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Pilates People, Imagine...

By July 22, 2013

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pilates image - porcupineSure, a ping pong ball is rolling up and down my spine. I have bat wings. A porcupine is sitting right in front of my belly. There is a balloon attached to the top of my head. Absolutely.

I can't tell you how many Pilates classes I've left thinking wow, that sure was a magical mystery tour. And the funny thing is, when you're in imagery mode, it makes perfect sense.

Imagery is a huge part of Pilates training.  Images help us bring out more than just the choreography or the anatomical basics of an exercise. They bring the creative mind into our workouts and help us find new qualities of movement and break through physical barriers we couldn't get around "logically". With just the right image, an exercise that feels dull and difficult can suddenly become a delightful new exploration.

Some people think the more inviting an image is, the better it will work because it will be accepted more easily. The idea of getting more shoulder mobility by floating my shoulder blades in warm, melted chocolate makes me think there's something to that.  Others say that an image can be creative, but should still be anatomically correct. I'm yes and no on that one.

What I've noticed most about imagery and exercise is that images work best when they are very specific to the people, time, and place they are being used. The best ones seem to arise spontaneously out of the needs of the moment. So I might use guidelines, but I wouldn't make rules.

The point really, is to use imagery. It is a very powerful tool and if you haven't been letting your creative mind participate in your workouts lately, you might want to look for some metaphors for how you feel, or want to feel, or communicate to another about movement. To get your juices flowing, I've rescued some images from our Pilates Forum that have been submitted by our readers to help with various Pilates  exercises or movement ideas. Enjoy:

Contributed by PilatesCapeTown:
Quality: I've found it's really important to use the kinds of words that result in the correct quality of contraction. Words such as SINK, SPREAD, SOFTEN, MELT, DEEPEN, work so much better than PULL, SQUEEZE, TUCK, GRIP, HOLD, CLENCH. This applies to imagery as well. Creative images may be fun but can be useless. Images need to convey quality just as much as they need to engage the imagination. For example, the classic 'corset' image is not, I think the very best image to use since corsets are associated with rigidity and shallow breathing. In fact, more and more I have found that my clients are perfectly capable of understanding anatomy. I ask them to visualize the actual muscles they are attempting to contract.

Contributed by OMPilates:
I heard this one recently for getting a deep scoop of the abs: When you are going for a deep scoop of the abs, pretend a porcupine just showed up in front of your belly! That's a good one for exercises like spine stretch where you want to get a big up and over feeling.

Contributed by Ditad:
I use often an image for Breast Stroke prep 2-Imagine you are an airplane taking off the runaway...which usually helps them with the length of the spine and initiate from the top of the head.
For Side Splits on Refomer I like to use -Imagine you are in toaster and you can not move,...so they do not tilt pelvis anteriorly or posteriorly

Contributed by ThePilatesConsultant:
When teaching a movement that requires rocking the pelvis backwards as in Shoulder bridge, to encourage a controlled rolling movement rather than a hard pressing to the floor, I ask my clients to imagine the bones of the pelvis and in particular the sacrum and the back of the pelvis getting heavy, and gradually the weight of the bones tilts the pelvis into a backward tilt. This imagery has proved successful with clients who feel the need to work too quickly which can create pressure in the low back and also too much activity in the gluteals early on in the movement.

Contributed by OMPilates:
I'm thinking of those swings for babies that when you set them in it, it makes a kind of supportive girdle around their whole pelvis, then the baby's legs hang out of that. I'm thinking of how my core, especially pelvic floor, is like the swing. My body is supported and my legs are hanging out of that, reaching into the ground. It's helping me get a feeling of lot of length in my legs and release of tension in my hips. Especially when I'm just out and about - standing, walking.

Contributed by Livingwellpilates:
When describing how the pelvic region should align and work I use the "milk bucket" image:
In a seated position imagine the top of your hips bones (illiac crest) forming the rim of a milk bucket. The sides of the bucket are made up of the abdominals in front, the hips on the sides and the spine in the back. The bottom of  the bucket is made up of the pelvic floor.

Then I ask questions like..what happens to a bucket with a weak bottom? It leaks! I refer to the pelvic floor muscles needing  to be "engaged." or "lifted " so the bucket doesn't leak and it can do its job.

What happens when your rim is tipped forward or backward? The mike spills out the front or the back of the bucket depending how the bucket tilted.... therefore the rim of the bucket needs to remain level (neutral) to its job properly ...you get the idea... it fun to hear the students responses.

And finally, one of my favorites, an image that has helped me a lot with knee stretches -- from the Pilates Elder Carola Trier: "If your belly button fell off, it would fall right between your knees."

Do you love images with your Pilates? Comment on how you use them or share some of your favorites below.

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