrais, 2010, p. 54). In recognition of the immense number of parts that comprise the human nervous system, he stated: The health of such a system can be measured by the shock it can take without compromising the continuation of its process. In short, health is measured by the shock a person can take without his usual way of life being compromised (Feldenkrais, 2010, p. 55). Feldenkrais was among early proponents of the critical role of life experiences in the differentiation of the nervous system and the refinement of our abilities to perceive, feel, act and think. The quality and content of these experiences foster organic learning capable of continuing across the lifespan. From this perspective, health may continue into old age, as is exemplified by artists, writers, musicians and scientists who excel as elders. The outstanding difference between such healthy people and the others is that they have found by intuition, genius, or had the luck to learn from a healthy teacher, that learning is the gift of life. A special kind of learning: that of knowing oneself. They learn to know how they are acting and thus are able to do what they want the intense living of their unavowed, and sometimes declared, dreams (Feldenkrais, 2010, p. 54). This process of learning is what Feldenkrais wanted to promote with his method. The biographical sketch that follows offers insights into how he came to develop his method. 2.1 Founder, Moshe Feldenkrais Moshe Feldenkrais was born in 1904 in what is now Slavuta, Ukraine and moved at age 5 to Baranovichi, Belarus (Feldenkrais, 1981, 2010; Kaetz, 2007). These towns were literally along the front lines of World War I. They were also Jewish communities that were instrumental in the rise of Hasidic culture that highly valued education grounded in questioning, critical inquiry, self-awareness, and learning for self-improvement. While his family managed to survive, nearly all Jews in these towns were killed in the pogroms (Kaetz, 2007). After the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Feldenkrais left for Palestine in He used his mathematics and surveyor skills, and his physical labor to help build Tel Aviv (Kaetz, 2007). He also developed skills in self-defense and shared those survival techniques with his peers. In 1930, Feldenkrais moved to Paris, France to study engineering (Feldenkrais, 1981, 2010). During that time, he met Kano, the originator of Judo, and became one of the first Europeans to earn a black belt. He continued his studies at the Sorbonne and worked in the laboratories of the Joliot-Curies. When the Nazis came to Paris in 1940, Feldenkrais escaped to Great Britain and worked on anti-submarine defense through the remainder of World War II (Feldenkrais, 1981, 1996). During this time, Feldenkrais was functionally impaired by his knees that were first injured during a football (soccer) match in Palestine, and further The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education 149 damaged by escaping France and moving about submarines. Medical options for relief were limited and not very promising. Instead, Feldenkrais began a process of self-exploration that helped him restore his function and developed into his method. He delved into the literature of many disciplines, from mechanics to psychology. Feldenkrais compiled a series of lectures that were well-received by the scientists with him in Scotland (Feldenkrais, 1981, 2010). After Feldenkrais moved to London at the end of the war, he published those lectures as his first book about his method, Body and Mature Behavior (Feldenkrais, 1996). Feldenkrais returned to Israel in 1951; he was soon fully occupied with teaching his method. As the popularity of his work grew, he developed hundreds of lessons that could be delivered verbally to groups of students. Late in life, he taught others to teach his method, beginning in Israel and ending in the United States. He died in 1984 (Feldenkrais, 2010). It is remarkable, while also understandable given his background, that Feldenkrais would choose learning as the most useful path for serving the wholeness of both individual and society (Kaetz, 2007, p. 87). Thus, the Feldenkrais Method is first and foremost a learning method, albeit one with reported therapeutic effects. It is an embodied process of selfinquiry that typically occurs in two formats: individual lessons called Functional Integration, and group lessons known as Awareness Through Movement. 2.2 Individual lessons: Functional Integration Functional Integration lessons (see Fig. 1) use manual contact between teacher and student to guide the student to better understand current patterns of behavior and inform the student in a manner that facilitates self-organization of alternative, improved behavior (Feldenkrais, 1972, 1981, 2010). Students are comfortably clothed during lessons that usually last minutes. Teachers use supportive, non-invasive touch that can be informative to both students and teachers. Teachers individualize lessons to target functional goals expressed by students, while using principles and techniques common to the Feldenkrais Method. Some of these include: creating a sense of safety with respectful touch and support of body parts; moving limbs through pathways of minimal resistance to suggest more optimal movement trajectories; clarifying existing habitual patterns of positioning and organization to facilitate reorganization; compressing, lengthening, or guiding other movements with emphasis on contact that is as if it were skeleton-to-skeleton; and positioning parts so as to shorten muscles, facilitate decreased contractile activity, and allow more lengthening without stretching (Feldenkrais, 1972, 1981, 2010; Ginsburg, 2010). Fig. 1. Examples of Functional Integration lessons. 