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June 29

The Bodywork Series: The Feldenkrais Method


by Jack Heggie

My client, May, lay on her side on the table. Sitting just above her head, I had placed one hand on her neck and was gently pulling her head upward in the direction of her spine. It was her seventh session of Feldenkrais Functional Integration®, and the session appeared to be going well.

Suddenly, May stopped breathing and began to squirm uncomfortably. I quickly removed my hands.

“Is that painful?” I asked.

“No, but it makes me very uncomfortable,” she replied.

I was immediately struck by her tone of voice. May was a mature, 38-year-old woman, with a responsible professional position in a medium-sized company, but her voice sounded as if it were coming from a 6-year old. And a very scared 6-year old at that.

I sat back, took a deep breath, and mentally shifted gears. I had been earning my living as a Feldenkrais Practitioner for over four years, and I was just a few days shy of completing my NLP Master Programmer training. I recognized that I had a situation with May that called for the use of NLP.

I moved my stool around to the side so that I could look at May’s face. She looked scared. “What’s going on in your head?” I asked while watching her eyes for accessing cues. She looked up, a visual access, but said that she wasn’t sure. “You see something,” I told her, “can you tell me what it is?”

I waited for almost a minute for the answer, which came in that same scared, little girl voice. I listened as May told a long, involved story of child abuse. Over the next few week, I continued to work with her using the Feldenkrais Method and NLP. The Feldenkrais work that I had done earlier seemed to have uncovered or somehow made it OK to talk about the child abuse. Once the incidents were uncovered, the NLP techniques that I had been learning seemed to be able to quickly defuse the trauma of the childhood incidents. Afterward, May told me that she felt like a different – better and more effective – person.

Just what is the Feldenkrais Method? The method is a kind of psychophysical education, or, as it is known informally, as “bodywork,” even though practitioners consider the word a misnomer. The method was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc., in the middle part of this century. As a result of a crippling knee injury in his early twenties, Feldenkrais was forced to learn to use his body in the most efficient way in order to learn to walk again. During the course of his investigations into how human beings learn to move, he was led to consider how the whole body, and in fact the whole person, is involved in every act we perform. He was successful enough in his endeavor to obtain a black belt in Judo (being one of the first Europeans to do so). He established the Judo Club of France, which was the largest Judo organization outside of Japan for a long time, and he taught Judo for many years.

In 1949, Feldenkrais published “Body and Mature Behavior: A Study of Anxiety, Sex, Gravitation and Learning”. In the book, he uses the known facts of anatomy, physiology, and psychology to prove analytically that particular connection between the mind and body. He shows that the emotional state known as “anxiety” is the mental correlate of a particular physical state which he calls “the body pattern of anxiety.” With his work in Functional Integration and Awareness Through Movement®, he demonstrated this idea experientially by relieving people of their anxieties.

In fact, said Feldenkrais, it is only in words that we make a distinction between “mind” and “body.” In reality, the mind and body are just two aspects of the indivisible, whole human being.

His book was years ahead of its time, and even today, it is little known and even less appreciated.

For myself, I have come to think of the Feldenkrais Method as “working with the self through movement and touch,” and of NLP as “working with the self through talking.” This kind of description avoids falling into the trap of speaking of the “body” and the “mind” as two different entities.

Toward the end of hi life, Feldenkrais spent a lot of time teaching and working in the Untied States. He became well known for his cures of those with disabilities arising from strokes and severe accidents, as well as for his work with such famous people as the guitarist Narciso Yepes, the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, the basketball player, Dr. J, and others.

In practice, the Feldenkrais Method consists of two branches, the group work known as Awareness Through Movement, and the individual work known as Functional Integration. In Awareness Through Movement, the students sit or lie on the floor, and the teacher directs the students verbally through a sequence of movements that allow them to gently explore some aspect of their physical functioning. At the end of a lesson (which usually lasts about an hour) students report that they feel taller, lighter, more balanced, their breathing and posture have improved, and that many aches and pains have diminished or disappeared entirely.


Dr. Feldenkrais invented several thousand of these ATM exercises, and so it is possible to study for years and not repeat an exercise.

In Functional Integration, the client lies clothed on a padded table, and the practitioner uses his hands to guide him to improved posture, breathing, movement, and balance. No force is used in Functional Integration, and as a result, there is rarely any pain during a session.

