So how did Moshe Feldenkrais, physicist and judo master come about developing his original method instead of moving on as a talented physicist with a promising future?
We do know about his debilitating injury to his knee and his stubborn, albeit well founded refusal to have conventional treatment with a risky surgery and instead going his own way, experimenting, learning, even meditating on it, using every bit of knowledge and tool at his disposal, including applying psychology and becoming one of the pioneers of mind/body approaches.
“During the war, he wrote a book that began as a meditation on the work of Freud, whom he greatly respected; unlike many clinicians of his time, Freud emphasized how the mind and the body always influence each other. But, Feldenkrais noted in Body and Mature Behavior, Freud’s treatment, talk therapy, focused little on how anxiety or other emotions are expressed in posture and in the body, and Freud never suggested that analysts work on the body when treating mental problems. Feldenkrais believed that there were no purely psychic (i.e., mental) experiences: “The idea of two lives, somatic and psychic, has … outlived its usefulness.” The brain is always embodied, and our subjective experience always has a bodily component, just as all so-called bodily experiences have a mental component.”*
As we can see, Feldenkrais was a true visionary, way ahead of his times. His insight and application of various disciplines to his approach bored fruit with the method, named after him.
“He developed a method that integrated the role of mental awareness, brain function and the body, to heal himself, and then others. One of his chief contributions was to understand that in injury or illness, the brain areas that process movement and sensation in the body become underutilized, and waste away in the “use it or lose it brain.” The brain processing areas lose the ability to encode fine detail, and hence become “undifferentiated” with disuse. By doing slow movements, with great awareness, he found he was able to “re-differentiate” brain processing areas, and radically improve function.”*
In other words, way before the term was coined, Feldenkrais discovered and applied the discipline of neuroplasticity to movement and thus to human function benefiting the able with improved performance and those with difficulty with better function.
After the war (WWII) “he settled in London instead, pursued some inventions, wrote another book on judo, called “Higher Judo,” and began a book, “The Potent Self,” in which he articulated his healing method, which he was now using to help fellow scientists and friends. As a physicist, he had met the greats: Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, and Werner Heisenberg. He was deeply torn: should he continue in nuclear physics or, given the wonderful results he was getting, pursue healing? He chose healing. His mother said half-jokingly, “He could have got a Nobel Prize in physics, and instead he became a masseur.””
And thank Goodness for that! It was a adversity turned to opportunity, perseverance, combining disciplines, a thirst for finding solutions and a definite stroke of genius that the Feldenkrais Method(R) was born! We – you and I – are fortunate to have this greatly effective tool today, thanks to Dr Feldenkrais, to improve the quality of our life today!
Excerpted from “The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity” by Norman Doidge, M.D. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Norman Doidge.
For the full article published on Salon.com, please click here.