The Feldenkrais Method is unlike most other styles of bodywork. Practitioners of the method do not undertake to diagnose or treat illness of any kind; in fact, they consider the Feldenkrais Method to be a form of self-education and mind-body development, rather than a manipulative therapy. The Method is applied in two forms by practitioners, who generally receive more than 800 hours of formal training over the course of four years (certification is not a trivial process):
1. Awareness Through Movement (ATM). ATM lessons are organized around specific movement functions; over 1000 different ATMs are known. Their purpose is to increase one's self-awareness of where all parts of the body are at any time. Since activity in the motor cortex is a key factor in propioception, Feldenkrais (Dr. Moshé Feldenkrais (1904-1984), the Jewish physicist who developed the Method) realized that changes in our ability to move are inseparable from changes in our conscious perception of ourselves as embodied. ATM lessons are designed to do just what their name states - to improve awareness by using and improving the student's observation and attention to the way they move.
2. Functional Integration. In these lessons, the practitioner guides the student's motions, whether s/he is sitting, lying, or standing. Thus, the student feels extremely safe, and is able to explore each motion in detail; this intensive examination of one's own motions allow the elimination of excess, useless effort, and thus move more freely and easily. These lessons can be quite global and general in scope, or can focus narrowly on specific issues brought up by the student or noticed by the practitioner. Clearly, the practitioner and student learn together through these processes. Often, practitioners liken their interactions with a student as learning to dance together, rather than one person doing something to another. A very good, short (4 pages) outline of the Feldenkrais Method is available here, and a considerable number of short to medium length articles are gathered with short synopses at this site.
The Feldenkrais Method is considered by both practitioners and clients alike to be a learning experience - a long, slow type of somatic education (for those unacquainted with the term, somatic means to be related to or associated with the body, as opposed to the mind), where the only real difference between practriti0ners and clients is the amount of time and experience in the person's background.
The Feldenkrais Method is based on principles of physics, biomechanics and an empirical understanding of learning and human development. By expanding the self-image through movement sequences that bring attention to the parts of the self that are out of awareness, the Method enables you to include more of yourself in your functioning movements. Students become more aware of their habitual neuromuscular patterns and rigidities and expand options for new ways of moving. By increasing sensitivity the Feldenkrais Method assists you to live your life more fully, efficiently and comfortably. The improvement of physical functioning is not necessarily an end in itself. Such improvement is based on developing a broader functional awareness which is often a gateway to more generalized enhancement of physical functioning in the context of your environment and life.
An important facet of Feldenkrais is its gentleness and thus lack of limitations based on age or strength. Anyone - young or old, physically challenged or physically fit - can benefit from the Method. Feldenkrais is beneficial for those experiencing chronic or acute pain of the back, neck, shoulder, hip, legs or knee, as well as for healthy individuals who wish to enhance their self-image. The Method has been very helpful in dealing with central nervous system conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and stroke. Musicians, actors and artists can extend their abilities and enhance creativity. Many Seniors enjoy using it to retain or regain their ability to move without strain or discomfort.
To end this piece, I can't do better than quote Dr. Feldenkrais' description of the method: The advantage of approaching the unity of mental and muscular life through the body lies in the fact that the muscle expression is simpler because it is concrete and easier to locate. It is also incomparably easier to make a person aware of what is happening in the body, therefore the body approach yields faster and more direct results. On acting on the significant parts of the body, such as the eyes, the neck, the breath, or the pelvis, it is easy to effect striking changes of mood on the spot. A person is made up of three entities: the nervous system, which is the core; the body – skeleton, viscera and muscles; and the environment, which is space, gravitation, and society. These three aspects, each with its material support and its activity, together give a working picture of a human being.
This kind of aware learning is complete when the new mode of action becomes automatic or even unconscious, as all habits do. The advantage of a habit acquired by awareness is that when it shows unfitness or maladjustment when confronted with reality, it easily provokes new awareness and so helps one to make a fresh and more efficient change. My inmost belief is that, just as anatomy has helped us to get an intimate knowledge of the working of the body, and neuroanatomy an understanding of some activities of the psyche, so will understanding of the somatic aspects of consciousness enable us to know ourselves more intimately.