My experiences with Feldenkrais
(and answers to some FAQs)
by Sanjeev Arora,
October 2007 (some updates from Aug'08)
We are all aware that some people's bodies are better organized than
ours. I am not just talking about the Roger Federers of the world, but
also about that friend of yours from college who seems to pick up new
effortlessly, and glides through his or her day without any sign of
trouble or effort. The rest of us have bodies that seem compromised in
various ways. Some have a stooped posture, others walk with a curious
shuffling gate, yet
others are flat-footed and must wear arch supports or orthotics in
their shoes (as I did for 10 years). We see this diversity and tend to
think:"This just the way the body/skeleton happens to be."
It has therefore been a source of great surprise to me that most such
aspects of the body can be brought under our control and changed using
something called the Feldenkrais method. I was led to this method while
seeking a solution to a RSI/typing related injury
that wouldn't go
However, in retrospect
I realize that in addition to curing my RSI it gave me a
much better sense of my body and a much better posture and alignment.
Every aspect of my life ---swimming, walking, sleeping, picking up new
etc.---became easier and lighter. It let me do things like
rollerblading that I was convinced I could never do.
What is the Feldenkrais method?
Here is an introduction on
youtube, and a description
on a website.
Feldenkrais method, invention
of Israeli physicist
Moshe Feldenkrais, is a way of retraining the body. There are two modes
of this retraining. The first is group classes called
Awareness Through Movement or ATMs, which are reminiscent of yoga or
tai chi classes, but very different. (For instance, the
instructor makes no movements; he/she sits around and talks while you
movements!) The second mode ---more capable of causing dramatic
sessions (called Functional
Integration or FI) with a trained practitioner, which can cost
about $100 per hour in the US. In such a session you lie fully clothed
on a low
table and the practitioner gently moves or presses your body in
different directions to make you aware of (a) subconscious tension and
holding patterns that make your movement less efficient (b)
efficient ways of coordinating your body.
FI is the trump card of the Feldenkrais method, which I think makes it
superior to yoga, tai-chi, pilates etc. Good practitioners of
Feldenkrais have tremendous insight into movement problems, and
importantly, they have ways of getting the "fix" into
subconscious brain (after all, did it ever help anybody to be told
"Don't slouch! Sit up straighter!").
A feature of this method is
the emphasis on doing movements extremely slowly and gently, which is
essential for breaking out of habitual movement patterns and learning
new ones. This emphasis on slow movement also
makes it ideal for older people or those who are in chronic pain.
Feldenkrais is not an exercise routine, though
Feldenkrais principles can be incorporated into exercise routines
(including yoga/pilates/weight training/sports). However, exposure
to Feldenkrais will lead you to question most received wisdom about
traditional exercise routines and strength building. After learning
more efficient ways of using the muscles you already have, you may
decide that you are already strong enough.
OK, but what are the basic principles of this method?
Moshe based his method on scientific principles and written about
them (see recommendations below). This
scientific approach appeals to me (as opposed to vague
notions of "energy blockage" etc. from Eastern systems). His many
inspirations included martial arts (he was one of
earliest Judo black belts in the west), child development,
biomechanics, the Alexander technique, brain
research, psychology, and Eastern systems such as
acupuncture and yoga. His approach is somatic, which means that it sees
mind and body as one whole.
But knowing the principles is not required to benefit from the method.
All that is required is to do slow, careful movement, while paying
attention to things pointed out by your teacher. The end goal is
better organization of the body, so that it
learns to "hang" its
weight on the skeleton (specifically, using the extensor muscles, which
are the antigravity muscles evolved by nature; these do not tire easily
and their work is not registered by the conscious brain),
and to reserve flexor muscles for voluntary movement. (This, by
the way, is also a principle behind most martial arts, though it is not
often described this way.)
walk into an ATM
class, the sight of people lying on the floor and doing movements might
remind you of babies. This is by design. Lying on the ground
neutralizes our familiar responses to gravity (e.g., slouching), and
makes us explore movement like an infant. In fact, a
well-developed child is often a natural at Feldenkrais---I know because
have tested my 5-year old!
