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The Feldenkrais Method

June 24, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Poor balance is a leading cause of disability and infirmity in the elder population. If you aren’t a part of that age group yet, please don’t tune out. The Feldenkrais Method is a unique mind-body technique that helps to improve balance, but, may also help a wide range of other conditions, including chronic pain, depression, eating disorders, fibromyalgia and, even, multiple sclerosis.

The Feldenkrais Method was developed by a Ukrainian physicist and Judo expert named Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. His intent was to create a form of physical therapy that thoroughly explored the connection between the mind and body. By establishing better awareness of the communication that occurs between the brain and physical movement, he believed that issues relating to disability, pain and even certain psychological impairments could be improved.

The actual exercises, sometimes referred to as “Awareness Through Movement”, are typically carried out in a group setting. The instructors guide a series of movements with verbal cues and occasionally by supporting motions with a hands-on approach. The combination of these three sensory techniques (sight, tactile guidance and verbal prompts) assists the students to connect with fundamental movements in a simple, yet profound way. The mind-body connection that ensues is part of the reason why many actors and dancers utilize the Feldenkrais Method to improve upon their craft and presentation.

A study of the Feldenkrais Method (FM) was just published today in the journal Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It examined the effects of FM in a group of 26 seniors with an average age of 75. 36 seniors additional seniors were recruited as an inactive “control group”. (1)

The 26 participants in the treatment group engaged in twice-weekly Feldenkrais classes that were specifically tailored to address balance issues. The combination of exercises was named “Getting Grounded Gracefully” and lasted a total of 10 weeks. An “activities specific” questionnaire, a physical test knows as the Four Square Step Test (FSST), and “self-selected gait speed” (walking speed) were assessed before and after the trial.

All measures of balance and mobility were improved in the Feldenkrais treatment group. In addition, most of the active participants noted benefits with regard to body image and a greater ability to engage in everyday activities, such as walking pets and climbing slopes.

Another trial published in January tested the exact same Feldenkrais balance program on a group of 55 senior volunteers. Half of the participants adopted a twice-weekly FM practice for an 8 week period. The remainder continued with their typical daily activities. This study demonstrated a lower likelihood of falls (based on the Modified Falls Efficacy Scale) and improvements in two performance measurements that tested mobility and speed of movement. Another positive finding was that “class attendance” was very high (88%), and survey results indicated excellent satisfaction among participants. (2)

FM appears to be well suited for issues relating to pain management. A 2002 study found that 78 men and women with “non-specific musculoskeletal pain disorders” exhibited greater relief when utilizing the Feldenkrais Method as opposed to “conventional physiotherapy”. Another advantage was that the benefits of FM appeared to extend well beyond the treatment period as indicated by a one year follow up exam. Also, mental aspects of the post trial quality of life testing indicated a significant psychological advantage over conventional treatment. (3) A recent review article in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation included FM and other “body awareness therapies” as seemingly cost effective ways of increasing health-related quality of life in those with chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia. (4)

Falling Accidents in the US Population at Large

Finding non-toxic and empowering methods to address mental health disorders should be a goal of all medical models. The Feldenkrais Method may be one way of helping those who struggle with psychological issues. The evidence for this can be found in several seemingly unrelated studies.

  • In 1997, a study conducted on 30 inpatients with eating disorders discovered a profoundly positive effect on body image in those engaging in FM. The authors noted “greater acceptance and familiarity of their bodies”, “more spontaneous, open and self-confident behavior, the decrease of feelings of helplessness and decrease of the wish to return to the security of early childhood”. (5) Some, but not all, of these benefits may be attributable to the mood enhancing effects of FM. A 2003 study discovered that while FM is considered a “low-exertion activity”, it promotes positive mood to the same degree as other forms of exercise such as swimming. In that study, FM even outperformed aerobic exercise. (6)
  • Sometimes so-called negative trial results still yield constructive information. A 1999 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine failed to find any significant symptomatic improvement in a group of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) using the Feldenkrais Method. (7) But the researchers did note sizable reductions in anxiety and stress in those performing FM. This study was relatively short in duration (8 weeks of FM treatment). In the longer term, it’s quite possible that FM could make a difference in the health of those with MS, specifically because of its stress reducing effect. Some studies point to a direct connection between perceived stress levels and MS progression. (8,9)

I think there’s something powerful about directing attention to the inner workings and interactions of the body and mind. This is an area that is commonly glossed over in our busy lives. There are simply too many other distractions that seem to divert our attention. Changing that dynamic may afford a powerful tool in reclaiming various aspects of health and untapped quality of life.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!

JP

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Exercise, Mental Health

13 Comments & Updates to “The Feldenkrais Method”

  1. Oct Says:

    Wow, thank you for that article JP. I will definitely check into the Feldenkrais Method more. Potential to restore some of my lost balance and to reduce stress and anxiety all are of great interest to me. Very good article and much appreciated.

    ~oct

  2. JP Says:

    My pleasure, Oct. :)

    I hope this proves to be a valuable practice for you.

    Be well!

