Someone may tell you it’s all in your head. Yet you know it’s not, because you’re feeling it, in excruciating detail, in your body. Movement education pioneers agree that it may have started in your mind–way back when your body and your brain were learning together how to crawl, stand and walk–but it didn’t end there. Movement education theorizes that when the body establishes responses to its emotional or physical environment, those responses are carried forward long after the original stimulus is gone. In other words, that pain in the neck, back, or head may just be the latest chapter in a story that began long ago.
Learning New Patterns
Movement education–an umbrella term also known as re-education movement, somatic movement education, repatterning, and movement therapy–employs the philosophy that one’s body structure and movements get stuck in habitual, unhealthy patterns. Movement approaches unwind the patterns and teach the body, as well as the mind, anew. This is done through a series of sessions where practitioners may use hands-on manipulation to teach the student different ways to move, sit, stand, reach, bend, lift, and walk. This type of bodywork is especially beneficial for people suffering from chronic difficulties, but also for anyone trying to achieve higher levels of physical and mental wellness. Athletes, dancers, and musicians have credited movement therapy for enhanced performance. There are many variations of movement modalities, including the ones featured here. Similar in their goals. they offer subtle differences in technique and philosophy.
The Alexander Technique was created by F. Matthias Alexander (1869-1955), a Shakespearean orator who began losing his voice while on stage. In trying to alleviate his chronic laryngitis, he realized that reducing neck tension eased head compression, which in turn eased spine compression. By using his entire body to initiate an action, his movements became more unified and efficient.
Today, Alexander Technique therapists certified by the American Society for the Alexander Technique (AmSAT), the major certifying body, must have completed 1,600 hours of training over a minimum of three years to be certified. During a typical session, lasting 30 to 60 minutes, the client wears comfortable clothes and receives instruction on conducting everyday movements. The instructor may lightly touch the student while she moves to determine how much tension the muscles are involving and redirect the movement. Through gentle, physical and verbal guidance, the therapist teaches the student to release maladaptive behaviors.
The Feldenkrais Method was developed by Russian-born Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984). Living primarily in Israel, Feldenkrais’s career in movement education evolved when an old soccer-derived knee injury vastly improved after he injured his other knee. He began researching and proposed that nearly our entire spectrum of movement is learned during our first few years of life. By communicating with the central nervous system via the skeletal system, old patterns can be replaced with new ones that lead to improved physical, mental, and emotional functioning.
Feldenkrais education has two components: group sessions, in which the teacher guides students through movement sequences, and one-on-one sessions, lasting 45 to 60 minutes, in which the student is fully clothed. The teacher uses gentle touch and movement to help the student become aware of existing patterns and new, more functional possibilities.
Joseph Heller determined that movement education and deep-tissue bodywork emphasizing vertical realignment of the body can release chronic stress and tension. Hellerwork involves eleven sessions: in each session, one hour is devoted to bodywork and thirty minutes to movement therapy. The therapist also uses verbal dialogue to explore emotional factors that may be causing tension. As a preventative technique, the goal of Hellerwork is to produce permanent, corrective change in alignment and movement.
The Trager Approach originated with Milton Trager (1908-1997), who was born with a congenital spinal deformity. After receiving bodywork, he discovered he had a knack for healing touch.
Three elements make up Trager, including tablework, Mentastics — Trager’s term for “mental gymnastics” — and recall. During tablework, the client lays on a massage table in a warm room wearing either loose-fitting clothes or underwear. The practitioner uses gentle, rhythmic touches to free the body from restrictive movement. The session lasts from 60 to 90 minutes.
After tablework, the student receives instructions in Mentastics, which teach how to recreate the freedom and pleasurable sensory state experienced during the tablework, encouraging positive tissue response. Each time Mentastics are practiced, the changes become more permanent. The third component, recall, promotes relaxation by learning how to remember the feeling you had during tablework.
Are You Aware?
Movement education is proving to be an empowering form of healthcare available to anyone interested in self- improvement. By teaching awareness, movement education has the potential to not only make a person’s body feel better, but also raise consciousness about other aspects of one’s life.