(I think the photo is from Feldenkrais Institute
of NY. )
The method discourages mindless repetition ("exercise" a la Jane Fonda)
or any kind of macho attitude. Movement lessons are meant to be
done with a spirit of exploration ---so no two repetitions should feel
the same---and with great gentleness towards your body. (Feldenkrais
commented that the old and the frail are his best students, the
Most Feldenkrais teachers discourage questions along the
line of "what is the best way to stand/sit/walk/breathe/ do
Their goal is to make your brain realize that it has many choices for
movement, and to let your subconscious brain pick the best choice for
Moshe Feldenkrais felt that his method is a
general method of learning, and would have applications to many other
things besides retraining the body. Some practitioners are using
Feldenkrais principles in other disciplines such as music instruction,
which sounds intriguing.
Does Feldenkrais lead to relaxation/better posture/solution to
Quite likely, but these are side effects rather than a primary goal.
Feldenkrais's chief insight concerns efficient movement. Inefficient
movement is essentially bad coordination among muscles, resulting
in internal stress and muscular spasms. Following his methods
result in relaxation. (Thus Feldenkrais is a good
alternative to massage in that sense.) It improves posture
which is also a
manifestation of inefficient muscular
organization involving muscles that hold up the skeleton.
Feldenkrais techniques can solve problems that arise from inefficient
body organization. By teaching you to pay more attention to your body
it can also give you the confidence to solve your own problems. For
instance, I used to wear orthotics (custom arch support) that a
podiatrist had prescribed for me 10 years ago in response to persistent
foot problems. After experience with Feldenkrais I suddenly realized
one day that the orthotic was very bad for
me (and, I venture to suggest, for most people, since it is based on
the fallacy that "if your foot hurts, the problem must lie in the
foot"). I threw it away even
though it was
prescribed by a doctor, cost $300, and had "solved" my foot pain. I
had become more confident and aware of my body. Indeed I have not
any foot trouble in the year since then (though I had to retrain my
foot and knees a bit using Feldenkrais principles).
People report all kinds of unexpected payoffs from doing Feldenkrais
like a better tennis backhand, or better musical performance.
Feldenkrais also changes your understanding of pain. It makes you see
the direct connection between inefficient body organization and
many kinds of pain, and furthermore, how to stop such pain within
minutes by new movement choices.
My own experiences and suggestions based upon them
I turned to Feldenkrais because a friend I respected a lot suggested it
as a solution to my hand and arm pain (RSI). I went to ATM classes and
from a local teacher in Princeton NJ. Though these whetted my
curiosity, they did not solve my RSI problems.
I found an excellent teacher, Angel DiBenedetto,
during a 5-month stay in
Seattle. She learned from Moshe Feldenkrais, and is herself a trainer
of other Feldenkrais teachers. Eight lessons from her
(over a 3-month period) completely changed my view of my body. My
hand was much better but still not 100%. Also, I sensed the tremendous
potential of this method and wanted to go further. So I took 8-9
another amazing teacher, Anat Krivine,
during a subsequent 4-month stay
in Israel. Anat is also a trainer of Feldenkrais teachers. It was very
useful for me to learn from multiple teachers, since no two
the same perspective. One important thing that Anat finally made me
realize and give up was my
tendency to ask for "the best way to do X"
which I think was limiting my learning. Furthermore, unknown to me, she
had a special interest in scoliosis (sideways curve of the spine) which
turned out to be relevant to my problems. By the end, my hand problems
were completely gone and my scoliosis (which the medical profession
thinks of as a skeletal problem, with no cure) much reduced. (See the
links below for an explanation of scoliosis and the Feldenkrais
approach to it.)
So what can you expect when you get Feldenkrais lessons from a good
teacher? The immediate sensation is one of calm that you
have never known. You may realize that you have lived in a background
of muscular tension that you had never noticed until it went away.
(Kind of like the change in background noise level you might notice if
you moved from Manhattan to Montana.) This
can be a powerful, even emotional experience. It is a good idea
to savor this calm right after the lesson, and to take a
nap. You may feel great, but avoid the temptation to go out and do
something strenuous. (Skip your usual exercise routine for a day or
two.) The calm may dissipate over the next few hours and days, but in
future sessions it will last longer and longer, until it becomes part
of your everyday state.
The FI's implant new ideas into your body, and over the next few days
and weeks it will slowly imbibe them and change. Do not be surprised if
you find yourself doing things differently.
Another thought that might occur to you is that much of what you have
is wrong. You will learn that often pain is caused by faulty movement
kind of damage to the body. Thus pain can be produced and
taken away at will, using simple change in movements. This knowledge is
extremely empowering for people who have suffered from chronic pain.
