- The Method
- Practitioners/Classes and Events
- The Profession
By Irene Gutteridge, GCFP
This article was inspired by a symposium held this past November 2009 in Paris, France. The symposium looked at aspects of neuroscience, the Feldenkrais Method® and longevity and was attended by Feldenkrais® practitioners and scientists.
I learned about human aging in my senior year at university. Aging was dissected as if a disease. Professors were frenzied with the imminent growth spurt of the baby boomers. Whoever unveiled the most potent potion, the best exercise, diet, the one who could find “the cure” won. Aging was, and still remains, big business.
My favorite university professor was passionate for this topic of aging, or gerontology, to be more academically correct. She taught us all you needed to know about aging, and then some! As I come to the end of this introduction, one sentence still rings so loud from one of her lectures on what contributes to good bone health:
“…osteoporosis is a pediatric disease that manifests in old age….”
Depending where you are situated on the age spectrum, the following words could be considered good reading to ponder. Nonetheless, I encourage all ages to have a read and consider this thing we call “aging” and how what you do now (or don’t do) could drastically impact your aging process.
When do we become wise?
Wisdom, from a Feldenkrais Method point of view, starts from the very beginning. Our body is wiser and far more intelligent than we often give it credit for. If you have ever heard Feldenkrais practitioners use the term “organic learning,” they are referring to the innate wisdom that exists within our body, nervous system and brain.
Basically, built in wisdom.
This wisdom first comes naturally when an infant with a healthy nervous system* develops in relationship to her environment. A baby has all the tricks of the trade miraculously embedded in her mainframe for life. This is especially true for movement and more importantly, seeking it. How beautifully organized is a child? Her movement is light, curious, flexible and as she develops, it becomes more complex and coordinated. Where does this innate wisdom go when we age? I will let you in on a secret – it’s still there!
Depending on your age and/or life experiences, this innate wisdom may be hiding under a few layers of habit (or injury, trauma, routine, etc.), or it may be hidden under a landslide. The great thing about the human system is that even if you don’t cultivate this innate bodily wisdom regularly or have never been one to seek modes of becoming more in tune with yourself, your nervous system and brain are always there, waiting to be stimulated. Our natural capacity to learn remains. So how do you find it again?
Moshe Feldenkrais, the founder of the Feldenkrais Method, had a very simple way of bringing our built-in wisdom back to us in a format that is similar to how an infant does it naturally. He named it Awareness Through Movement® and Functional Integration® and within these modes of practice, a person is exposed to the wisdom of the human being.
Much of what grown-ups do in activity (life) is devoid of sensation – we ‘just do it,’ and while just doing it, we are rarely guided to pause—- even for a second—- to actually sense if what we are doing is of ease, pleasure, or if it’s uncomfortable and awkward. A Feldenkrais lesson guides and helps you do just this. The human system is incredibly wise and if given a chance to go back to this concept of sensing, (what our younger counterparts do from day one) some incredible stuff can start to happen. It really can.
Quite often learning that is complex stops after a certain time point. I generalize here. Often it stops after university, for others it may be high school. Then there are those that do virtually no higher form of academic education, yet their learning matrices are richer than all the Nobel Laureates put together. Why is this? These people learn new and novel things all the time. They kick the inner fear voice that says, “You are too old!” These folks take up a new pastime, a new career, learn a new sport or musical instrument, make new friends no matter what their age. All of us, I am sure, knows an old granny or uncle who joins a new social club, goes on a cruise solo, hikes new trails every summer, or heaven forbid, re-marries in their senior years! They keep a childlike sense of learning and challenge close to their hearts. Such resiliency is key for us.
This resiliency, or more appropriately, the invitation to practice resiliency can be found in a Feldenkrais lesson. The exploration of new and novel movement patterns brings part of your brain and nervous system into a situation where you must sense, think, organize and essentially solve a movement riddle. An interesting thing to note is that normal aging is no longer associated with a decline in brain cells, but as a result of a lack of change and diversity occurring within the cells themselves.
When is a good time to start taking Feldenkrais lessons, you may ask?
Did you know that once we sense we are thirsty, we are already dehydrated? This is why endurance athletes are taught to drink fluids like clockwork during marathons. “Thirsty? Not really. Well, maybe consider having a drink anyway.” Many of us tend to take action only when it has to be done. If we take this back to wisdom and simply keep our mojo going – why do we need to feel tired and ragged to consider taking better care of ourselves? Why do most people seek out mind-body modalities and various therapeutic healing arts when injury is at full bay and they can’t walk anymore?
Why not learn how to use yourself efficiently and effectively before that dreaded fall happens, or before that pulled muscle limits your daily walks, or before that future bad back inevitably descends over you in your old age?
Moshe Feldenkrais use to often say, before he would start speaking,
“It’s a funny thing (insert his words)....”
Well, it’s a funny thing how we make excuses for not doing various activities as a result of getting older, when it is not doing these activities that makes us age. We have all the tools within ourselves to avoid succumbing to the classic aging process, all that is needed is a form of practice that taps back into the embedded wisdom that exists deep within us.
To finish up, I recently had a friend tell me that spending three years volunteering in a third world country, being quiet with herself and learning various Buddhist traditions didn’t give her the magnitude of self-discovery and self-growth that studying the Feldenkrais Method for one year has done. I was astonished by this story. So often we think we need to travel far and wide, have a guru and believe in something magical to find the path to self-discovery. I wonder if self-discovery can begin in the comfort our of own area code and with a little effort that slowly, or maybe even quickly, brings us much needed wisdom in and around this stuff we call aging.
When is a good time to start, you may ask? No time like the present!
* I say healthy as infants that are born with motor and brain disorders that limit their ability to move and sense to their fullest potential often don’t exhibit normal infant development patterns. One area in which Feldenkrais work can facilitate improvement from such disorders is to help bring these normal developmental patterns to the child through various forms of touch and movement.
Irene is he founder and producer of “The Next 25 Years,” a film project that will document the principles, practice and history of the Feldenkrais Method. For more information on this exciting project, to find out how you can support it, and to view some preliminary footage please visit the film website: