By Virginia VanZanten, published on November 1, 2010 - last reviewed on March 8, 2011
The Feldenkrais method may not have yoga's ubiquity or Tai Chi's foreign flair, but a loyal group of about 6,000 practitioners worldwide credit this system of somatic education with everything from increasing range of motion to easing stress.
Feldenkrais is a series of simple kinetic lessons and verbal directives that help students pay attention to their movements and, if necessary, modify them for maximum efficiency. Developed by Israeli physicist Moshe Feldenkrais in the 1950s, the approach has long been in the canon of mind-body medicine.
The goal of Feldenkrais is to retrain the muscles that slip into detrimental patterns, like tensing your shoulders when you're frazzled, says Erin Ferguson, a practitioner in Boulder, Colorado. When you break the physical cycle, the theory goes, often the underlying emotional cycle—in this case, of stress—lessens, too.
Ferguson believes the method has remained relatively under-the-radar because of our society's penchant for results rather than process. "People don't want to slow down and become aware of what they're doing," she says. "They want quick fixes, which Feldenkrais is not."
During a session, a practitioner asks patients to make a simple movement: walking, or raising an arm, while tuning in to the mechanics. The practitioner then suggests subtle shifts to make the motion easier on the body, calling attention to, say, the way the heel hits the ground or how the ribs flex. By recognizing how their muscles and skeletons interact, Feldenkrais students can choose the most comfortable way to move.
In an American Journal of Pain Management study, patients with chronic pain reported huge gains in mobility and decreased pain after a six-week Feldenkrais course, with continued benefits one year later. Other research suggests the method boosts mobility and improves function in patients with brain trauma, autism, stroke, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. Athletes, dancers, and musicians often turn to Feldenkrais to hone their movement.
"People are hooked by how much change they can create via paying attention to their movement," Ferguson says. "The intelligence is indisputably affecting."
There are more than 1,000 lessons in the Feldenkrais portfolio. This short series alters the relationship between the eye muscles and the neck and back muscles, relieving tension and improving range of motion.