(Update Aug 2008): During the
year since I first wrote my page, I have continued to do ATMs every
week, and felt continuous
and noticeable improvement. However, I also slowly became more and more
aware of the asymmetries still left over from my scoliosis. These were
interfering with my enjoyment of activities I had newly started (Capoeira,
rollerskating, and running). In
Summer 2008 I got a few lessons from another excellent teacher, Reuven
(Robbie) Ofir, in Manhattan. (I heard of him from a friend.) Robbie is
also a Feldenkrais trainer and a
former head of
physical therapy at a leading NYC hospital. Robbie helped me work
out some deep
asymmetries and tensions in my body. Robbie also taught me do
ATMs at an even slower and gentler pace that I used to, which has taken
my learning to a higher level. I feel truly great now. But Robbie
has helped me appreciate that there is no end to the process of
improvement with the Feldenkrais method. (Encouraged by this, I also
took my aged parents to Robbie for a few
lesson, which helped them a lot. They are from
India and Feldenkrais is unlike anything they have experienced.)
I plan to
occasional FI or two in future years to continue this learning. In
particular I plan to explore the use of the method in voice and music.
I suggest going to the best Feldenkrais teacher you have access to,
even if it entails a long drive. One lesson from a great teacher can be
better than several lessons from a so-so teacher. ( (You can find
teachers in your geographic region from www.feldenkrais.com. The number
in the parenthesis after the name indicates their "graduation year"
from training, which gives some idea of how experienced they are. A
trains other Feldenkrais practitioners should be a good bet; usually
you can find out from the teacher's website if he/she is a
trainer.) If possible, try to get
lessons from more
than one teacher.
ATMs can be a tremendous learning resource to supplement FI
lessons. In restrospect, I realize that the best lessons my teachers
was on how to do ATMs. ("Give a man a fish and he can feed himself that
day. Teach a man how to fish, and he can
feed himself for the rest of his life.") Another eye opener was
video of 60-year old Ruthy Alon quickly going through various
standard ATMs. (Note that when
first learning the movement you do it infinitely slower than Ruthy does
Various teachers have recorded excellent ATM lessons on tapes and
CDs (see recommendations
below). But attending a live ATM with a good teacher
teach you (a) the right speed and attitude for doing ATMs (b) learn
variations that may be suitable for you (c) encourage you to
and lose the attitude of trying to find the "best" way to do the
As for FI, do not make the mistake of treating it like a massage or
relaxation session. The right attitude is one of curiosity and play.
(However, some teachers discourage extensive talking during the session
since they think that this kind of learning needs to be physical and
Finally, I strongly feel that one can only go so far with receiving FIs
Instead one should have an exploratory attitude towards the body at all
times, and should invent/explore new movements. After all, infants do
not wait for adults to teach them how to move.
They continuously explore movement and try all sorts of variations
until a new person emerges.
Suggestions for advanced learners
Many people only take a few FIs, until their immediate problem is
resolved. This is fine. If you choose to go further, I suggest learning
some of the
theoretical concepts of the method. Here are some.
"Fechner weber principle." It
says that the smallest difference in stimuli we can discern is
proportional to the magnitude of the larger stimulus. (See explanation here.)
This is the reason why slow gentle movements are emphasized in the
Feldenkrais method. When you are doing movements with very little
effort, your brain is able to easily register differences between
various movement options and to pick the one that is most efficient.
"Reversibility." Almost every
voluntary muscle in our body has an opposing muscle which produces the
Reversible movement occurs when opposing muscles work harmoniously;
such movement feels light and can be reversed at any point.
"Proximal versus distal."
Proximal means close to the center of the body (ie., pelvis) and distal
means further from the center of the body. Thus the elbow is more
proximal than the hand, but more distal than the shoulder. The shoulder
is in turn more distal than the lower back, etc. Often the same
movement can be produced using different mixes of proximal and distal
muscles, and efficient movement is that which derives most of
its power from proximal parts. Of course, one can't possibly sit and
analyze every movement in these terms all day, but it is good to know
these concepts when exploring new movement
patterns. This knowledge can also be the basis of powerful
relief: substituting the work of a muscle using more proximal
muscle, even for a minute, can sometimes get rid (even forever)
of pain that you
thought was chronic.
"Stretching is usually
counterproductive." Stretching has for years been a part of
physical culture despite little scientific evidence in its favor.
