Buddhism & Feldenkrais?

Wendy Hansenkemp’s article “Brain Karma: Is Delusion Hardwired?” was very interesting to me because much of what she talks about relates to another class I am taking: Feldenkrais for dancers. The Feldenkrais method involves doing gentle, slow, repeated movements by lying on the floor sitting, or standing. Much of it is self-exploration, as you are required to bring full attention to your body and how each part moves in relation to one another. This awareness through movement allows one to break free from their usual habitual patterns and develop new options, increasing one’s capacity for unconstrained, effortless action. It’s been proven to reduce pain, improve physical function and support one’s general well-being.

This method is based on the teachings of Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli physicist who believed that “rigidity, mental or physical, is contrary to the laws of life”. While Feldenkrais himself was not affiliated with any religion, his teachings seem to indirectly lead to the Buddhist concepts of interdependence, emptiness, and even enlightenment. In his essay on health, Feldenkrais questions what it means to be healthy. Biologically, the nervous system controls all of our life functions so naturally, one can measure health by how much shock a person can take without this system being comprised.

He bases his inquires on the realization of the dependent nature of our body’s physiology to external phenomena. Through science, he found that on a biological level our nervous system does not exist independently from the outside world. He explains that visual, external objects aren’t actually objects until we train our eyes and brains to recognize of them as such. As humans, we learn to conceptually process the world by differentiating our senses from feelings. It gives rise to patterns in our neurons and generates learned responses. He believes it’s by understanding the world through our senses that shapes our nervous system. This interdependence of mind, body, and the external world reminded me of the concept of emptiness that is so fundamental to Buddhism. It supports the claim that if everything is interdependent then there can be no permanent essence.

As Hemsklemp said, the dangers of this neuroplasticity are distortion of perception and the creation of self. However, if we formed our perception of self through through movement, contact and relationship, it is by the same means that we can continuously change it. She says,“With awareness, there is space—allowing us to interrupt habitual response patterns and bring intention to our responses, choosing to form a different association” (107). Similar to the effects of mindfulness meditation and yoga, we can train our awareness to the body by focusing on small, slow movements that eventually allow us to become uninhibited. Although the Feldenkrais method has no direct association with Buddhism, much of what goes on, at least on a neurological level, seems to lead to the same outcome. At its core, Feldenkrais promotes a healthier way of being through kinesthetic awareness. This makes me wonder about the relationship between self-awareness and self-transcendence. If we take it further and apply the goal of escaping samsara to Feldenkrais, can it be used as another practice to reach enlightenment?

Works Cited:

Feldenkrais, Moshe. “On Health.” Embodied Wisdom: The Collected Papers of Moshe Feldenkrais, 53-58. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2010.                                           Hasenkamp, Wendy. “Is Delusion Hardwired? Brain Karma.” Tricycle 18 May 2014. Print.

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4 Responses to Buddhism & Feldenkrais?

  1. gglynnferrarone says:

    This connection between Buddhism and a form of movement was so interesting. While they are different from the method created by Feldenkrais, the practice of yoga and meditation do allow for amazing connections between our internal and external existence. I have found that yoga and meditation slow the nervous system and allow us to connect with our inner and outer being in an incredibly nourishing way. Our lives force us to become so rigid that we can become stuck in cycles of revving up the nervous system in deeply unhealthy ways. There is very little more joyful and freeing than being able to release oneself from patterns of rigidity, even momentarily. I’m very interested in holistic approaches to health that connect the mind and body so I will be looking up the Feldenkrais method of dance that you referenced, thanks!

  2. Gabriel says:

    This does sound intensely connected to Buddhist concepts, and furthermore just like a good experience. I used to be a dancer, but I have way too many muscle problems now and can imagine that Feldenkrais would be very difficult for me. Yoga doesn’t really work because I have scoliosis and can’t get alignment right, despite its purported adaptability to all kinds of bodies. I’ve never been able to meditate in ways that proved helpful. If one of the aims of Feldenkrais is to make patterns of movement less rigid, can it help a body whose movements are rigid due to rigid muscles?
    I do often feel trapped in my body, cut off from the world, by the ways I tend to move and by pain that distracts me. I want to explore self-transcendence but feel that I will be stuck with an illusory concept of self for as long as my nervous system mediates my body’s relationship with the world in these maladaptive ways. Perhaps it would be worth it for me to look into Feldenkrais in order to become more aware of my body’s habits and adjust them. Perhaps this could be a more productive way into being able to meditate.

  3. jolsen says:

    How awesome that you are taking both classes at the same time! I almost took Feldenkrais with Annie (love her!) but instead, took ESS Stress Management, which has only made me more stressed this semester! I love how through taking the two courses, you have found that you are able to focus on the interconnectedness of everything in both a mental and physical way. I will look into trying it out sometime. Thanks for your comments!

  4. mmw92 says:

    I found this to be incredibly interesting–you draw some great connections. What drew my attention was the way Feldenkrais connects the body to the outside world and how this relates to the emptiness of Buddhism. At first it seemed to me that the understanding of the self through understanding the outside world seems like it would emphasize these boundaries of the individual. However, the way you presented kinesis and the dependence of the body on the outside world seems to show how the sense of self diminishes, much like Buddhist theory. That’s a really cool connection!

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