Neuroplasticity and the Feldenkrais Method
In his book The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity, Dr Norman Doidge introduces the Feldenkrais Method as a powerful way of exploring the potential of the brain to change. Doidge describes several people who have recovered lost function using the gentle movements and sensory awareness strategies that are unique to the Feldenkrais Method.
1. Who is Norman Doidge?
Norman Doidge MD is the author of the best-selling book The brain that changes itself: personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science, which has sold over one million copies worldwide. Dr Doidge is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, researcher, author, essayist and poet. He is on the Research Faculty at Columbia University's Centre for Psychoanalytic Training and Research in New York, and the University of Toronto's Department of Psychiatry.
2. What is his book about?
This book is about the discovery that the human brain has its own unique way of recovering. For centuries we believed that the price we paid for our brain's complexity was that, compared to other organs, it was fixed and un-regenerative - unable to recover from damage or illness. In his revolutionary new book, Norman Doidge explains WHY this belief should have been overturned decades ago based on both research and practitioner observations. Dr Feldenkrais is described as one of the pioneers whose method was built on the new perspectives concept of neural plasticity decades before such thinking was widely understood.
3. What is neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity literally means the ability of the nervous system (brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves) to change. This ability to change - adapt, modify, reorganise - underpins our development for better or worse. It underpins learning across all domains - behaviour, emotion, thinking, memory, attention, movement, sensing and perception. Some parts of the nervous system are more amenable to change than others and the change can be beneficial or not depending on the context (the activity and the environment).
4. How does it work?
It is complex but essentially there can be changes at the cellular level (neuronal) making new connections (synapses) or getting rid of others; there can be changes at a more macro level with regions of the brain adapting their function or the pathways between regions strengthening or weakening. The process is influenced by exposure (practice which is dependent on context, feedback, conscious awareness and the environment) and may be influenced by other neurophysiological processes. Some simple adages are "use it or lose it", "use it to improve it" that express some of the basic principles.
5. How does it relate to the Feldenkrais Method?
The Feldenkrais Method is about learning and working with our nervous system to improve our function. Through learning new ways to move, awareness and practice of these movements, the body’s abilities to function improves and promotes positive change. Doidge describes how the Feldenkrais Method works as a neuromodulator, in that it can help calm an over-active brain. The slow and precise movements of the Feldenkrais Method can help with ‘rewiring’ of the brain as the person learns to differentiate parts of the body again.
Dr Doidge acknowledges Moshe Feldenkrais, DSc as one of the first neuroplasticians, and quotes Moshe Feldenkrais:
It is not a question of eliminating the error ... it is a question of learning. … learning new ways to move, and in the process develop and reorganize the nervous systems and the brain, not fix them (P.177)
6. What case studies does Doidge describe?
He discusses case studies in which people with chronic pain, Parkinson's disease, autism, blindness and stroke, amongst other conditions, experience improvements. These are all conditions involving the nervous system. The two chapters which directly discuss the Feldenkrais Method involve a woman with a stroke, a child with cerebral palsy, a girl born with part of her cerebellum missing and a man who is blind.