Feldenkrais Method for Chronic Illness

By Frank Wildman, Ph.D.

While medical technology excels in treating acute trauma, it does not train physicians well to treat our most common chronic illnesses. The treatment of many pain and stress problems therefore lacks focus.

One of the most revolutionary discussions of the last few years has been about the relationship between posture, muscles, and the inner workings of our minds. Most people, including medical professionals, tend to isolate the mechanics of their bodies from emotional and other physical responses. This is only natural since Western science traditionally focuses upon isolating what is particular and separated from the whole.

But science is changing. Today, we increasingly address the relationship between the immune system, the neuromuscular system, and the environment which may include influences from family, personal relationships, and one's place in the community.

Now, we know that exercises that improve neuromuscular functioning and muscle tone can stimulate blood and lymphatic circulation, which stimulates endocrine output. This effects a balance in the autonomic nervous system between the sympathetic (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic (rest or recuperation) immune stimulation responses that can be of immense benefit to patients with a broad range of diseases. Take the case of terminal cancer patients who find pain and lassitude among the worst experiences of the disease. A few find they obtain relief by using gentle, easy exercises that improve respiration, blood and lymph circulation. Pain is decreased as muscular stress is reduced throughout the body. In addition, the exercises promote recuperative powers by affecting the neuro-endocrine system.

For almost fifty years, Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais developed a series of gentle and fascinating movement lessons that have proven invaluable in physical rehabilitation and pain relief. Psychologists use these sensory-motor exercises to give people a means to feel more "in touch" with themselves and to achieve deeper self-realization. They are also used by Olympic-calibre athletes to improve performance and by those who simply wish to move more easily and efficiently. The Method is becoming paramount among physical therapy applications with a wide range of orthopedic and neurological disorders. This breadth of application has made the Feldenkrais® Method one of the most revolutionary developments offered in modern times. Some people consider the Method to offer the theoretical and technical tools to connect virtually every discipline now isolated in separate buildings in our universities. Its benefits are enormous, not just to cancer patients, but to many elderly and infirm people and those suffering from acute pain problems due to injury.

Dr. Feldenkrais said, "The body reflects the attitudes of the mind. Improve the function of the body and you must improve the state of the mind. The movements are nothing. They're an idiotic thing. What I'm after isn't flexible bodies, but flexible brains. What I'm after is to restore each person to his human dignity."

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