Of course, stretching an aching muscle feels good
temporarily. But the stretched muscle will then snap back and start
aching again (sometimes even worse than before). A basic principle in
Feldenkrais is to go *with* the movement of an achy, tight muscle
rather than *against* it (i.e., let it contract even more, either
by external force or by a more proximal
movement) and then it will suddenly release. This is the
basis of the magical release from muscular tension that your teacher
can give you in an FI. If you observe carefully what they are doing,
after some lessons you can do the same tricks on yourself. You can also
read Rywerant's book mentioned later. (However, I
don't recommend practicing on others, especially if they have any kind
of chronic problems.) It is also the basis of why your movement
becomes light and easy during an ATM lesson. This avoidance of
stretching is one way in which Feldenkrais is the
opposite of yoga (and safer for most people, in my opinion).
"Learning new movement patterns."
This is the truly magical part of an FI. If your body is missing
a basic movement pattern, it cannot pick it up on its own (even by
observing others). Many manipulations in an FI session are meant to
introduce new patterns. Watch out for them! Some of them can produce
"You have to lose it many times
before its is finally yours." This was a mantra of my teacher
Anat. Many times your body learns something new in an FI session and
you discover some new talent; eg a very light and easy way to walk or
stand or sit. Savor it while you can. Do not be discouraged (or demand
your money back!) when you lose it. You will lose it and regain it a
few times before the body/brain feels safe to replace the old
movement pattern with the new.
Recommended books and tapes/CDs
The best introduction is a few FIs from a good teacher and a few ATMs.
Some additional resources appear below.
Useful websites:Feldenkrais Guild,
Resources , Achieving
Excellence, and Feldenkrais Institute.
Some good recorded lessons available from the above sources. I
emphasize that recorded ATMs are a means of "self-study" in this work,
and should be complemented with at least a few FIs.
Feldenkrais is too counterintuitive to pick up by "self-study" alone.
(i) CDs of Moshe's 1977 San Francisco
workshop. The sound quality is a bit iffy though acceptable, and Moshe
displays crankiness (Israeli directness?) at times, which can be
or annoying. Sometimes his instructions are unclear. Sometimes these
ATMs can be physically or at least conceptually challenging. So these
are best attempted only after several FIs from a good teacher. (ii)
Questel's recordings are clearer, and his style a bit touchy-feely in a
good way. His ATMs are fun and
often less physically challenging
than Moshe's. (This is not a put-down; remember that macho attitudes
have to be checked at the door.) (iii) Frank Wildman's lessons
are extremely clear and precise, though I did not find the end result
as inspiring as Moshe or Questel. (iv) I recommend
Elizabeth Beringer for beginners; she has a direct but user-friendly
style. (v) (Added Aug 2008:) I now also recommend the Open ATM project
(linked below); it is good and it is free.
Good books: Most popular books I have found do not do justice
method because they seem to be trying to turn it mainstream like yoga
or pilates. (Frank
Wildman's book seems best in this popular genre.) My
entire interest in the method derives from the fact that it was
invented by a scientist and has some scientific principles that make
sense to me. Moshe's
through Movement" (especially the 15-20 pages leading up to
the description of the movement lessons) is perhaps the most succinct
introduction to the basic principles. Moshe wrote several
other books which are chockful of
insight but at times he seems to be in need of a good editor. With that
caveat I recommend them, as well as the the
book by his disciple Ruthy Alon. For more advanced material,
Rywerant's book, which is quite clearly written. You may be able to
find many of them at a good library (as I did).
of scoliosis and renowned Feldenkrais teacher Anat
Baniel's approach to it.
- Kinesophics, a website
and blog by a Feldenkrais teacher. Features recorded ATMs and blog
entries about them.
of articles on the method.
- (Added Aug 2008) The
Open ATM project. A great website by two teachers who have recorded
some of Moshe's classic lessons (hitherto available only to teachers)
and made them freely available. I like
their exposition, and have especially benefitted from Tracy Godek's
lessons. Her exposition is new-agey and eclectic but in a good way. She
put much thought into her lessons and included information that was
missing in Moshe's CDs. I suggest doing her lessons in sequence
they have a certain internal logic. I hope more Feldenkrais teachers
will follow the fine example set by Tracy and Sharon, or contribute to
Open ATM project.
- To get some idea of the ease with which ATMs can be done, check
out these videos of Ruthy Alon.
Part 1, Part
3. The new-agey exposition is, in my experience, somewhat
atypical of Feldenkrais practitioners.