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Improving Function

The Feldenkrais Method of somatic education is an approach to learning that can improve function in people of varying ages and abilities. Certified teachers and practitioners – a group that includes RMTs, physical therapists, athletic trainers and others – guide students and clients to sense, feel, think and move.


August 20, 2010
By Patricia A. Buchanan PhD ATC PT GCFT

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The Feldenkrais Method of somatic education is an approach to learning that can improve function in people of varying ages and abilities. Certified teachers and practitioners – a group that includes RMTs, physical therapists, athletic trainers and others – guide students and clients to sense, feel, think and move. Over the course of a series of lessons, patients enhance their embodied self-awareness, discover or recover options for more efficient action, and improve their self-efficacy for managing their health and well-being. While the method frames itself in the context of learning, it is also often used in therapeutic settings. In the United States, the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine identifies the Feldenkrais Method as a movement therapy within manipulative and body-based practices.

INDIVIDUAL AND GROUP LEARNING
There are two approaches to providing Feldenkrais lessons. Individual lessons, known as Functional Integration, provide one-on-one instruction, with the teacher/practitioner offering manual and verbal guidance through a series of controlled, exploratory movements. The manual contact affords an effective avenue for communication and exchange of information between the teacher and student/patient.

While this feature is not possible during group lessons, verbally guided Awareness Through Movement lessons offer a way to instruct many students at once, while providing low-cost access to the method. Students wear comfortably fitting clothing throughout both types of lessons.
Depending on the lesson, students could position themselves in chairs, on tables, or on the floor as they do movements while sitting, standing, lying, reaching, walking, rolling, and much more.

HISTORY OF THE METHOD
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Moshe Feldenkrais, DSc (1904-1984) conducted two practitioner training programs in the United States (San Francisco, California, and Amherst, Massachusetts) prior to his death. He had first trained teachers in his adopted homeland of Israel.

Dr. Feldenkrais lived in several European countries during two world wars, was a martial artist and Judo master, and coped with a knee injury well before the advent of modern sports medicine. Dr. Feldenkrais was educated in Paris as an engineer and physicist. While working with other scientists to support the Allied forces during the Second World War, he began to integrate his life experiences with his multidisciplinary studies to develop his method. After the war, his defense work quickly gave way to refining his method for self-improvement, teaching patients in Israel and around the world, recording more than 600 Awareness Through Movement lessons, and training practitioners.

REQUIREMENTS FOR CERTIFICATION
Today, people must complete a professional training program lasting about 800 hours typically over four years to qualify for certification as Guild Certified Feldenkrais PractitionersCM/Teachers. Teachers spend considerable time developing a thorough understanding of their own sensations, feelings, thoughts, and movements through Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration lessons. Midway through their training, they can begin to offer Awareness Through Movement lessons to the public. After they complete their training program, they can provide Functional Integration lessons to individual patients. Practitioners must complete regular continuing education requirements to maintain their certification.

WHAT RESEARCH IS SHOWING
Given the relative newness of the Feldenkrais Method, there is a limited body of research documenting its effectiveness and safety. Still, thousands of patients in the United States and Canada seek the services of Feldenkrais practitioners each year. They might try Feldenkrais lessons as a complement or alternative to medical care for a variety of musculoskeletal and neurological conditions that may be congenital, chronic or acute (Lundblad et al., 1999; Nair et al., 2005; Schon-Ohlsson et al., 2005). Others may want to enhance performance in sports or the performing arts, or stave off the decline in balance that typically accompanies aging (Ullmann et al., 2010).

Information about the characteristics and practice profiles of Feldenkrais practitioners is publicly available to guide patients and health-care providers in their decision making about use of and referral to the method, but, at this time, this information is somewhat limited. Currently, there are about 1,300 certified practitioners in the United States. Respondents to a recent preliminary survey of U.S. practitioners (Buchanan, 2010) indicated that most had part-time practices and lived in the west and northeast regions of the country. While the majority did not hold additional credentials as health-care providers or other complementary and alternative medicine providers, those who did most frequently had credentials in physical therapy and massage therapy. Members of the Feldenkrais Guild® of North America (FGNA) can be found by searching the online directory of practitioners (http://www.feldenkrais.com/). A recent review of the FGNA directory indicated that there are about 100 Feldenkrais practitioners in Canada within seven provinces and one territory. The vast majority of Canadian teachers lived in British Columbia and Ontario.

Given their skills and knowledge, more RMTs may chose to become certified and integrate this method into their practices. Alternatively, they may decide to network with Feldenkrais practitioners in their area in order to provide this option to their patients.

While many students and practitioners are confident in the ability of the Feldenkrais Method to safely and effectively assist people to self-organize more efficient actions, and thereby improve function, others want to see more research-based evidence and examine the underlying mechanisms and processes (Buchanan & Ulrich, 2001). As a step to facilitate growth in these areas, a new website directed to persons interested in research is now available at Feldenkrais Science Network (www.feldscinet.org) under the auspices of the Esther Thelen, PhD, GCFP Research and Education Fund of the Feldenkrais® Educational Foundation of North America.

Readers can view the references to find sources for more information related to the Feldenkrais Method. The list includes Dr. Feldenkrais’s book, Awareness Through Movement, in which he described his approach to learning along with 12 classic lessons. Recorded lessons and other publications, a research bibliography, and much more information are available through the FGNA website.

Above all, people need to experience the Feldenkrais Method to better understand it and its potential and, in the words of Moshe Feldenkrais, “. . . to expand the boundaries of the possible: to turn the impossible into the possible, the difficult into the easy, and the easy into the pleasant.”

References

  1. Buchanan P, Ulrich B. The Feldenkrais Method: a dynamic approach to changing motor behavior. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 2001;72(4) (Dec):315-323. [available at http://iffresearchjournal.org/volume/1]
  2. Buchanan P. A preliminary survey of the practice patterns of United States Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioners(CM). BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine. 2010 Apr 1;10(1):12. [available at http://www.biomedcentral.com/
  3. content/pdf/1472-6882-10-12.pdf]
  4. Feldenkrais M. Awareness Through Movement: Health Exercises for Personal Growth. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.
  5. Feldenkrais Guild® of North America and Feldenkrais® Educational Foundation of North America http://www.feldenkrais.com/
  6. Feldenkrais Science Network http://www.feldscinet.org/
  7. Lundblad I, Elert J, Gerdle B. Randomized controlled trial of physiotherapy and Feldenkrais interventions in female workers with neck-shoulder complaints. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation. 1999;9(3) (Sep):179-94.
  8. [available at http://iffresearchjournal.org/volume/1]
  9. Nair D, Fuchs A, Burkart S, Steinberg F, Kelso J. Assessing recovery in middle cerebral artery stroke using functional MRI. Brain Injury. 2005;19(13) (Dec):1165-76.
  10. Schon-Ohlsson C, Willen J, Johnels B. Sensory motor learning in patients with chronic low back pain: a prospective pilot study using optoelectronic movement analysis. Spine. 2005;30(17) (Sep 1):Online Exclusive: E509-16.
  11. Ullmann G, Williams H, Hussey J, Durstine J, McClenaghan B. Effects of Feldenkrais exercises on balance, mobility, balance confidence, and gait performance in community-dwelling adults age 65 and older. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine. 2010;16(1) (Jan):97-105.

Pat Buchanan is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Teacher, certified athletic trainer, physical therapist, and associate professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at Des Moines University in Iowa. Her research focuses on motor development from a dynamic systems perspective and the effects of interventions targeting improved movement and awareness.


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