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The Feldenkrais Method® in the University: An Interview with Staffan Elgelid

Staffan Elgelid, GCFP, PhD, PT is on the Faculty at Arkansas State University, where he teaches Physical Therapy.  SenseAbility asked him recently about using the Feldenkrais Method in an academic situation.

SenseAbility: (Sense)
Staffan Elgelid: (SE)

Sense: How did you get involved with teaching the Feldenkrais Method at a university?

SE: I was teaching part time and working on my Master’s Thesis in the Physical Therapy Department at the University of Central Arkansas. I did my thesis on Feldenkrais® and Self-Image and used students as subjects, so I would give Awareness Through Movement® lessons to the students that were part of my study.  Some students got interested in Feldenkrais and as I continued teaching we had discussions about Feldenkrais every now and then, but nothing organized.  As I moved on to other universities I got involved with the music and drama departments and taught Feldenkrais and worked with students in those departments. At one school, I was always part of the rehearsals for the plays. I would sit in the back and watch the rehearsals and then give the actors short Functional Integration® lessons to help them be aware of how they portrayed emotions, etc. I would help them express with their bodies what the script told them to say. I have also taught weekend workshops on the Feldenkrais Method at the different schools I have been.

Sense: How do you include the Feldenkrais Method in your physical therapy courses?

SE: I do use the Feldenkrais Method all the time. When we observe how people move, we talk about the organization of the person, how they are using themselves and how that limits their actions in their world. We do discuss this from a purely anatomical standpoint, but also from other standpoints. We also discuss how we could give the person options and what the person might do with these options. Pure speculation, since we don’t know exactly what the person would do with the options.

So a lot of the way we use the Feldenkrais Method is on how to observe, think about giving the person options, and how they are using themselves. I also use the ideas from the Feldenkrais Method when we discuss how we must develop ourselves and find out how we are “doing” and using ourselves.

For me, it is more effective to have the ideas of the Feldenkrais Method as a piece of the framework in the class that I am teaching instead of having a separate class in the Feldenkrais Method. I have talked with students that had that and they found it to be boring and had a hard time find[ing] the relevance of the Feldenkrais Method to what they were studying. By using the Feldenkrais Method in how we observe and in our discussions, the students don’t feel like the Feldenkrais Method is forced upon them and I therefore think there is a bigger chance that something will “stick.”

Sense: How do you deal with resistance - either from students or administration?

SE: Since I do it as part of the classes I teach, I don’t run in to any resistance. I also believe in my academic freedom and if someone gets in the way, I tell them to move out of the way! (Laughter)

Sense: Do you see ways that the Feldenkrais Method could be integrated into university education?

SE: I think it would be great if every faculty member at the universities understood the Feldenkrais Method and were certified, and demonstrated a “Feldenkraisian” way of thinking and looking at the world to the students.

I can envision a day when the Feldenkrais Method is accepted as a way of being and thinking in Universities. I think the idea of options and using the best option based on the context is very appealing and a concept that can influence people’s thinking and behaviors. Students could start out by discussing a concept from multiple angles, without being too attached to one way being “the one and only way,” and then doing Awareness Through Movement lessons to get the sense of that in the body or vice versa. The thing is that the students will feel in their bodies what they just discussed/debated from a theoretical aspect.

I can also see students using the Feldenkrais Method as a way to learn about themselves, and become more sensitive to themselves and the relationships they form with others. I believe this could be an offering in the health and wellness department, similar to the way yoga is offered from Health and Wellness. I believe religion deptartments could offer
Awareness Through Movement lessons, just like they offer meditation.

Of course, Awareness Through Movement lessons could also be offered in conjunction with anatomy, kinesiology, etc. as a way to give the students the “lived” experience of what they study. Music, athletics, theater, all those departments could benefit from using the Feldenkrais Method by giving the students a way to improve their performance.

Sense: Do you have any advice for Feldenkrais teachers who wish to work in a university setting?

SE: I think the key to anyone coming in to a university setting is to give the students a clear idea how the Feldenkrais Method is beneficial to them, and expose the students to the Feldenkrais Method in many different departments. The biggest mistake that I see people in the university make is to introduce the Feldenkrais Method to the students, but not make sure the experience is relevant to the student. The practitioner must speak the student’s specific language and preferably within the first session show the student how this is beneficial to them. I think sometimes we have a problem with explicitly showing, or getting the student to sense and feel how what just happened was beneficial in their field of study, or performance. University students (at least the ones I am privileged to work with) are VERY goal oriented, and VERY short on time. Unless there is an immediate benefit, they don’t have time for it. We, as Feldenkrais practitioners, must make an immediate impact and sometimes we have to point out the impact!

To contact Staffan, email him at: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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