150 A Compendium of Essays on Alternative Therapy 2.3 Group lessons: Awareness Through Movement Awareness Through Movement lessons (see Fig. 2) are verbally guided explorations that are about minutes long. They can be taught to groups of students or to individuals. As with Functional Integration lessons, but absent the manual contact, Awareness Through Movement lessons use principles to help students notice what they currently do, improve their ability to make finer perceptual distinctions, and guide them to explore modes of action that result in self-improvement (Feldenkrais, 1972, 1981, 2010; Ginsburg, 2010). Students are comfortably clothed, encouraged to move in pain-free ranges, and instructed to reduce effort and move slowly enough to be attentive to what they are doing, sensing, feeling, and thinking. Teachers rarely model movements, but may occasionally highlight alternative approaches students are using to express the verbal instructions. Lessons have one, if not several functional applications, but the overall movement pattern is usually not stated in advance to facilitate individually appropriate learning. Lessons often involve gentle, slow movements, but range from lessons that mainly involve the imagination to more challenging, athletic lessons (Feldenkrais, 1972, 1981, 2010; Ginsburg, 2010). Photographs courtesy of Des Moines University Fig. 2. Examples of Awareness Through Movement lessons. 2.4 Feldenkrais Method as an application of dynamic systems theory As a scientist in the mid-twentieth century, Feldenkrais interacted with numerous leading researchers and scholars of the day. He was privy to and participated in advancing new approaches to understanding the behavior of living and non-living systems (Buchanan & Ulrich, 2001; Feldenkrais, 1981; Ginsburg, 2010). Concurrently, he made significant advances in his concrete application of the relatively abstract and nascent fields of cybernetics, systems theory, complexity, and dynamic systems theory (Ginsburg, 2010). Applications of these new theories to human behavior and development came to prominence during the 1980s and 1990s (Buchanan & Ulrich, 2001; Ginsburg, 2010). When Thelen and Smith published A Dynamic Systems Approach to the Development of Cognition and Action in 1994, several Feldenkrais teachers quickly saw that they were describing a highly plausible theoretical foundation for the Feldenkrais Method (Buchanan & Ulrich, 2001; Ginsburg, 2010; Spencer et al., 2006). This section identifies several of the parallels between the Feldenkrais Method and dynamic systems theory. The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education 151 Feldenkrais explicitly valued life as a process situated in time that is reflective of evolution, culture, and individual history. All of these factors influence human behavior (Feldenkrais, 2010; Ginsburg, 2010). Dynamic systems theory holds that behavior emerges in the moment, while recognizing that change happens on differing time scales and that preceding events influence subsequent events (Spencer et al., 2006; Thelen & Smith, 1994). For example, an infant (or adult) lying on her back and holding her feet may turn the head and begin to roll to the side. Another roll of the head can bring her to her back again. As she goes back and forth, she may look up at someone entering the room and be surprised to find she rolls to sit. Feldenkrais recognized the limitations of linear and cause-effect scientific approaches. Behavior is dependent on many interacting elements and change, for the better or for the worse, can occur suddenly or gradually (Feldenkrais, 2010; Ginsburg, 2010). Dynamic systems theory proposes that multiple subsystems interact in ways that are often nonlinear to softly assemble behavior. Increasing speed leads me to change from walking to running. A short series of Awareness Through Movement lessons can relieve my chronic low back pain. Feldenkrais argued for the unity of mind and body: I believe that the unity of mind and body is an objective reality. They are not just parts somehow related to each other, but an inseparable whole while functioning (Feldenkrais, 2010, p. 28). In another paper, he wrote: The mental and physical components of any action are two different aspects of the same function. The physical and mental components are not two series of phenomena, which are somehow linked together; but, rather, they are two aspects of the same thing, like two faces of the same coin (Feldenkrais, 2010, pp ). Dynamic systems theory similarly argues for an integrated, embodied life of humans who have brains situated in bodies that exist in environments and interact with others such that perception, action and cognition are codependent and co-develop. While emotions or feeling are not ignored in dynamic systems, Feldenkrais gave early recognition to this component through his description of learning and development that emerge through sensing, moving, thinking, and feeling (Feldenkrais, 2010). The implications are: there are multiple approaches to facilitating change, and changing one aspect or subsystem can alter the organization of the whole. Feldenkrais was among the earliest to argue for use-dependant