By Kamil Mohamed |
As a Pilates Teacher I am often asked about ‘core strength’ or back pain. This is understandable given the public’s perception of Pilates which has largely been influenced by the fitness industry and medical professionals. Whilst I agree that Pilates can be extremely beneficial for strengthening the abdominals and treating certain types of back pain, it is so much more than this.
Pilates is a holistic movement system designed to elongate, strengthen and restore the body to balance. Exercises involve the whole body and are performed on a mat or a range of specialised equipment. Regular practice can develop a person’s body awareness; allow them to move with increased mobility and less pain. This makes Pilates a prefect complement to yoga, sports and dance.
I believe that exercises should be holistic movement experiences that enable my clients to know their bodies better. I achieve this by getting my clients to move mindfully – to feel their bodies; observe the way they are moving and experience their anatomy. My approach has been influenced my Experiential Anatomy (EA) theory which I believe is a useful tool to enhancing one’s movement practice.
The movement educator, Bonnie Banbridge Cohen describes experiential anatomy as:
Experiencing your anatomy personally rather than looking at a book.
EA body workers speak of the “mind” of a particular body system, whether it is the skeletal, muscular or organ based. A distinction is made between mind as it is widely understood as the cognitive functions of storing and processing information, thinking and “mind” as awareness and consciousness.
We live in culture that divides the mind and the body and emphasises the former being the seat of conscious action and the body as its’ passive recipient. EA along with developments in neuroscience suggests that cognitive functions, emotions and body process are not distinct but influence each other through a web of complex interactions.
“Mind” in this sense can be experienced when the individuals’ attention is taken to a body system; part of the body or when movement is initiated with a specific focus or quality. The individual is able to be present or move with a particular quality and focus when they experience their anatomy through the “mind” of a body system.
EA allows one to directly experience their anatomy and movements using techniques of touch, movement and re-patterning.
I incorporate EA theory into my Pilates classes through various methods:
- I use my hands to guide the direction of the desired movement pattern through a gentle manipulation of the tissues.
- I may introduce verbal cues or images to facilitate the movement. I might also use photographs or models of anatomical structures to help my client.
- I might perform the movement with my client. I undertake the roles of participant and witness. As I witness my client moving and experience the movements and sensations within my own body, I draw upon my creativity and experience to respond to the needs of my client. My client also adopts these roles of participant and witness. As the participant he is responsive to the guidance I provide. I also encourage him to witness feelings and sensations within his body as he explores the movement through his anatomy.
These stages provide a continual interplay between thought, sensation, feeling and action. The clients’ mind and the “minds” of his tissues are intelligent – they receive and respond to the messages given by me as the teacher.
As EA body work encourages the client to direct his awareness to certain body systems, i.e. organs, muscles or joints he can begin to develop a dialogue with these structures via the sensory receptors (found in the skin, organs and ligaments) and the nervous system. This process is called ‘sensing’. The sensations the client experiences can be gradually organised into more efficient patterns of movement and consciously established and integrated in his body.
This conscious interaction and awareness of the nervous system with body systems allows for movements to be repatterned. In time, my clients and I may progress from the directive process of repatterning work to exploring spontaneous movement. Action and perception are integrated; change is realised and the movement becomes an embodied experience.
How to Make your Movements More Embodied:
- Understand your Movement: Think about why your performing a particular exercise. What are it’s aims; what are your aims and what are the aims of your teacher? This will help set your intention and focus your concentration whilst moving.
- Understand your Body: Introduce yourself to your anatomy. You can do this simply by closing your eyes and taking your focus inwards. Sense what you feel; note the quality of the movement and if there is a difference when performing the movement on the right and left sides of the body. If you are really interested you can find a range of anatomy pictures and descriptions on the web and ask your teacher for further guidance.
- Don’t think, feel. Don’t think about ‘perfect’ movement, ‘doing it right’ or emulating the movement of others. Feel your way through the movement and do it with the intention.