What are the differences between the Feldenkrais Method and the Alexander Technique?
I found a very interesting comparison written by someone who has experienced both modalities and has gone into great detail of his experience and the differences that exist between both methods. You can read the whole post Here. Below you can read the 15 points of differences between the Feldenkrais Method and the Alexander Technique. I edited the original text from the first person to the third person and made some changes for clarity.
The Feldenkrais Method and Alexander Technique
He experienced the Alexander Technique as saying “use your body like this,” whereas he experienced the Feldenkrais Method as encouraging his own nervous system to grow and discover new possibilities for movement.He felt like the Alexander Technique was trying to make him into a new person and leave the old, “bad” self behind. Whereas the Feldenkrais Method felt like it cares more about who he was, why he had trouble using his body, and what he could do to heal and grow.In fact, after his first experience with the Feldenkrais Method, which took place after eight months of Alexander Technique, he had the strong thought “His own body was back, and it felt good!”
Alexander Technique: inhibiting habits. Feldenkrais Method: evolving habits.
The two methods have a critical difference in the way they approach the ingrained habits that may be harming one’s ability to move gracefully or causing pain. Alexander lessons attempt to “inhibit” the habit. For example, people often tighten up their neck as they exert effort so that their neck actually ends up working against them. An Alexander lesson says to the neck, “Stop that tightening, and lengthen instead.” And the Alexander training techniques are remarkably effective; the neck usually listens.
He did not encountered in the Feldenkrais Method any direction to stop doing something, but rather the suggestion that a pattern “evolve” to a more helpful pattern. Feldenkrais asks “Can the neck’s pattern of tightening be transformed into a pattern that is helpful?” He believes that when his neck tightened up and worked against him, it was actually trying to help; it just didn’t know how. But Feldenkrais has helped his neck learn to help. He found that when a body part learns how better to help a movement, magically the tightness starts to leave!
Differences in the Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method lessons:
During an Alexander lesson, one is supposed to “leave one’s body alone.” The teacher lays hands on one’s body and shows it how to move. Much of the lesson involves practice standing up and sitting down. One spends some time lying on a table.
During a Functional Integration lesson, one spends almost all the time lying down while the teacher gently manipulates my body to give one’s nervous system information that it can use to improve one’s organization.
He did not like several things about Alexander lessons, especially comparing them to Feldenkrais lessons. (At the time he was taking Alexander lessons, he did not find these things particularly objectionable, partly because he got used to them, partly because he thought they were necessary for meaningful change.) For example, he sometimes felt that the activities were tiring or causing pain. He also did not like that he had to leave his body alone, and he did not like that an Alexander lesson felt like a “lecture” for his body.
He sometimes experience pain in Funtional Integration lessons, but the pain always felt like a result of releasing tension and discovering pain that was there all along. He actually experience the onset of this type of pain as a kind of relief.
Alexander Technique wore off quickly, frequent lessons were required. Feldenkrais Method: lots to practice on one’s own.
Basically, he usually felt great after an Alexander technique lesson, but the effect started to wear off the moment that he walked out of the lesson. In the beginning the good feelings wore off within two or three days of the lessons; later, more than a week had to pass between lessons before he noticed any wearing-off effect.
He tried to apply the Alexander directions himself, to find the “Alexander instinct” in himself. For a while he thought he had succeeded. Later he began to feel that his techniques for directing himself were actually a way of jogging his memory of what the lesson felt like. The more time that passed between lessons, the more this memory faded, and therefore the less capability he had to follow the Alexander directions.
The situation with Feldenkrais is more complex. With his early Functional Integration lessons, some of the immediate changes he noticed after a lesson persisted for about two weeks, some of them for only a few hours. However, with Feldenkrais work there was lots of practice he could do on his own that felt like it truly involved self-discovery and growth that continues the theme of the Functional Integration lesson. He thought that self-discovery and growth is probably more important than the immediate effects of the lesson.
So an Alexander lesson feels like an experience that one tries to remember and emulate but without complete success, whereas a Functional Integration lesson feels like the start of a process of self-discovery.
Alexander Technique: pain as the lessons wear off. He often experienced a great deal of pain and tension in his body, mostly his neck, between Alexander Technique lessons, particularly when he was just starting and particularly when more than a week passed between lessons. He did not really understand why. Perhaps the lesson freed up chronically tense muscles, making him un-numb to their pain, and then those muscles started to become quite tense again.
It seems that he was pretty darn good at “directing” himself upward during a lesson, perhaps better than most people, but perhaps that led to changes in his body that it couldn’t really handle for long without pain. That did not really explain the whole situation to him.He believed that pain sometimes occurs in the course of making long-term change in any part of the body/mind system. So, he stuck with the Alexander Technique in spite of the pain he experienced.
With Functional Integration lessons of the Feldenkrais Method, however, the “lesson wearing off” effect is mostly a smooth, gentle return to some of the feelings and patterns in one’s body before the lesson. He had encountered some pain between the lessons, but the vast majority of it felt like a release of tension that was blocking pre-existing pain. After the first couple of lessons, he developed some pain in his knees while walking, but that entirely disappeared a couple weeks later when he discovered a simple change he could make in his manner of walking.
