- MOSHE FELDENKRAIS BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE -
Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc. (1904-1984), a Russian born physicist, judo expert, mechanical engineer and educator, developed his method in response to his own problems with injuries contracted in his youth playing soccer. His approach to physical movement and coordination of mind and body draws on recent scientific breakthroughs in biomechanics, neurophysiology and stress reduction.
Moshe’s story is rather amazing. As a youth of 14 years, he walked from BeloRussia to Palestine to be a part of the rebuilding process after WWI. He started off digging ditches, but eventually won a scholarship from the Carnegie Foundation to study mechanical and electrical engineering at the Sorbonne in Paris. He followed this with Doctoral Studies in physics, and then began to work at the Joliot-Curie laboratories, where he needed all three scientific disciplines to construct one of the world’s first partical accelerators – an atom smasher.
He was also very athletic. It is said that he was so strong that he could grasp a vertical pole and hold his body out from it horizontally. He was a Ju Jitsu enthusiast, and heard one day that Jikaro Kano, founder of Judo, had come to Paris to lecture. Moshe attended the lecture, and when Kano asked for a volunteer to demonstrate his technique, Feldenkrais volunteered. He thought to himself that he’ll take it easy on the old guy, we don’t want anybody to get hurt here, but to his surprise in a moment found himself flat on his back. He tried again, this time taking a little less pity, but again found himself on the floor. The third time he really gave his all, and when he was thrown once more he was convinced. Moshe became Jikaro Kano’s pupil, rose to become European Judo champion, founder of the Judo Club of France, and author of several books on Judo that Kano said were the best in any language other than Japanese.
When Paris was threatened by invasion in WWII, the legend goes that Moshe stacked all the Joliot-Curie research papers in a wheelbarrow and walked to the coast where he was picked up by British intelligence and taken to England. There he worked for the Navy developing anti-submarine sonar equipment, and he also met Mathias Alexander, founder of the Alexander Technique. And this is one of the key sources of the Feldenkrais Method. Alexander was an elocutionist who developed his brilliant understanding of human movement and posture by intuition and experiment. Moshe’s training in both science and judo gave him new insights into what Alexander had actually discovered. When the doctors told Moshe they had to operate on his knee with a 50% chance of success, Moshe said, “I’m a scientist, we don’t bother doing an experiment if there’s less than a 98% chance of success.” He reasoned that if the injury happened 20 years ago but only flared up now, maybe it wasn’t the injury itself that was the problem but his use of self.
Moshe lay in a hospital bed and made extremely tiny movements to explore the inner workings of his knee and its surroundings. He discovered that the less effort he used, the finer the level of sensory discrimination he reached. The quality of ‘muscle let-go’ he achieved this way was far more profound than that of massage or stretching, because there had been an actual neurological change in the brain. And with this finer ability to feel the internal workings of his leg, he could better sense his skeletal alignments, and learned how to walk again even though the meniscus of the knee was virtually gone.
This was the genesis of his Method. Feldenkrais returned to Israel in 1950 to head the country’s nuclear research program, but more and more of his time was spent working with people, developing his insights into the method we know today. One of his most illustrious pupils was David Ben-Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel, and there’s a famous picture of Ben-Gurion standing on his head on the beach. Over the years, Moshe worked with a group of 13 pupils that became his ‘apostles.’ Then in the late 60′s, his work was gaining such wide reknown that he was invited to N. America to give seminars, attaining amazing results with many people suffering from cerebral palsy, multiple schlerosis, scoliosis, emphysema, stroke and other ailments, but also working with actors, dancers, musicians, athletes and other (extra-)ordinary people to improve their function. He is the author of several books, the most important being Awareness Through Movement and The Potent Self. At his death in 1983, after two American Professional Training Programs, he left 300 people trained in the Method. There are about 10,000 worldwide today.
Feldenkrais lessons give the student direct access to and influence over the processes of sensory-motor learning, the process by which the brain uses received sensory information to organize patterns of movement, generating messages back to the motor nerves creating a cycle of kinesthetic function called the sensory-motor feedback loop. Feldenkrais students increase their physical effectiveness while reducing effort, and acquire an ease and fluidity of movement that also reduces the risk of injury.
The lessons developed by Dr. Feldenkrais are revolutionary because they communicate directly with your brain, the control centre of your body. It is your brain and nervous system not your muscles which determine the health of your posture, the ease and comfort of your movement, the extent of your ability and flexibility.
Moshe Feldenkrais with Margaret Meade