The Feldenkrais Method: Teaching By Handling


Author: Yochanan Rywerant
Media: Book, Paperback, 256 Pages

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The Feldenkrais Method®: Teaching By Handling is a presentation of the system of Functional Integration® devised by the Israeli scientist Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. The Feldenkrais system is a way of handling the body by communicating specific sensations to the central nervous system in order to improve the functions of the motor system.

Functional Integration is unique in that it evokes changes in the human brain at a level heretofore thought unachievable by any known educational technique: muscular tonicity — even spasticity — is actually modified, the range of movement is enhanced, movement becomes more coordinated, and the overall efficiency and comfort of muscular functioning is increased.

In The Feldenkrais Method: Teaching By Handling, learn how the author has devised a framework for understanding an immensely subtle and elusive technique for human change.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction

Part I: Manipulation and Teaching
1. Manipulation as Nonverbal Communication between Teacher and Pupil
2. The Approach to Communicative Manipulation

Part II: The Basic Technique
3. The Unit of Communicative Manipulation (The Manipulon)
4. A Classification of Manipulons
5. The Various Modes of the Pupil’s Response: The Limbic and Optical Levels of Control

Part III: Further Technical Considerations
6. Some Physical Principles Involved in Functional Integration
7. Increasing Efficiency: Directions of Movement, Timing, and the Teacher’s Own Body Awareness

Part IV: Working Through Sessions
8. The Form of the Manipulatory Session
9. Schematic Outlines of a Few Model Sessions
10. A Few Typical and Often-Encountered Manifestations of Inefficient Neuromotor Organization
11. Additional Do’s and Don’ts for a Future Practitioner

Part V: Illustrative Case Histories
12. The Story of Hanoch’s Return to the Flute
13. Improving the Ability to Perform
14. Remarks on Pain, Function, and Structure
15. Reflections on the Creative Process

  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Yochanan was a teacher of physics in one of the best schools in Israel. He was at that 28 years running.

Later he joined the Feldenkrais School. He worked 13-1/2 years within close quarters in the same room in which I worked. He has his own “handwriting” like all the others. Everyone learns the Method without imitating his teacher. Yochanan is not imitating anybody.

This book in front of you should be re-read several times. That way you are likely to get most of the goodness of the book. Good luck!

Moshe Feldenkrais, Tel Aviv, Israel


Introducing the subject of this book can best be done by reuniting one particular case, not a spectacular one, but one which makes clear the special approach that is going to be outlined in the course of these pages.

A.N., a young woman of 25 years of age, came to see me upon the recommendation of a friend. She had suffered pain in her lower back for over two weeks and hoped to receive some relief. She said that the same thing had happened once before a year ago, but that the pain had ceased after a few days.

Looking at her, I observed a slightly bent posture with a sunken chest. Otherwise she had a tall and slender figure. Her spine, from the neck down to the pelvis, formed one continuous, slightly convex curve.

I asked her to lie down on my worktable on the side of her body that felt more comfortable. My table is actually a wide bench, slightly padded for comfort, and about the height of a chair seat. A.N. chose to lie on her left side. I placed a soft support underneath her head. She curled herself up a little bit, so that the curvature of her spine became even more pronounced.

I wondered whether the very tense muscles of the small of the back, especially on her right side, had their antagonists — that is, the muscles of the stomach — tensing up as well. I found them quite taut, which meant that extra stress was being put on the tired back muscles. This contracted state of the trunk muscles was neither intentional nor conscious. It, therefore, made no sense to ask A.N., to stop tensing thee muscles. Instead, she had to be shown what she was actually doing and what possible alternatives she might have for doing otherwise.

Among other things I did with A.N. was to bring her pelvis and her chest (on the right side) slightly nearer to each other in a gentle fashion. I held them with my hands in this way for a few seconds, released them, and then repeated this same movement. In fact, I was simply doing what these tense trunk muscles seemed determined to do themselves by their involuntary shortening. In fact, by making this same effort with my hands, I was rendering the effort of the muscles superfluous. My message was: “You can rest now. Count on me. I am doing your work for you.”

After a little while, I could feel that the message had been received. The contracting muscles gradually lessened their effort to shorten the distance between pelvis and chest, and thus they resisted less than before the lengthening of this distance. A learning process had now begun. A.N. perceived — perhaps not wholly consciously — that there was a possible alternative to what had been happening before.

I then did something which clarified this situation further and helped A.N. to familiarize herself with what was going on in her muscular system. After all, the sensation of having such muscles less tensed might be new and non-habitual for A.N., at least after having had very different sensations for the past two weeks during which she was in pain. I had to provide her with situations in which this newly learned experience could be applied in various contexts.

I looked for functions and movements in her arm and chest that were related to and dependent upon reduced tension in the trunk muscles, and for similar functions in her leg and pelvis.

I checked A.N.’s right shoulder blade, which was held near the spinal column and drawn slightly upwards. It was difficult to slide it away from this position. This was evidently part of the pattern of the back muscles holding the trunk in a rigid state. Touching along her spine, I discovered (simultaneously for myself as well as for A.N.) that the muscle group on the right side of the spinal column was also tense in the thoracic and cervical sections, all the way up to the base of the skull.

