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Awareness Through Movement

by Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc.

M
an is an animal because more years to achieve perfection. MOVEMENT
of his structure. But The ability to utter noises (i.e., the
he is the highest animal animal part of speech) improves The best clue to the activity of the
and a human being because of the with growth in both man and other human nervous system is movement.
functioning of his nervous system. mammals, but a person who grows Tremors, paralysis, ataxia, impeded
The hand of man differs only slightly to be an adult outside a human speech, and poor muscular
from that of an ape - in the position society may never reach the skill of control generally indicate injury
and movement of the thumb - but the an average human being. Animal or derangement of the function of
nervous system of man allows him to instinct is phylogenetic learning, or the brainstem or other parts of the
use the muscles and bones of his hand the learning of the species; human nervous system. Movement or its
to do what an anthropoid ape cannot learning is ontogenetic - i.e., it absence shows the state of the nervous
do: the fine, manipulative, specifically needs personal experience. In short, system, its hereditary endowment,
human movements such as writing, learning is to the human nervous and its degree of development.
playing an instrument, counting bank system what instinct is to animals. Movement occurs only when the
notes, repairing a watch, or focusing Dogs, for instance, learn nervous system sends the impulses
a microscope. spontaneously all canine languages, that contract the necessary muscles
and a Chinese dog can communicate in the right patterns or assemblies
with an American dog as well as with and in the right sequences in time.
a Persian one. But a human nervous When born, we can do very little
TWO MODES OF LEARNING voluntary movement besides crying
system “wired in” through personal,
Learning the two uses of the hand individual experience can speak and contracting all the flexors in an
happens in two different modes. The only one language. The remaining undifferentiated effort. We learn
common movements of the hands are two thousand or so tongues will by experience how to roll, crawl, sit
spontaneous and improve with the remain forever foreign unless the up, walk, speak, run, jump, balance,
growth of every normal animal - ape or individual engages in new learning. rotate, and do whatever else we are
man. The fine, human, manipulative Instinct has certain drawbacks, as does capable of performing as adults.
skills, however, must be taught to human learning. Instinct is useless in Our consciousness becomes gradually
every individual human being in a a suddenly changed environment, or adjusted to our surrounding
specific way and at a proper time. a completely new situation. The value environment. The first contacts with
The specific mode of learning of learning depends on the choice the outside world are through the skin
(perhaps the most important and the quality of what is learned. and mouth. Later we learn to use the
property of the human nervous The human nervous system, however, parts of out bodies separately and
system) is apparent not only in man’s in which the patterns of actions are regulate them through seeing them.
hands but in all his functions. Man’s wired in during the learning process The major difficulty is differentiation
upright stance, his gait, his speech - and are not inherited (as are instincts), of movements. Thus the fourth finger
all are learned and need several years has a major advantage: relearning or will remain clumsy unless we play an
of apprenticeship and then many re-education is comparatively easy. instrument or make a special point of
learning to move it at will. Usually,
however, we manage to bring the all- their responses to most stimuli in the lying position, prone or supine,
or-none response of the primitive wired in to their nervous systems in to facilitate the breaking down of
muscular contraction to a more or the form of instinctive patterns of muscular patterns. The habitual
less perfectly differentiated voluntary action, they go wrong less frequently. pressures on the soles of the feet and the
activity. Normally, we arrive at this Even more irritating, we have little ensuing configuration of the skeletal
naturally, i.e., without being aware of opportunity to become aware of where joints are suppressed. The nervous
the process involved, or of the state or we went wrong. Since we are the system does not receive the habitual
degree of perfection achieved in our learner and the judge at the same time, afferent stimuli due to gravitation, and
apprenticeship. The majority of us our judgement depends on, and is the efferent impulses are not linked
achieve a happy-go-lucky mediocrity, limited to, our learning achievements. into the habitual patterns. After
just enough to make us one of the Obviously, to improve, we individuals the lessons, on receiving again the
many. have to better our judgment. But habitual stimuli, one is surprised to
judgment is the result of learning discover a changed response to them.
already completed. The lessons are done as slowly and
THE FELDENKRAIS METHOD pleasantly as possible, with no strain
or pain whatsoever; the main object
My technique of bringing about INCREASE IN SENSITIVITY is not to receive training in what one
better maturation of our nervous knows, but to discover unknown
To break this vicious circle, we
system uses the reversible relationship reactions in oneself and thereby learn
must use the basic quality of the
of our muscular and nervous systems. a better, more congenial way of acting.
