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Leaping from Cookie Cutting to Natural Function: The Feldenkrais Method® in Fitness

By Irene Gutteridge, GCFP

The fitness industry is big business and a mainstream reality that is here to stay. Individuals seek fitness guidance for a number of reasons. Such guidance is a perfectly valid step towards improving general health and well-being. Let’s face it, exercise is essential. Our voluntary muscles need to be stimulated and our cardio-respiratory function thrives on intense forms of aerobic activity – without doing so, it has been proven time and time again that morbidities and illnesses such as heart disease, depression, certain cancers and obesity1, to only name a few, prevail. The Feldenkrais Method can compliment such fitness endeavors.

Moshe Feldenkrais was an athlete and Judo master. His work is steeped in enabling health in many facets. The four main biological functions that we as humans require for healthy living are the keystones of the Feldenkrais Method: sensing, feeling, thinking and acting. Mind-body connection is all the rage in the fitness industry now, and the Feldenkrais Method brilliantly blends these four functions, clearly putting the mind-body connection into practical action. It helps people explore how they truly can “work smarter, not harder” – one of the mantras of the fitness industry now.

Being a fitness professional by trade, I have noticed that the fitness industry has become fixated on targeting “key” muscle areas with little attention put towards the functionality of the whole system. Awareness is only taught in mind-body classes or during relaxation portions of exercise regimes. Even in professional sports, athletes typically do their physical, psychological and relaxation training separate from one another. For general fitness folk, many come out of their regimes with improved physical and aerobic capacity, but disembodied and segmented into pieces and parts and miles away from self-awareness.

Luckily, times are a changing. Many coaches and instructors are realizing this disconnect being taught. “[The] Feldenkrais [Method] attracts me because it moves away from the “cookie cutter” approach so often found throughout the fitness industry,” says Diana Rochon, a strength & conditioning specialist based out of the Canadian Sport Centre Pacific in Whistler, BC., “This is especially true in terms of ‘functional’ assessments that presume all movement problems are found in the problem muscle.”

A few words from Moshe: Learning vs. Exercise

“And that’s how we can avoid the tedium of repetition of exercise, by finding that if you differentiate yourself; if you know that the object is to differentiate – it means make a difference between two similar movements or similar actions. And the next thing, generalize – it means involve your entire being. If parts of yourself do not participate in the movement, it will never be as good as you can make it. And it will never become a habit with you because it’s uncomfortable so long as you don’t involve your entire person in it………. That is not learning. That’s exercising. So, slowly, the most important thing is not to achieve the movement, but to find the process of organizing yourself for the action and introducing to that a generalization. Involve your entire self and not those little bits which (you) are used to. And as, especially if you carry it over in other walks of life, it’s extraordinarily important.2

These key words spoken from the founder himself offer the fitness industry a more humane and intelligent way to become fit and health conscious. Feldenkrais® lessons have the potential to offer powerful, intelligent and effective ways to help people discover how to use their whole self for more strength, power, ease and efficiency. This whole-person approach is what works best for real-life activities. When an infant squats and picks up a toy, you can be sure they aren’t following a step-by-step protocol and cueing the activation of specific muscles. They initiate movement by finding support within themselves skeletally and from their environment. Action occurs when curiosity and safety prevail. When this happens, muscles do their job and there is proportional organization throughout their whole self. 



Working with the Feldenkrais Method, I and other practitioners have supported fitness enthusiasts – from rookies to Olympic athletes – to break through training plateaus, discover new strength and success supported by different ways of organizing, and significantly improve exercise technique and effectiveness. “People often tell us how surprised and pleased they are with the speed at which their ‘body-intelligence’ creates changes that really do make a difference” says Violet van Hees, Trainer of Fitness Leaders and Feldenkrais Practitioner based out of Whitehorse in the Yukon.
Feldenkrais is the new name in fitness”

Recently, Chicago’s Daily Herald wrote “Feldenkrais is the new name in fitness3”. This headline is exciting and hints at a tipping point in mass recognition of the Feldenkrais Method. “I enjoy showing clients a few tips I have learnt through the Feldenkrais lessons I’ve experienced and watching what a difference it makes in their mobility” says Sylvie Allen, fitness and strength instructor from Pemberton, BC. “I suggest that every fitness professional try Feldenkrais and open up to a whole new world of knowledge!”

1 – Nelson, ME., and colleagues. 2007. Physical activity and public health in older adults. Recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation 116:1094-1105.
2 – Feldenkrais® Professional Training Program Transcripts. Amherst, Mass. 1981. Ed. Humiston, B.  Week 7, 8, 9. Morning Session   Tape #61. Page 7 and 8 of 38.
3 - http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=221024&src=118

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