Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc. (1903-1984), 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 the Ukraine 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 had studied Ju Jitsu so thoroughly that he ended up developing it into the Israeli martial art, Krag Maga.
One day in Paris he heard that Jikaro Kano, founder of Judo, had come to lecture. Moshe attended, and when Kano asked for a
volunteer to demonstrate a 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, 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 also met Mathias Alexander, founder of the Alexander Technique.
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 such as theater director
He is the author of several books, the most important being Awareness Through Movement and The Potent Self. At
his death in 1984, after two American Professional Training Programs, he left 300 people trained in the Method. There are
over 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
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.
This chart shows how Alan Fraser has used the brain similarly to bring
new developments and learning to piano technique.
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