Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Bodywork advice from newbie to newbie

with 4 comments

I have learned some things about bodywork in my Pilates training. Most of these insights are from The Wife, who has experience with a variety of bodywork therapies: yoga, Rolfing, Feldenkreis, and now Pilates.

This came up when I was talking to someone about their very first Pilates session, and she was telling me how difficult it was to keep so many things in mind and still try to move: position of feet, position of hands (palms out), breathing, spine, etc., etc.—so many things that the instructor was constantly correcting her.

I found myself laughing because that was exactly my experience, which I’d forgotten. Because, of course, you gradually learn the stance and the breathing and so constant correction is no longer needed. But her description brought back all my early confusion and frustration, so I passed along some few things I had learned about how to address the process.

First is the incredible sense of frustration one feels when the brain’s instructions to the body seem to go completely awry or be ignored. You’re trying to do as requested, but your body doesn’t seem to be getting the message. The frustration can really spike at those times, because the frustration is not erupting from your conscious mind but from high in the unconscious—close to consciousness, and close to berserk with its inability to deliver the body movements the consciousness is requesting.

This feeling apparently is common in bodywork, and The Wife’s advice was to stop trying to do whatever it is and take a couple of deep, slow breaths, relaxing and centering, and then try again, calmly. She said that bodywork instructors know about this phenomenon and will understand what I’m doing. Apparently, that’s how bodywork is in fact done, with the pauses to regroup when trying new things.

Moreover, the breathing, as I’ve come to realize, is really central not only to the Pilates work but movement in general. Lots of emphasis on deep, regular breathing in Pilates, and coordinating inhalations and exhalations with movement. It seemed finicky at first, but I’ve come to recognize that proper breathing delivers a lot of power and balance to movements. And yesterday, on our outing to Santa Cruz, The Wife commented that the funny little bursts of breath I would make while thinking or just sitting—those were not happening anymore. I imagine that they were the result of shallow breathing using only the top of the lungs, and now that I am breathing better (more deeply), the airbusts have stopped.

So: pause when frustrated or confused, take a couple of breaths, focusing on the the breathing, and then resume.

Once I started doing that, I found my progress picked up and I learned new things faster.

Another point: Bodywork instructors tend to use phrases that are either metaphorical or that describe things I can’t yet feel: “Push your knees with your sides,” for example. I feel no such connection (though after reading in Anatomy Trains (link is to the Cool Tools review) and watching a couple of videos (this one and this one), I’m willing to believe that there is a connection). So how does one respond?

The Wife said that what she does when she gets one of those “push-your-knees-with-your-sides” sort of instructions is that she pictures the image in her mind as she does the movement. Generally, when she does that, the instructor says, “Good,” and offers no more correction. The mental picture apparently helps the body get the idea.

Bodywork instructors seem to have a quiver full of such metaphorical instructions, which can be frustrating to the literal-minded. But picturing the image as you do the movement seems to really work.

Moreover, you gradually know what to do with your body when you get one of those instructions: it’s almost Pavlovian in that the instructor says to do something, and though you don’t know what the words mean, you know exactly what to do when those words are said. And, of course, over time and with practice you start to get the idea of the movement and “understand” it with your body (not necessarily with your mind).

UPDATE: Today (28 Oct 2011) I suddenly flashed on an image that seems to be helpful. Imagine that you’re carrying a bowling ball around sitting inside you on your pelvis.

What this image did was to focus my attention on the pelvis as my center of balance, with my torso (and spine) stacked above it, instead of my usual image, that my lower body is suspended and hanging from my head, throat, and shoulders. I have a tendency to try to move my body with my head as the center of effort rather than the pelvis. The image helps with that.

I’m still very much a beginner, so you should check out this idea with your Pilates instructor. But it seems to help me.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2011 at 9:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. It makes me think of bicycle riding, the playing of musical instruments and of martial arts training. All of them are easy to explain, easy to understand, but very hard to do at first. Your body does clumsily—if at all—the things you know it’s supposed to do. It is only through physical practice and an accompanying rewiring of the brain that such things become natural and fluent. This is why people do not learn kung fu by reading books. This is a hard truth for the cerebral. But it is also the greatest reward for such people, as well.


    3 April 2011 at 9:50 am

  2. Exactly my experience. I was surprised, though, at the emotional eruption (until I learned to stop, take a breath, recenter, and try again): when I tried to keep going, the emotions just got stronger. It seemed as though quite a tussle was going on inside me, under the surface of consciousness.


    3 April 2011 at 9:56 am

  3. And, BTW, this argues for finding a qualified instructor when you start: there seem to be too many things to keep in mind for a beginner to be able to do it on his own without picking up a bundle of bad habits and incorrect movements.


    3 April 2011 at 10:07 am

  4. I was talking with The Wife about the emotional component of mastering physical skills, and she said that (in her view) this kind of strong emotion is much more likely to appear when doing bodywork than when, say, trying to master touch typing or riding a bike or the like. Her reasoning is that the way we carry ourselves is an integration and reflection of many life experiences, and when you start to change those patterns, it triggers unconscious memories that come with emotions. So that, for example, you find yourself crying and think, “What’s going on? I’m just trying to put my head on my knee.” Usually such responses build as you work in some physical context.

    But in addition to latent memories being awakened, I think there’s also a certain amount of frustration in finding that your body is not doing what you want it to.

    Forewarned is forearmed.


    3 April 2011 at 10:40 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.