Moshé Feldenkrais was born in Russia in 1904 and emigrated to Palestine at the age of 13. Like many innovators, he came to his field by a circuitous route, weaving together numerous influences. As a young man, he was an excellent athlete, a soccer player and self-taught in jujitsu. He did construction work and tutored problem students while attending night school preparing to study physics. He had an early interest in hypnosis and translated Emile Coué’s book on autosuggestion into Hebrew.
In Paris, Feldenkrais earned his doctorate in physics at the Sorbonne and assisted Joliot-Curie. During his university years he met Kano, the originator of judo, and trained with Kano’s students to become a high ranking black belt and well-known judo teacher.
In 1940, when the Germans were about to enter Paris, Feldenkrais fled to England where during the war he worked on antisubmarine research, trained paratroopers in self-defense techniques, and authored books on judo. On slippery submarine decks he aggravated an old soccer injury to his knees, and began the extended work on himself which rehabilitated his knees and led to his discoveries about movement education. After he publicly presented his ideas, people sought his help with their problems. For several years he was an amateur somatic practitioner, first in England and later in Israel where he had returned to work as a scientist. In the mid-1950’s Feldenkrais gave up his career in physics and devoted himself fully to his work with people. In the late 1960’s, in Tel Aviv, he trained his first group to become practitioners of his method and subsequently completed one and one half trainings in the United States. He wrote four books on his method and much of his other teaching is preserved on thousands of hours of audio and video tapes.
Moshé Feldenkrais originated two interrelated, somatically based educational methods. The first method, Awareness Through Movement, is a verbally directed, body movement technique designed for groups or work with oneself. The second method, Functional Integration, is a nonverbal, manual contact technique designed for people desiring or requiring more individualized attention.
Awareness Through Movement lessons incorporate active movements, imagined movements and various forms of directed attention. A typical lesson lasts about forty-five minutes and combines a few dozen movements that are thematically organized around a functional action. Lesson themes may include developmental movements such as rolling, crawling, and standing up; functions such as posture, walking, reaching or breathing; systematic explorations of the kinetic possibilities of joint and muscle groups; and experiments in somatically-based imagination and perception related to subtle cognitive aspects of motor functioning.
These lessons are not “physical exercises” such as calisthenics, although may involve gymnastic actions; they are somatopsychic explorations which foster improvements by: a) utilizing latent, unexpressed competencies; b) breaking up habitual patterns; c) increasing self-awareness; and d) facilitating new learning through systematic, exploratory functional variations. Initial movements are often very small with an emphasis on ease, comfort, and perception. Gradually students becomes aware of how their musculature, skeleton—indeed, their entire selves—are involved as an inextricable whole in every action. From small, slow beginnings, larger movements emerge entailing greater complexity, power and speed. The result is learning to move with greater efficiency and satisfaction, and improved well-being.
Awareness Through Movement lessons often evoke a state of deep relaxation.
Unlike a typical exercise class, students are not necessarily told where the movements are leading or shown what they look like; thus, what is learned arises organically and as a surprise, and allows for necessary individual differences in both learning path and final outcome. Sometimes only one side of the body is physically worked at a time but the other side is enacted mentally; that is, in the imagination. This mental practice refines kinesthetic sensitivity to the point where muscular impulses and patterns are clearly felt and differentiated with minimal mobilization. Throughout the lesson, students are guided to integrate and apply newly discovered skills in other functional activities and domains of life.
The individual lessons of Functional Integration are based upon the same logic as Awareness Through Movement. They are used with a broad spectrum of people, from those with discomforts and physical limitations due to neurological or musculoskeletal problems, to athletes and performing artists. Although it possesses significant medical and therapeutic benefits, Functional Integration is neither medical nor therapeutic in its philosophical foundation and methodology; it is learning-based, primarily nonverbal, and directed at enhancing the functionality, efficiency, coordination, grace, and self-possession of a person’s movement. Lessons are done with the student lying on a soft but firm work table, or standing, or sitting. The practitioner gently touches or moves the student in a variety of ways to facilitate the student’s awareness and stimulate organic learning and vitality. Each move in the lesson is part of a communication that Feldenkrais likened to dancing or conversation. Through touch, the practitioner partially discloses or hints at a functional motor pattern, and the student responds with subtle, novel neuromuscular cues. Gradually, the student self-assembles mostly at a subconscious level a new neuromuscular organization of movement that translates into an altered active performance. At the end of a session the practitioner helps the student to integrate the learning in every day life through related movements based upon the lesson’s functional theme and follow-up suggestions.
Within a broad educational context Moshé Feldenkrais was a movement science pioneer who focused especially on the perception of the sensory-motor organization that underlies human behavior and learning. This includes but is not limited to: sensations of the muscles and joints; the sense of gravity, balance, space, and time; kinesthetic associations; motor skills and competencies; relationships between sensation, thought, feeling and movement; and self-image.
Feldenkrais spent a lifetime exploring and revealing the inexhaustibly rich, multidimensional world of human movement.
Feldenkrais died in 1984, leaving a small group of highly trained practitioners who have continued his methods. In recent years the Feldenkrais Method has greatly expanded and has become well-known for its success with orthopedic and neurological problems, and respected in the theater and dance words for use in performance training. Many people have sought the aid of Feldenkrais practitioners to ameliorate muscular and joint problems, to improve balance, coordination and breathing; and to enhance personal growth. By working with the whole person, Feldenkrais practitioners promote self-esteem and learning skills. Today the Feldenkrais Method is known in more than twenty countries with nearly 2,000 practitioners worldwide.
International Feldenkrais professional organizations, or Guilds, own the service marks for use of the terms, Feldenkrais Method, Functional Integration and Awareness Through Movement. The FELDENKRAIS GUILD accredits qualified Feldenkrais practitioners, practitioner trainers and professional training programs.