Founded by an Israeli engineer in the 20th century, Feldenkrais seeks to create a connection between the body and the mind. We speak with practitioner Julia Broome about how she helps people discover unhelpful patterns of movement in their everyday life that can be altered into a new way of moving and being, helping athletes, musicians, mothers and office workers alike.
How does Feldenkrais differ from other forms of physiotherapy?
The primary difference is in intention and underpinning philosophy. Physiotherapy is primarily treatment-based, addressing a particular pathology, area of the body or condition. Feldenkrais is a learning-based approach, facilitating learning new ways of moving to help people to develop greater ease and coordination. Feldenkrais assists a person to develop their human potential, using movement awareness as the medium for making positive changes in how they move, feel and perform in daily activity. This approach taps into the nervous system’s potential for learning – neuroplasticity – to unravel unconscious habits that interfere with optimal functioning and facilitate new possibilities that invite a sense of ease in moving. The practitioner observes how a person moves as a whole, noticing what unconscious habits of moving or holding themselves may be causing difficulties. They then assist change using gentle movements and directed attention to the sensation of moving.
When I see someone for Feldenkrais, they come for a lesson, not a treatment. As a Feldenkrais practitioner my intention is to help the person discover their innate capacity for learning and change, assisting them to become more aware of any unhelpful patterns, learn how they can change these and find new ways of moving and being.
What are its origins? It doesn’t have the same profile as yoga, tai chi or acupuncture.
Moshe Feldenkrais, DSc (1904-1984), a nuclear physicist and engineer, developed this approach arising out of his passion for martial arts, movement and learning. With a black belt in judo, he became especially interested in finding new ways of moving after experiencing severe knee injuries. A key question that engaged him was “Can my brain create alternate patterns of movement so that, despite the severed crossed ligaments in my knee, I will be able to continue my judo practice and everything else?”
From this, he pioneered a movement learning system and developed hundreds of lessons that use movement, attention and awareness of self to facilitate remarkable changes in the brain, body and mind. Much of the work is based on developmental movements and Moshe worked a lot with children with developmental problems, cerebral palsy etc., with very good results. He was very much ahead of his time in recognising that, to overcome limitation and pain, it is the brain that needs to change and learn, and that the brain is able to change itself throughout our whole life. Norman Doidge MD, author of ‘The Brain That Changes Itself” hails Moshe Feldenkrais as a genius and one of our first neuroplasticians (those who change the brain).
What qualifications are Feldenkrais practitioners expected to have?
Feldenkrais practitioners undergo a four-year training program, with much of the learning experiential. Practitioners learn about the complexities of human movement through engaging in many hours and hundreds of different Feldenkrais movement lessons, paying attention to the sensation of movement in one’s own body. Subsequent to completing training, practitioners are required to engage in ongoing professional development to be recognised as a Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, CFP.
While some practitioners also have qualifications in health-related disciplines such as physiotherapy, psychology etc., this is not a requirement. So, practitioners’ backgrounds are diverse, and include education, dance and theatre, to name a few. Feldenkrais practitioners apply their skills in many different ways, all with a focus on helping people develop their full potential in what they do, be it as a sportsperson, musician, mother or some who works all day in front of a computer.
How do most of your clients come to find out about Feldenkrais? Is it a form of therapy which is referred to them?
Some clients are referred directly by their medical practitioner, physiotherapist, psychologist or other health practitioner. Many hear about my work through word of mouth or have heard about or done some Feldenkrais elsewhere. Often, they are referred for ‘therapy’ and it takes some time for them to appreciate that it is their own learning that has the therapeutic benefits such as moving better, less pain etc. My role is to help them learn, to discover how to make these changes themselves.
How do you feel Feldenkrais complements some of the other therapeutic practices on offer at the WellBeing at the Convent?
In my opinion, Feldenkrais complements other practices beautifully, and vice versa. I feel it is important to consider the whole person and their situation, to identify what the person may need at a particular point in time. Often a multi-pronged approach is required, such as psychological assistance, exercise, a particular type of body therapy, further medical assistance, diet, meditation etc. It is important to recognise how Feldenkrais may assist a person and when another approach may be either more appropriate or supportive, such as counselling, medical intervention or traditional physiotherapy approaches.
You run six-week courses, along with individual classes. Who are the one-hour classes for and what can participants expect to get out of them?
Classes are for anyone interested in becoming more aware of how they move, learning how to reduce the effects of stress in their body, improving movement, or maybe simply becoming more self-aware through paying attention to their experience. Most of the lessons are done lying down, so the person needs to be able to manage this, to get down and up from the floor. When people have significant and complex issues, it is generally better to initially see me individually to identify if they are ready for a group class.
Clients can also see you for one-on-one sessions. Are these recommended for more specific therapeutic needs?
Yes, I do see people individually and it is recommended for people who have specific physical challenges, significant chronic pain or complex problems. I also recommend individual sessions for people who have neurological challenges such as stroke, multiple sclerosis etc. My colleague, Louise Rothols, who also works at the Convent, has a lot of experience in working with children, and sees babies and small children who need some help with developmental issues. So, the applications of Feldenkrais are broad.
Often people come to see me with difficulties related to stress and anxiety that create pain and movement difficulties. Feldenkrais can be really helpful in this situation. As a qualified mindfulness teacher, I sometimes teach simple meditation techniques to help people manage their anxiety.
The Feldenkrais Method is supposed to help with not only improved physical movement, but also the enhancement of creative and intellectual pursuits. How?
In Feldenkrais, the body and mind are seen as an integrated whole system. In any system, making change in one domain influences how the system functions as a whole. This is reflected in Moshe Feldenkrais’ comment, ‘What I am after is not flexible bodies but flexible brains. What I am after is to restore each person to their human dignity.’ In anything we do, the instrument we are using is our self.
Unconscious habits often lead to discomfort, difficulty, interference with the flow of attention and breath and excessive effort – all of which adversely affect intelligence and creativity. When these habits are raised to consciousness, we experience a sense of liberation through renewed energy, greater comfort, new perspectives and the ability to think, feel and move in a variety of new ways.
Besides the physical benefits, what other benefits does Feldenkrais have on participants?
One of the common things people experience is a greater feeling of ease, an ability to reduce effects of stress in their body and a sense of pleasure in simply being themselves – an enhanced self-image. Engaging in lessons over time, many students notice a spontaneous improvement in their ability to problem-solve and to express themselves more freely and creatively.
Who is the ideal participant for Feldenkrais? Who gets the most out of these classes?
The ideal student is someone who is interested in becoming more self-aware and keen to learn more about themself and experience new possibilities in how they move.
To learn more about Feldenkrais and Julia Broome’s practice, see her profile here.
To learn more about Wellbeing at the Convent, which has more than 15 wellbeing practitioners specialising in a range of disciplines, see our wellbeing webpage for more.