changes in the brain. Early on he wrote that for the most part, behaviour is acquired and has nothing permanent about it but our belief that it is so (Feldenkrais, 1996, p. 6). With this perspective, he emphasized the importance of flexible and adaptable behavior, and warned of habits so strong that they can be likened to a groove into which the person sinks never to leave unless some special force makes him do so. With time, the groove deepens, and stronger forces are necessary to remove him from it (Feldenkrais, 1996, p. 118). In dynamic systems theory, these grooves are attractors. Strong attractors have little variability in their activity and require large perturbations to provoke change to another state; weak attractors are unreliable and highly variable. More useful are attractors that are sufficiently stable with enough variability to allow for change as needed (Spencer et al., 2006; Thelen & Smith, 1994). With sufficient motivation and clear intention, change improvement is available throughout life. Feldenkrais clearly recognized the influence of one s experience and circumstances in development. Here, his multicultural experiences are evident in his recognition of the influence of sitting styles (e.g., in chairs or on the ground) on the function of the hips and back, and of language on the usage and structure of the vocal apparatus (Feldenkrais, 1981, 152 A Compendium of Essays on Alternative Therapy 1996, 2010). While knowledgeable of human structure and function, he was not prescriptive with his method. Instead, his approach was to help individuals clarify their self-images in order to self-organize individually relevant and appropriate options for acting (Feldenkrais, 2010; Ginsburg, 2010). Dynamic systems theory has similar regard for individual pathways to species-typical behaviors, such as reaching or walking (Spencer et al., 2006; Thelen & Smith, 1994). Learning can be viewed as carving out individual solutions to the real-world problem (Spencer et al., 2006, p. 1534). Through exploration, people form stable patterns and ideally conserve their ability for improvisation on a theme (Spencer et al., 2006, p. 1534). People can access more than one solution to a problem as conditions change: to walk on pavement or on cobblestones, to sit in a chair or on the floor, to live in the midst of peace or the midst of war. In this section, I presented an overview of the Feldenkrais Method of somatic education and its two components, Functional Integration and Awareness Through Movement. I shared historical background on its originator, Moshe Feldenkrais engineer, physicist, martial artist, and survivor of two World Wars. Finally, I presented parallels suggesting that dynamic systems theory offers a foundation for understanding the Feldenkrais Method. The next section provides information about Feldenkrais practitioners and their training. I present an estimate of their numbers and locations, and offer a profile of United States practitioners. 3. Practitioners/teachers of the Feldenkrais Method People who wish to teach the Feldenkrais Method must successfully complete professional education programs that are taught by highly experienced Certified Feldenkrais Trainers and Assistant Trainers. All programs follow similar standards established by recognized training accreditation boards (Feldenkrais Guild of North America, 2011; International Feldenkrais Federation). Minimally, students complete hours of a structured curriculum over a 3 to 4 year period (Feldenkrais Guild of North America, 2011; International Feldenkrais Federation). Consistent with the philosophy of the method, students spend considerable time experiencing lessons, as well as developing teaching skills and learning information from disciplines that are complementary to the method. Usually midway through training programs, students have a practicum in teaching Awareness Through Movement lessons. Once they pass, students are authorized to teach Awareness Through Movment lessons to the public. They cannot offer Functional Integration lessons until they obtain full certification. Graduates can promote themselves as teachers or practitioners of the Feldenkrais Method. Actual terminology varies among countries or accreditation boards. For example, Australians use Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner (CFP) (Australian Feldenkrais Guild Inc), while the Feldenkrais Guild of North America uses either Guild Certified Feldenkrais Teacher (GCFT) or Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner CM (GCFP) (Feldenkrais Guild of North America, 2011). The International Feldenkrais Federation is the association of 17 Feldenkrais Method membership organizations. Its representative body adopted a model Standards of Practice in 1994 that describes the Feldenkrais Method and its practice (International Feldenkrais Federation). It clearly states The Method is not a medical, massage, bodywork, or therapeutic technique. The Method is a learning process. The Feldenkrais Guild of North America added that The Method may function as a complement to medical care (Feldenkrais Guild of North America, 2011). The Standards of Practice describe in more detail The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education 153 what a practitioner does and knows than I have presented here. As is typical of professional organizations, member associations have codes of professional conduct and procedures
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