The Feldenkrais Method is frequently used by professional athletes, musicians, and dancers to help manage the strain they put on their bodies. This approach to massage therapy is similar to Russian sports massage, though typically less invasive and rigorous, and can be used to recover from injury, a variety of illnesses, or daily aches and pains.
What Is the Feldenkrais Method?
This treatment was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, who studied and worked under the Curies as well as Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo. Bodywork and movement experts regard him as a key synthesizer of Western science and Eastern thought.
During his recovery from a major injury, Feldenkrais came to believe that people organize their own physical behaviors and developed a system to help people both recognize and expand on their natural potential and discover more adaptable and flexible behaviors than those habitually resorted to.
The Feldenkrais Method bears many similarities to reflexology and acupressure, as well as the Dynamic Systems Theory (DST) of motor behavior, which is used as a framework for modeling athletic performance.
What to Expect from A Feldenkrais Method Session
Feldenkrais Method clients might participate in either group or individual treatment sessions. Group sessions, known as “Awareness Through Movement,” are 30-60 minutes of various exercises that are based on typical daily activities and performed while standing, sitting, and lying on the floor. These exercises may increase in complexity throughout the session. Participants are taught to notice positive adjustments in their bodies as they try out different movements and postures
Clients seeking treatment can also book individual “Functional Integration” sessions. Participants, who also remain fully clothed in these sessions, may stand, sit, or lie on a table during the treatment. Practitioners guide a client’s movements using gentle, non-invasive touch that is individually tailored to their specific needs, in order to help the individual increase coordination and flexibility.
Feldenkrais Method Self-Care
This approach to massage therapy can also be practiced as self-care.
Lie down comfortably and pay attention to your breath. Begin to notice your body position and how it feels in contact with the floor. As you breathe, consider the space you inhabit and how you feel inside (proprioception). Without moving any part of your body, visually “feel” each foot in your mind, trying to isolate the feeling of each ankle and toe joint. Move your awareness up through your calves, into your knees and hips. Feel how your body parts touch the surface on which you rest.
Follow your body upward, feeling how your pelvis and spine feel against the ground. As you breathe, feel the way your rib cage expands and presses against adjacent surfaces. Become aware of your shoulder blades, upper back, and neck, and how each shoulder feels in its socket. Feel how your breastbone and collarbones move, rise, and fall with your breath.
Still breathing easily, pay attention to your hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders (one at a time). Feel how your arms rest against the ground and follow this feeling up through your neck to the place where your head rests. Feel your tongue, eyes, and up into the top of your head.
By practicing this body awareness, people may be able to learn to move with more ease, grace, and fluidity. With time, it is possible to learn to maintain this body consciousness, as well as a positive self-image, while conducting daily activities. This can have the effect of reducing strain, anxiety, and stress.
Benefits of the Feldenkrais Method
Research suggests the Feldenkrais Method may have a number of positive effects. Not only can this massage therapy increase a person’s range of motion and help them move more easily, it can increase coordination and flexibility; decrease rehabilitation time after a stroke, head trauma, or brain tumor; improve hemiplegia (paralysis on one side of the body); and help individuals manage effects of cerebral palsy. This method can also be used as a form of therapy to manage multiple sclerosis and may provide some relief from symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Older adults may find the Feldenkrais Method particularly helpful, as research studies show it can help individuals improve their balance and functional reach. Those who have participated in these treatments report reduced pain and effort, greater dexterity, and better body image perceptions.
Feldenkrais Method Precautions
Because the Feldenkrais Method isn’t invasive, demanding, or challenging, most people can easily engage in this type of bodywork. However, those with skin issues such as burns, infections, irritations, pain, and so on may want to postpone sessions until these have healed.
Individuals desiring to participate in Feldenkrais Method sessions are advised to consult their physician before beginning treatment, as they would be advised to do with any style of massage or bodywork. People who have certain circulatory issues, deep-vein thrombosis (blood clots), and certain kinds of cancer should avoid any type of bodywork.
When searching for an instructor or massage therapist, it is generally a good idea to ask them about their years of study and training and find out which governing bodies have certified them as Feldenkrais practitioners. Some might also wish to inquire about their hours of classwork and practical experience. A good therapist is always learning and growing, and some may prefer to choose a practitioner who regularly participates in continuing education classes.
- Buchanan P., & Ulrich B. (2001). The Feldenkrais method: A dynamic approach to changing motor behavior. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 72(4), 315-323. Retrieved from http://iffresearchjournal.org/system/files/10PatBuchananEnglishVersion.pdf
- Hillier, S., & Worley, A. (2015) The effectiveness of the Feldenkrais Method: A systematic review of the evidence. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine. doi: 10.1155/2015/752160
- Reese Kress Somatic Press. (2016) A life in movement: The definitive biography of Moshe Feldenkrais [Press release]. Retrieved from http://feldenkraisbiography.com
- Self image as self care. (2014, August 16). Retrieved from http://www.philamassages.com/self-image-as-self-care
- Weil, A. (2016) Wellness therapies: The Feldenkrais method. Retrieved from http://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/balanced-living/wellness-therapies/the-feldenkrais-method
- Wright, J. (2000, August 25). Bodies, meanings and movement: A comparison of the language of a physical education lesson and a Feldenkrais movement class. Sport, Education, and Society, 5(1), 35-49.