JB: Who couldn't benefit from knowing oneself better? After all those years of taking Feldenkrais classes and now having finished your training to teach it, how do you feel?
SL: It's an incredible privilege to teach ATM. It's a true blessing to be able to share my passion and interest in Feldenkrais with others, but it's really just the icing on the cake. What I have gained from my Feldenkrais teacher training goes far above and beyond the rewards of teaching and sharing my newfound knowledge. It has completely revolutionized my life, improving my relationships and making me a genuinely happier person. I refer to the training (which consists of two months of intensive instruction a year with study and practice in between, for a total of four years) as "self actualization on fast forward." That couldn't happen without the trust and respect I have for the directors of the program, Paul Rubin and Julie Casson Rubin. They were both students in the training Feldenkrais held in San Francisco in the late '70s. I still have a year left in the training, and I will sorely miss the experience when it is over.
JB: I bet. The Feldenkrais Method is based on participants mindfully performing teeny, tiny gentle movements followed by a moment of rest. In fact, you can even accomplish the same good results by simply imagining the movements. How is it possible, Sarah? And what role does the resting play? It seems weird to benefit from something so minimal and, well, restful.
SL: When one imagines a movement, the anticipation of the movement triggers activity in the brain even when the body is still. Imagine you are eating a lemon. Your mouth still fills with saliva, and you can sense a bitter taste in your mouth. The imagined experience creates a sensory reaction that is noticed by the brain, and changes it. Simply imagining a movement a few times before physically attempting it can and does improve the quality of the movement. It's an exercise that's not limited to Feldenkrais. It is used in other fields, but most refer to the practice of focusing the attention this way as positive or creative visualization. Rests are used in Feldenkrais in order to allow the body a break while the brain takes a moment to integrate the movement that just occurred, to notice how the motion differs from typical habitual motion, and how it has affected the body in sensation.
JB: In this case, less is definitely more! They did lab experiments on accomplished athletes and found that the same part of the brain was triggered by simply mentally reviewing the movements as opposed to actually doing them. In fact, either of those things, doing or imagining, helps to create new neural pathways which in turn leads to newer, healthier habits. When you think about it, that's a whole lot of bang for your exertion buck! I bet that's why all kinds of people can and do practice the Feldenkrais Method: athletes, dancers, couch potatoes, the injured, the elderly, the infirm, the totally uncoordinated. It's even been used on babies and people born with a major part of their brain missing. Your thoughts?
SL: Yes, one of the many things I love about Feldenkrais is that the method is adaptable. I can find lessons or aspects of lessons that can work for any individual, depending on what the person wants to learn. I laughed a little when you mentioned people who consider themselves uncoordinated. I used to think of myself that way. I never participated in sports when I was young because I had terrible hand-eye coordination. I recently played catch with my son and apparently I was doing so well, he asked if I had been an athlete, like him, when I was his age. I was really surprised when he asked that and then it occurred to me that I had been able to keep up with him the whole time. My coordination had improved so greatly that I was able to gracefully dive for the ball or sink downwards in order to meet the ball whenever he threw it - another completely unexpected benefit of my training!
JB: That is cool. Let's talk a bit about the man behind the movement. Besides for developing this method, Moshe Feldenkrais was a multi-faceted guy who was notable for a number of other reasons. He was a Pied Piper of sorts. Can you tell our readers about that?
SL: Feldenkrais was born to a Jewish family in the Ukraine. He left home alone at the age of 14 with few possessions. It took him months to travel by foot through Europe in order to charter a boat and immigrate to Palestine. The story is that he met other children along the way who were inspired by his journey, and they left to travel with him. At one point, they even joined a traveling circus in order to earn money. He was a remarkably brave, motivated individual from an early age.
JB: Yes. Norman Doidge, the author of The Brain that Changes Itself, devotes two whole chapters to Feldenkrais in his latest book, The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity. Doidge tells about Feldenkrais's trek across Europe. I was fascinated to learn that, by the time he got to the port and boarded the boat, he'd gathered over two hundred children and some adults as well! He must have been very charismatic. He was also smart and talented. His mother once said, "He could have got a Nobel Prize in physics, and instead he became a masseur." What did she mean by that? Was she exaggerating?
SL: I think it may be more accurate to say that he was accomplished in several different fields, and integrated ideas from these into his method. He had degrees in engineering, and was a judo teacher. He was also very interested in psychology and human behavior. Reading his biography could make anyone's head spin! He wrote more than ten books, several articles, and choreographed hundreds of ATM lessons. He left an incredible legacy and a wealth of material for his students to draw from.
JB: Agreed. How did a physicist and judo master come up with this? His method relies on the concept of neuroplasticity and this was in the '70s, long before it was commonly accepted, I believe.
SL: Feldenkrais believed early on in a strong correlation between the mind and body. He tested his theory on himself when as a young man he suffered a knee injury from playing soccer. He found that over time he was able to heal himself by bringing his awareness to the small differentiated movements of his leg, increasing stimulation to parts of his brain that were being underutilized as a result of his injury. In addition, he likely increased the flexibility and optimized the use of other body parts, including the pelvis, hips and feet to assist in changing the patterns that may have been exacerbating the injury.
JB: What a clever, clever man. Anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up?
SL: I just want to thank you for your interest in Feldenkrais, and for your efforts in educating others about the method and the man who created it. It's been a pleasure to discuss it with you today.
JB: My pleasure as well, Sarah. Thanks so much. And good luck with your new career!