Posts tagged #Pilates Visualisations and Imagery

Mirror mirror on the wall.......

madonnacircusmirrorBizarrely just before I published this post, a discussion began on our Facebook forum about whether mirrors are an essential part of any studio. Using mirrors always splits opinion with many instructors finding them useful in their teaching and in writing this post I feel like I'm going against the flow, but personally I only ever use mirrors as a last resort and here is why....

So often our teaching space has at least one mirrored wall and this frequently becomes the front and focus of the class. In my experience most clients feel uncomfortable looking at their reflection and I always notice a sense of relief when they lie onto their mats. More importantly though this discomfort can cause tension which in turn restricts the mobility and freedom of movement we are looking to develop.

Mirrors can be used to visually show a client imbalances or incorrect technique/ positions but I would much rather help the client to "feel" the correct placement. We do not go about our everyday lives surrounded by mirrors to check alignment and so we need to develop an inherent sense of body awareness without relying on reflections. Unless the mirrors are well placed trying to check technique will alter alignment, potentially create further imbalances and distract from the movement.
If using mirrors really benefits you and clients then they are a useful addition to any studio but I believe mirrors are the same as any other prop to be used only as a temporary aid and dependent on the individual's needs.

I would love the hear your thoughts on this and if you would like to join in the discussion please request to be added to the forum, just message JPilates.

Image from www.womensmafia.com

Shoulders- please do not melt down!

shoulder tensionWhen I first trained in Pilates I remember being told to draw my shoulders back and down, to melt them down in a soft V and many other cues which were meant to encourage shoulder stability and correct alignment for those who carry their shoulders up by their ears. But does creating downward tension actually help elevate the upward tension in the upper back and neck? These cues also tend to encourage scapula depression which in turn tends to block thoracic mobility. Try this- begin to do The Spine Stretch, firstly draw your shoulders down in a V shape and then try to flex the spine. Can you feel how restricted you are? Does the movement feels very forced? You can also try this in Roll Down, Roll Up from seated and so on..

Then I attended a class with a wonderful instructor who cued "easy shoulders". Suddenly I could move so much more fluidly, with improved articulation and the movement felt completely different.

We can find so many other cues similar to this where the shoulders are encouraged to relax, to soften, to open outwards from the mid back. Even bringing the focus away from the shoulder and cue lengthening the neck, elongating the spine and having heavy elbows.

So now we are encouraging dynamic stability not rigidity of the scapula (this is the same for the pelvis-no fixing- but that is for another blog!) To explain further, as we lift our arms overhead the scapula should rotate upwards, the humerus should slightly depress and externally rotate (this is called scapulohumeral rhythm. If we try to fix or depress the scapula as we do this, we cause a huge amount of unnecessary tension and potential harm. Again try it- raise one arm up focusing on keeping the shoulders relaxed and feel the fluidity of movement then try it again with scapula depression-ouch!

Mark Leyland explains the biomechanics of motion in more detail in his fantastic article The Pilates Shoulder

So over the next few classes try some cues to relax your shoulders- stop drawing them down and let them go! Free your shoulders!

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback as always!

Visualisations-Do Yours Work?

visualisation-secretThe success of a Pilates instructor is strongly linked to their ability to communicate with their clients. An integral part of teaching Pilates is in the use of visualisation to convey movement, positions and alignment. Visualisation is an incredibly powerful tool in helping to create the mindful movement required to reap fully the incredible benefits of Pilates. Visualisation can either be direct- anatomical or biomechanical cues or indirect- metaphysical cues. Both types of visualisation create a strong link between the mind and body but need careful consideration.

Some clients do not connect to cues such as the pelvis as a clock or bucket, it can cause them to disengage or alienate them. On the other hand , should our cues be scientific, anatomical terms such as transversus abdominus, glutes, thoracic spine? It is essential that as an instructor we need a thorough, in-depth understanding of anatomy but is it really necessary for our clients?

The importance of good cueing is especially evident in group sessions where many clients may not have the knowledge or indeed the interest in learning the anatomical language required to fully understand these visualisations.

As instructors we develop our own repertoire and style of visualisations which work for us and our clients but we should always be aware of the effectiveness of these cues.

Many exercises begin with the instructor cueing activation of the core, our postural muscles. But it it is important to consider the fact that we do not have conscious control of these muscles- they are controlled sub-consciously by our nervous system in anticipation of movement. Most of these postural muscles work at a sub-threshold state so actively cueing them can interfere with their function in organising the spinal segments and actually cause accessory muscles to contract. As you are reading this you are naturally holding your head up, you do not need to think about it. So how do we overcome this?

The answer lies in cueing the bony landmarks such as hip bones, sit bones, pelvis and so on. Often these landmarks are used to set up positions,  anchor the sit bones, hip bones in line with pubic bone, but take this a stage further and use them to cue the movement itself.

For example, let’s take the Roll Up at a low level.

Roll up1.Seated on the sit bones, with the ribcage directly above the pelvis and a sense of length through the spine
2.Keeping a stillness in the mid back, exhale and move the hip bones away from the thigh bones
3.Inhale to return, lengthening to the start position
Try it now...

Can you feel how the deep postural muscles activate naturally with the movement? Why not try to teach your next session without cueing muscle activation using bony landmarks only? I would love to hear if you found improved movement  and some new visualisations.

Image from www.67notout.com