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Abigail H. Natenshon Combines the Feldenkrais Method © and Anat Baniel Method © with Traditional Psychotherapy to Treat Eating Disorders

By Abigail Natenshon, MA, LCSW, GCFP

Abigail H. Natenshon, MA, LCSW, GCFP, psychotherapist and author of When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder: A Step-by-Step Workbook for Parents and Other Caregivers, and Doing What Works: an Integrative System for the Treatment of Eating Disorders from Diagnosis to Recovery has combined her expertise in the field of eating disorder treatment with mastery in the work of Moshe Feldenkrais and Anat Baniel as a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner.

Eating disorders render their victims out of touch with what has become a fragmented core self. The Feldenkrais Method © and Anat Baniel Method © based on the work of Moshe Feldenkrais have been proven to facilitate personal self-awareness on a profound bodily/sensory level, offering increased options for personal change and problem solving.  Through attention and differentiation, gentle and pleasurable movements awaken the brain to sensory awareness, challenging individuals to move beyond habitual patterns of behavior and thought in taking action in the world, and promoting access to a unified sense of mind, body and self.

By rectifying distortions in self perception in individuals with eating disorders and body image concerns, these forms of somatic education make it possible for individuals in “emotional exile” to directly access aspects of the core self through self-awareness and self-acceptance, all within the confines of a single 45 minute “lesson.” According to Moshe Feldenkrais, “We must know what we do, in order to do what we want.” Embedded in the movement lessons are general strategies for what Moshe Feldenkrais calls “learning how to learn.”

Roger Russell (2004) describes the development of the self as being “grounded in kinesthetic experience. Our movement, interwoven into the fabric of our self image from the beginning of our lives, plays an extensive role in how the nervous system coordinates a coherent sense of self through the life span. By teaching students to experience the interrelationships between moving, thinking, feeling and sensing,” the Feldenkrais Method offers entrance to the “ground floor” of our sense of self.” The Feldenkrais work expands the discovery of unrecognized feelings, of different options for taking action, and of alternative thinking that leads to more creative and effective problem-solving. Through this technique, “black-and-white” thinkers begin to recognize shades of gray. Anxiety held in contracted muscles melts away, as do harmful compulsive and habitual behaviors and attitudes, to be replaced by “can do” feelings of empowerment. Hard-to-treat patients who have suffered from eating disorders, body image disturbances and mood disturbances for decades report relief from compulsivity in behaviors and thought, diminished depression, and a new-found capacity for self-determination and self-control.”  (1)


 How these methods work…..

  •  By optimizing our skeletal structure and function in movement within our own gravitational field, we create and recreate who we are, facilitating empowerment and an esteemed sense of well-being and optimistic possibility.
  • The Feldenkrais method teaches us how to learn, in offering individuals the opportunity to take responsibility for their own learning.
  • Accessing the brain uniquely, experientially, the method provides a novel, potent and pure form of learning that adults may not have experienced since infancy, or ever before.
  • Through organizing the nervous system, we learn to become aware of ourselves in ways that have not yet been available to us. Obese individuals who typically abhor bodily movement and who frequently experience human touch to be painful as a result of swelling in the tissues, in doing this work can experience a graceful, astonishing feather-lightness and freedom from constraints in their function that is for many a wholly unique and liberating experience.
  • With improvements in physical movements, come improvements in our lives emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Through the potency of the connection between mind and the body, as a person upgrades his or her physical structure and function, so it goes with brain function, structure, chemical composition and mood. Posture manifests the internal dialogue, even while creating it. Muscles hold our tensions, as well as mood, so much so that a person may not be able to elicit or let go of emotions fully unless the posture parallels the change.
  • Experiencing physical differences and change can also become the basis for metaphorical learning, giving people access to emotional options, opportunities and possibilities as well.
  • Lastly, the Method is about self-improvement and it is for everyone. It applies to any person who rolls out of bed in the morning, who gets up out of a chair, who swings a golf club, or breathes. A person needs not be in pain to benefit from the work.


Feldenkrais and Anat Baniel Methods: their connection to psychotherapy and eating disorders

The Methods share an immense affinity in language, ideas, and concepts to those of clinical psychotherapy. By encouraging eating disordered patients to engage in this form of somatic education as an adjunct treatment resource, eating disorder clinicians further the patient’s self-awareness and self-acceptance, evoking the capacity for self-regulation and self-determination, all of which are hallmarks of eating disorder recovery.

  • Like psychotherapy, these methods are about learning and change.
  • The body is understood to be a system which functions best with all parts articulated and integrated.
  • The therapist starts where patient is, going with the system, reinforcing strengths.
  • The work achieves structurally, tangibly, and palpably what cognitive treatment strives to achieve through talk and thought alone. The Method goes beyond providing the patient opportunity; it “delivers” opportunity… behaviorally, experientially. This is a concept that deserves further exploration in formal research.
  • Psychotherapy relies on the same qualities of self-awareness, differentiation and re-integration to achieve wholeness and optimize change in the realm of feeling and emotion. It parallels the task of eating disorder treatment, in integrating the anorexic self with the healthy self.
  • By accessing the patient’s core self, we affect sensing, thinking and perception. By affecting sensing, thinking and perception, we access the core self.
  • Moshe Feldenkrais defines maturity as emotional flexibility, a concept that is antithetical to the very existence of an eating disorder.
  • Though the method adheres to the language of psychotherapy, one of the most unique and invaluable aspects of this work are that it bypasses the NEED for the limiting language of traditional talk therapy.
  • With psychotherapy, too frequently the patient’s “story,” the old “tapes,” gets told and retold and retold again. The uniqueness of the Feldenkrais and Baniel Methods is in the novelty of “changing the ending” with limitless possibilities.
  • In the realm of pure emotion, a person generally cannot hold onto feelings of optimism because humans do not exist in a static state. The self-help process represents a continuing process of autonomous shifting out of old habits and into useful new ones in creating and recreating an image of achievement.
  • For people who seek bodily solutions to express what they feel (such as purging, starvation, substance abuse, or cutting), the expression of feelings is better served by this form of rootedness in reproducible, healthful and concrete movement.


(1) Russell, R: .An introduction for the Feldenkrais conference, Movement and the      development of sense of self   Feldenkrais conference, Seattle, WA 2004.

Eating disorder group therapy is available to individuals seeking the integrative, experiential mind/body work of Anat Baniel Method© / Feldenkrais Method©. Read Abbie’s article. The Feldenkrais Method © and Anat Baniel Method © in the Treatment of Eating Disorders, published in the Feldenkrais Educational Foundation of North America  SenseAbility Newsletter Http://www.feldenkrais.com/resources/senseability

See also

Abigail Natenshon and the Anat Baniel Method





For further information, read:
The Therapeutic Effects of the Feldenkrais Method "Awareness Through Movement" in Patients with Eating Disorders by Laumer U, Bauer M, Fichter M, Milz H University at Regensburg.http://www.empoweredparents.com/1treatment/treatment_02.htm


Eating disorder group therapy is available to individuals seeking the integrative, experiential mind/body work of Anat Baniel Method© / Feldenkrais Method©. This form of somatic education, when used as adjunct treatment in combination with more traditional approaches, by providing integrative movement with attention, enables autonomous shifting out of old habits and into useful new ones. It facilitates learning “from the inside out;” enhancing sensory-awareness and re-integrating neurological function that goes far to re-create a core sense of self. (Read Abbie’s article, The Feldenkrais Method © and Anat Baniel Method © in the Treatment of Eating Disorders, published in the Feldenkrais Educational Foundation of North America SenseAbility Newsletter,Spring 2011, pages 8-9.
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