Here’s an imagery cue that works well in so many situations. Supine, standing, even during movement. It’s so versatile that you can probably use it about 5 different ways in 1 class.
Headlights. When your aim is to edit out transverse movement, this is the cue for you. Think of headlights on a car. Both shine in the same direction, straight ahead of the car. You can’t disassociate the car from the headlights. Where the car points, the headlights point. And vice versa.
Imagine that the hips bones are mounted with headlights and just like a car, those headlights must shine directly ahead of the body. Hip disassociation exercises lend themselves particularly well to this cue. Leg Circles I, Shoulder Bridge, Bridging w single leg variations, Standing Balance I/II and others enjoy improved form and more benefits are reaped when this cue is used. In supine, headlights shine on the ceiling directly above; in Standing Balance I, towards the wall or mirror just ahead; and Standing Balance II, the floor just below.
Feel free to play with this one and see which exercises it improves for your clients. Often times introducing it towards the start of a class is a good idea because you can refer back to it with other exercises you didn’t even realize it would be helpful for!
We are all taught to ask our clients to “use the breath.” But what do we really mean? What do we want our clients to do with the breath? We can recruit the breath to either increase or decrease intra-abdominal pressure to either support a movement or increase the challenge of the movement. That’s a lot to think about for a client. Can we cut the client a break and just relax?
Let’s use the breath to unwind. You know, take a deep breath, chill. Take the Bridge as a simple example. Lie on the mat, close your eyes. Take a deep breath in, then let it out. Slooowly. Repeat. On the third breath, with the eyes still closed, as you exhale, imagine that the spine is heavy. So heavy it sinks into the mat, pulling your ribs and belly button with it. It’s weighted there, each vertebra. One more inhale and on the exhale, keeping the feeling of weight in your spine, use your hamstrings and glutes to do the “heavy lifting.” Inch by inch, bone by bone, send your tailbone towards the back of your knees and knees over toes. As each bone follows the vertebra before it and lifts off the mat, it is freed of its weight. Complete the movement with an inhale at the top and a long exhale as the vertebrae reconnect with the mat (and their weight) one by one.
Placing this breathing sequence with Bridging at the front of your class plan can also really help clients gain mindfulness and prepare them to approach the rest of class with an elevated level of body awareness.
One of the most pertinent reference points for Pilates students is Pilates itself. So many of the exercises build on each other and it is a great tool to be able to refer back to some of the movements achieved in an exercise the client knows well, in order to set the stage for a new or more challenging sequence.
Let’s start the discussion today with a gimme. Bridging. It’s one of the first exercises we learn and a staple in class planning. I’ve mentioned the escalator cue for bridging in an earlier article, so let’s build on that. As a client becomes more familiar with the segmental spine movement inherent to bridging, it is an easy one to refer back to when we introduce a new exercise or help the client improve upon an exercise that they find more challenging.
Any time we want the client to move bone by bone through the spine, we can always refer back to bridging. The examples are diverse and plentiful. To start with, this referral cue translates for Roll Down and Roll Up. It’s great for seated exercises such as Spine Stretch, Saw. It’s great for exercises that require movement from seated to lying down: Assisted Roll Up, Teaser. It’s even key to getting the most out of the descent of inversion exercises: Roll Over, Corkscrew, Jack Knife.
I could probably go on and list most exercises in the whole of the Pilates repertoire, but you get the point. Use the Bridge.
Do some of your beginner students have trouble moving smoothly and segmentally up and down through the Pilates Bridge? I find that many clients want to lift their whole torso into the bridge and then put it back down in one swift, flat movement. By doing so, they lose all the spinal mobility benefits that can be gained from this staple exercise. Here’s an imagery cue that can help them understand both what you want from them, as well as how the spine is constructed. Knowledge is awareness is key!!
Picture an escalator. It moves smoothly, step by step; each piece fits into the one that precedes it and if one stops, the entire unit stops. Now imagine the boney segments of your spine as you move up and down through your Pilates Bridge. Each vertebrae must follow the one before it. From the top of your bridge, as you lay the thoracic vertebra back on the mat, beginning with T6 or T7 (usually the last one lifted off when at the top of the bridge) the next one follows in its path and lines up to be the next one to impress into the mat…all the way through the spine until your tailbone releases onto the mat. In the reverse, as the tailbone lifts to begin the movement, each lumbar vertebrae must follow in order before the thoracic vertebra have their turn.
Try the escalator cue next time you’re going through the bridging sequence with your client. See if you don’t get smoother, more segmental movement!