Health

Awareness (and Healing) Through Movement: An Interview with Feldenkrais Practitioner Dr. Eilat Almagor

How do babies learn how to move? 

Unlike animals that begin to crawl, prance, or run as soon as they are born, human babies engage in a very slow, gradual, and deliberate process of learning how to use their bodies. Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, an engineer from Russia, studied that process and discovered that humans of all ages can use the same method to retrain their bodies and eliminate harmful or ineffective movement patterns. The method he developed has many applications—addressing developmental delays in babies to enhancing the capabilities of athletes… even offering relief and healing in situations of chronic pain or injury. 

Dr. Eilat Almagor is a senior trainer in the Feldenkrais method who studied under Dr. Feldenkrais. We asked her some questions about the method and her practice of it. 

Tell us about your professional background. 

I graduated from Moshe Feldenkrais’s training in Amherst in 1983. I have a Ph. D. in neurobiology, an M.Sc. in environmental science and a B.Sc. in mathematics and physics from Hebrew University. I’ve been teaching Awareness Through Movement® classes in the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance since 1984, and for the past 30 years, I’ve been directing professional Feldenkrais trainings in Israel, Italy, and Japan. 

Four years ago, I joined forces with Professor Dorit Aharonov to teach an experimental course combining theoretical computer science with movement lessons in the Feldenkrais method at the Hebrew University School of Computer Science.We are presently incorporating a similar experimental project supported by the Ministry of Education in 10 classes in 5 different schools.  

I have also collaborated with neuroscientists in Germany studying the effects of the Feldenkrais method on brain activity. 

I work with individuals as well, especially babies and children with special needs, using the method to relieve pain or improve abilities. 

What brought you to the Feldenkrais method? 

During my doctoral studies, I started taking Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement classes with my friend Anat Baniel (who later established the ABM method, the Anat Baniel Method based on Feldenkrais). I found that in every class, I learned something new—a new movement, or a general insight into the process of learning. Sometimes I was surprised by the instantaneous nature of this process—you could almost identify the exact moment the nervous system learned something. As a neuroscientist, the Feldenkrais method intrigued me. 

I joined the Feldenkrais training in Amherst before completing my Ph.D. The course completely revolutionized my understanding of learning, thinking, movement, and self-image. Moshe Feldenkrais’s lectures shone a new, unexpected light on every topic. 

Can you explain what the Feldenkrais method is and how it works? 

The Feldenkrais method is a learning process that takes place as a result of practicing gentle exercises. These exercises create an opportunity for the student to enhance his ability by developing a greater awareness of himself, the way he moves and the way he learns. By performing these exercises, the student experiences alternatives to his deeply-rooted habits, and through experimentation and exploration, he learns to adopt some of these alternatives. This applies not only to physical movement, but to all other areas of life that require learning. 

The method benefits anyone who wishes to enjoy improved coordination and ability, such as athletes or artists, people who experience pain, the elderly, and babies with developmental issues. The method offers a straightforward, tangible and simple way to familiarize oneself with the learning capabilities of the human nervous system. 

Babies learn to roll, to crawl, to identify themselves, their bodies and their surroundings, to stand and to walk through a process of experimentation and play that includes missteps, falls, and successes. Gradually, the baby selects the actions that serve her best from among her rich collection of experiences. These movement patterns vary from baby to baby. Each new action develops from a previous action, and the nature of each depends on its predecessor. For example, the way a baby crawls is influenced by the way a baby rolls back and forth, and the way he stands up is influenced by the way he crawls. 

Since each milestone relies on previous milestones, the more varied a baby’s movements are, the greater freedom she has in choosing future movements. For example, a baby who tries a variety of different ways to crawl will be able to adapt his stance to his needs more effectively than a baby who sticks to one way of crawling. Choosing a movement pattern from among a wide range of options is one of the things that differentiates humans from animals: humans must learn how to move consciously, as opposed to animals who are born instinctively knowing how to move. 

The movement patterns we choose become habits. The advantage of a habit is that our daily actions become automatic, allowing us to focus consciously on other things. The disadvantage is that because it is so unconscious, we don’t stop and rethink whether it serves us well. It could be that as much as that habit serves us, we have become enslaved to it.  

Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais believed that at every age, you can return to the natural learning process—that you can learn new movement patterns and enhance your abilities. Feldenkrais tested out, researched and implemented his theory over the course of several decades and hundreds of movement classes. He treated babies, children and adults and taught his methods to several hundred instructors. The goal of practitioners is to learn how to learn. Through intensive experimentation, the student acquires the knowledge necessary to create a learning environment for himself and others. 

Can you tell us more about Dr. Feldenkrais and how he developed the method? 

Dr. Feldenkrais was born in Russia and made aliyah alone at the age of 14. As a young man, he worked in construction, and even in those days, he took an interest in self-defense, autosuggestion, and various learning methods. He developed a self-defense method based on his research regarding the instinctual movements of human beings when they feel threatened. He received degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering and then earned his D.Sc. in physics at the Sorbonne in Paris, and worked for several years in the French nuclear research program in the lab of Frederic Joliet Curie. He studied judo under Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, and was chosen to establish the first judo center in France. During World War II, Dr. Feldenkrais served in the British Army, assisting in the development of methods for defense against submarines. 

The catalyst for synthesizing all his knowledge into the Feldenkrais method was a knee injury that forced him to learn how to walk and function differently. His exploration led him to understand better how humans learn to walk and what conditions facilitate the acquisition of the skills of movement. For the next 40 years of his life, Dr. Feldenkrais developed an innovative and comprehensive method for enhancing human ability through movement. He left behind around a thousand tapes of movement lessons containing an enormous range of human movement possibilities. The impact of Dr. Feldenkrais’s unique perspective on the behavioral sciences and the study of the human learning process beyond movement per se is constantly growing. 

What are Feldenkrais classes like? 

There are two ways to practice the Feldenkrais method: Awareness Through Movement® classes which are generally taught in a group, and Functional Integration® sessions for individuals. 

Awareness Through Movement® classes are run by an instructor who gives verbal instructions. Each class contains a series of sophisticated movements that create new skills and enhance existing ones. The lessons begin with simple, basic movements, and advance toward more and more complex movements. As a result of the classes, the student gains more freedom of thought and action and awareness of himself and his surroundings. His day-to-day life is improved and he is able to obtain his goals more easily. The process is gradual and pleasant, and since the learning takes place as a result of experimentation and self-discovery, it comes with a sense of joy, confidence and capability.  

Functional Integration® is adapted to the specific needs of the student. The skilled teacher uses his hands to gently manipulate the student’s body and sense what forms of movement are most available to the student, allowing the student to examine and learn new forms of movement. These sessions are appropriate for students of all ages, from newborns to seniors. They are effective, for example, for babies who suffer from developmental impairments, for individuals who suffer from pain as a result of scoliosis or other musculoskeletal issues, or for musicians who wish to improve their performance. 

Tell us about the training you provide for practitioners. 

I am delighted to offer training and certification for Feldenkrais practitioners. Graduates receive a diploma recognized by the Euro Training Accreditation Board, which is coordinated with similar boards in the USA and Australia, and represent the International Feldenkrais Federation. 

The course spans three and a half years, consisting of four segments per year: 20 days in the summer, 12 days during the winter, and two five-six day segments in afternoons and Friday mornings. 

The course includes experience with the Feldenkrais method both as a student and as a teacher. Students experience Awareness Through Movement® (ATM) and Functional Integration® (FI) lessons as well as observing them and training in how to teach them. Students also participate in lectures, discussions, and video-based training sessions from Dr. Feldenkrais and other senior practitioners on various relevant topics. 

Students are certified to teach group lessons (ATM) after the first two years, and to give private lessons (FI) upon completing the training. 

About the Practitioner 

Dr. Eilat Almagor is a senior Feldenkrais practitioner and trainer based in Jerusalem. 

For more information, visit the website: http://www.restalittle.com  

Eilat can also be reached through Maya:  02-6765034  or Ami: 050-5572345 eilat.course@gmail.com  

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