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16. How the Feldenkrais Method can build EI

Written by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute, accredited user of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and internationally recognised Emotional Intelligence Coach.

Emotional intelligence is not just about the mind or thinking as emotional intelligence is more than just putting a name to or describing feelings. Emotions and emotional intelligence are also very much to do with the body and the physical sensations that arise there.

This means that developing emotional intelligence needs to involve more than just a series of cognitive tasks. It can also involve a journey inwards into the body to find the connections that exist there between our emotions, physical changes, and the way that we move and hold the different parts of our bodies.

It can also involve consideration of the emotions that may be deeply embedded there from prior experiences, and that may be triggered by changes in the way we move or hold our bodies. Our emotions are felt experiences in our bodies.

One way to increase our understanding of the connection between our bodies and our emotions is by using the Feldenkrais Method. This promotes the development of greater awareness of our bodies and the inter-connections between our body movements and our emotions. I studied and used the Feldenkrais Method for many years. I qualified from La Trobe University in the method after completing its three-and-a-half year training programme in 1991. Since then I have had regular and almost monthly Feldenkrais sessions from a leading Feldenkrais practitioner. The influence that this work has had on my emotional self-awareness and emotional intelligence has, without overstating it, been life changing.

This article will therefore briefly explain what the Feldenkrais Method is. A second article will explore the relationship between the principles of the Feldenkrais Method and emotional intelligence.

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What is Feldenkrais? A summary.

Despite the strange name it's not a new-age fad, nor is it a cult or religion. No, it's not Feldenchrist! When you pronounce it, it rhymes with rice - Feld/en/krice.

What does it do? It helps you fine tune your body so you can move it and use it with minimum effort and maximum comfort. It lessens aches and pains.

With the Feldenkrais Method you can discover how to increase your flexibility, so you can sit, stand, walk, reach, bend, run, type or turn easily, with less strain or pain.

The easier you move, the easier it is to feel good about yourself and be confident. In my 30s my body was stiff, tight and painful and I had constant neck ache and pain in my arms, and now in my 50s, after doing Feldenkrais, I am so much more flexible, and I feel younger. That's emotionally very satisfying.

How does it do this?

You are probably imaging some kind of hard physical exercise, puffing and panting as you whip your body into shape. But it isn't like that at all. It is not some sort of athletic, cosmetic or body building method. In fact it can be quite restful, most of the time.

The secret ingredients in Feldenkrais are the unique sequence of movements it uses, the types of movements involved, and the way you do them. You won't find them anywhere else, not even in Pilates, Yoga or Tai Chi.

Let's consider an example. Imagine you have jaw pain. If you come along for Feldenkrais you might do a collection of small but intriguing movements such as moving your jaw to the left whilst moving your eyes to the right, and do this very slowly with less and less effort and more and more smoothness and more and more self-awareness of how your whole body, feelings and interactions influence how you carry out these movements discover that when you rest the pain in your jaw joint has gone. Now that's intelligent! That's smart! That's Feldenkrais!

The Feldenkrais Method is based on principles taken from physics, the mechanics of movement, and research into the workings of the brain and nervous system. Developed by a scientist Moshe Feldenkrais, it doesn't make you stand or walk in one set, "right" posture. Rather it helps you use your body - whatever its condition - so you get the best out of it.

You will discover how well the different parts of your body are working, both on their own and with all the other parts. There are a lot of parts in your body, did you know you had over 200 bones, for a start? And over 650 muscles? No wonder it doesn't always do what you want it to.

The more you know about your body, the easier it is to be confident about how to use it well. On the way the more you learn about yourself emotionally.

That's why the Feldenkrais Method can help both your health and the development of your emotional intelligence. You can discover how to get all the components working together, in the best way possible.

You can do Feldenkrais by going to group classes, or having a 1-1 session with a Feldenkrais practitioner, or even by listening to recordings at home.

Does it matter how old you are? No, anyone can do it. You don't have to be slim, trim or terrific. Any old (or young) body will do! And you don't even have to be in good shape either.

Whether you're an 55 year old who feels constrained by neckache, or a champion netball player who wants to feel more flexible, it will help you move in the best way possible for you.

By using the Feldenkrais Method you may become less stiff, be able to run faster, breathe more easily, sit with less discomfort, be able to walk gracefully, reach further ... or relate to people more easily and be far more aware of your emotions. But even more than that, rigid emotional habits can also ease and people can learn how to move through their emotions more easily and not get stuck in them.

"Without movement life is unthinkable."

"Movement is life. Life is a process. Improve the quality of the process and you improve the quality of life itself."

Moshe Feldenkrais

FEATURED VIDEO of the Feldenkrais Method

Click to watch the Feldenkrais Method in action on this YouTube video.

So how is this possible?

There are many components to the Feldenkrais Method that all inter-relate to produce these results. To help simplify the process here are just 3 of the important aspects. Once you've tried it for yourself I'm sure you'll be able to work out many others.