In hindsight, the pain he experienced with the Alexander Technique did not feel like it was part of a healthy process. It felt more like electrodes buried in his muscles were causing them to tighten and cramp.Several times recently he has tried to direct himself according to the Alexander directions, and each time he felt some changes in his body followed quickly by the onset of this tightening and pain.
What to do with one’s conscious attention? Alexander Technique: directing and inhibiting. Feldenkrais: taking in information.
So you’re having lessons in one of these techniques, you’re feeling changes in your body. Walking is smoother, let’s say. Even without trying to walk differently, you just do. However, you would like to feel like you’re doing something with your conscious attention. Alexander Technique suggests that you “inhibit” your body’s habits and direct your body according to the Alexander directions.
That is, as you are walking, you are thinking, “I will not compress my neck as I usually do. Let my neck lengthen as it does during an A lesson, let my back widen and lengthen, let my legs release from my pelvis, let my shoulders release from my torso.” Feldenkrais suggests that you take in information, that you notice how your legs feel as you pick them up and set them down, how your torso moves or doesn’t move in synch with your walking, etc.
Alexander Technique: initial kinesthetic sense is misleading; emphasis on using outside information to make change. Feldenkrais Method: the initial kinesthetic sense can lead to positive change. An approximate definition of the “kinesthetic sense” is the sense of the body’s position, movement, effort being exerted, and so on. For example, without looking at his leg he can sense the approximate angle of his knee joint. He can estimate the distance between his feet. If he (or someone else) moves their leg, they can sense the approximate direction and speed of movement. If he picks up an object, he has an idea of its weight.
F.M. Alexander, the founder of the Alexander Technique, discovered that his kinesthetic sense was unreliable. For example, he thought he could feel his neck lengthening, but when he looked in a mirror he discovered it was contracting. He set out to study his movement in a mirror and re-educate his body, and his kinesthetic sense, based out what he saw.
The Feldenkrais Method uses the kinesthetic sense to lead to positive change. It says that as I begin to pay attention to my kinesthetic sense, whether the information I get is “objectively accurate” or not, my nervous system will begin to make positive change to my organization, and my kinesthetic sense will improve also. Rather than the kinesthetic sense being faulty and requiring outside intervention, the idea here is more like the kinethetic sense is underdeveloped and ignored, and requires practice.
Awareness; both methods have body awareness as a goal.Feldenkrais helps you direct your attention to important places and helps you ask useful questions about what’s happening in your body. The body can learn and grow from this sort of awareness.
His Alexander lessons led to awareness, but primarily awareness of how well his body was following the Alexander directions. He was aware that he felt good when his body was following the Alexander directions well, and he was aware that he felt bad when it wasn’t. Unlike the Feldenkrais sort of awareness, he just didn’t feel significant change from this awareness—the change from the lesson led to the awareness rather than the awareness leading to change. Perhaps that was because so much of his attention was focused on a small area, specifically on how he could maintain the Alexander directions.
Alexander Tecgnique: focuses on head/neck/back and waits for change to spread. Feldenkrais Method: can start anywhere, can focus anywhere.
His Alexander lessons focused on the head/neck/back relationship. His teacher indicated that when he got their organization right, the rest of the body would follow. He certainly did notice lots of changes all over his body. He discovered that he could soothe his wrists by giving attention to his neck.
Feldenkrais also contains the general idea that change in one part of the system can spread elsewhere, but the head/neck/back relationship is not singled out as the prime control. A Feldenkrais lesson can focus anywhere.He thinks that it was more useful to pay direct attention to his wrist and his feet (two areas where he felt pain) rather than focusing on the neck and waiting for the change to spread. Within two months of paying specific attention to his wrists and feet, he came to understand what he was doing and change major habits that were causing pain. That’s much more progress than he got in eight months of taking Alexander lessons.
In fact, he felt like his habits were “battling it out” with the Alexander directions, and the Alexander directions really only scored a victory in the head/neck/back relationship. Everywhere else, his habits stuck around, perhaps muted a little, but essentially still there and still causing problems. (By the way, this account portrays the habits as “the enemy” and he want to assert that he believes it is more useful to understand them as trying to help.)
Feldenkrais Method: small simple movements. Alexander Technique: sitting down and standing up.
There is a difference in the types of movement practiced by the methods.Alexander Technique deals largely with standing, sitting, standing up from a sitting position, and sitting down from a standing position. These are all movements/postures that many people carry out with a great deal more effort than is required.
They are also common movements. It makes sense to me to pay attention to them, because any change in those movements will have a large impact on a person’s life.The Feldenkrais Method deals more with small, simple movements that are often done lying down so as to minimize the work a person must do against gravity. Because the movements can be done with very little effort, a person has a lot of attention available to notice the feeling of the movement, and a lot of freedom to explore different ways of organizing that movement.He thinks that working with both types of movement brings immediate change to most of a person’s life.
