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White coat or tie-dye?

August 29, 2009

Yesterday, 4.00 pm:

“Feldenkrais? That’s a kind of…”

(circles hands in front of chest while alternately lengthening and contracting fingers and wrinkling forehead)

“…healing thing, isn’t it?”

Ummm, yeee-no. Or as young funky things declare these days, meh. In my personal lexicon, healing used as an adjective carries a whiff of patchouli, a whisper of chanting, a whisker of crystal, and in my contemplation of the human condition I’m strictly monolinguistic: in the Western scientific model. I fully respect that plenty of folk and cultures speak TCM and acupuncture and ayurveda; I just don’t understand them.

While regulation of who can call themselves a Feldenkrais Practitioner is pretty rigorous (I know, I’m part of that machinery), practitioners apply the method in a wide variety of arenas. There are many physical therapists who are also Feldenkrais pracitioners, so Feldenkrais is often used in rehabilitation. Or with individuals who have CP. Or with the elderly in falls prevention. Until recent developments in neuroscientific research, the idea that adult nervous systems could actually learn (ie make new connections) was considered frankly preposterous. This kind of learning being a fundamental principle of Feldenkrais has meant that practitioners have been pretty much excluded from mainstream medical practice, and the method has come by default to be associated with alternative medicine. Which has suited plenty of Feldenkrais practitioners who are not physical therapists.

But therein lies the rub – both medical models, mainstream and alternative, struggle with “What is Feldenkrais good for?”

In the mainstream camp, there’s the dearth of evidence based research. There’s the clear understanding that Feldenkrais practitioners don’t diagnose, don’t treat, and don’t prescribe. It’s not therapy.

From Wikipedia:

Therapy (in Greek: θεραπεία), or treatment, is the attempted remediation of a health problem, usually following a diagnosis. In the medical field, it is synonymous with the word “treatment”.

In the alternative camp, there’s the dearth of historical tradition. Feldenkrais the man was a Westerner, an engineer to boot, and he died only a quarter of a century ago. There’s no spiritual dogma, ancient wisdom, rare herbs, or mystical energies in his writings. That I can discern, anyway.

Currently there’s a bit of debate about the method. It’s been pooh-poohed in Singh and Ernst’s Trick or Treatment (Singh was out here in Oz recently) and by Respectful Insolence. In both cases, the authors query the medical efficacy of Feldenkrais. In my opinion, they might as well have queried the architectural efficacy of the Suzuki Method. Both buildings and music require structure, and great architecture might well be produced from an educational philosophy of “Character first, ability second”. The point is that Suzuki is a learning method, not a kind of cement. Likewise, Feldenkrais is a learning method. It is based on Western science – you can’t be a decent Feldenkrais practitioner without sound knowledge of the musculo-skeletal system – but it won’t “cure” a condition like MS.

Which is why I pitch my Feldenkrais tent firmly outside of ANY medical model. I am intensely interested in neuroscience, human anatomy, evolutionary biology, biomechanics, and psychology – from the perspective of enriching Feldenkrais as a learning method. Someone comes to me with a balance problem, of course I want to have a thorough understanding of the vestibular and proprioceptive systems, and how they interact through the nervous system with muscles and bone. What I must have, as a Feldenkrais practitioner, is a variety of learning strategies for the balance-challenged individual in front of me.

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