When a new client comes for a lesson, the practitioner conducts an interview, asking what he or she wants. Many clients come for relief of pain arising from an accident or sports over-training. Others complain of depression, tiredness, or shallow breathing. Still, others come seeking improvement in the ability to play a musical instrument or wishing to improve in some athletic endeavor. After the interview, the practitioner has a close look at the client, noticing for example, if one hip is higher than the other, if the breathing seems unusually restricted, or if the hips are rotated with respect to the shoulders.

The visual examination is supplemented by touching to feel if muscle groups are too tight or too loose. The client then lies on the table, and the practitioner uses the methods of Functional Integration to bring the clients body back to a better level of organization by improving their posture, breathing, and balance. The method actually reprograms the brain to direct the muscles to move in the most natural, efficient way.



I first become interested in NLP after hearing some of my Feldenkrais friends talk about it. A short introductory seminar honed my interest, and I enrolled in a Programmer Training and later in a Master Programmer Training.

As I progressed in the training, I began to see some very interesting similarities between the Feldenkrais Method and NLP. On the surface, the two are very different. In a Functional Integration lesson, the important work is done by touch and movement, and verbal communication between teacher and student is kept to a minimum. In NLP, of course, almost the opposite is true.

However, beneath these surface differences lie some striking similarities. Both methods work with patterns – one with patterns of movement, the other with patterns of thinking – and the object is to increase the number of patterns available to the client, and the flexibility to use them.

Another similar idea pervades both methods. In NLP, one of the goals of the work is to be able to be congruent in your actions. Feldenkrais arrived at virtually the same idea which he described as being un-intentional. The fact that the same idea arises from the study of both “physical” and “mental” processing indicates that it is a fundamental aspect of a proper human organization.

The Feldenkrais Method and NLP also complement each other in other ways. For example, once when doing an NLP session with a client, she became stuck in such a distressing emotional state that I thought she was going to actually pass out. Sitting down, she had slumped over until her head was almost on her knees. In this position, she was barely able to breathe. Using my hands on the front and back of her chest, I brought her upright and held her up until she had taken a few deep breaths. She came back to a more resourceful state, and we were able to continue the session. It was one of the clearest and most dramatic examples of mind/body unity that I have ever seen.

In fact, if a client gets stuck in Functional Integration, I usually advise them to do some NLP. Conversely, if a client gets stuck in NLP, I advise some Functional Integration or Awareness Through Movement. Or, I tell them what Lynne Conwell told me some years ago when I was taking my Programmer training: “If you are serious about personal change, I advise you to do some bodywork along with your NLP.” I couldn’t agree more.

But for me, the most important thing about the Feldenkrais Method and NLP is that they allow access to a level of human functioning that has not been available before. They allow one to change and become a better, more effective person in fundamental ways “to realize your unavowed dreams.”

I have found NLP to be useful in my Feldenkrais practice in several ways. The first way is in simply communicating with my clients. Establishing good rapport helps the lessons go smoothly. The second way in which I find NLP particularly useful is in dealing with emotional issues and repressed trauma that sometimes arises during the course of a lesson. And also, in my breathing work, I have used some NLP ideas to teach students how their emotions and their breathing effect each other, and how to control negative emotions by working with their breathing.

But one thing that I have learned from the study of NLP goes beyond techniques. It is a kind of tolerance. After becoming aware of my own patterns of mental processing, and seeing (not feeling or hearing!) how others process information, I have started to be able to accept their patterns as neither better or worse than my own.

I have come to see the Feldenkrais Method and NLP as two sides of the human coin. The Feldenkrais Method deals directly with physical events – with posture, breathing, movement, the proper alignment of the skeleton to produce efficient support in the field of gravity, and so on – and indirectly with mental events – with thoughts, feelings, visualizations, and so on. NLP, on the other hand, deals directly with mental events and indirectly with physical events. The two methods are complementary, and between them, it should be possible to deal with the whole range of human experience.




Bodywork, Functional Integration, Jack Heggie, NLP

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  1. What is interesting.. I started over 12 years ago with NLP to use it in my job and in private life. And then.. I found Structural Integration, that is.. quite similar to Functional Integration, but works directly with client’s body or, better sayin’ – with his nervous system. SI is therapy created by Ida Rolf. Ida and Moshe, as far as I know, were very close friends as they have lots of common ideas-like those about gravity/balance and learning/etc.
    Coming back to the point.. I found SI as .. an important part of human change and how body is influencing on mind. And.. I’ve learned SI to work with people and actually I use NLP (and hipnotherapy) almost everytime to teach them new behaviours, new approach of using their body and.. mind. As body and mind are the Unity.

    So.. you’re not alone;)

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