It's not like Pilates.
And please don't compare it to yoga, either.
It's called Feldenkrais. And even though this mind-body exercise form is more than 20 years old, fitness experts say it's only starting to get its due recognition.
"Its time has come with all the emphasis on the mind-body connections in the last few years," says Julie Francis, a Feldenkrais-certified instructor from Glen Ellyn. "I think people are starting to wake up to the reality that we're not just physical beings."
Founded by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, a Russian-born physicist, judo expert, mechanical engineer and educator who died in 1984, it uses gentle moves and mental focus to improve your body's range of motion, flexibility and coordination.
Everyone can benefit from Feldenkrais, its teachers say, whether you are a cubicle rat who never sees the gym or an elite athlete who can't wait for the next triathlon.
"If you look at it in terms of physical movement, we develop habitual movement patterns," says Francis, who has practiced Feldenkrais for 16 years. "If you have pain, you develop protective patterns that affect your functioning. So this helps you get a better sense of your body and break the bad movement habits. It's about taking somebody from where they are and helping them maximize their potential."
Because it's just starting to catch on, right now it's tough to find Feldenkrais group classes, which are called Awareness Through Movement, in the Chicago suburbs. Francis currently teaches privately and conducts workshops, like the class she held earlier this month at Advocate Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center in Downers Grove. During the session, she introduced both the center's fitness instructors and members to the mental and physical fusion of Feldenkrais.
Laura Crisman, the group fitness director at Good Samaritan, said she scheduled the workshop because it fits well with members' needs.
"So many people these days have some sort of injury due to overuse and stress," Crisman says. "This workshop is a great way to re-awaken the nervous system, aid in the road to recovery and improve awareness of one's own body."
One woman who teaches public group classes is Sharon Schwartz of Arlington Heights. She discovered Feldenkrais eight years ago when looking for an alternative to ease her back problems. Today, she works privately with clients of all ages who need to improve their movement, and she recently helped a child who is almost 2 years old walk for the first time. She also teaches to groups at the Center for Holistic Medicine in Deerfield, with plans to offer another class soon at North Shore Healing in Glenview.
Schwartz and Francis both say their students report feeling lighter, more fluid and flexible and a better sense of well-being after their classes.
Ultimately, Francis says, the goal is for people to apply Feldenkrais to ease their pain or improve their performance - whether it's kicking butt in martial arts or simply breathing - in daily life.
"The ideal is for people to take info from the lessons and be able to apply those movements at home to help ease problems with neck pain, etc.," Francis says. "It's sort of about working smarter, not harder, so I can relieve problems before I have to spend the day with a heating pad."
For details, visit feldenkrais.com.
Awareness Through Movement
Instructed in the Feldenkrais Method
When: Noon to 1 p.m. Mondays
Where: Center for Holistic Medicine, 240 Saunders Road, Deerfield
Details: (847) 236-1701 or holistic-medicine.com or feldenkrais.com