Go to any good Pilates class and within 1 hour you’ll hear dozens and dozens of descriptions for how the movements should feel in your body. Visualisations help students to co-ordinate their bones, muscles and breath within a simple sentence. Joseph Pilates himself used words that would help convey his intention for the body and movement such as calling the core the ‘powerhouse’ – a really evocative and practical explanation for how to engage and perceive the core.
It’s a wonderfully creative challenge for any teacher to develop their own repertoire of creative visualisations for their students. For example, a standing warm-up exercise I use is imagining you have a ribbon in each hand with a helium balloon attached at the top. With a slow steady inhale lengthen through the body and allow both arms and heels to float up so you’re gently pulled skyward, then gently exhale as you lower the balloons by drawing your hands back to your sides and lowering your heels and connecting to the floor. We repeat this a few times – lengthening and elongating our bodies, aligning our posture, finding our balance, breathe and grounding before we start class.
I use the helium balloons a lot – for any sense of length and drawing away from the floor. For example in 4-point kneeling movements like Superman where students might start to tire and slump into their bodies, I ask them to imagine helium balloons tied around their shoulders and hips and imagine they’re floating up to the ceiling. On the opposite end of the spectrum when we do standing balance work, I ask them to imagine heavy paint cans in their hands and on their shoulders as we lift and extend one leg – this can help engage the core and ground the muscles of the standing leg.
Visualisations for the spine are incredibly effective – you can literally see spines unlock. Outside of class we tend to treat the back as a source of strength, a lever for lifting and carrying. In class we give back to our backs by allowing it to move to its full range and capacity. We roll through the spine in standing ‘like peeling wallpaper off a wall’, twist ‘like we’re ringing out a sponge with our waist muscles’, articulate the back ‘like a bicycle chain’ in bridge and lengthen the spine ‘imaging popping pockets of air between the vertebrae’.
Something powerful happens in the neuromuscular connection when the mind is given a visual for the desired movement outcome. The body is no longer just muscle and bone, the mind and body connect and the movement becomes more natural and fluid. There have been many excellent books written on the subject with this one being my favourite. I love the creative opportunity to develop visualisations that help students truly embody the movements. If you have any favourites as a teacher or student do share!
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