CF writes: “I live in an over 55 community that is constantly promoting yoga and other ‘fitness’ programs. The newest program being offered to the seniors is the Feldenkrais Method . . . Are you familiar with this method of fitness? Is this another “New Age” type program? I looked on the website and it sure looks like one to me. What concerns me the most is that no “religious” activities are allowed at the Club House, no services or Bible studies, yet they offer several of these “yoga” type programs. Would you be so kind as to help me address this?”
Yes, this is another one of those New Age “mind-body” fitness programs that manage to worm their way into clubs like the one CF describes by claiming to be affiliated with no religion. Unfortunately, the operators of these clubs are not well versed in the area of religion, which is why they ban the Bible but allow Hindu practices such as yoga and tai chi into their programs! This is also why we should never pass up an opportunity to charitably educate club owners about the religious roots of many of the programs they’re promoting.
But before I address Feldenkrais, I want to share with you the description of the program as it is being billed at CF’s club so you can see what kind of outlandish claims are being made to seduce people into taking these classes.
“Fitness – Change your age with the Feldenkrais Method. Use your brain and body to feel younger and more fit. What makes a person old? Some people think it is wrinkles; others think it is stodgy attitudes. But really, the culprit is our habits. When we unlearn these habits and create new ones, we make our bodies and mind younger, stronger and more flexible. In the Feldenkrais class you will be doing several easy-to-learn sequences, designed to de-age your joints, muscles and brain. You may progressively feel younger as you learn to move with greater ease, agility, balance and coordination.”
Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, the Feldenkrais Method is considered alternative medicine which means there is no federal oversight or regulation – and no guarantees. When you participate in one of these fitness modalities, you’re on your own with no protection from fraud, abuse, etc. (Of course they wouldn’t dare put this in their advertisement even though the public has every right to know it!)
The basic premise of the Feldenkrais Method is that body pain and restricted movement aren’t caused by aging but by learned habits and poor use of the body. It employs gentle movement and directed attention to improve movement and “enhance human functioning” as a popular website explains.
There are two formats for a class or session. One format, called Awareness through Movement (ATM) involves a teacher verbally leading a person through a sequence of movements in basic positions, such as sitting or lying on the floor, and standing or sitting in a chair. Private Feldenkrais lessons, called Functional Integration, involve a teacher guiding a student through the movements with touch.
A typical lesson might begin with a practitioner asking a student who is sitting in a chair what they are aware of as they sit – what are their legs doing, how does their back or neck feel, etc. The object is to help the student become more aware of what their body is doing. As one practitioner describes, “the fact is our whole self is involved in everything we do, but we sense only certain parts of ourselves in our actions and it generally tends to be the same parts. Through a more even distribution of effort and force throughout our whole self, an overall enhancement of movement, action, and thought results.”
The practitioner might continue the class by instructing the student to come to a standing position without moving the placement of their feet, then to do so again by keeping the feet closer together, or by looking to the right or left while getting up, etc. The object is to observe how different foot placements or visuals impact their ability to rise. “This process would continue with more variations in order to help the student clarify, inform, and understand how one goes from sitting to standing,” the practitioner states.
The Feldenkrais Method is said to be based upon principles of physics, biomechanics and an understanding of learning and human development. “By expanding the self-image through movement sequences that bring attention to the parts of the self that are out of awareness, the Method enables you to include more of yourself in your functioning movements,” one website claims. “Students become more aware of their habitual neuromuscular patterns and rigidities and expand options for new ways of moving. By increasing sensitivity the Feldenkrais Method assists you to live your life more fully, efficiently and comfortably.”
The method takes its name from Russian-born Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), a physicist with a black belt in Judo. After suffering crippling knee injuries, Feldenkrais allegedly “used his own body as his laboratory” and merged his acquired knowledge with his deep curiosity about biology, perinatal development, cybernetics, linguistics, and systems theory. He taught himself to walk again and in the process developed a system for “accessing the power of the central nervous system to improve human functioning,” one biography states.
From there, Feldenkrais went on to study psychology, neurophysiology, and other health-related disciplines, and continued to integrate and refine his ideas into the system now known as the Feldenkrais Method.
The main problem with Feldenkrais is its connection with the New Age, a link that is best defined in the words of its practitioners, such as in this article entitled “Yoga and the Feldenkrais Method” by Diane Valentine GCFP. “While informed by science, Moshe Feldenkrais’ work parallels the Eastern path of acknowledging the oneness of mind and body, intention and action,” Valentine writes.
It should also be noted that in 1970, Moshe Feldenkrais held his first major training in the United States at the premier New Age hub known as Esalen.
The Pontifical document, Jesus Christ, Bearer of the Water of Life, also associates Feldenkrais with the New Age. In Section 2.2.3, we read: “Advertising connected with New Age covers a wide range of practices as acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractics, kinesiology, homeopathy, iridology, massage and various kinds of ‘bodywork’ (such as orgonomy, Feldenkrais, reflexology, Rolfing, polarity massage, therapeutic touch, etc.), meditation and visualization, nutritional therapies, psychic healing, various kinds of herbal medicine, healing by crystals, metals, music or colors, reincarnation therapies and, finally, twelve-step programs and self-help groups. The source of healing is said to be within ourselves, something we reach when we are in touch with our inner energy or cosmic energy.”
Send your New Age question to firstname.lastname@example.org
Help educate fitness club owners in your area about the religious roots of Yoga. Our booklet, Yoga, which is part of the Learn to Discern Series, details its roots and explains why the practice of yoga can never be separated from Hinduism.
For a deeper understanding of the New Age, read The New Age Counterfeit by Johnnette Benkovic.