Frank Wildman, Ph.D.
James Stephens, Ph.D., P.T.
Many of failings, physical and mental, need not be considered as diseases to be cured, but rather as an acquired result of a learned mode of doing. Actions repeated innumerable times for years on end, such as all habitual actions, mould even the bones, let alone the muscular envelope. the physical faults that appear in our body long after we were born are mainly the result of activity we have posed on it. Faulty modes of standing and walking produce faulty feet, and it is the mode of standing and walking that must be corrected and not the feet.
– Moshe Feldenkrais
Unlike other animals, which are preprogrammed to survive, human children must learn to move. Although a cat is born with the knowledge of how to move gracefully, it takes years for humans to learn movement well enough to function independently in the world. The necessity and ability to learn individual patterns of movement leads to a variety in human movement and posture unknown in other species and can be considered the most distinguishing feature of mankind.
Once they have reached a level of proficiency sufficient for walking, jumping, or playing sports, most people stop learning new movements and improving their body awareness. Whatever style of movement has been learned at this point, mostly through trial and error and imitation of models in the social environment, then begins to form a personal set of movement habits. These movement habits tend to overuse certain muscles and joints while neglecting or ignoring the use of others, thus leading to a limited range of movement and gross inefficiency.
Many people find they are simply unable to improve at activities that interest them, be they sports, dance, or music. They avoid engaging in activities where they could be confronted with a lack of coordination and awareness and never learn to ski or dance because they feel uncomfortable doing so.
Feldenkrais observed, “Through the first years of life, we organize our entire system in a direction which will forever after guide us in that direction. We end up being restricted, we don’t do music, we don’t do other things. What is more important, we find ourselves capable of only doing those things that we already know.
In the long run these limitations in awareness and coordination lead to physical dificulties, such as recurring pain, repetitive stress injuries, or problems recovering from injuries.
This great ability to form individual nervous and muscular patterns makes it possible for faulty functioning to be learned. The earlier the fault occurs, the more engrained it appears, and is. Faulty behavior will appear in the executive motor mechanisms which will seem later, when the nervous system has grown fitted to the undesirable motility, to be inherent in the person and unalterable. It will remain largely so unless the nervous paths producing the undesirable pattern of motility are undone and reshuffled into a better configuration.
– Moshe Feldenkrais,
Body and Mature Behavior
No other animal has the ability to change and reorganize the way it performs familiar activities the way human beings can. People have the capacity to make each walk they take a different walk, completely new in style; to make each movement a new experience.
Yet this amazing capacity to learn is rarely used; most people find one way of doing something and stick to it until finally a knee or a back breaks down. Then they assume that their distress was caused by the activity they performed rather than their particular way of performing the activity.
The Feldenkrais Method® sees problems as a consequence of arrested or incomplete learning that leaves its mark on all biologic functions, from digestion, breathing, and muscular control to the sexual act and social adjustment.
By recapitulating the exploratory style of learning natural to infants, patients of the Feldenkrais Method discover new ways to sense and move that expand awareness and develop more efficient and comfortable movement.