The Feldenkrais Method®
“I believe that knowing oneself is the most important thing a human being can do for himself. How can one know himself? By learning to act not as one should, but as one does. We have great difficulty in sorting out what we do as we should from what we want to do with ourselves.”
The Elusive Obvious, Moshe Feldenkrais, 1981
Judo & Jiu Jitsu images
Origins of the Feldenkrais Method
The following summary is based on A Life in Movement – The Biography of Moshe Feldenkrais by Mark Reese and highlights some of the main sources of influence in Dr. Feldenkrais’s work – self-defense, Judo, mechanical engineering and physics.
Moshe Feldenkrais was born on May 6, 1904. He grew up in Belarus and was active in the Zionist youth movement through the First World War. In 1918, Feldenkrais embarked solo on a journey to Palestine.
Feldenkrais was involved in Jewish self-defense groups and after learning Jujitsu he devised his own self-defense techniques. He hurt his left knee in a soccer match in 1929. While convalescing he wrote Autosuggestion (1930), a translation from English to Hebrew of Charles Brooks’ work on Coué‘s system of autosuggestion together with two chapters that Feldenkrais wrote himself. He next published Jujitsu (1931), a book on self-defense.
In 1930, Feldenkrais went to Paris to train as a mechanical and electrical engineer. In 1933, after meeting Jigaro Kano, Judo’s founder, Feldenkrais began teaching Jujitsu again, and started his training in Judo. In 1933, while studying for his Ingeniur-Docteur degree at the Sorbonne, he began working as a research assistant under Frederic Joliot-Curie at the Radium Institute. From 1935-1937, Feldenkrais worked at the Arcueil-Cachan laboratories building a Van de Graaf generator, which was used for atomic fission experiments. He received his Judo black belt in 1936 and 2nd degree rank in 1938.
Feldenkrais escaped to England in 1940. As a scientific officer in the British Admiralty, he conducted anti-submarine research in Scotland from 1940-1945. While there, he taught Judo and self-defense classes. In 1942, he published a self-defense manual titled Practical Unarmed Combat. Feldenkrais began working with himself to deal with knee troubles that had recurred during his escape from France and while walking on submarine decks. He gave a series of lectures about his new ideas, began to teach experimental movement classes, and worked privately with some colleagues.
Feldenkrais published Body and Mature Behavior, his first book on his own method, in 1949, and Higher Judo, his last book on Judo, in 1952. During his London period he studied the work of George Gurdjieff, F. M. Alexander, and William Bates, and then went to Switzerland to study with Heinrich Jacoby.
Feldenkrais eventually moved back to Tel Aviv and made a living teaching his own method. Around 1955 he moved to a studio on Alexander Yanai Street in Tel Aviv, where he taught Awareness Through Movement® classes (then called, in Hebrew, The Improvement of Ability). He gave Functional Integration® lessons in the apartment where his mother and brother lived. In early 1957, Feldenkrais began giving lessons to Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion.
In the 1960s and 70s, Feldenkrais presented his work in Europe and the United States. In the mid-1960s, he published Mind and Body and Bodily Expression. In 1967, he published Improving the Ability to Perform (titled Awareness Through Movement in its 1972 English language edition). He conducted his first teacher training program in 1969-1971, which was given to 12 students.
In 1975, Dr. Feldenkrais came to the US to give workshops in San Francisco and at the Esalen Institute. He conducted his first American training in San Francisco from 1975 – 1977 and his second American training in Amherst, Massachusetts from 1980 – 1981. The hundreds of lessons he taught in Israel, his workshops around the world, and his two American trainings were filmed, recorded and transcribed and are used as the main source materials for current trainings.
The Feldenkrais Method Today
Moshe Feldenkrais’ profound insights into learning, awareness, movement and human development inspired his students from Tel Aviv, San Francisco, and Amherst, to teach in “their own handwriting”. Ever since, practitioners have expanded their reach creating programs for specific audiences throughout the world. Musicians have created teaching strategies to learn piano or voice. Teachers have integrated somatic movement practices into the classroom. The Feldenkrais Method is used to support athletes as well as actors and martial artists.
More and more children are being helped to further their development and ease in the world. People with neurological conditions, pain, and balance issues have more access than ever to participating in Awareness Through Movement or working with a practitioner one on one in person or online. The general public can access programs that affect their daily lives such as improved sleep, mindful eating, balance, walking, and mindfulness.
For the thousands of practitioners that have completed a Feldenkrais teacher training, each finds their way both from a personal perspective and a professional perspective and in the process continues to learn, create, and offer their skills and expertise throughout the world expanding the method and building bridges to a more dignified way of participating in their own lives as well as helping others do the same.