Why is Imagery Used in Pilates?

During your Pilates session online or in person, you will notice the use of imagery. Imagery is visualizations for how your body moves, looks, and feels. These images help you do the movement with ease. They enhance your movement just like the way spices enhance your food. While doing a private session you can’t always see what your body is doing but you can sense it. Which brings up the question, am I doing this right? If you’re not used to feeling how your body moves during Pilates, the images make it easier. 

The difference between a real image and an imagined image is not very big in our brains. That’s right. Read that again. If you imagine your spine bends like a slinky it will happen. If you imagine your spine is stiff as a board and try to bend forward it will be difficult. This helps us understand stress. Our thoughts can create stiffness and unnecessary stressful patterns in our bodies. The cool thing is we have the ability to change it. No matter the age, you can change it.

During a meditation class, the instruction told me practicing meditation helps strengthen your inner muscles. The more often you practice, the easier it is to relax your mind. The same is true for imagery. When you’re young it’s easy to use your imagination. As we get older, the ability to imagine and create visualizations is still there, we just need to practice it. The more you practice, and how motivated you are, will depend on how soon it becomes easy.

Imagery works differently from person to person. What might work for one person may not work for you. This is why when teaching if someone says that doesn’t make sense I say “Ok forget it! Let’s pick another image.” It’s even better when you come up with your own image. These images are relatable to you. 

We also want to use positive images. Just like emotions, negative images and emotions have negative effects on our bodies. If we’re already feeling slouchy we want our image to have us feel light and stretched. When walking, think of your head like a balloon floating on top of your shoulders. As you walk think of your feet having springs so they bounce off the floor instead of stomping. You have 26 bones in your feet, each bone is a buoy keeping you afloat as you walk. 

Here are a few images to consider when doing these simple exercises. Give these movements a try while thinking of the images. 

Lay on your back with your knees bent and hands on your hips. Breathe in through your nose thinking of a flower at your navel opening and closing as you exhale through your mouth. 

Lay on your back with your knees bent and hands on your hips. Breathe in through your nose thinking of a flower at your navel opening and closing as you exhale through your mouth. 

During a roll down imagine you are a slinky stretching up towards the ceiling and then rolling down to the floor. As you roll down your spine is acting like a slinky and the front of your body is going over the stairs. When you roll up your spine stacks up like the closed slinky. 

During a roll down imagine you are a slinky stretching up towards the ceiling and then rolling down to the floor. As you roll down your spine is acting like a slinky and the front of your body is going over the stairs. When you roll up your spine stacks up like the closed slinky. 

When twisting the spine imagine your upper spine and lower spine as two ends of a wet washcloth. As you twist you wring out the water in the washcloth and wring out the tension in your spine. It feels really good!

When twisting the spine imagine your upper spine and lower spine as two ends of a wet washcloth. As you twist you wring out the water in the washcloth and wring out the tension in your spine. It feels really good!

During extension think of a Ferris wheel. Each carriage needs to go forward and up to go around the wheel. Your spine bends around the Ferris wheel. Our extension looks different person to person so don’t worry about how high you lift off the floor. 

During extension think of a Ferris wheel. Each carriage needs to go forward and up to go around the wheel. Your spine bends around the Ferris wheel. Our extensions look different person to person so don’t worry about how high you lift off the floor. 

Side bends are like rainbows. It’s a big arc that doesn’t collapse or fall as it reaches to the other end of the rainbow. 

Side bends are like rainbows. It’s a big arc that doesn’t collapse or fall as it reaches to the other end of the rainbow. 

Do these movements at home to help relieve stiffness and keep you moving during your day! It’s important to keep yourself active even when you’re home on the weekend. Start thinking of images during your walk or everyday activities. You’ll begin to notice a difference in your posture!

If you have trouble with these images the first time, practice letting go of any mental images you already have in your head. If a particular movement is difficult for you, a negative mental image could already be associated with it. Let go of the negative image (for example a pain in your knee) and focus on the new positive image. 

Comment below if the images helped you move with ease and gave you relief from pain!

Images are from Eric Franklin’s book Dynamic Alignment through Imagery.

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