Frank Wildman, Ph.D.
James Stephens, Ph.D., P.T.
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.