Give old muscle movements new options

Feldenkrais Method helps break bad habits

People usually try the Feldenkrais Method because they are experiencing pain and discomfort, says Alice Brydges, a certified movement therapist and Feldenkrais practitioner in San Francisco. That’s how she was introduced to this therapy that harnesses the intelligence of the central nervous system through movement and guided attention.

As a dancer, she kept injuring herself over and over again. "I would recover from the injury for a while, but it always came back. I explored every therapy known to man, yet I couldn’t stop hurting myself," says Brydges. Then she attended an Awareness Through Movement class that taught the Feldenkrais Method.

As she lay on the floor, following the instructor’s verbal directions for movement — which included a lot of turning her head in one direction while looking in the opposite direction — she thought the exercises weren’t doing much good. However, when she stood up, she felt like she was in a different person’s body. The pain was gone and it never came back. The experience prompted her to train as a practitioner.

Now she works with people who are often as frustrated as she was. They are drawn to her Awareness Through Movement class or private sessions called Functional Integration for a variety of reasons. Women who’ve had mastectomies and are experiencing movement restrictions in their arms are interested in the Feldenkrais Method, as are professional athletes and dancers who want to learn how to move better. A bass guitar player who hurts his back each time he plays is trying to show his body new options for movement.

It’s easy to develop habitual movement patterns. The Feldenkrais Method helps people become aware of habitual body positions and movements that can cause problems. Also, it helps them learn new ways of moving that might be more natural for them. "You move in a way that is familiar and you can’t get out of that rut, but the nervous system is intelligent and it doesn’t take a lot to learn something else," says Brydges. The Feldenkrais Method introduces so many options that the ruts begin to smooth out and the person is no longer committed to moving in only one way, she explains.

Non-intrusive therapy

During her classes, Brydges verbally guides participants through various choreographed movements. She does not demonstrate them, because the therapy is very individualized and people are to refrain from forcing their body into a position, which they might do if following the example of a teacher. For example, if the directions are to roll to the side, participants should only roll as far as is comfortable for them.

There are thousands of choreographed sequences in the Feldenkrais Method. Some are based on human developmental patterns, such as crawling, rolling, rolling to sit, and hand-eye coordination. "Most of the lessons are done lying down, and the reason for that is our anti-gravity muscles that hold us upright are very firmly entrenched in our nervous system and our movement pattern," says Brydges. Lying down takes the person out of the field of gravity, allowing other muscle groups to be accessed.

While classes are more affordable than a session with a practitioner, generally $7 to $10 versus $60 to $100, individual consultations are an option. During the session, a person would be asked to sit or lie on a low, wide padded table. The practitioner might observe the person performing specific movements while lying down or standing up. The practitioner also might guide the person through movements, noting areas of strain and movement difficulty. The practitioner would then verbally guide the person through movement sequences that would indicate problem movements and give the person more options for movement, says Brydges.

Feldenkrais overcame his own disability

Moshe Feldenkrais developed the Feldenkrais Method in the early 1950s. After being disabled, he used his background in science to teach himself how to walk again by studying human movement. Now practitioners learn his methods to aid others who are injured, in chronic pain, or want to learn to move better.

The best way to find a practitioner is through the Feldenkrais Guild of North America. The Guild has a directory on its Web site (www.feldenkrais.com). If a practitioner is not available, instructional audiotapes can be used, says Brydges. (For a list of resources, see note below.) People often find it helpful to either repeat the movements at a class or on their own. It helps to remind the body of the new options for movement so it won’t go back to old, familiar ways, says Brydges.

[Editor’s note: A selection of audiotapes for beginners as well as people who have taken an Awareness Through Movement Class can be ordered through Feldenkrais Resources, 830 Bancroft Way, Suite 112, Berkeley, CA 94710. Telephone: (800) 765-1907. Fax: (510) 540-7683. E-mail: feldenres@aol.com. World Wide Web: www.feldenkrais-resources.com.] 

Need more information?

To learn more about the Feldenkrais Method, contact:

Alice Brydges, Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner and Movement Therapist. Telephone: (415) 664-8113. E-mail: abrydges@onebox.com. World Wide Web: www.senseyourself.com. Brydges has created a cassette tape series with an instructional booklet for breast cancer survivors. The series is called Unbound! Gentle Movement Lessons for Breast Cancer Survivors. It costs $59.95 and is available on her Web site.