What is the Feldenkrais Method®?
The Feldenkrais Method of somatic education is a process of learning that improves both physical and mental functioning through the exploration of body movement patterns and the use of attention. Moshe Feldenkrais D.Sc. (1904-1984), the founder of the method was a mechanical and electrical engineer, world-renowned physicist, and judo expert.
Neuroplasticity and The Feldenkrais Method®
By Eileen Bach-y-Rita, GCFP
Your brain loves to learn. In fact it thrives on acquiring new skills such as playing a musical instrument, learning a new dance or a new language. Your brain also thrives when engaged in an inner awareness activity, like meditation or a Feldenkrais® Awareness Through Movement® lesson.
In order to learn anything, you need to focus and pay attention to the task at hand. You need to move slowly and deliberately and think about what you are doing when learning a new motor skill. Without this focus and attention, you wouldn’t acquire the new skill, or deepen knowledge in the field of your choice. The focus on and practice of these new activities causes the brain to morph, to grow new connections between billions of cells, and to create new motor and sensory-motor maps for each new activity. Even when you pretend that you are moving, visualizing your movements in your mind, brain changes can be measured and seen in PET scans. Your brain’s ability to change itself is called “neuroplasticity.” It allows brain cells and nerves to change their appearance and function, to grow, shrink, connect, disconnect and re-connect to each other in entirely new ways, to exchange duties and functions, to use unexpected parts of the brain for novel tasks, and to be malleable and accessible to new needs as they arise during an experience-driven life.
Science has shown that the brain is not only capable of this rich and surprising re-organization but that it also produces new neurons throughout our life. It was thought, until 1998, that we were born with billions of brain cells that would die off as we got older, and that no new cells would ever be born. In fact we are born and we die with millions of unused, unformed stem-cells in our brain. The potential for birthing these cells into live neurons exists throughout our life-time, pushing the boundaries of what we previously thought possible, especially in the fields of health and the recovery from injuries and illnesses.....Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc, (1904-1984), a mechanical engineer, physicist and Judo martial artist, who taught himself how to walk again in the 1940’s, after a serious knee injury and against all odds.
Through his own self generated exploratory learning process, he created an elegant and economical system of focused attention and unique movements that led thousands of individuals to overcome the results of accidents, illness and disabilities. He would not have succeeded if the brain wasn’t plastic. His novel movements were sequential, a property which has been shown to stimulate plasticity in the brain; they required attention, which has also been shown to change the brain, and they reproduced the complex non-linear strategies that are involved in our motor development from birth through age ten, which lead the brain to self-organize and spontaneously produce higher levels of organization and skill. Moshe inferred the plasticity of the brain from his voracious readings in the fields of health and sciences, his common sense and his observations of infants and small children learning to move.
The Feldenkrais Method is for anyone (children and adults) who wants to reconnect with their natural abilities to move, think and feel. It helps people of all ages discover new options to move with less effort and/or pain, and with improved function. Whether you want to be more comfortable sitting at the computer, playing an instrument, or learning to crawl or walk, these gentle movements can improve coordination, balance and performance.
Most of us think we have a brain so we can think. But actually we have a brain so we can move. The complex and crucial relationship between movement, vision, language, emotions, memory and other "higher" brain functions such as learning has only recently begun to be fully investigated.
Creative Learning Through Movement with Children
We begin life ready with a large palate of universal, reflexive movements. Rolling over, reaching for a desired object, hand grasping or crawling are motor development patterns that appear to be essential for the future development of reading, writing, memory and social interactions. In a healthy child, a particular movement or series of movements are investigated, enjoyed, and the corresponding neural circuits created. Once firmly established these circuits are moved to lower levels of the brain for connection to the whole body movement system. These neurological connections, first established to sequence gross motor movement, get reused later to help sequence and adjust mental acts and thoughts. Adequate movement and sensory stimulation, in the presence of another loving human being, are essential for normal human development.
This dependence on movement for brain development and function continues throughout life. The overwhelming importance of movement is evident from the amazing fact that 90% of the brain’s capacity is spent in orienting and moving the body in its gravitational field.
The natural state of a child is one of constant movement, curiosity, and play. They know what they need to do for their own development. If a movement sequence is interrupted, however, or fails to develop, important neurological circuits also fail to develop. These simple building blocks are then unavailable to support the development of more complex thoughts and actions in the future.
Early intervention can save a life-time of difficulties for the child, and wear and tear on the whole family system. It is never too late to change the course of a child’s inadequate development, whether physical or emotional. The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome, but the brain remains remarkably adaptable throughout childhood. If you are concerned about even subtle difficulties your child is experiencing we may be able to offer a surprisingly simple solution.
Chava Shelhav, who has done extensive research on the Feldenkrais Method® with children, found that “the Feldenkrais Method offers a process of organic learning through action, thereby teaching the ability to learn, and not just learning to be taught.” Through movement we experience our world. Long before verbal and cognitive development take center stage, we learn through our actions—through how we react to and interact with our environment and ourselves. By using movement as a vehicle for learning, we not only tap into these early learning patterns, but also into inherited ancient evolutionary patterns. This makes movement a potent and powerful learning tool. In “Creative Learning Through Movement” classes, our emphasis is not learning how to move, but rather using movement as an educational tool for learning. We solve movement puzzles, generate and develop ideas through doing and invent movement solutions. We play dynamic games that increase spatial awareness and develop interpersonal skills through nonverbal collaborations. We explore the anatomy of emotions and how we shape our feelings. We translate classroom curriculum into experiential education, making it tangible and personal.
By grounding problem solving, emotional exploration and creative thinking in physical experience and expression, Creative Learning through Movement fosters the relationship between our thinking, actions, feelings and sensations. This integrates cognitive, sensorial, emotional and motor development, adding greater potency and relevance to learning.