Mobility is essential for healthy function. Research shows being more mobile helps to control weight and also reduces the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even developing some forms of cancer. It strengthens muscles and bones, improves mood and mental health, increases the chance of living longer and improves the ability to do daily activities—all while preventing the risk of falling.
But what if chronic pain prevents older adults from being as mobile as they’d like?
While many experienced physicians haven’t heard of The Feldenkrais Method, the gentle and mindful exercise therapy may be ideal for people who have suffered multiple injuries, have chronic arthritis or who are riddled with chronic pain. Too many seniors currently suffer through this pain or are forced to turn to narcotics to mask the pain.
So how can this method make a difference for your loved one?
As with many exercises, Feldenkrais is not a permanent fix and needs to be performed regularly to provide long-term relief. It can be done on your own, one on one with a practitioner, or in a group setting. While the name may be unfamiliar, the benefits can be very powerful, says Penny Neu, a Feldenkrais practitioner in Prescott, Arizona.
“People are frightened by the name ‘Feldenkrais,’” she says. “I just call it ‘Awareness through Movement (ATM).’”
History and goals of Feldenkrais
Moshe Feldenkrais, a Russian-born Israeli, earned his doctorate in physics at the Sorbonne, and like many new methods, he developed his from a personal need. A knee injury from soccer led to surgical recommendations that would have caused a lifelong limp. Instead, he applied his knowledge of judo, physics and engineering and ultimately created “The Feldenkrais Method” to help improve body movements by reorganizing connections between brain and body.
Like judo, each movement in Feldenkrais has a very specific goal, which is reached after precise execution. These gentle, gliding movements help realign the spine and reduce pressure on painful areas.
The Feldenkrais Guild of North America claims the Feldenkrais method allows people to “rediscover [their] innate capacity for graceful, efficient movement.”
Functionally, Feldenkrais is an exercise therapy, often done while lying on the floor by completing the gentle gliding motions your Feldenkrais practitioner directs. When in a group, the practitioner provides direction and adjusts form as needed. During a one-on-one session, he or she does all the work for you—all for improved mobility, flexibility and pain relief.
Neu sees patients in her sanctuary individually and uses a ballet studio for group sessions. She’s even seen urgent cases, including one patient who was struck by a 250-pound man flying off a treadmill. Even with the extensive amount of soft tissue damage – which typically would have prevented the patient from going back to work for a week or more – her therapy allowed the patient to return to work the next day.
How to get started with Feldenkrais
Most older adults, however, turn to Feldenkrais to help them with everyday mobility and pain relief. If you’re considering alternative treatments for your loved one, start with two simple questions:
- How much time do you and your loved one spend on the ground?
- How long does it take you and your loved one to get up?
As a caregiver of a senior, you may recognize the challenges of chronic pain, and your loved one (or both of you) may currently be on narcotics to treat that pain. However, alternatives to narcotics exist, and Feldenkrais offers the benefits of improving flexibility and reducing pain while also helping your loved one become more graceful. The exercise helps many older adults leave behind their pain meds altogether. Neu shared some testimonials from people age 60 and up in her class:
- “I felt different. I moved different. Slight adjustments you’d never think would make a difference would change my world.”
- “Why aren’t they lined up around the block? This therapy is amazing.”
- “I noticed subtle differences. There was a slowing, a softening. Calm.”
Most, if not all, of Neu’s lessons eventually incorporate the whole body so that by the end of the lesson, different parts have been included. The goal is to help all older adults achieve more grace in movement and less pain. Simply put, the practice keeps people moving and away from narcotics—two important goals for seniors in the United States today.
Find a Feldenkrais practitioner near you using the directory offered by the Feldenkrais Guild of North America.