What Is the Feldenkrais Method & Is It Effective?

Feldenkrais MethodThe promotion of body awareness, nonjudgmental mindfulness, and mental and physical wellbeing is the reason behind the growing popularity of mind–body approaches in the Western world (Mehling et al., 2011).

Approaches such as the Alexander Technique, yoga, mindfulness, and the Feldenkrais Method have all proved popular for reducing stress, enhancing self-awareness, improving posture and flexibility, and contributing to overall holistic health (Paparo, 2022).

Research suggests that the Feldenkrais Method benefits the mind and body through increasing awareness of movement and practicing guided attention (Paparo, 2022).

This article explores the potential of the Feldenkrais Method for improving clients’ mind–body connection through observing their movements while encouraging choice and independent learning (Wallman-Jones et al., 2022).

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What Is the Feldenkrais Method?

Starting in the 1930s, after sustaining a knee injury, Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais began to formulate his mind–body method. In his quest to self-rehabilitate, he discovered that by enriching his sensorimotor experiences, he gained a heightened functional awareness of his movements (Paparo, 2022).

Through experimentation with patterns of movement, he relearned how to walk and arrived at the idea that a person’s self-image involved integrating thinking, sensing, feeling, and physical motion. And in line with contemporary mind–body approaches, he believed “that the mind and body are inseparable and constitute the embodied self” (Paparo, 2022, p. 90).

As a result, Feldenkrais developed two practical approaches that explore early developmental movements (e.g., sitting up, rolling, and crawling), and more advanced, complex ones, such as performing a handstand (Paparo, 2022; Hillier & Worley, 2015; Lynn, 2017).

  • Functional integration:
    Typically, these are manually directed lessons with individuals led by a trained practitioner (Hillier & Worley, 2015; Feldenkrais Access, n.d.).
  • Awareness through movement:
    These are either verbally directed classes in a group setting or performed as do-it-yourself exercises at home (Hillier & Worley, 2015; Feldenkrais Access, n.d.).

Both delivery modes, whether offered to an individual or a group, “apply the same principles of perceptual exploration through movement that is passively and/or actively performed” (Hillier & Worley, 2015, p. 1).

Both are described as “lessons” as they involve a beneficial learning process in the brain and body (Hillier & Worley, 2015; Feldenkrais Access, n.d.).

Over time, the lessons support an increasing repertoire of emotions, thoughts, sensations, and behaviors (Paparo, 2022).

What is the method good for?

The Feldenkrais Method centers around the human potential for “learning how to learn” (Hillier & Worley, 2015, p. 3).

While it began as an approach for regaining Feldenkrais’s mobility — reprogramming the nervous system and improving the mind–body connection — it has since been applied to various life domains (Hillier & Worley, 2015).

Research suggests beneficial outcomes (Hillier & Worley, 2015; Paolucci et al., 2016; Reziti, 2023; Paparo, 2022).

  • Mental health
    Including eating disorders and psychological wellness through improved self-awareness, self-reflection, and autonomous decision-making
  • Physical health
    Such as healthy aging, sleep bruxism (involuntary grinding or clenching of teeth), multiple sclerosis, and chronic back pain
  • Performance in arts and sports
    A wide range of performance-related activities, from singing to the rehabilitation of athletes

The following videos offer further insight and a practical demonstration of applying the Feldenkrais Method with clients.

The feldenkrais method in action volume 1 - Feldenkrais Access
An introduction to the feldenkrais method - Feldenkrais Access

How Does the Feldenkrais Method Work?

The Feldenkrais Method guides the individual or group through a series of experiential processes involving movements and sensation-based explorations (Hillier & Worley, 2015).

Clients explore different movement options while completing a task, ultimately choosing the one that feels the easiest or requires the least effort. As such, it involves a thoughtful process of sensing and comparing alternate ways to move, then selecting the option that feels more natural and less strenuous (Hillier & Worley, 2015).

The individual judges each movement as being positive (pleasurable or easy) versus less favorable (painful, strained, or uncomfortable).

Clients are encouraged to generate additional movement solutions associated with the guided tasks, increasing the opportunity for further distinctions and improvements and supporting perceptual exploration (Hillier & Worley, 2015).

“The process of intention, action, gaining feedback, making decisions, and reenacting with adaptations constitutes the learning framework in a somatic context” (Hillier & Worley, 2015, p. 1).

Neuroplasticity and the nervous system

Feldenkrais recognized the brain’s ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn — what neuroscience now refers to as “neuroplasticity” (Doidge, 2015; Paparo, 2022).

Significant changes can occur in the brain and the nervous system in response to learning, movement, and repetition (Kabat-Zinn, 2019).