supralimbic part of our brain, which
Both have evolved in the gravitational The movements are light, so that
field, which sets the standard is able to sense and abstract and after fifteen or twenty repetitions
both for the development and often even express in words what is the initial effort drops to practically
happening in our bodies. By reducing
apprenticeship of each individual and nothing more than a thought. This
all stimuli to their bare minimum,
also for the evolution of the species. produces the maximum sensitivity in
we also reduce to its lowest value
The extraordinary development of the the person and enables him to detect
frontal lobes in man shows that theany change in our muscular system the minute changes in the efferent
and sense. We thus increase our
functioning of these is an evolutionary tonus and the change in alignment
improvement and helps the survival sensitivity to its maximum and can of the different parts of the body.
of the fittest. This development of therefore distinguish the finer details By the end of the lessons, one
the human brain becomes effective that escaped our notice before. We feels that his body in hanging
are like a color-blind person to whom
through its growth after birth and is lightly from his head, his feet do
thus directed and molded through the ability to differentiate between not stamp on the ground, and
personal individual experience. red and green has been restored. his body glides when moving.
Once the ability to differentiate is The head, which carries all the
improved, the details of the self or the teleceptors - eyes, ears, nostrils,
surroundings can be better sensed; we and mouth - and which turns right
OPPORTUNITY AND
become aware of what we are doing and left in almost every movement,
VULNERABILITY
and not what we say or think we are attending to changes in the space
As a result, man has both the doing. around us, should turn with a
extraordinary opportunity - given smoothness unequaled by the most
to no other animal - to build up perfect man-made mechanism. Of
a body of learned responses and LESSONS IN THE METHOD all the teleceptors, the eyes also move
the special vulnerability of going right and left, relative to the head,
wrong. Since other animals have To begin with, the lessons take place and their movement in the direction
of the head’s rotation or opposite to it APPLICATIONS OF THE REFERENCES
should be gliding and easy. METHOD
Darwin, C. R. Expressions of the
By seeing all functioning as a emotions in man and animals. New
manifestation of the nervous system, York: AMS Press, 1972.
RESULTS the Feldenkrais method has universal Feldenkrais, M. Body and Mature
applicability. I have taught world- Behavior. New York: International
Training a body to perfect all the
famous musicians, violinists, and Universities Press, 1970.
possible forms and configurations
pianists, such as the well-known Feldenkrais, M. Awareness through
of its members not only changes the
conductor Igor Markevitch, who has movement: Heath exercises for personal
strength and flexibility of the skeleton
used my services in the international growth. New York: Harper & Row,
and muscles, but makes a profound
course of orchestra conductors in 1972.
change in the self-image and the
Salzburg and in the opera of Monte Pribram, K. H. Languages of the
quality of direction of the self.
Carlo for many years. In the last few brain. (Experimental Psychology
years I have taught yearly for Peter Series.) Englewood Cliffs, NJ.:
Brook in his International Centre of Prentice-Hall, 1971.
TWO MAJOR TECHNIQUES Theatre Research in Paris, as well as Young, J. Z. An introduction to the
in San Juan Batista, where he worked study of man. New York: Oxford
The method employs a manipulative
with El Teatro Campesino, and at University Press, 1974.
and a group technique. The
manipulative technique is necessarily the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
individual and is custom tailored The drama faculties of Carnegie-
to fit the particular needs of the Mellon University, the University of
person. About thirty different Pittsburg, New York University, and
positions of the body are used. many others have used my techniques.
Historically, the manipulative I have also done work with chronic
technique was the first to be evolved. ailments and deficiencies.
The group technique was created to SEMINARS IN THE METHOD
produce the effect of the manipulative
teaching in the greatest possible The Feldenkrais Institute is located
number of people. (The word in Tel Aviv, Israel. Here teachers
teaching indicates that the changes are trained in the manipulative
in self-image are produced by the technique in a three-year course,
pupil through becoming aware of using the group technique.
his changed body image.) Lessons I have held seminars lasting a month or
have been broadcast by Swiss Radio six weeks each in Washington, D.C.,
Zurich for two years. To date, nearly New York, Berkeley, and Big Sur;
a thousand lessons of forty-five shorter seminars have been conducted
minutes each exist in Hebrew and a in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Seattle.
few hundred in English, French and Similar training has been given in
German. Vancouver, B.C. (a special course
for one hundred senior citizens),
Montreal, London, Paris, Tokyo, and
elsewhere. Workshops incorporating
the method are periodically offered at
Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California.