The science of body movement

fitness catherine scott When the teacher said, "Lie on the floor, do small gentle movements and whatever you do don't over exert yourself", I knew it was the exercise class for me.

I am more used to being told to "work through the burn" and crawling out of an aerobics class on my hands and knees. Even yoga leaves me red faced and puffing.

But not the Feldenkrais Method. But then again, that's not the point of it, says Caroline Scott, who runs Feldenkrais classes and workshops at the Ilkley Healing Centre and in Hebden Bridge.

Feldenkrais, named after its inventor Dr Moshe Feldenkrais, aims to make you more aware of the way your body moves and thereby improve posture, flexibility, co-ordination and self-esteem. It claims to be the scientific approach to movement.

His method considers each person as an entire moving unit; by looking at how somebody moves, a teacher can learn how this may be contributing to any problem that individual may have.

As Caroline admits, it is quite a hard method to explain in one sentence.

It did become a bit clearer when I took part in a lesson and spoke to some of my fellow students.

"When I first started coming, I thought, what am I doing here?" said Jean from Bramhope.

"But then it really clicked and I suddenly realised that I was using much more force and energy than was necessary when I was doing even everyday things."

Feldenkrais classes do indeed involve a lot of lying on the floor while the teacher talks you through a sequence of movements aimed at helping you work out how your body actually works.

Lessons last about an hour. They are based on everyday activities such as moving from lying to sitting, reaching and standing.

Students learn which movements work or feel better and which are unnecessary and can be abandoned.

They learn to understand the relationship between how they move and the difficulties they are experiencing.

"It is very rarely that we take time to think about how our body works," says Caroline. "Over time, we develop ways of moving which may not be the most efficient. Even if you come to one class a week and then don't do it again, people have found it really helps. Although ideally an hour a day would be good, but not many people get an hour a day to lie on the floor."

Although available to anyone of any age, it is often used by people who have some sort of injury or illness. Caroline does a lot of work with children with cerebral palsy and one of her class members has multiple sclerosis.

"He really says it helps his balance."

As well as group Awareness through Movement classes, Feldenkrais is taught individually. Called Functional Integration, these one-to-one classes are better suited to people with particular problems.

Each lesson revolves around a question: how do your habits of movement help you, but in the same time stand in the way of doing better?

Although I have no specific acute problems, lugging two young children around plays havoc with the base of my spine and sitting over a computer keyboard leads to tense shoulders and neckache.

By with just a few movements Caroline seemed to know which side I automatically carried my children and made me think about the possibility of moving in different ways.

Lying on a bench, she gently manipulated what seemed to be every part of my body explaining that she was seeing how my skeleton was put together. The whole process takes about an hour and is extremely relaxing and I'm sure to someone with an acute back problem it would be beneficial.

As well as helping people suffering from chronic pain or neurological conditions such as MS, Feldenkrais is also used by dancers to optimise their performance. Caroline discovered Feldenkrais while working as a professional dancer in London. Her teacher used to do the exercises before a class or performance.

"I thought I would give it a go," said Caroline. "And I was really impressed with the results."

She decided to train as a Feldenkrais Teacher in Amsterdam and then a year ago she moved to Hebden Bridge. She also works at Northern School for Contemporary Dance.

Caroline Scott: 01422 882923 or email caroline.scott8@btinternet.com. She is a member of The Feldenkrais Guild UK which can be contacted on 07000 785 506 or log on to www.feldenkrais.co.uk

The facts

n Moshe Feldenkrais was an engineer, scientist, physicist and martial artist.

n Born in eastern Europe, he emigrated to Palestine.

n His interest in ju jitsu brought him into contact with Professor Kano who developed judo.

n Escaping the Nazis, he came to Britain and worked on anti-submarine research. It was there in the 1940s that he began to develop his method and wrote his first book on the subject.

n When suffering a knee injury, he refused to accept surgery and decided to work on himself, drawing on his knowledge of biology and systems theory.

n He taught himself to walk again without the need for an operation and so began his lifelong exploration of the relationship between movement and consciousness.

n He identified that a physical problem was a consequence of something rather than a cause and that the way we moved can contribute to that problem.