The Art and Benefits of Using Inflatable Balls in the Feldenkrais Method

By Ilana Nevill - Conception & Realisation: Sylvia Ghibaudo

More information on the web document (PDF)

....This web-doc project presents a harvesting of over 25 years of experimentation, both playful and increasingly systematic, with a diversity of variably inflated balls.

....As Feldenkrais practitioner (and later assistant in trainings) Ilana Nevill has made promising discoveries, especially when working with clients who just would not feel comfortable on the normal Feldenkrais table – despite their body being supported by foam-rubber, rollers, cushions, blankets, etc. Occasionally additional ‘problems’ arose when a person declared, right at the start of a Functional Integration lesson, that they felt extremely anxious about being touched.

....It is entirely thanks to the challenges posed by pupils and clients traumatised in some way or other that Ilana entered on a path of absorbing research into how to make her pupils’ Feldenkrais experience as agreeable, playful, and effective as possible. During a process of consciously mutual learning about our nervous system’s extraordinary plasticity, the youngest quickly became Ilana’s best models and “teachers“. Even the most fearful little ‘cerebral palsy patient’ would soon get interested in one of her colourful balls being teasingly rolled their way. In the course of such games the practitioner was usually soon accepted as a partner . Ilana benefited tremendously from experiencing the profound immersion, engaging body and soul, young children are capable of when allowed to pursue an interesting activity without being directed by an adult.

....As often emphasised by Moshe Feldenkrais, this quietly concentrated attention is the hallmark of all authentic, self-directed, and creative learning. Lesson number one was to firmly keep in check the ardent wish to ‘do’ something resembling an FI before a trusting relation had been established between the child and herself. Today’s adults mostly seem to have forgotten the curiosity, wonderment, and creative exploration of their environment that illumines our early childhood.

A brief history of what continues to be work in progress.


I. First Stage : England 1994-2006

....From 1994 to 2006 some English colleagues and students/clients, who became friends, helped me to test and continually refine practical ways of facilitating and enhancing capacity for learning to become more consciously aware. The intention, as Moshe Feldenkrais put it, was “to learn how we behave so that we know how we do what we we can do what we want”. (Amherst, 1.7.1981, p.33)

....Playful research – restricted at that time to the possibilities of using five different sizes of oval balls (EGGballs) - and ever new discoveries were recorded systematically for the first time at the end of the 1990s. The result was a 3 hour DVD presentation (based on 13 hours’ filming) which shows the beginnings of this work in image, word, and film. A selection of the most informative and inspirational parts of the DVD SUPPORTED BY AIR Using the Medium of Air in the Feldenkrais Method will appear in the planned Web Documentary.


More information on Supported by Air DVD


II. Second Stage : France 2006 to the present

....With my move to a Pyrenean mountain hamlet at the end of 2006, an exciting second phase of exploration and occasional documentation of new findings began. From then on the evolution of theoretical and practical understanding of the potential of inflatable balls in somatic education & learning became more systematic. I had already re-established contact with former students from some of Myriam Pfeffer’s Training Programmes where I had been an assistant from time to time. Two or three of them were interested in the DVD which had just appeared, and suggested I should show a few exemplary scenes from SUPPORTED BY AIR at the French Feldenkrais Guild’s AGM (Paris 2001).

....Technical problems made this impossible, but playful experimentation with the 10 yellow EGGballs I had brought for that purpose turned out to be fun and provided glimpses of their potential as interesting learning tools in our practice. Two years later I was glad to encounter JoŽlle Minvielle, one of the most experienced members of Feldenkrais France, at an international conference in Paris organized by ACCORD Mobile with Professor A lain Berthoz as the main speaker. JoŽlle told me then that the inflated ball she had bought at the AGM had proved extremely valuable in her work with blind-deaf-mute children.

....By a stroke of luck I was able to participate in the very first Stage de partage d’expťrience which JoŽlle organized in Poitiers (2008). Every two years this extraordinary 5-day venture gives Feldenkrais practitioners the opportunity to encounter - often for the first time – neurologically impaired persons as partners’ in a process of mutual learning. All of them are JoŽlle’s regular pupils and give the impression of forming a well-established group where reciprocal understanding, appreciation, and support are the rule rather than the exception. In addition Feldenkrais colleagues are led to develop a more reflexive approach, based on opening up to empathy and listening to each other in daily group discussion and planning of the shared teaching of an ATM to these ‘partners’. There are also lectures by invited scientists on the most recent findings in relevant disciplines. Learning to formulate in writing the various aspects of shared learning was probably the most challenging task for most participants. However by now five compilations of written accounts - inclusive of questions, ponderings, and insights & lecture notes – have been published thanks to JoŽlle’s generous investment of time and effort. They will remain an invaluable work of reference for the French Feldenkrais community.

....JoŽlle’s Stage de partage d’expťrience at Poitiers became the most demanding, and also most encouraging, context for testing the potential of inflatable balls in rehabilitation after brain injury and similar neurological impairment. From the very start I was free to make use of some of my inflatable learning tools, and was eventually given the opportunity to demonstrate the latest version of the air-table. (Most of the session with Jean, who had suffered a stroke several years before joining JoŽlle’s regular rehab class in Poitiers, exists on film).


Exploration in different context

....Playful exploration with a great variety of inflatable balls and pleasant mutual learning also featured in various public workshops, advanced weekends (organized by helpful colleagues in Paris, Corcelles near Lausanne, Tours, and Annecy) and a series of Laboratories, i.e. Exchanges of Experience, which brought together small (sometimes international) groups of committed colleagues at La Ruzole du Haut in the Pyrenees.

....Colleagues who are already using inflatable ‘learning balls’ and the air table regularly in their teaching practice are confident that the remarkably positive effects of ę working with air Ľ will be communicated to viewers of the photos, slide-shows, and film footage assembled here. They won’t only see, but probably also sense in their own bodies, what grasping something new can mean. (This is one of Moshe Feldenkrais’s definitions of ęlearning to learnĽ).

....People who find their way to my practice in the Pyrenees often send me very positive reports about experiencing ę Feldenkrais on air Ľ. Some have decided to alternate occasional FI sessions in the mountains with learning by themselves on their own air table.


P1040589a P1040597a P1040601a


III. The Third Stage : A Fresh Lease of Life

Unfortunately the Web-Documentary project had to be abandoned because of unforeseen problems, but Ilana is still eager to pursue experimentation and innovation.

A new opportunity arises in joining the Cantal-based FELDENKRAIS EDUCATION team.

She hopes that ongoing research will bear fruit in an environment which favours sharing the outcome of many years of exploration.


Testimonies: Using inflatable balls in learning the Feldenkrais way


Click for the benefits of balloons in pregnancy


Click for "What My Body Had Been Waiting For"





Special thanks to Justin Jones for creating this website and documenting some individual lessons and workshops on film.

I would also like to pay tribute to two friends who are no longer with us :

Becky Green, an English student with a fatal brain tumour, got me to construct the very first air table.

Click to article "Gentle Movement for People with Life-Threatening llnesses"


Feldenkrais practitioner and osteopath Colette Salino was the first French colleague who understood the potential of inflatable balls. It is largely thanks to her unfailing support that exploration with such balls now becomes an interesting aspect of our work.


This Web Documentary is intended to serve interested Feldenkrais colleagues – and practitioners in related approaches to somatic learning - as a source of ideas & maybe ‘useful’ additions to their personal professional ‘toolbox’.