Introducing a collection of papers by Moshe Feldenkrais, David Zemach-Bersin also explains Feldenkrais’s approach:
“Feldenkrais provides us with some of the most cogent and sophisticated arguments ever made for the biological and functional unity of the mind and body.
During most of the twentieth century, the dominant medical and academic model of the brain was that our habits are fixed or hard-wired, that each area of the brain has specialized, pre-determined functions, and that every day of our adulthood, our brain loses both neurons and the ability to learn new skills. In books, articles, and lectures from 1949 to 1981, Moshe Feldenkrais strongly challenged this point of view, not simply the theory behind it, but in practice, by developing innovative exercises and clinical applications that effectively demonstrated that – even when damaged – the brain has the ability to quickly change, and to learn new skills and recover lost functions.” p.xi
“For nearly everything that we are eventually able to do as adults, we need a period of apprenticeship or learning. For example, most infants need ten to fourteen months before they can walk, and before walking is possible they must first learn to roll over, sit up, crawl, stand, and so on. From Feldenkrais’s point of view, every child has to independently, organically learn now to solve concrete physical problems such as gravity, stability and instability, momentum, equilibrium, and so forth.
The functions that we identify as being uniquely “human” would not emerge if we were raised in a completely isolated environment. Unlike most other species, humans need more than simply air and sustenance. We require a human social world, one in which, over time, intention and successful action develop in correspondence to fulfilling meaningful goals in a context with others.
Feldenkrais developed a point of view that gives primacy to the nervous system and movement. He makes the extremely bold proposal that it is through the medium of movement that the nervous system makes the distinctions that lead to preferences or choices for particular actions or behavioral patterns.
The advantage of a largely unwired-in nervous system to a human being is that it enables tremendous flexibility in relation to behavioral options. In other words, we can learn to adapt to an unlimited number of cultural environments, languages, climates, and so on. By the same token, if we are not [-p.xvi] hard-wired for ideal movement or posture or behaviors, then we are vulnerable to making choices that may not be the best for us. Choices we make as children may not serve our long-term interests, resulting in neuromuscular ailments such as back and neck pain, neurotic inclinations, depression, and poor self-image.
Feldenkrais began to understand that there is an inseparable relationship between our social-psychological development and our motor development. As children, our psychic-emotional patterns or behaviors and our growing movement repertoire are not only being learned concurrently, but they are realized in the moment, as an integrated whole, through the musculature. These insights are explored in Feldenkrais’s first two books, Body and Mature Behavior: a Study of Anxiety, Sex, Gravitation, and Learning and The Potent Self.” David Zemach-Bersin, pp.xv-xvi
“In a perfectly matured body which has grown without great emotional disturbances, movements tend gradually to conform to the mechanical requirements of the surrounding world. The nervous system has evolved under the influence of these laws and is fitted to them. However, in our society we do, by the promise of great reward or intense punishment, so distort the even development of the system, that many acts become excluded or restricted.” Moshe Feldenkrais, quoted p.xvi (quote originally from Body and Mature Behavior)
“A fundamental change in the motor pattern will thereby leave thought and also feeling without anchorage in the pattern of their established routines. Habit has lost its chief support, that of the muscles, and has become more amenable to change.” Moshe Feldenkrais, quoted p.xvii (quote originally from Awareness Through Movement)
“[Feldenkrais’s] thesis [was] that the nexus of learning, awareness, and movement provides the most direct means for improving a person’s well-being.” p.xviii
“When I knocked, unannounced, on Feldenkrais’s door in early 1974, he generously allowed me to sit in his clinic for many months, watching him work with his students. He never used the word “patient,” as he thought that it put the accent on a person’s pathology and he wanted the emphasis to be on their potential to learn.” p.xix
Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) David Zemach-Bersin ‘Foreword’, pp.xi-xix in Ed. Elizabeth Beringer (2010) Embodied Wisdom: The Collected Papers of Moshe Feldenkrais. Somatic Resources: San Diego, California.