I totally subscribe to that. Even in this fourth year of recovery, I'm still on a path of discovery, expansion and refinement. Of course, when it comes to a lifelong project like our own body, it has only been four years. But it’s all too easy to simply continue to do what seems to be working, rather than always looking to improve the process. I’m lucky to be able to set the recovery path that I think makes sense. (Another way of saying: it’s on me.)
I believe it's important to maintain a balance between zooming in on minute aspects – in my case, perhaps breathing mechanics of my intercostal muscles or rotation of my knees apart when I stand and squat – and zooming out to look at the larger picture – how does it feel overall? Are my breathing and standing more ‘natural’ than they were?
I recently went to work with Pilates-professional Tom McCook at his Mountain View studio, Center of Balance. It’s a recently redone, light-filled space, surrounded by campuses the likes of Google and Microsoft. I’d been to the studio before, for the continuing-education Pilates On Tour conference last summer, and had on that occasion, and one other, attended Tom’s workshops.
There are many different kinds of imagery – anatomical, metaphorical, sensory, exaggerated anatomy, to name some – and layered together they can have profound effects on learning movement.
For example, imagining pelvic bones (each an ilium, together ilia) rotating forward and angling their tops together three-dimensionally when one is squatting down – the physiological – while at the same time thinking of them as each as a spinning wagon wheels – a figurative cue. Or, imagining the forearm bones as hugging while one simultaneously rolls over the other.
Tom uses the words “upgrading the nervous system” to describe how biomechanical imagery greatly enhances our brain’s, and therefore the body’s, participation in movement. (Right now a good portion of you are rolling your eyes with, Duh, that’s because they are an inseparable whole! ...but hang on!)
Those images are cues to notice sensation patterns, which lead us to feel and understand more of what is really occurring in the body. This helps us sense how to improve both through conscious involvement and unconscious, automatic micro-adjustments. It’s really fascinating, and pretty bizarre, to feel the image…yes, FEEL the IMAGE…of pelvic wagon wheels come alive in your body. That motion just seems right, as if it is a good mental representation for the brain to use to understand what is going on physiologically.
In the case on this visit, we spent two hours just focusing on how breathing affects the bones and organs of the torso. TWO HOURS on breathing rhythm! Talk about a smorgasbord of visualizations! Diaphragm expanding down on the inhale…each half of that parachute-like muscle rotating outward…pressing on the 30-pound bag of organs beneath it…causing the liver to spiral open over the intestines…colon rotating outward…the reciprocal action in the pelvic diaphragm suspended at the base of the pelvic bowl…and affecting the position of bones and the tension in the muscles attached to them. Phew!
The complexity of internal interaction is staggering: how every one of our organs is in interplay with its neighbors. Everything is fluidly, cyclically, rhythmically spiraling and reforming itself on every breath.
Just thinking about my liver does not mean my brain can magically connect to my legs. But I have to use whatever I have available to get motor signals through, and since the functioning of my organs was not affected by the spinal injury, I can use those movements as part of my toolkit for muscular reconnection.
With reference to the ‘zooming’ in and out from above, the integration of these subtle qualities of organ and bone dynamics into the complex action of whole-body movement will be a real task, I admit, but even in the last two weeks of coupling these, I can begin to feel the rhythm between them…
So, I would add to Ido’s comment from beginning of this post about learning from a good teacher, that the “teacher” can be internal, a voice from inside. The actions and inactions of our bodies can teach us a great deal, if we know how to listen. And THAT is something I feel in my bones!
Franklin, Eric N. Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2014. Print.