Shelagh O’Neill has been teaching Feldenkrais since 1990 and runs weekly classes in Bristol on Thursday mornings and monthly mini-workshops on Monday afternoons at the Friends Meeting House in Redland. She also runs in-depth holiday courses over the summer months. Here she explains what it is and how it works.
Feldenkrais is a way to help people to re-learn how they do simple everyday movements, from breathing to walking, to make these movements as easy and fluid as a child’s. It’s designed to maximise the power of the brain-body connection to create change, to improve movement, learning, and how to function in the world. Although the focus is on movement, changes can resonate through all aspects of life. The method was created by Moshe Feldenkrais (1904 – 1984) a physicist and martial artist.
How do we do it?
In classes, we generally lie on the floor and listen to verbal instructions, which lead the movement and direct our attention. We’re encouraged to move slowly, so we can really sense what we’re doing.
We rest often and focus on avoiding pain and difficulty and working smaller so that pain or struggle doesn’t distort the sense of what’s happening.
The movements are carefully put together sequences which may echo childhood development. Sometimes they pose a physical riddle which can be fascinating to solve; such as looking in one direction and simultaneously turning your head in the opposite direction.
Feldenkrais also offers one-to-one lessons, in which the teacher and practitioner agree on the aim of the lesson, maybe do a few movements standing or sitting, and then the client lies down and is moved about – gently, slowly – by the practitioner.
At the end of a class or lesson, many people feel a lightness, a sense of ease and often a comfortable change of posture. There is often a clear improvement in movement – lack of pain, more range, or more quality.
To many, it seems inexplicable in relation to what has happened – we don’t really do stretches or ‘exercise’. And this change can be lasting, even enhanced as time goes on.
This is a method which really helps with the apparent deterioration that comes with age. It also maximises performance, so top (and even ordinary) athletes use it to become more efficient. And it is a great resource for apparently intractable long-term pains and difficulties. Over time people experience new ease in the world and a better sense of who they are.
Feldenkrais is not about words, though. It’s something you need to experience to understand.
Here’s a lesson you can do which takes a few minutes, do it slowly, with curiosity and attention:
1. Stand, keeping your feet in place, and turn to the right a few times. Notice how far round you go, and what you see at the furthest distance.
2. Put your hands on your head and turn to the left a few times. Keep your feet in place, otherwise move whatever wants to move. Do each movement separately – pause when you’ve turned out and back, and then repeat. When you’ve done that, bring your hands down and rest for a moment or two.
3. Turn your head and shoulders to the left. Leave your shoulders there, and turn your head to the right and back a few times. Then turn everything back to the front. Rest.
4. Turn your head and shoulders to the left. Leave them there, and move your eyes to the right and back. You probably can’t go far with this. Bring everything back to the front, and rest.
5. Turn to the right (keeping your feet in place) and see how far you turn, and what you see.
To find out more about Feldenkrais.
Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain’s Way of Healing gives a good scientific outsider’s account of the Feldenkrais Method. Download explanatory videos and free Awareness Through Movement lessons.
For more details on Feldenkrais with Shelagh see: https://www.nicefeldenkrais.co.uk/