Feldenkrais is a method for movement re-patterning. The Feldenkrais Method is based in part on the idea of neuroplasticity. Infants are constantly learning how to respond physiologically to conditions in their environments. Some of the responses become very ingrained, but this doesn’t mean that new responses can’t be learned.
Re-learning movement: This is something the originator, Moshe Feldenkrais, experienced firsthand when he taught himself to walk again following aggravation of injury and an uncertain prognosis.
The Feldenkrais Method is distinct from massage, though practitioners do frequently touch and move clients’ bodies. Feldenkrais practitioners are teachers; they do a very hands-on and kinesthetic type of teaching. They help students develop their proprioception — their awareness of their position in, and movement through, space. Ultimately, they help them learn how to move in ways that are more efficient, comfortable, and safe. Guild Certified Feldenkrais Teachers may offer Feldenkrais to the public as a sole practice or incorporate it into other professional careers, from physical rehabilitation to voice training.
There are two basic types of Feldenkrais session: Structural Integration and Awareness through Movement. Structural Integration is one-on-one. The practitioner guides the client through motions; this level of assistance is indicated for people with severe impairments and for others who need personalized assistance working through their somatic challenges. Awareness through Movement sessions take place in a group setting. They may be compared to classes such as yoga but are distinct in their style and mission. There is a focus on close observation of one’s body and on carrying out motions with slight variation.
Feldenkrais offers new paradigms. Instead of building muscle strength, one may improve muscle coordination. Instead of thinking of pain and movement in a one-directional way where pain limits movement, one may think of it as going two ways: Improper movement also causes pain. People often carry tension in their bodies. They may coordinate motions in inefficient ways. A physical therapist and co-founder of the Feldenkrais Institute of New York offers the example of a person who was aware that moving to the right caused pain but wasn’t aware of the various similarities and differences in body movements when he turned to the left and turned to the right (http://www.feldenkrais-essex.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Pain_Practitioner_Spring_2010.pdf).
The role of physiologic impairment is widely recognized, but so is the power of choice in responding to it — and the capability of even aged neurological systems to discover new pathways.
The Feldenkrais Method can help many people, though some populations are especially likely to benefit. Among them are elders who need to improve their gait, people who experience chronic pain, individuals with disorders such as multiple sclerosis, and those who have suffered strokes or neurologic injuries. Many students are performers or athletes; the precipitating event is often some type of injury. Some Feldenkrais practitioners specialize in work with children.
Feldenkrais practitioners in most places do not need massage certification. They have a distinct form of training but one that is often slightly longer and that takes place over an extended time period. Many people who study Feldenkrais already have healthcare licenses, but this is not necessary. A prospective practitioner will have at least 800 hours of training over a period of no less than three years. A person can be credentialed to teach Awareness through Motion classes after two years.
Courses may be organized in different ways. The expectation is that the person will have training over a total of 160 days. Some courses are taught on weekends throughout the year. Others concentrate coursework into set blocks of time.
The Feldenkrais Guild of North America has provided information about massage license exemptions by state (https://www.feldenkraisguild.com/government-relations). Practitioners may want to go straight to the source for verification. They will want to make sure at least that information is current. Quoted code shows many states referring to Feldenkrais by name in their exemptions, others describing excluded practices. The Government Relations and Policy Administrator can assist Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioners who have questions about their practice rights.
A Look at Feldenkrais Practitioners
BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a survey of several hundred Guild Certified Feldenkrais Teachers in 2014 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4086994). Overall, they were an educated lot. 90% held degrees at at least the bachelor’s level; 9% held their highest degree at the doctoral level.
Many reported holding other licenses in traditional healthcare or complementary and alternative medicine. 36.9% reported conventional licenses, 23.9% CAM. More than 12% held licensure in some other profession. The largest single category was physical therapy; the second most common was massage therapy. Education was another commonly cited profession.
Some practitioners reported integrating Feldenkrais with other techniques, for example, yoga. In some cases, the different practices were tightly integrated. A little less than half (46.7%) reported Feldenkrais as their main occupation.
More than half of respondents came from ten states in the West. The three other regions were significantly lower, ranging from about 13% to about 17% each. Almost 40% of the respondents had trained in California.