    JP

  3. stacy barrows Says:

    Thank you for this posting. I have already copied this and sent it to many professionals to know more abou this work. I am a PT and have had many success stories using the Feldenkrais work for pain management, performance enhancement and definaltey balance and functional training.
    Keep up the god work.

  4. JP Says:

    Thanks, Stacy! I’m very happy to know my column is being shared and hopefully will help some people!

    I’m also pleased to know that the Feldenkrais Method is proving effective in your personal practice. Great news indeed!

    Be well!

    JP

  5. dwight pargee Says:

    great article jp…thanks for posting!

    as an exercise physiologist who works with the active senior population, i find the feldenkrais method an indispensable component of wellness and fitness programs for my clients. the improved dynamic stability and balance and spatial awareness they learn from awareness through movement lessons have a great effect on their ability to sense and move comfortably and even with pleasure in whatever activities they choose.

  6. JP Says:

    Thanks, Dwight! I’m thrilled to read of your success using this therapeutic modality.

    Be well!

    JP

  7. Jill Says:

    Feldenkrais is an educational model seeking to enable people to regain flexibilty and choice of self use within their own constraints.
    During clas there is little focus on therapeutic applications because practitioner trainings dont include any pathology training.
    Instead of working with folk with limiting ‘labels’ such as back pain patient,stroke victim, MS sufferer classess focus on how people are today and what they can achieve.
    In this sense it is more like a coaching than therapeutic model.
    There are some very very short lessons on my site, which are free and include elements of Feldenkrais Principles
    Jill Wigmore-Welsh

  8. Pam Arnold Says:

    I am a health care provider for an elderly lady with Lewy Bodies disease and she also shows symptoms of Alzhiemers and Parkinson’s disease and I would like to know if the Feldenkrais Method would benefit her or possibly help in any way? If so I would like to learn more about this method. Please let me know if your method has ever been used on people with this type of disease and what the results have been. Thank you, Pam Arnold

  9. JP Says:

    Pam,

    A cursory review of the medical literature didn’t specifically turn up any studies on the Feldenkrais Method and Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease. You might consider contacting The International Feldenkrais Federation and inquire about these topics.

    http://feldenkrais-method.org/

    Be well!

    JP

  10. Tim Wilson Says:

    Thank you for compiling and posting this article. I especially appreciate your willingness and enthusiasm around seeing issues from many perspectives.

    Tim Wilson

  11. JP Says:

    Many thanks, Time! Sorry for the delayed reply!

    Be well!

    JP

  12. JP Says:

    Update:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25599428

    Altern Ther Health Med. 2015 Jan;21(1):8-14.

    Feldenkrais Method-based Exercise Improves Quality of Life in Individuals With Parkinson’s Disease: A Controlled, Randomized Clinical Trial.

    Context • Longevity results in changes to patterns of health, with an increased prevalence of chronic diseases. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is described as a progressive neurodegenerative disease related to age that influences quality of life (QoL) and leads to depression.

    Objective • The study intended to assess changes in QoL and depression in older adults with PD through use of Feldenkrais method-based exercise.

    DESIGN:

    The study was a controlled, blinded, and randomized clinical trial.

    SETTING:

    The study occurred at the University Hospital of the Federal University of Sergipe in Aracaju, Sergipe, Brazil.

    Participants • Participants were 30 patients, aged between 50 and 70 y, with idiopathic PD, who signed an informed consent form and were randomly assigned to 2 groups: treatment and control.

    Intervention • The treatment group underwent 50 sessions of an exercise program based on the Feldenkrais method. The control group received educational lectures during this period. The treatment group’s 50 sessions, given 2 ×/wk on alternate days and lasting 60 min, were conducted in an appropriate room at the hospital. Outcome

    Measures • Two surveys, the Parkinson’s Disease Quality of Life (PDQL) questionnaire and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), were administered before and after the sessions for both groups.

    Results • After the exercises based on the Feldenkrais method, the treated group showed improvement in QoL scores (P = .004) as well as a reduction in the level of depression (P = .05) compared with the control group.

    Conclusion • The findings in the current study indicate that it is likely that the practice of a program based on the Feldenkrais method can contribute greatly to the QoL of patients with PD, suggesting the importance of interventions that promote wellness for this population.

    Be well!

    JP

  13. JP Says:

    Updated 09/17/16:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27634072

    J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2016 Jul;20(3):512-7.

    The Feldenkrais Method(®) can enhance cognitive function in independent living older adults: A case-series.

    Poor cognitive health a major concern of aging individuals, can compromise independent living. More than 16 million people in the United States are affected by cognitive impairment. We have studied the effects of the Feldenkrais Method(®) on cognitive function. In this case series with three participants cognitive function was assessed with the Trail Making Test A and B at baseline and after the Feldenkrais intervention. All participants improved performance on Trail Making Test A and B after completing the Feldenkrais intervention indicating that Feldenkrais lessons may offset age-related decline in cognitive function. The results of this case series warrant larger scale studies on cognitive outcomes of Feldenkrais interventions in clinical and non-clinical populations.

    Be well!

    JP

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