Introduction

Alan Fraser is a senior practitioner in the Feldenkrais Method of neuromotor re-education (graduated in Hawaii, 1992). His background in Feldenkrais plays a large part in the unique view he brings to piano technique; as a practitioner he works not only with pianists but with other instrumentalists and many non-musicians as well.

Feldenkrais Method: difficult to explain, wonderful to experience – a practical and scientific way of addressing aspects of movement we seldom even think about or worry about… until we have a problem.

Moshe Feldenkrais (1903-1984), a scientist with degrees in physics, mechanical and electrical engineering from the Sorbonne, and a student of Jigaro Kano (founder of Judo) who became European Judo champion. Also extremely widely read in physiology, anatomy and neuro-psychology, he was well-acquainted with the development of other movement modalities by pioneers such as Elsa Gindler, Jacques Dalcroze, Gerta Alexander and most important of all, Mathias Alexander with whom he studied in London in the late 40’s.

Feldenkrais was aware that movement is controlled by electrical signals from the brain, and that every movement exists as an image in the brain before it actually happens. His unique contribution to science is his discovery of a way to interact directly with these neuromotor processes, literally reprogramming the brain to improve its movement organization. The ramifications for this are immense and still unfolding.

Feldenkrais Method brings improvement to

  • stroke victims and patients with cerebral palsy, MS, emphysema and other movement-impairing illnesses.
  • athletes, dancers and actors – both those who have suffered injury and those who simply want to improve their skills
  • pianists, other instrumentalists, vocalists, conductors – all musicians who seek relief from injury or enhancement of their capacity for fine control of every element of their musical expression
  • ordinary people with back pain or any movement limitation

The movements in a Feldenkrais session are exceptionally small and gentle, sometimes even imperceptible. The client often wonders what is going on because she is not used to perceiving the fine differences in sensation on which the learning process of Feldenkrais is based. But that’s the secret of Feldenkrais’s success: instead of using the grosser amounts of energy that make a muscle actually contract (think of the amount of electricity needed to light an incandescent light bulb), it works with the extremely low-energy signals coming from the brain to the muscle (like the signal a computer key sends the processor). An Awareness Through Movement® lesson is not a lesson in movement as we know it at all, but a fine-tuning of the neurological control mechanisms of movement.

Here’s the kicker: the practitioner accesses those neuromotor processes through the client’s skeleton.

When bones are out of alignment, muscles work hard to keep the skeleton in place, and they are not so free to generate movement. When bones are well-aligned, the muscles work less to hold and more to move: movements feel easier but are stronger. If the practitioner moves the client’s body paying attention to the skeletal mechanics within, he begins to be able to differentiate, by sensation, between the bones, muscles and nervous impulses. A physiotherapist will move an injured leg through various configurations to restore the leg’s sense of moveability and limberness. The Feldenkrais practitioner moves the same leg a miniscule amount, and senses how well the bones line up to transmit a force through. He feels with high sensitivity even the smallest resistance, the smallest possible interference from muscles that hold instead of help.

But the practitioner doesn’t then plough through that resistance. The more you resist, the more it persists! Instead the practitioner ‘nudges up’ against the resistance and then backs off again. He makes the brain more aware of what it’s doing. He brings the resistance into the brain’s sensory picture of that part of the body. We are talking of miniscule, virtually imperceptible movements here – movements so small that they are not perceived as intrusive but inquisitive. After some time the neuromotor system miraculously begins to ‘wake up’ and respond to these slight stimuli – the brain literally gets curious, and lowers muscle tone to better perceive the practitioner’s input. The quality of this relaxation is profoundly different from the relaxation of massage or Yoga – there’s a specific neurological component to it that is unique to Feldenkrais.

And the brain returns to the state all our brains possessed in infancy – it actually becomes neurologically more plastic in its efforts to respond intelligently to these tiny but precise and meaningful stimulations. The neurological controls of movement are created anew.

Alan Fraser discovered Feldenkrais Method in 1987 and by the following year, decided it was the key to developing a new approach to piano technique. He is now a practitioner with long experience who works with many people outside of, as well as within, his own musical discipline.

Read Alan Fraser’s case histories with musicians and non-musicians .

Read more on how Alan Fraser applied Feldenkrais Method to piano technique .

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