I had a new student come to class recently, a 28 year old woman with some varied personal and professional interests in Feldenkrais. We’ve carried on an email dialogue and I asked her permission to share some of it with you.
Thank you for the first class in the ATM series at the Marsh. It was really interesting for me… There were some things that I’ve been told about my body (e.g., that I have a right anterior innominate tilt to my pelvis and that I over-supinate) that I actually felt during class. While I had some intellectual understanding of what the terms meant, I had never experienced it in that way, physically sensing the embodiment of it. I also was able to sense a little bit of a shift during the class (though it wasn’t as dramatic as what some people were reporting). It was really interesting to me. Also interesting to me was that I was able to do it and be engaged with the process–I was a little worried about my ability… But, given your guidance, I was able to sustain more awareness of my body and my physical sensations during that hour than I think I ever have before.
It’s still early on in the series and I’m curious to see more as time goes on, but I have a couple of questions for you if that’s okay…
First, what is the ultimate goal of Feldenkrais? “Awareness Through Movement” seems to indicate that the goal is awareness, but is it awareness for its own sake or for the sake of something else (or both)? Also, you spoke about (and I read before about) integration and what we are doing changing something outside of the hour we do it in class. Is it the awareness that flows over or is there a change in how we move that we are striving for? I know you said it’s not a prescriptive movement program, but I guess I’m just curious as to what the broader goals are.
Second, I’m wondering if you could point me in the direction of some information on the mechanisms behind how Feldenkrais works. From what I’ve read so far, it seems to be based on the principles of neuroplasticity (while I’m no expert, I do have a fair grasp of the concept and how it works). I’m mostly curious as to how an hour a week can influence the brain and the neural pathways. I have read about the effect attention has on the formation of new/different neural pathways and how focus (especially intense focus) seems to increase and speed up the processes that occur due to neuroplasticity. I am just looking for some more in depth information on that subject and how Feldenkrais makes use of it. I’ve found some of the research on the effectiveness of Feldenkrais in different situations, but I’m looking for more of the theory/mechanisms behind the demonstrated effectiveness.
I should say, too, that the person who recommended Feldenkrais to me did so because he thought it fit in line with not only what I am doing and trying to do personally in my own life, but also in the professional/academic parts of my life. So, I’m curious to get a more in depth understanding.
Thanks for the detailed feedback and questions. A couple of ways to start to answer, but let’s call this a dialogue, not final thoughts, so write back if you want to!
For what I believe are your main questions, some direct answers: the ultimate goal of Feldenkrais? To improve how you live your life by empowering you with your own tools of self-awareness, so can follow your own curiosities about yourself in more detail, solve problems, weather the challenges that all our lives bring, and pursue excellence, comfort, satisfaction, and sustainability in whatever you choose to do with yourself.
So then your follow-up question about awareness: it’s a tool to expand your self-image so you can easily change your self-use when necessary or desirable. Awareness is a lovely thing, but not an end in itself.
How does it work? If you haven’t already, please read this: Feldenkrais Nuts and Bolts
It covers the basics of most applications of the method.
You asked a really interesting question regarding how does a one-hour-a week class effect neuroplastic change. I believe I alluded to the answer in class last week: we are trying to create an environment and exploration that leaves you fascinated with yourself and how you relate to the world. Your own fascination and curiosity, plus the “intense focus” you spoke of, is then what extends the neuroplastic change potential beyond class. The more you engage with our process and your new sensations and explorations, the more you will improve. This can be playing at home with movements you like and remember from class, or more passive, like simply noticing you find yourself feeling or doing things differently after class, the next day, the next week. It does even work with people who aren’t “thinking about” the lesson at all between lessons–such as small children–provided we make a meaningful impact in their own satisfaction and comfort within themselves in their movement during the lesson.
Or other ideas are here: Integrating Feldenkrais into Everyday Life
You said a couple of things that are really significant victories after a first lesson:
“There were some things that I’ve been told about my body (e.g., that I have a right anterior innominate tilt to my pelvis and that I over-supinate) that I actually felt during class. While I had some intellectual understanding of what the terms meant, I had never experienced it in that way, physically sensing the embodiment of it.” So that’s awareness! You had an intellectual concept, but now you have an embodiment. Only one of those two things gives you an organic start to changing behavior/integrating your whole self around an improvement process related to your actual current state.
“It was really interesting to me. Also interesting to me was that I was able to do it and be engaged with the process–I was a little worried about my ability… But, given your guidance, I was able to sustain more awareness of my body and my physical sensations during that hour than I think I ever have before.” Great…getting fascinated with yourself! This is an excellent first lesson response.
Don’t worry about others responding more expressively than you are to changes they feel. Subjective experience is so personalized. With what you say you felt, I think you’re well into the process. The more you can trust in the value and be present for the novel raw sensations and unusual movements, the more you are changing your brain and motor behavior. Not all lessons hit all people with “oh wow!” clarity, but over time a cumulative learning will become more obvious for anyone who engages these processes fully.
Moshe Feldenkrais was an intellectual, and there’s nothing about his work and teaching that is “voodoo,” so to speak. So keep thinking and asking questions! I can explain each step of a lesson and I enjoy the chance to talk about lessons. But while in the lessons, let some of those frontal lobe cognitive processes recede a bit so you can really play and explore in the language of sensation and movement. It’s our first and most important language, and very powerful for change.
To put it another way, and one it sounds like you’re familiar with: the period of your life in which you experienced the most neuroplastic change was when you were pre-verbal, and certainly not thinking like an adult!
Hope that helps! I look forward to learning more together.