Of all mammals humans are the most helpless at birth. Indeed, most animals come into the world – depending on the inheritance of their species – with brains that are practically pre-programmed. In contrast, human babies - with the exception of the neural wiring responsible for the most basic of functions such as breathing, sucking or digestion - must create most of the neural connections responsible for cognitive development and social functioning.
On top of all these challenges, the human child is confronted with another enormous task: standing up on two feet against the pull of gravity. What first appears to be a disadvantage - a long learning process - turns out to be an enormous advantage. It is thanks to those mostly unprogrammed brains that humans can flourish in all corners of the globe and develop a great diversity of lifestyles and cultures.
They must first adjust to the family in which they are born, but also the culture. They must learn to see, hold themselves erect and move from one place to another. They must also learn the language that is spoken where they happen to be born. Luckily, their brains are programmed to be curious and to react to the environment.
Babies and young children observe and explore their own movements and actions and their relations with their surroundings. They create an image of the world that makes sense to them. Through play, they discover the rules of their culture. They are in charge of their own learning process and have great joy and a sense of accomplishment when they master a new skill. This process is one of exploring, falling and getting up again, trying things out and making mistakes, and constant adjustments that allow the nervous system to develop. This process of growth gives them access to a higher cognitive level of more complex actions. Slowly but surely, schemas of neuromuscular coordination are developed, which form the basis of all subsequent patterns of action.
One’s developmental process can be severely disturbed as a result of life’s challenges. Unhelpful neuromuscular coordinations and damaging habits can take a toll. For example, one of the most common reactions to pain, be it physical or mental, is a contraction of the painful area. If this tension is not released, this area is no longer felt with the same acuity and is therefore erased from the self-image. Because this area of the body is thus less mobilised, other parts of the body compensate for this lack of mobility and thus become over-activated.
In Western cultures, education gives priority to the intellectual and academic learning process (the use of verbal thought) and gives little attention to the process of listening to oneself and learning through physical experience. Throughout their lives, people are required to adjust to new situations and conditions of life. Whether this is attending school, experiencing adolescence, work, marriage, the birth of a child, illness, accident, a death, etc., people need to find the strength and energy to face these challenges. What do we do exactly to adjust to, and cope with, these changes? Do we repeat the same schemas over and over or do we have the capacity to be as creative as a young child?
Throughout our entire existence, we have the capacity to again put this organic learning process into the foreground and to rediscover trust in our capacity for learning and adjusting. This is what the Feldenkrais Method has to offer.