ISSA Street Soccer Training – The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education – Moving beyond habits
In sport, the arts, and indeed in any field of human endeavour involving movement, we aim for a smoothness of action that we consider to be good form. We want our movements to be efficient, graceful, effortless and powerful. Top athletes and performers understand that these elements are an integral part of producing a consistently high level of performance and that they also help in the prevention of injury. However, those of us who are less ‘naturally’ gifted consider the amazing coordination and ability of top performers and athletes to be innate – a gift that they are born with – and we believe that they raise their performance levels only through hours of dedicated practice and effort in the gym. While it is true that most of us will ever match the grace and ease displayed by sportsmen such as Roger Federer we all have an innate potential for graceful action far beyond what we can imagine – if only we could learn how to realise it!
Dr Moshe Feldenkrais
Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-84), a Russian-born physicist, martial arts expert, and mechanical engineer, developed the modality that bears his name in order to cure his own debilitating knee injury. Drawing from his background in these various fields, as well as his observations of developmental movements, he used his own body as a laboratory, experimenting with many different ways of doing everyday actions, and carefully noting the results. After months of exploration, he concluded that it was his particular individual neuromuscular patterns and rigidities which had contributed to his injury. He refined his kinesthetic perception to such an extent that he could clearly sense the unconscious habits that had led to his injury. More importantly, he discovered experientially how to move most optimally and regained full use of his knee. He concluded that: ‘Only when you know what you do, can you do what you want’.
Today there are over 4000 Feldenkrais “Awareness Through Movement” lessons covering topics from improving the organization of the eyes, jaw and tongue, to maximizing the healthy functioning of the feet and ankles. These lessons can improve every aspect of human functioning and provide a profoundly effective approach to understanding and optimising our design for effortless, graceful motion.
What happens in a Feldenkrais lesson?
The goal of a lesson is not to ask what is wrong but what is possible: to explore how the student could function at his/her most optimal. Students are guided, either through direct manual contact or through verbal instructions, to explore specific aspects of movement. These explorations are designed to develop the students’ awareness of where they are limiting their movement more than the design of the skeleton requires. Ingrained habits of muscular holding always go hand in hand with perceptual distortions and lack of accurate sensory feedback. The role of the teacher is to find strategies that help the students refine their kinesthetic perception and improve their motor control.
How does it differ from exercise or approaches such as massage or chiropractic treatments?
In many exercise and treatment models it is assumed that our physical limitations and difficulties are caused by problems in our structure: if you are weak you should strengthen your muscles, if you are inflexible you should stretch, or if you think bad posture causes your problem, you should correct it and stand up straight. These approaches assume that the body is something that must be moulded, reshaped and put in its proper place. Although good posture, alignment and flexible, strong muscles are important components of health, they are not enough by themselves to ensure healthy function. In order to function optimally, we need to improve our coordination, that is, our ability to regulate and control our movement appropriately for any action.
The Feldenkrais Method is a dynamic approach that looks at our habitual ways of moving, and how these habits contribute to our problems. The aim is to recognise inefficient movement habits and learn more effective options, so that our every action is better coordinated. When our coordination is optimal, effort is distributed evenly through our structure, and strained muscles and joints are able to recover.