How Imagery Changes the Way We Move

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.  The mind is everything, what we think, we become.” – Buddha

Recalling a happy moment in your life can bring feelings of joy, as reminiscing on a challenging period in your life can bring feelings of pain or suffering.  You can smell something that makes you remember a moment, place or person from you past.  When listening to music a song may bring back very intense memories!  Through our senses we experience thoughts that provoke both emotional and physical feelings.  At Polestar Pilates we spend a lot of time observing what thought-provoking images we use while we help restore and improve movement.

There are many schools of thought that have contributed to the field of imagery and what is called ‘Ideokinesis’.  This form of somatic training was first conceived by Mabel Todd in the 1930s and it refers to the use of visual and tactile feedback that is meant to guide students, either during static postures or physical movements.  Many have contributed to this body of work and along with the understanding of neuro-linguistic communication, we at Polestar have developed effective imagery and communication skills as a vehicle to improving movement.

If you take a moment and reflect on how you and others physically react to feelings like fear and anger or happiness and love, it will not take long to notice that what we feel is directly reflected in how we hold ourselves physically. When we are afraid we tend to crouch down.  When we feel rage we tend to feel a rise in our body temperature and an accelerated heart beat and breathing pattern.  When in love we feel light and hold our heads up high.  We can use this increased awareness when we are guiding others through movement, especially when we are helping restoring movement after pain or injury, to bring about a positive experience. The thoughts that we hold while we are moving or teaching will make all the difference in how the nervous system responds.  It will also make us better able to communicate and find empathy with clients who are in pain or are having difficulty moving.

As we become aware of how our emotions effect our posture and the functioning of our involuntary systems, like our respiratory and circulatory systems, we can really start to appreciate how important our choice of words are as movement teachers and healers.

Visualizing the movement within the mind’s eye (either as movement within the body or in space), without any conscious muscular effort, primes neural pathways and reprograms unnecessary and unwanted muscular tension.  We allow our body’s unconscious intelligence to pave the way for the desired movement.  Brent Anderson often speaks about cueing the nervous system rather than the muscles, which makes complete sense when analyzing animals and children in nature, as the ancient yogis and our more contemporary Joe Pilates did.  When you go about your day, when a child plays in the park, when an animal hunts for its’ prey, it does not solicit conscience muscle activity in order to perform its activities.  These activities in a natural environment occur unconsciously.  With this understanding, if our training is to be ‘functional’ and prepare us for real-life activities, we should train in a way that mimics and promotes what we will need in order to safely and efficiently perform our tasks, namely healthy unconscious movement coordination.  So how do we do this?  We rely heavily on meaningful imagery cues!

Christi Idavoy at Pilates Anytime
Photo credit: Pilates Anytime

“Physical practice combined with mental practice can lead to more improvement in motor performance and strength than either physical or mental practice alone.  Physical practice combined with mental practice can lead to more improvement in motor performance and strength than either physical or mental practice alone.” 1

If you regularly teach and take classes, and even if you tend to practice or work-out on your own, observe your thoughts and the feelings that arise and ask yourself if they are helping or hindering your performance.  Keep a journal on your experience and notice your transformation!

1 http://www.iadms.org/?248

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