In the not-too-distant past, the term “psychosomatic” was a bad word. Many healthcare practitioners did not yet understand it, and people with unexplainable illnesses and pain were told (and came to believe) that their problems were all “in their minds.” Since the 1990s, however, research proves what the ancients knew: The mind and body are one. Both relate to and can affect each other in positive and negative ways. With this knowledge, the stigma of psychosomatic has been lifted, and mind/body practices are helping millions of Americans.
Although in China and India mind/body practices abound and were developed thousands of years ago, they are relatively new in the West. Practices like yoga, meditation, tai chi and qigong are known to almost everyone these days (even if relatively few people engage in these activities).
These methods teach one to quiet the mind, coordinate the breath and sync bodily movements or hold particular postures. All of this is designed to achieve an inner harmony between mind and body, regulate the nervous system, and quiet the mind to allow the body to heal itself.
While the Asian systems of mind/body are well-known, there is a method developed in the West that is less familiar but which I find extremely beneficial. Although I am not a certified practitioner of this method, I have been guided through it and refer back to it as needed. It is called the Feldenkrais Method®.
The Feldenkrais Method® is named after its founder, Moshé Feldenkrais. The method is quite simple in concept: Use movement to educate people about how the body works and reacts in relation to the mind. It is a method of “refining the use of the self through somatic awareness.” Its practice can help make the connection between thoughts and feelings and how they manifest in the body as cramps, tight muscles, muscle imbalances, impingements and pain.
While the Asian mind/body systems popular in the West today have specialized meditative or internal energy components, Feldenkrais is a bit different. It is a therapy that allows practitioners to help clients improve general awareness of the body and themselves. This is discovered through a practice of observing and examining the specific thought-to-movement relationships that, when negative, often manifest as limited range of motion, stiffness and physical pain. Discovering these relationships helps begin the process of reducing pain and stiffness while expanding range of motion.
Those who experience the effects of the Feldenkrais Method® are fond of saying: “Learning to move with less effort makes daily life easier.” And this is true when the body’s natural range of motion is re-set, causing muscle imbalance, spasms and pains that were caused by an imbalanced body to decrease and disappear over time. This allows more enjoyment of life. When you can do simple activities like tying shoes, bending over or making a cup of tea, then your everyday life can be immensely joyful and healing — especially if you have suffered for years.
Again, it is through guided movement practices that the Feldenkrais Method® teaches you to improve your capabilities to function in daily life. These movements help coordinate and connect mind and body, not for meditation or energy building, but for a joyful life through improved abilities to carry out the activities of daily living.
There are two methods or phases to learning the Feldenkrais Method® termed “Awareness Through Movement” and “Functional Integration.” The first phase is learned in a class setting where participants are verbally guided through different movement sequences for 30 to 60 minutes. During this time, they are encouraged to explore the content and the methods they employ when they think, sense, move and imagine during their ordinary functional movements in daily life.
This series of guided movements is easy to learn and is performed slowly, yet it builds over time into more complex movements that increase range of motion through release of tension and blockages in the body. Each class session is structured around a specific body movement function wherein a series of movements is taught to help relearn and retrain awkward body movement and rebalance the mind. In other words, Awareness Through Movement aims to “make one aware of his/her habitual neuromuscular patterns and rigidities and to expand options for new ways of moving while increasing sensitivity and improving efficiency.”
Functional Integration sessions are hands-on methods wherein the Feldenkrais Method® practitioner works like a physical therapist or body worker to stretch shortened muscles. Unlike the sometimes harsh pressing and rubbing of deep-tissue massage, Functional Integration techniques are gentle and noninvasive. They are described by practitioners as being a form of “tactile, kinesthetic communication.” Through the session, a practitioner is able to feel and sense what is going on in the client’s body and tell him how to better organize the body through guided movement and how to move in more expanded functional motor patterns.
While not steeped in altered states of consciousness and internal energy like its Asian counterparts, the Feldenkrais Method® is no less effective at aligning the body and improving its functions through an intimate mind/body awareness.
I found this method to be helpful for me when other methods failed to reach a source for muscular imbalances that lead to limited range of motion and pain in my own body. It connected my imbalances with mental processes. Working on the mind and the body concurrently and understanding their connection are powerful tools to improving well-being and quality of life. For more information on the Feldenkrais Method®, visit www.feldenkrais.com.