The Feldenkrais Method potentially changes the brain’s structure through movement and guided attention, benefiting physical and mental habits and learning more efficient ways of approaching tasks.

Is the method effective?

Research into the effectiveness of the Feldenkrais Method across multiple populations and situations is limited. Studies often involve small sample sizes with specific challenges, limiting the conclusions that can be drawn and raising concerns or doubts over its widespread efficacy (Hillier & Worley, 2015).

However, the following findings suggest that the Feldenkrais Method is effective, at least in certain circumstances.

Managing chronic back pain

Research suggests the Feldenkrais Method is a practical approach for relieving chronic lower back pain and improving patient interoceptive awareness. Treatment appears to help the individual become more attuned to their sensations, feelings, and the subtle cues their body provides, helping them understand what exacerbates symptoms and alleviates pain (Paolucci et al., 2016).

Multiple sclerosis

A 2023 proof-of-concept study on a single patient with multiple sclerosis found that six weeks of home training using the Feldenkrais Method (prompted by auditory cues) improved balance and eased muscle rigidity, potentially by boosting spatial orientation, movement timing and patterns, and attention (Reziti, 2023).

Singers

Recent studies suggest that the Feldenkrais Method is helpful for singers, improving their performance in response to enhanced wellbeing, supporting healthy vocal function, and developing metacognitive skills. For many teachers and students, the method is an established part of training to develop an individual’s potential for singing (Paparo, 2022).

Mental wellness in performers

A 2022 study identified somatic education (including the Feldenkrais Method) as beneficial to the psychological wellbeing of female adolescent ballet dancers, most likely in response to higher enjoyment, reduced social comparison, and increased perceived embodied criticality (Wallman-Jones et al., 2022).

While not exhaustive, the studies referenced provide support for the potential of the Feldenkrais Method to benefit multiple groups and various conditions, offering “a strong focus on strengthening the participants’ own resources through increasing body awareness” (Wallman-Jones et al., 2022, p. 255).

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3 Common Criticisms of the Method

Despite evidence suggesting the benefits of the Feldenkrais Method, it has its critics (Hillier & Worley, 2015).

Here are three potential criticisms (Hillier & Worley, 2015).

  1. Lack of traditional medical evidence
    The Feldenkrais Method lacks rigorous scientific research to back its effectiveness.
  2. Anecdotal evidence
    Much of the support for the method comes from personal success stories rather than controlled studies.
  3. Indirect approach
    The method does not directly treat medical conditions, but focuses on movement patterns and self-awareness.

The above are all valid points. Yet, a 2020 review of existing data concluded that the Feldenkrais Method can positively affect balance and chronic pain management, opening the possibility for further investigation and application (Stephens & Hillier, 2020).

2 Feldenkrais Techniques to Use

Pelvic tiltThere are two central techniques associated with the Feldenkrais Method, both of which require guidance and support from trained professionals (Hillier & Worley, 2015; Feldenkrais Access, n.d.).

1. Awareness through movement (ATM)

ATM involves gentle movement sequences that improve overall body awareness and reduce tension.

They can be performed at home with no special equipment, with each movement forming part of a developmentally and functionally planned sequence. Habitual patterns of posture and movement can be changed to bring immediate benefit to physical comfort and wellbeing.

2. Functional integration

Functional integration uses tailored, one-on-one sessions that guide movements through gentle touch.

Certified practitioners apply the Feldenkrais Method hands-on. The client relaxes as the professional adjusts and extends parts of their body in a relaxed, non-stressful way to improve posture, flexibility, and ease of movement.

3 Best Exercises for Your Sessions

Appropriate guidance should be sought from a trained practitioner to perform or help clients engage in exercises using the Feldenkrais Method.

The following is a sample of three activities, along with brief instructions for each (Jain et al., 2004; Feldenkrais Access, n.d.).

1. Pelvic tilt

The pelvic tilt improves lower back and pelvic awareness, which can be especially beneficial for those with back pain (Berland et al., 2022; Owens, 2011).

The individual lies on their back with their knees bent. Next, they gently rock their pelvis toward their head, flattening their back against the floor before arching it back away from the floor.

Throughout, they focus on the sensation of the pelvis rolling smoothly on the floor and the subtle movements in their lower back.

2. Shoulder rolls

Shoulder rolls release tension and improve the range of motion in the shoulders and upper back (Teixeira-Machado et al., 2016; Capritto, 2020).

The client begins by finding a comfortable sitting or standing position. Next, they slowly roll their shoulders forward, up, back, and down in a smooth circular motion. They are encouraged to notice the release of tension and the range of motion in their shoulder joint before repeating the movement in the reverse direction.

