Therapeutic Massage and Feldenkrais Method Compared:

 Jane Ella Matthews, M.Ed,
  Feldenkrais® Practitioner

•        Are often done with the client lying on a padded table or seated
•        Promote circulation of blood and lymph
•        Ease pain
•        Create a state of relaxation and sense of well-being
•        Improve the recipient's self image
•        Encourage activity because one feels better after a session
•        Are a great gift to oneself or someone special.
•        Clients can learn ways to care for themselves.
•        Are a positive addition to a healthy lifestyle.
•        Are performed by professionals who have been certified by a
          governing body. They must complete continuing education
          requirements and adhere to a code of ethics in order to practice.

There are differences however. These differences lie in how the approaches are defined, which determines their primary goals, the client's role, the techniques and accessories involved, and how the client experiences the benefits.

MASSAGE THERAPY is the systematic manual manipulations of the soft tissues of the body by movements such as rubbing, kneading, pressing, rolling, slapping, and tapping for therapeutic purposes such as promoting circulation of the blood and lymph, relaxation of muscles, relief from pain, restoration of metabolic balance, and other benefits both physical and mental. (Note: The definition of massage varies according to jurisdiction or source.
Stretching and  shaking are employed.(1)

FUNCTIONAL INTEGRATION is one form of somatic education taught in the Feldenkrais Method® that employs gentle hands-on and verbal movement instruction sequences to direct the student's attention to subtle differences in varying ways of moving, and enhance human functioning.(2)  Movement of the skeleton, always within his or her effortless range of motion, is a primary focus.

MASSAGE THERAPY stimulates the circulation of blood and lymph, thereby improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and expediting the removal of waste from them.

FUNCTIONAL INTEGRATION aims to establish (or re-establish) alternate connections in the student's awareness (the nervous system), enabling him or her to improve the quality of movement and functioning.  Movement also encourages circulation.

MASSAGE: Clients are mostly passive. Massage is done "to" the client.

FUNCTIONAL INTEGRATION: The student has a more dominant role, sometimes following verbal directions and asked to notice subtle changes during the lesson.  FI is done "with" the student, as a conversation would be.

MASSAGE works from a medical model with a therapist / patient dynamic.  A massage is considered a treatment.  People who have graduated from an accredited massage therapy program and are licensed to perform massages are called "massage therapists" and have a "practice".  Clients are recipients and are not considered to "practice" massage.

FI has roots in learning theory and martial arts.  Since the primary goal is learning more efficient ways of moving, an FI is called a "lesson" and Feldenkrais clients are sometimes referred to as "students".  One can have a "practice" in the sense of being a student / client, as in yoga or martial arts.  Or one can have a "Practice" by being a "Feldenkrais Practitioner®" (or Feldenkrais Teacher®), who has completed a four-year program and being certified by the Feldenkrais Guild (of North America, or one of 20 other countries around the world).

MASSAGE: In the United States the client usually removes clothing and is covered with a sheet(3). Only the part being massaged is uncovered; the rest is draped for privacy and to retain warmth.

FUNCTIONAL INTEGRATION: The client wears comfortable street clothing - except shoes, jewelry, and glasses - to encourage unencumbered movement.

MASSAGE: The therapist usually applies oil, cream, or lotion to the client's skin to reduce friction, resulting in a constant gliding pressure over the skin.  In addition to creating a pleasant sensation, this constant pressure, (plus the properties of the oils), makes massage especially beneficial to the skin.

FUNCTIONAL INTEGRATION: Oils or other lubricants are not used during an FI.   Sometimes the practitioner will apply a slight tension to the skin to create a small movement, but the intent is not to glide over the skin.  Oil would cause the client's skin to be too slippery for this light pressure to create any movement of the small bones.  And oil is impractical since the client is fully clothed.

MASSAGE: Because massage is done TO the client, the therapist is able to apply stretching beyond what the client would do alone.  The client's role is to relax and be stretched.  Also deep tissue massage involves strong pressure to break up adhesions.  This may be painful, although it is beneficial IF done correctly.

FUNCTIONAL INTEGRATION: Since autonomous learning is the goal during an FI, movement is kept within the client's independent range of motion, with variations introduced within those limits.  No  painful pressure is applied, because learning is the goal: Pain creates resistance, and resistance impairs the learning process.

MASSAGE: The effects are immediate and temporary.  Treatment must be repeated for benefits to be maintained. 

FUNCTIONAL INTEGRATION: Sometimes a client notices a dramatic effect at the time of the FI., PLUS he or she may be surprised by unexpected benefits for several days afterward.  Furthermore, once a student recognizes better ways of moving due to an FI lesson, he or she claims them.  Benefits accumulate because new habits which support them are learned and integrated into daily life.

1.Beck, Mark F. Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Massage, 5th ed. 2010 p.3
2. The Feldenkrais Guild of North America      
3. Clients usually are fully clothed for pre- and post-event sports massage