Frank Wildman, Ph.D.
The Feldenkrais Method® uses two approaches in working with
patients: Awareness Through Movement®
(ATM) lessons and Functional Integration® (FI).
Awareness Through Movement
ATM lessons are verbally directed movement sequences presented in a
group setting. Lessons generally last from 20 to 60 minutes. There are hundreds
of ATMs to choose from in the Feldenkrais Method. The mechanisms of breathing,
speaking and all aspects of postural control are explored and improved while
perceptual capacities are increased. The aim of these lessons is not relaxation
but healthy, powerful, easy, and pleasurable action.
Participants engage in precisely structured movement explorations
that involve thinking, sensing, moving, and imagining. The lessons are often
based on developmental movements, like rolling, crawling, or moving from lying
to sitting; or explorations of joint, muscle, and postural relationships. Minute,
barely perceptible movements are used extensively to reduce latent tonus (degree
of involuntary contractions) in the muscles. The gradual reduction of useless
effort increases the kinesthetic sensitivity.
The lessons begin with comfortable, easy movements that gradually
evolve into movements of greater range and complexity, recapitulating the childhood
experience of originally learning to organize and control movements. Functions
that require repetition to learn are taught through numerous variations that maintain
the novelty of the situation. Once novelty wears off, awareness is dulled and no
learning takes place.
The lessons are so arranged that they require concentration to
sense kinesthetic differences. Without real attention it is impossible to follow
to the next stage in the lesson. Mechanical repetition without attention is discouraged
and often impossible.
An important goal of ATM lessons is to learn how the most basic
movement functions are organized and to teach awareness of the skeleton and its
orientation. The participants have the opportunity to learn to eliminate unnecessary
energy expenditure and efficiently mobilize their intentions into actions. Since
learning is a highly individual matter, students are encouraged to learn at their
own pace in a noncompetitive manner. This is why the same lesson often may benefit
people of diverse ages, backgrounds, and abilities.
For patients requiring or desiring individual attention, Feldenkrais
offers hands-on techniques called Functional Integration (FI). Each FI lesson
is tailored for the needs of the particular student; it is usually performed
with the patient in a horizontal position to reduce the influence of gravity
on the body as much as possible and thus free the nervous system. The reaction
of the nervous system to the gravitational field has become a habit, and although
this remains so, it is difficult to bring the muscles to respond differently
to the same stimulus. Obviously then it is difficult to bring about any real
change in the nervous system without reducing or eliminating the gravity effect.
The practitioner communicates through gentle and noninvasive
touch, the experience of comfort, pleasure and ease of movement, while the patient
learns how to reorganize the body and behavior in new and more effective ways.
The practitioner's touch is instructive and informative, not corrective. Patients
are encouraged to explore new, more expanded functional motor patterns that they
can then translate into new abilities.
The Feldenkrais Method offers patients new movement choices by
allowing them to experience differences between effortful and effortless, efficient
and inefficient, neutral and pleasurable movements. Unless individuals can sense
these distinctions, they have no choice over the quality of their movements and
are reduced to acting like a machine. Once they learn to differentiate movements
and their qualities, they acquire alternative ways of performing the same task
and regain a broader range of their possibilities.