3. Seated twist

Performing a gentle spinal twist while seated can enhance spinal flexibility and interoceptive awareness (Ives, 2003; Live Sonima, 2015).

The client begins by sitting with their feet flat on the floor. Next, they gently twist their upper body to one side, starting from the base of their spine and moving upward, each vertebra at a time. They turn their heads last and focus throughout on the sensation of each part of their spine moving individually.

Finally, they hold the twist momentarily, then release gently, unwinding from the top of the spine downward.

How to: seated twists in yoga - Live Sonima

3 Fascinating Books on the Topic

The following book selection includes several of our favorites on the Feldenkrais Method.

1. Awareness Through Movement: Easy-to-Do Health Exercises to Improve Your Posture, Vision, Imagination, and Personal Awareness – Moshe Feldenkrais

Awareness Through Movement

The creator of the approach, Moshe Feldenkrais, explores how to increase sensory awareness and boost health by integrating physical and mental development into a unified wholeness.

Throughout the book, Feldenkrais introduces practical and achievable exercises to foster improved posture, sight, and imagination while building better body habits.

Find the book on Amazon.


2. The Elusive Obvious: The Convergence of Movement, Neuroplasticity, and Health – Moshe Feldenkrais

The Elusive Obvious

In this contemporary book, Feldenkrais introduces the reader to the two lessons, or strands, that form his method: awareness through movement and functional integration.

This recent edition digs deep into his interest in our brain’s plasticity, habits, and how to learn more fulfilling ways of performing actions.

Find the book on Amazon.


3. Somatic Voices in Performance Research and Beyond – Christina Kapadocha

Somatic Voices in Performance Research and Beyond

Editor Christina Kapadocha has compiled a fascinating collection of somatic methodologies in this valuable book.

Each one focuses on how to build and maintain outstanding performances in dancing, acting, and singing and conveys “how somatic focus can create a more resonant and embodied sound” (Paparo, 2022, pp. 90–91).

Chapter seven is dedicated to the Feldenkrais Method, taking the reader through its inception and evolution and its potential to increase sensitivity, improve movement efficiency, and enhance rest.

Find the book on Amazon.

Resources From PositivePsychology.com

We have many activities, interventions, and worksheets for therapists wishing to adopt somatic approaches with their clients.

Our free resources include the following techniques used within somatic experiencing to help individuals monitor sensations, patterns of actions, and soothing behaviors.

  • Soothing Breath
    The client practices using breath and touch to soothe body and mind.
  • Shake It Off
    As with animals, it can be helpful to shake off excess energy, supporting an improved mind and body connection.
  • Noticing Physical Comfort 
    This powerful technique increases awareness of comfortable and soothing physical sensations.
  • Evoking Kindness
    Help clients self-soothe by recalling a time when they experienced kindness from someone, evoking pleasant physical and emotional sensations.

More extensive versions of the following tools are available with a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, but they are described briefly below:

  • Visualizing the bodily experience of an emotion
    Our body reacts to our emotions, yet we may not always recognize the sensations. The following four steps help individuals get in touch with how different emotions show up to increase their emotional awareness:

    • Step one – Choose an emotion you feel or have felt strongly.
    • Step two – Draw an outline of the body and color in the areas that experience bodily sensation connected with the emotion. Use a stronger color for more intense feelings.
    • Step three – Repeat for other emotions.
    • Step four – Reflect on where in your body the emotions reside to become more familiar with the connection between your mind and body.
  • The wheel of awareness
    We are often unaware of a great deal of what happens within and outside ourselves. This tool helps individuals increase awareness of their inner and outer space.

A simplified approach includes the following steps:

    • Step one – Find a comfortable position and become aware of your breath.
    • Step two – Visualize a wheel with a hub, outer rim, and four sections for different types of awareness: sensory, bodily, mental, and external connections.
    • Step three – Turn your attention to the top right of the wheel to consider your senses. Focus on what you can hear, feel, see, touch, and taste. What do you notice?
    • Step four – Next, focus on the top left of your mental wheel to sense your body’s inner sensations.
    • Step five – Shift to the bottom left to notice your emotions, thoughts, and memories, observing how they arise and change.
    • Step six – Move to the bottom right, feeling your connection with people nearby and expanding outward to all beings.
    • Step seven – Concentrate on the wheel’s center, the hub, acknowledging your core self where observing stems from.
    • Step eight – Return to your breath to ground yourself and slowly open your eyes.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, check out this signature collection of 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

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A Take-Home Message

In recent years, the mind–body connection has received increased focus in the West as science continues to recognize the importance of the complex and complementary relationship between the physical form and mental states (Kabat-Zinn, 2019).

