By Dinaz Boga
Somatic learning brings about changes in the brain, making it possible to re-learn and improve patterns of action through the Feldenkrais method.
A 42-year-old computer programmer with incipient wrist problems is able to increase his speed on the keyboard after learning how to use his arms and hands more efficiently.
A 28-year-old woman goes through her third pregnancy, but the first one without back pain.
They both used the Feldenkrais Method to overcome pain and discomfort. Everyone, from Olympic athletes, sports teams to theater directors and cerebral palsy patients, has used this method to heal.
The Feldenkrais Method is a non-invasive method of movement re-education, which brings about changes in the patterns of how people move by using the transformational abilities of the nervous system. Its purpose is to ultimately increase the ease and range of our movement, improve flexibility and co-ordination. Through gentle movement lessons, we become more aware of how our habits may restrict our moving through life easily and pleasurably. We learn new, easier options for movement. Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli scientist who was convinced that the easiest way of becoming aware of ourselves is through movement, devised the method. He said, ‘I believe that the unity of mind and body is an objective reality. They are not just parts somehow related to each other, but an inseparable whole while functioning. A brain without a body could not think.’
In the book, The Body of Life by Thomas Hanna, the essay on Integrating Neural Functions tells us of an incident during Feldenkrais’ days at Berkeley. George, a 53-year-old man suffering from cerebral palsy, visited him for a cure. George’s body was folded in upon itself from the middle line – arms and legs turned inward as he moved. His whole body was an uncoordinated cascade of spastic heaves and jerks, his face was contorted and his voice sounded like a barking seal. Also, the patient’s breath was jerky as his chest percolated with a spasmodic panting.
In the midst of the class, Feldenkrais asked George to lie on a long, narrow table. He laid a blanket on it and found a small roller to use as a headrest and asked George to lie on it. Lying on the table, George’s chest and stomach twitched arhythmically as he gasped for breath, involuntarily.
Feldenkrais told him to be as passive as he could and brought his hands to George’s rib cage, very slowly and gently. He would change his position and put pressure in different directions through the rib cage, the abdominal muscles and just underneath the bottom edge of the chest. After about 20 minutes of working on him and reminding him not to do anything, Feldenkrais did what nobody had done before. George seemed to be quieter and his chest was not heaving spasmodically. Feldenkrais continued to press, hold and occasionally change the pressure slightly. Then he released the chest one final time and stepped back. George lay there, serenely breathing in a quiet, slow, rhythmic pattern. His face showed astonishment. Fifty years of fitful, nightmarish breathing had vanished in just 20 minutes!
An athlete, engineer and nuclear physicist, Feldenkrais developed his method in an effort to cure his own, debilitating knee problems. He split the method in two parts – in what he termed Functional Integration, a teacher’s touch provides the guidance; and in Awareness Through Movement, a teacher verbally leads students through a small series of sequential movements. Here, movement is primarily used as the principal medium for learning and self-discovery. Many movements are based on the learning process of infants and evolutionary patterns observed in animals.
The Feldenkrais Method is not a therapy, although the outcome is often highly therapeutic; nor is it conventional physical education, although the individual may roll, twist, bend, lengthen and release. Feldenkrais frees the body by somatic learning…bringing about changes in the brain itself and so making it possible to re-learn and improve patterns of action. The Feldenkrais Method is based on principles of physics, biomechanics and an empirical understanding of learning and human development.
According to the Feldenkrais Method, our problem may be that we’re up against a deep neurological pattern – perhaps an unconscious freezing up around an old injury, perhaps simply habit. As we grow, say Feldenkrais teachers, our bodies settle into habitual patterns – the way we sit, stand, walk or work at a computer – movements so common we’re no longer aware of how we do them, or of having other choices. Often, these habitual movements aren’t optimal for us and can lead to pain, or, at the very least, an inability to reach our full potential. Feldenkrais offers a way to rearrange our body awareness down to the deepest neurological level. This enables us to make a wider range of movement choices, because the body is shown possibilities that were previously hidden.
The improvement of physical functioning is not necessarily an end in itself. Such improvement is based on developing a broader functional awareness, which is often a gateway to more generalized enhancement of physical functioning in the context of your environment and life.
The Method is beneficial for those experiencing chronic or acute pain of the back, neck, shoulder, hip, legs or knee, and for those wanting to enhance their self-image. It has been very helpful in dealing with central nervous system conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and stroke.
An aspect of his work called Awareness Through Movement, consists of verbally directed movement sequences presented primarily to groups. A lesson generally lasts from 30 to 60 minutes. The lessons consist of comfortable, easy movements that yagradually evolve into movements of greater range and complexity. These precisely structured movement explorations involve thinking, sensing, moving and imagining. Many are based on developmental movements and ordinary functional activities (reaching, standing, lying to sitting, looking behind yourself, etc). Some are based on more abstract explorations of joint, muscle, and postural relationships. There are hundreds of ATM lessons, varying in difficulty and complexity. Through increased awareness, you learn to abandon habitual patterns of movement and develop new alternatives, resulting in improved flexibility and coordination.
In Functional Integration, the teacher develops a lesson for you, custom-tailored to your unique configuration at that particular moment, relating to a desire, intention or need you have. Functional Integration is performed with the student usually lying on a table or with the student in sitting or standing positions. At times, various props (pillows, rollers, blankets) are used in an effort to support the person’s body configuration or to facilitate certain movements. The learning process is carried out without the use of any invasive or forceful procedure. It’s a hands-on form of actile, kinesthetic communication.
Says Nitin Naik, a Mumbai-based radiologist who practices the method from his home at Lokhandwala Complex in Andheri, ‘There’s not much awareness about the Feldenkrais Method in India, so I call it Movement Therapy and use it in combination with other therapies and counseling. This therapy has proved beneficial to students suffering from dyslexia and other learning disabilities too. Also old people can be taught how to do daily activities like walking, getting up, etc, without any discomfort.’ Naik also trains teachers in the Method.
The teacher communicates how you organize your body and, through gentle touching and movement, conveys the experience of comfort, pleasure and ease while you learn how to reorganize your body and behavior in new and more expanded functional motor patterns. For example, a lady complained of severe backache. Feldenkrais practitioners discovered that she was used to carrying a sling bag in a certain position that was not conducive to her being, thereby causing immense pain. They advised her to exercise and also change her sling bag to a backpack. A few days later, her pain disappeared! This method has worked wonders for those suffering from ailments all over the world.
Visit http://www.feldenkraisinstitute.org. Nitin Naik can be
contacted on 09819366858 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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