Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais

Physicist and the founder of the Feldenkrais Method

Dr Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-84) was an Israeli physicist and the founder of The Feldenkrais Method, a somatic education system that improves the way the brain controls human movement, and all human functioning by increasing self -awareness through movement.

Make the impossible possible,
the easy effortless, and the effortless elegant’

Moshe Feldenkrais & His Method

An intellectually gifted child, born in Russia ( present-day Ukraine) in 1904, Moshe Feldenkrais travelled alone to Palestine at age 14, where he worked as a labourer, tutor and as a teacher of self-defence, whilst studying for his high school diploma. Determined at a young age to excel, and with a thirst for knowledge, he had a clear academic gift, and was an accomplished sportsman. He researched Jiu Jitsu and hypnosis, and at an early age published books on both these topics.

After graduating high school and working as a cartographer for the British survey office in the 1930s, he moved to France and studied engineering and physics under the now famous Marie-Curie at the Sorbonne. This is where he gained his doctorate in science.

Feldenkrais remained an avid martial arts student, and it was during this time he met and trained with Kano, the founder of Judo. He became the first westerner to gain a 2nd degree black belt. He helped to co-found the Jiu Jitsu Club de France, today one of Europe’s oldest and largest Dojos, and to many the name Feldenkrais is synonymous with Judo. Many principles that he learned from eastern martial arts philosophy were to heavily influence his theories of human potential, as were many themes drawn from his personal experience throughout his life.

It was during this time that Feldenkrais worked as chief research assistant to nuclear chemist and Nobel peace laureate Joliot-Curie. Feldenkrais was in fact the engineer who built the particle accelerator.

When the Germans invaded France in the early 40s, Feldenkrais was responsible for secretly carrying a jar of heavy water and associated research notes to the British Admiralty War Office, and safety.

During his time developing sonar detection for the allied forces, he slipped and hurt his knee, aggravating an old soccer injury. The prognosis from the surgeons was not encouraging, with surgery offering only a 50% chance of success.

As a scientist, he felt those odds did not warrant such a risk, and deemed the surgery more an experiment. He decided to use his advanced knowledge in physics, cybernetics, martial arts, neuroscience, psychology, childhood development, and of course anatomy, to teach himself how to improve the functioning of his knees by learning how to better use his whole self.

He did successfully, and in the process discovered the way to stimulate the brain’s ability to learn and change rapidly. This process is known today as brain plasticity. Brain Plasticity is accepted fact in brain science today but in the 1940s it was a new concept, and very little research had been done.

Well ahead of his time, Feldenkrais knew he was on to something, and faced a barrage of criticism when he left his accomplished and esteemed scientific career to study a relatively new idea, that of human development.

Feldenkrais understood there is no separation between the mind and body, and that all the human systems combine to make one complete system, or whole person. He recognised that every motor pattern has a correlating mental pattern, and understood the relationship between thought, feeling and action, and how our own unique learned self-image dictates how easily or not we move through life.

He attributed many conditions that limit our health and wellbeing to incomplete learning, and believed in the inherent human drive to improve. Feldenkrais’ true genius lay in his understanding of how to turn on the brain’s learning switch, so he devised many thousands of lessons, all remarkable in their simplicity, coded to rewrite the brain to improve not just motor skills, but also cognitive and emotional functioning. In other words, improving the whole person. His method isn’t so much about better movement, but rather using movement as a vehicle towards greater self-knowledge, and a pathway towards true and potent maturity.

Feldenkrais had a dream to teach people how to be the best possible version of themselves. Through his many books, lectures, and professional training courses in Israel, The United States and Europe, and his remarkable hands-on work, Dr Feldenkrais consistently demonstrated that people’s limitations and pain could be ‘unlearned’ easily and effortlessly, and replaced with improved functioning.

He used his own body and functionality as an experimental laboratory to test his theories, and drew many ideas from his own life experiences to influence the development of his ideas. Eventually in the 1950s, Feldenkrais chose a student, Mia Segal to help him with the development of his method. He then selected 13 Israeli students to teach, It was during this time that he worked with Israel’s first Prime-minister David Ben-Gurion, famously teaching him to stand on his head.

Many thousands of people flocked to see Feldenkrais for his remarkable methodology, and he became renowned for his ability to effect healing of many conditions deemed untreatable. Feldenkrais however, didn’t see himself as a healer. He was a physicist, engineer and an accomplished martial artist, and he was much more interested in people’s good health and the potential to ‘restore people to their human dignity’ – that is to help people discover broader choice in their vocabulary of movements, and to learn to organise themselves so well that the original conditions for ill-health could no longer be sustained.

Moshe Feldenkrais went on to teach 2 more professional training programs in North America, before his death from a stroke in 1984.

Today an International Feldenkrais Guild led by his 1st generation teachers governs professional Feldenkrais Teacher Training around the world. Original assistant Mia Segal has gone on to teach her own professional teachers program called MBS ( Mind Body Studies), and student Anat Baniel offers an alternative teacher training program under her own title of ABM ( the Anat Baniel Method). All require an average of 4 years training before graduation.

The Feldenkrais Method stands out today as one of the most intriguing and effective systems for realising the potential of human development. Highly respected by medical researchers, high level athletes and performers, many people suffering neurological limitations, spinal injuries, developmental issues, chronic pain sufferers, and very many ordinary people wishing for extraordinary lives, Moshe Feldenkrais was to leave a legacy that would change the way human development and movement rehabilitation and enhancement would be approached for evermore. He died leaving a legacy where by anybody could learn to

‘Make the impossible possible, the easy effortless, and the effortless elegant’

Dr Moshe Feldenkrais Dsc. 1904-1984.

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