Green, Drs Elmer and Alyce – Healing Cerebral palsy using biofeedback – The work of Moshe Feldenkrais
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Beyond Biofeedback – Drs Elmer and Alyce Green
One of the most exciting developments in the field of mind-body coordination is the work of Moshe Feldenkrais. Part of his work is in the field of biofeedback, but it is different from all others because he himself is the instrument for detection of subthreshold processes in the striate musculature of patients, and he himself feeds back the information until the patient becomes aware of it inside.
At a conference in London, the May Lectures of 1974, we talked with Feldenkrais and watched him demonstrate his training procedure with a victim of cerebral palsy. This patient, about forty years old, had learned to walk in a very crippled way with the aid of special crutches. He was severely handicapped even though he had received a great deal of physical therapy and had trained various muscle groups in his hips to take over or compensate for leg muscles that were not under control. In certain positions his legs would jerk uncontrollably and he would have to change posture forcibly.
While the patient lay on a conference table in front of us, Feldenkrais explained that the man's problem stemmed from the fact that when he was a child no one realized that he needed special training to develop consciousness in his diseased muscles. Instead, everyone said that his cerebral palsy meant that his body would be out of control in some respects for the rest of his life. In addition, they said that he would have to train other muscles to take over functions that could not be controlled in the normal way. Here is an example of a cybernetic feedback loop that was not being completed. Conscious and unconscious sections of the nervous system were not being hooked together in order to develop control of the body. Instead, other muscles were being trained to take over the work that was not being done.
Having made his explanation, Feldenkrais slapped the bottom of the man's foot with his hand, and the foot responded in a series of convulsive jerks. Then, with the fingers of his left hand pressing into the calf muscles and his thumb on the shin bone, Feldenkrais made an exploration of the muscular bundles in the calf, occasionally slapping the bottom of the patient's foot. After six or seven repetitions of slaps and jerking, Feldenkrais said, "There it is," and to the patient, "Do you feel that pulsing muscle in the calf?"
The patient said, "No."
Feldenkrais again slapped the foot and said, "Do you feel that in the calf?"
At first the answer was negative; then, in a surprised voice, the patient said, "I feel that."
Feldenkrais asked him what he felt, and the patient said he felt a trembling in his calf muscle that he had never felt before. Feldenkrais said that was what he had been looking for. He had finally located the muscle group that was out of control. There had been no feedback from that particular muscle bundle in this man's life. The muscle could jerk, but there was no associated internal (existential) awareness, only external awareness of the difficulty, and without internal awareness nothing could be learned.
Is it not interesting that this is exactly analogous to a psychosomatic problem in the vascular system?
The patient is aware of the behavioural problem but has no internal awareness in the control circuits associated with it. It is very clear that body consciousness must be developed in order to bring the body under control, whether the problem is a spastic colon or spastic leg muscles.
It is worth noting that each muscle bundle has associated with it a large number of sensory detectors in the tendons which join the muscles to bones. These sensory detectors, called "tendon organs," feed back tension information; whenever a muscle tenses due to nerve firing, a special set of sensory detectors fire nerve impulses back to the spinal cord and up to the brain. This is feedback of information from the striate muscular system. This is one kind of proprioceptive feedback (feedback to the brain from internal body organs) that usually we are not very much aware of, because the operation is so automatic. Nevertheless, muscle-tension data are continuously fed back to the CNS. In cerebral palsy, Feldenkrais said, the proprioceptive feedback system is not sensitive enough. The feedback signal is weaker than that required to provide awareness of what a particular muscle group is doing. When Feldenkrais pressed on the muscle bundle with considerable force, the twitching of the muscle group was felt by the patient as a throbbing in his calf.
Feldenkrais said to the patient, "Are you sure you feel it?"
The man said, "Yes." when Feldenkrais slapped the bottom of the foot again, it remained stationary, surprising everyone, including the patient.
Feldenkrais brought that particular muscle to awareness by pressing on it with his fingers. With practice, and with an increase in awareness in that body location, he said, that particular muscle group would no longer fire in an oscillatory, uncontrolled manner. He had merely provided a feedback learning situation, and the body had done the rest. In addition, it was not necessary to press continuously on the muscle in order to maintain the awareness.
How remarkably similar this is to what has been found in the use of biofeedback machines. Consciousness does not need indefinite or permanent use of biofeedback machinery. In the same way that the biofeedback machinery works itself out of business, so also Feldenkrais practitioners work themselves out of business. As body consciousness develops, treatment is no longer needed.
When I commented to Feldenkrais that in actuality he was supplying a very neat form of biofeedback, his eyes lit up and he said, "Yes, that's it exactly."
Someone in the group asked how he happened to develop this kind of training program, and he replied that it came about from doing a little bit of intelligent thinking about how control systems work, and how the voluntary and involuntary parts of a human work in establishing control in all parts of the body. In other words, if you know enough about biological principles and biological machinery, it is possible to devise training Programs that will do what people heretofore thought impossible.
In his opinion, much physical therapy is aimed in the wrong direction. It does not train the patient to become aware of what the problem is, but instead tries to make other muscles compensate for the lack that exists in awareness. This was backward, he said.
What we must do is bring non-functioning and malfunctioning muscle groups to consciousness so that internal feedback loops (direct awareness) can be established. That theoretical position is, to us, highly persuasive.