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Though ‘Ease, comfort and efficiency’ have become the Feldenkrais buzzwords, little Moshe’s own beginnings were far from comfortable. As a fourteen year old Jewish boy early last century, Feldenkrais escaped the anti-semitism of the Ukraine by walking across Europe to find refuge in Palestine. Here he spent his young manhood working as a labourer and enduring the hardships of a pioneer settlement. Despite these early struggles or perhaps because of the challenges they presented, his enthusiasm for life was palpable.

One of these enthusiasms was for his study. In Israel he studied mathematics and then saved his shekels carefully until he had enough to take himself off to Paris to study for an engineering degree in mechanics and electricity. He then went on to the Sorbonne to study for his doctorate, also in engineering.

This is not exactly the conventional route to take for someone who would eventually deal with the functioning of human beings. The figures we tend to think of in connection with such areas are more often grounded in the medical, biological, sometimes spiritual or in the case of someone like Freud, even the literary areas. However, his studies and his later work are closely linked. After all, an engineer is faced with one problem over and over in different guises- ‘How will this work best?’ Feldenkrais’ training in physical problem solving probably helped him to view the human system in this novel way.

He received his doctorate from the Sorbonne in 1935, but what that piece of paper did not say was that Moshe had received another unofficial education. As important for Feldenkrais was the opportunity he had had to observe some exceptional humans functioning at optimum level. He worked as an engineer and physicist with Marie Curie’s daughter Irene and her husband Frederic Joliot-Curie who were in the process of discovering the induction of radioactivity. This discovery won the couple the 1935 Nobel Prize for chemistry. Moshe’s role in this event was as a physicist and an engineer. He also co-authored papers with Frederic Joliot-Curie on the cyclotron they engineered and built together to assist with the experiments.

Feldenkrais was as interested in HOW Joliot-Curie worked as he was in WHAT he achieved. He tells the story in his book ‘The Elusive Obvious’ (1981).


He says that late one night he and Frederic Joiliot-Curie were leaving the lab after installing the instrument he had designed. Joliot-Curie decided to try the instrument one more time. He put a metal strip in the chamber (the experiment involved bombarding metal with alpha rays). Instantly there came a clicking from the chamber and at first Joliot-Curie was furious. He thought a careless lab assistant had not obeyed his instructions and had left the machine on. Yet, Joliot-Curie was suddenly struck with another thought as he listened carefully to the sound. He commented:

"Can you not hear the dying out clicking? There is no radioactive material here which has such a half-lifetime". The next day the news had spread that induced radioactivity had been discovered.

For Feldenkrais, this simple story illustrates a simple truth. The best way to work is with awareness and careful observation rather than hard slog. Having too narrow a focus, a symptom of trying too hard, can mean you lose sight of what’s around you. Einstein himself once said some of his best ideas came to him while eating an ice cream. It is a matter of awareness; being relaxed enough to actually notice what is going on around you. This is pure Feldenkrais.