Among other things, I lifted A.N.’s right arm in front of her face, bringing it above her head. With this particular arm movement, which was quite far from the contraction in the small of the back, she allowed her right shoulder blade to slide upward with the lifted arm. I wanted that connection between shoulder and lower back to be clarified, so I gently pulled her arm above her head with one of my hands, while with my other hand I touched the muscles in the small of the back. Thus, she eventually became aware through her sensations that with this movement of the arm, the chest moved slightly in relation to the pelvis. Meanwhile, I observed that with every movement there was a straightening out of the spine and even a slight arching of the small of the back.

Having clarified this situation, I could then show her that the position of her head, as she was lying, could be very easily aligned with the already lengthened spine. And when A.N.’s breathing became deeper and steadier, I pointed this out to her to make her aware that another function had improved along with the lessening of tension in the trunk muscles.

I put one of my hands on her pelvis and the other on her ribs (still on the right side) and made gentle twisting movements, bringing the chest forward and the pelvis backward, and vice versa. Since I did this in an easy and comfortable manner, without provoking any possible feeling of danger, A.N. allowed this without the least bit of resistance.

I then checked the movability of her pelvis, this time manipulating her legs since we are more aware of the movements of the limbs than of the pelvis. A.N. was lying on her back with the legs extended. I raised one of her legs slightly by lifting the heel up from the table three or four inches. I then oriented this leg so that it pointed toward her head, and then I pushed the leg toward her head by pressing the sole of her foot. Making a few small and gentle movements like this, to and fro, the pelvis began to rock easily in a rolling movement. This showed A.N. a way of adjusting the degree of her muscular tone for easier movements of the trunk.

Something else that became clear to A.N. was that force can easily pass through the skeletal structure without having to involve any muscular effort. The pressure through the legs went all the way up to her head, reminding A.N. of what it felt like to use skeletal support efficiently in an upright position.

Gradually A.N. realized (at least on a sensory level) that if she could become loose and ready for movement and action in any direction without preliminary preparation, then the muscle spasm in the small of her back would be terminated.

With A.N. still lying on her back, I again checked the ease of the movement of both her arms and her head.

A.N. stood up, straightened herself out — her shoulders broad, her chest up — and walked with ease. Her pain had almost completely disappeared.

This is a fragmentary description of a session of Functional Integration. The emphasis was, as the reader could tell, on the motor functions and on the amount of control a person has over these functions. The general principles and some of the technical aspects of this method are the subject of this book.

This system is a way of teaching people to increase both their physical and mental awareness in order to maximize their inherent potential. The human brain, far from being utilized to its full capacity, is capable of some surprising kinds of learning. By being taught to differentiate and combine patterns of action, a person’s efficiency, comfort and wel-being can be increased. The person, in fact, learns how to learn. And someone who develops a conscious attitude toward these possibilities is able to program and reprogram his actions according to changing circumstances. This helps him solve his problems with greater ease.

There are two techniques within this system:

1. Group lessons, called Awareness Through Movement sessions, during which the teacher advises verbally how to do certain movements, which sensations to pay attention to, and how to achieve improved motor functioning, widened self-awareness, and a more adequate self-image.

2. An individual, manipulatory technique called Functional Integration, through which the teacher can, by gently manipulating the pupil’s body, become aware of the peculiarities of the pupil’s neuromotor functioning. Through proper manipulation, he makes the pupil aware of these peculiarities, along with alternative ways of controlling the motor functions. The effect of these lessons is very often spectacular, ranging from an improvement in well-being and vitality, and ease and efficiency of motor functioning in general, to a gradual alleviation of pain and a decrease in motor impairment.

Among those who can profit from help of this kind are people who need improved body coordination and people with sensory-motor deficiencies of any kind produced by trauma, disease, or deterioration in structure or function.

This volume deals exclusively with the manipulative technique, Functional Integration. The book will be of relevance to those interested in the problem of increasing efficiency by better coordination, to those who deal with this problem professionally, such as physical educators, dancers, actors, athletes and music teachers, and also medical and supplementary didactic material for participants in professional courses in Functional Integration. We will not deal thoroughly with the scientific basis of the system, nor will the book provide all of the knowledge of anatomy that is required. For this, the reader must consult the standard textbooks on anatomy, physiology or neurophysiology. After working through the book, the reader will still be a beginner, in need of expanding his abilities by sharing experience with senior practitioners of the Method.

Moshe Feldenkrais, born in 1904, doctor in physics and Director of the Feldenkrais Institute in Tel Aviv, devised this general system of neuromotor teaching and reconditioning. His major theoretical work, Body and Mature Behavior, appeared in 1949. After that, he taught both the group and individual techniques, lecturing and teaching professional courses in Israel, the United States, Canada, and many European countries.

Moshe Feldenkrais died in Tel Aviv on July 1, 1984.


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