Movement and sensory awareness have become vital aspects of working with clients to support their overall wellbeing. Techniques such as yoga, mindfulness, the Alexander Technique, and the Feldenkrais Method promote functional awareness of the client’s movement and support the integration of thoughts, emotions, and embodied self (Paparo, 2022).

The latter uses two approaches — functional integration and awareness through movement — to help clients learn, encouraging perceptual exploration associated with choosing between alternate movements, benefiting the body, brain, and the connection between (Hillier & Worley, 2015).

Despite some criticism, the Feldenkrais Method has received considerable support from research and has been applied in several areas involving mental and physical health, including eating disorders, sleep disturbances, performance in arts and sports, and managing chronic pain.

While more research is needed to increase our understanding of the efficacy and application of this approach, findings suggest that many clients will benefit from improved awareness of mind and body and how they interact.

If you are a wellbeing practitioner working with clients, it is worth reviewing the literature and the exercises to better understand how clients could benefit from an improved mind–body connection and an improved awareness of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and movement choices.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

  • Berland, R., Marques-Sule, E., Marín-Mateo, J. L., Moreno-Segura, N., López-Ridaura, A., & Sentandreu-Mañó, T. (2022). Effects of the Feldenkrais Method as a physiotherapy tool: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(21).
  • Capritto, A. (2020). How to do shoulder rolls: Techniques, benefits, variations. Verywell Fit. https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-do-shoulder-rolls-for-stretching-techniques-benefits-variations-5087065
  • Doidge, N. (2015). Brain’s way of healing. Penguin Group US.
  • Feldenkrais Access. (n.d.). The Feldenkrais Method for everybody. Retrieved December 29, 2023, from https://www.feldenkraisaccess.com/everybody
  • Hillier, S., & Worley, A. (2015). The effectiveness of the Feldenkrais Method: A systematic review of the evidence. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015, 752160–12.
  • Ives, J. C. (2003). Comments on “The Feldenkrais method®: A dynamic approach to changing motor behavior.” Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 74(2), 116–123.
  • Jain, S., Janssen, K., & DeCelle, S. (2004). Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method: A critical overview. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 15(4), 811–825.
  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (2019). Neuroplasticity and the unknown limits of the possible. Mindfulness, 10(2), 390–394.
  • Live Sonima. (2015, November 19). How to: Seated twists in yoga [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xXlHH1p_nI
  • Lynn, G. (2017). Awakening somatic intelligence: Understanding, learning and practicing the Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method and Hatha yoga. Singing Dragon.
  • Mehling, W. E., Wrubel, J., Daubenmier, J. J., Price, C. J., Kerr, C. E., Silow, T., Gopisetty, V., & Stewart, A. L. (2011). Body awareness: A phenomenological inquiry into the common ground of mind-body therapies. Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, 6(1), 6.
  • Owens, B. (2011). Feldenkrais lesson: Pelvic tilt. IDEA Health & Fitness Association. Retrieved December 29, 2023, from https://www.ideafit.com/uncategorized/feldenkraisreg-lesson-pelvic-tilt/
  • Paolucci, T., Zangrando, F., Iosa, M., De Angelis, S., Marzoli, C., Piccinini, G., & Saraceni, V. M. (2016). Improved interoceptive awareness in chronic low back pain: A comparison of back school versus Feldenkrais Method. Disability and Rehabilitation, 39(10), 994–1001.
  • Paparo, S. (2022). Voicing with awareness: An introduction to the Feldenkrais Method. In C. Kapadocha (Ed.), Somatic voices in performance research and beyond (pp. 89–97).  Routledge.
  • Reziti, T. (2023). An individualized intervention, based on the Feldenkrais Method, for multiple sclerosis symptoms: The Neuroplasticity Scale Assessment. Journal of Neurology and Experimental Neuroscience, 9(1).
  • Stephens, J., & Hillier, S. (2020). Evidence for the effectiveness of the Feldenkrais Method. Kinesiology Review, 9(3), 228–235.
  • Teixeira-Machado, L., de Araújo, F. M., Menezes, M. A., Cunha, F. A., Menezes, T., Ferreira, C., & DeSantana, J. M. (2016). Feldenkrais Method and functionality in Parkinson’s disease: A randomized controlled clinical trial. International Journal on Disability and Human Development, 16(1), 59–66.
  • Wallman-Jones, A., Mölders, C., Schmidt, M., & Schärli, A. (2022). Feldenkrais to improve interoceptive processes and psychological wellbeing in female adolescent ballet dancers: A feasibility study. Journal of Dance Education, 23(3), 254–266.

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