Was just stretching my right leg using a thera-band, and thinking about leg swings in modern dance. My dear teacher Killian Manning likes to say that in the battle of the torso vs. the legs, the torso always wins. This means, in part, that when performing leg swings moving down the floor, the torso wants to keep its integrity so that the leg can work to achieve height rather than sacrificing pelvic and spinal ease and stability for the lift of the leg. I was thinking about this last night on a car ride home from the movies. When I was doing a lot of yoga and taking dance, I worked a lot with the imagery of dropping the sitting bone of the "working" leg (the leg that is performing a stretch, lift, or other gesture -- not the standing leg). This is imagery we encounter a lot in the dance world. We are told to drop down the back in order to swing the leg forward, or brush deeply into the floor with the foot to lift, or to think of lifting the leg from the underside of the leg, even though it is the flexors on top and inside the leg that lift the femur. So what does this imagery do?
In my right leg stretch, I again was using the imagery of the sitting bone dropping away from the thigh bone to let the leg stretch more freely. This is really a supine version of a leg swing. Something I used to say in my yoga classes which I think is similar to Ms. Manning's comment of the tug-of-war between the torso and the leg is in this supine stretch to let the pelvis and spine drop into the floor and become relaxed and "let go" of the leg. So both spuine and standing, I believe this imagery is a good way to teach leg strength and autonomy, and how releasing general tension into gravity can improve stability and range of motion. We know that the more an antagonist is able to lengthen and release in a given motion, the more range and easier time the working muscle will have to do the job. In this case, with the imagery we let the extensors of the hip loosen giving the flexors more range with which to work. Also, as general tension drips into the floor and the hip's natural coordination becomes easier, the core of the pelvis becomes increasingly free to do its job of stabilizing and organizing the spine. So what we're getting at here with a simple image applied to a simple exercise is increased coordination and range of motion, and stability and ease. I believe all this imaging puts space for breathing in the place of unnecessary muscular tension. How awesome!!!
Finally, in my stretch I was also thinking about my inner thighs and pubic bone. Another image I was using were the planes of movement applied to my hip socket. I like to imagine planes intersecting a joint in a given movement while imagining a very free, breathy, 3-dimensional joint. For me, this allows my brain access to an aspect of a joint's structure or movement which tends to be difficult for me to sense or move. This brought my to how we tend to discuss and refer to the pelvis in Pilates classes. Imagery is a powerful tool because it brings a certain type of attention to certain areas. My sister's dissertation deals with how the language in the court room affects the outcome of the trial. Language and imagery in a movement class similarly affects how you are able to access and use your body. I find the inner thighs and pubic bone in most Pilates classes are a place of limited range and the language and imagery about them tends to refer only to using them for strength and stability, with a rare moment to achieve a stretch. But we don't often image ease and breath around the pubic bone creating space and openness in the pelvis. I miss that. My pubic bone craves breath! I believe our language toward the front belly and inner thighs in Pilates limits how we are able to image these areas and may generally cause us to overwork these areas and create unnecessary tension that will ultimately limit range of movement and the ability for other areas to fire when necessary.
Which all leads me to now consider language and imagery as a part of the exercise itself, not separate from the "work" you are doing in a class. So if you are finding you are overworking an area, notice if you are overworking its image in your mind and its words in your mouth...