However, he thinks that the Feldenkrais types of movement facilitate self-exploration, growth, and healing more than Alexander Technique type of movements.It’s really amazing to him that if he explores, say, tiny motions of his fingers pressing against the floor, that suddenly his typing, which involves much larger movements in many different directions, gets easier and smoother. Musicians and athletes may be familiar with the idea of isolating and practicing some very small aspect of their technique and noticing how much general effect can follow. Feldenkrais is an exploration of movement that can bring about change at a very deep and general level because it works with small, simple movements, the components of many types of movement.
Alexander Technique: CPU upggade. The Feldenkrais Method: CPU and entire operating system upgrade.
He says that the Alexander Technique is a “CPU upgrade” because it seems to make his body work better but doesn’t change how he gives motion instructions to his body. This is analogous to changing the CPU from a 386 to a 486 chip so that all software will run faster, but then running all the same software.To be more specific, let’s say you want to walk. you think “walk” in the same way you’ve always thought “walk,” and the act of giving that instruction to your body feels the same. But your body responds differently: smoother, easier, with more grace.
This is nice, but you get somewhat frustrated when you (your consciousness, ego, or whatever you want to call it) does not feel that you have much ability to explore different ways of initiating and carrying out the walking movements, when you feel that the smooth form of walking came from some mysterious place outside yourself.To be sure, you don’t believe that all levels of the neural system are under direct control of your consciousness; you don’t expect to be able to directly control every aspect of your body, but it’s nice to have an image, an understanding, a model of what these lower levels of the neural system do, and it’s nice to feel that your system did the learning and changing itself.
He also think thought the Alexander Technique can change more than the CPU; with more Alexander lessons, AT’s effects trickle further up the hierarchy of the nervous system and eventually reach consciousness. He just did not feel satisfied with that method of creating change.Feldenkrais, however, feels like it helps him learn at all levels of his nervous system. As he does an ATM (Awareness Through Movement) lesson, his ego is exploring different ways of initiating a movement at the same time lower levels of his nervous system are learning about different ways of organizing that movement.
His mental image of walking is changing; it feels like he is changing what he is “trying to do” when he walks; also, it feels like his body carries out his ego’s instructions differently, and the whole experience is more unified than the Alexander Technique experience of walking.
When you upgrade a computer’s CPU and operting system, you change not only how quickly the computer responds to commands, but you change the form of the commands themselves. I make an analogy between this and the Feldenkrais Method.
Alexander Technique: He prefers surfaces and postures like the Alexander lesson. Feldenkrais Method: like greater variety of surfaces. While he was taking AT lessons, he prefered to sit on chairs that were simple, flat, and hard, like the one used in his Alexander lesson. He prefered to sit very upright, like he did in my Alexander lesson. If he had to stand for a while, he prefered to stand with his weight equally distributed between his feet, knees slightly bent, torso and head well balanced, as he did in his Alexander lesson. Since doing Feldenkrais work, he does not feel so strongly that he need a hard flat chair to sit comfortably. He is now a little more comfortable in car seats and movie seats.
Feldenkrais: support from the ground. The Feldenkrais Method puts emphasis on the feeling of support you gets from the ground. Suppose you are lying down; Feldenkrais asks you to notice the shape of the region of contact you make with the floor, whether one side feels heavier than the other, your sense of the floor beneath you (is stable, or unsteady? hard, or soft? flat, or contoured?), and so on. During the course of an FI lesson or ATM lesson, you check your support from the floor and notice if it has changed. The way the body organizes itself to support itself is an important dimension of the body’s general organization.
His Alexander lessons did not contain this idea generally during a type of practice called “Alexander lying” he sometimes noticed his contact with the ground but the emphasis was not that the noticing itself would bring change in the manner of lying, rather that the manner of lying was an indication of how well his body was following the Alexander directions.
Alexander could provide a useful suggestion to a body that was at an advanced state of awareness. He was unsatisfied with AT because he experienced it as a non-instinctive external ideal. However, he wonders if the AT could provide useful ideas to a body that was already at an advanced state of awareness. An advanced chef, for example, might find ideas in the strange cooking of an alien society. He wouldn’t necessary want to use their recipes verbatim, but he might be able to find things he liked about them and integrate that knowledge into his own style of cooking.
Perhaps AT is better in some respects than any organization the body could discover by itself. A runner may find that he runs faster after an AT lesson than at any other time. A cross-country skier may have more endurance. A public speaker may project his voice further. Just a thought; there is no way to confirm or deny this theory at this time.
Alexander Technique: (endgaining). Feldenkrais Method: (effort) Imagine a runner trying hard to reach the finish line. Every part of the runner’s body leans forward, toward the finish. As a result, this runner is not in an efficient posture, and doesn’t run as fast as they could.This illustrates the concept of “endgaining”; trying hard to reach a goal without considering what path is best.
This is an important concept of Alexander Technique, and one that I think illustrates an important concept of body use (and mind use, too). However, I like better the concept in Feldenkrais, “using less effort.” If I perform a movement with less effort, then more information is available to my nervous system, and my nervous system can naturally discover where I might be hampering myself.
To say that I’m “endgaining” sounds like I need to inhibit another one of those nasty habits; on the other hand, the direction to “use less effort” implies that my body has many natural good instincts, that it was really trying to help all along, and that the solution is readily accessible.