1. The Feldenkrais Method focuses on your skeleton.

The Feldenkrais Method considers your skeleton, i.e. your bones, to be very important. Rather than only focusing on muscles, as may occur in massage, for instance, it also considers how well your skeleton is working.

This may sound a bit odd as you may never have thought about your skeleton before. However, it is there and it is very important.

Imagine what you would look like trying to sit in a chair if you had no bones inside you! Imagine how difficult it would be if you had no bones in your hand! You'd wobble a lot, wouldn't you? Imagine how you'd feel if your bones gave you a sense of internal support. And then in contrast consider how you'd eel if your skeleton felt stuck insome places, or unstable in others. Your skeleton influences your emotions.

Most of us are unaware of our skeletons unless we break or fracture a bone. However, it's the skeleton that holds us up when we stand or sit, that propels us when we walk, and that bears the brunt of our movements. It is the whole basis of our movement.

Thus, a Feldenkrais practitioner may be asking how well is your skeleton supporting you? How well do your different bones move? And, is the movement being transferred through your skeleton efficiently or is one part of the skeleton doing more of the work than another?

How your skeleton moves is vital to how you feel.

When one part works harder than another, it will wear out more quickly and be more likely to become stiff and sore. This can cause problems such as back ache, neck pain or shoulder stiffness. Then you may feel less confident and more vulnerable or fragile.

The Feldenkrais Method aims to help all of your skeleton work efficiently so your muscles don't have to tighten or overwork to hold you up, so that one part of your skeleton doesn't do more than its fair share of the work, and so that it supports you in the best way possible.

Our emphasis on the skeleton is just one way in which the Feldenkrais method is unique and differs from other methods such as the Alexander Technique and Pilates. When the skeleton moves clearly the mind thinks clearly. When the skeleton moves easily, emotions move easily. When the skeleton moves easily you move more confidently.

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2. The Feldenkrais Method focuses on the whole body.

The Feldenkrais Method focuses on all of you and doesn't look at one part in isolation from the rest of you unlike more traditional physiotherapy or medical practice might, for example.

It is based on the concept that you are a "whole" person and not just a random selection of bits and pieces. That one part of you is connected to another part, and that movement in one area is influenced by what happens elsewhere. After all, your neck is a part of you and attached to the rest of you! The Feldenkrais Method helps you achieve your full human potential and when all of you is moving well, rather than just a few components, it is far easier to move confidently.

For example, you might have a pain in your wrist. If you went along to a traditional doctor he or she might examine the wrist and give treatment focused on your wrist.

In contrast, a Feldenkrais practitioner might look at how the movement in your wrist relates to the movement in your elbow and how this relates to the movement in your shoulder and how this is affected by the movement in your upper spine. Why? Because they are all attached! Then the Feldenkrais practitioner may find that by increasing the range of movement in your upper spine, the shoulder moves easily, as does the arm and then so does your wrist!

If it still makes no sense to you - try this (if you've got any neck problems please don't do this.) Sit in a chair facing forward. (See photograph 1 below.)

Keeping your legs and hips/pelvis completely still, look round behind you and see how far you can go. Notice the spot on the wall you can see to comfortably. Do it three times to get the spot. Don't strain though - just go as far as is comfortable. (See photograph 2 below.)

Now do the same thing but as you move round also let your chest, pelvis and legs help you move. This will mean your pelvis kind of tilts towards the way you're looking and you may push through one of your feet to help you. Do you go any further? (See photograph 3 below). Usually the movement is easier if there is more of you involved.

3. Self-awareness is a key factor in the Feldenkrais Method.

Self-awareness is fundamental to the development of emotional intelligence. It is also a key focus of the Feldenkrais method.

The Feldenkrais Method helps you build up your own insight into how you move, so that you feel more in charge. Self-awareness is such a key component of the Feldenkrais method that its group classes are called "Awareness Through Movement Lessons."

During the lessons the Feldenkrais Practitioner is constantly encouraging you to pay attention to yourself and what is happening within, e.g.  to pay attention to how you move, how you feel, the parts of your body that aren't moving, where your attention is, what your intention is and very importantly how you can make the movement easier for yourself.

Self-awareness is a lynch pin of emotional intelligence too, and the two work very well together. Dimension one in the Genos emotional intelligence model is emotional self-awareness.

This is not a Method where you are encouraged to become dependent on the "guru" or the "teacher". Rather you are encouraged to discover how you learn, what helps you to learn, and how to be able to learn for yourself. Then you can learn to move with greater confidence,flexibility and ease.

As people use the Feldenkrais Method they often become more able to act from choice and not routine or habit ... hence the chance to get out of any rut you may find yourself in.

"The aim is a body that is organised to move with minimum effort and maximum efficiency, not through muscular strength, but increased consciousness of how it works."

Moshe Feldenkrais

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