Pilates and the Franklin Method – My Experience
I began learning to teach Pilates in 2001. For the first 10 years of my career, I saw my clients gain awareness, strength, flexibility, and confidence as a result of their Pilates practice. Pilates is a system of movement that is so well-constructed, comprehensive and functional, that when taught thoughtfully, it produces excellent results. However, it wasn’t until I began to learn the Franklin Method in 2011 that I truly began to understand how the body is designed to work. For the first time, I felt like I was teaching bodies how to move, instead of just teaching Pilates exercises. And not only did I have a new embodied understanding of how the body moves, but I had the skills to pass on that knowledge in an accessible, efficient and creative way.
What is the Franklin Method?
The Franklin Method uses Dynamic Neuro-cognitive Imagery, anatomical embodiment, and educational skills to create lasting positive change in your body and mind. Founded by Eric Franklin in 1994, it shows you how to harness your brain’s neuroplasticity to improve the way your body feels and functions. What does that mean?
In a nutshell, the Franklin Method involves the purposeful use of the contents of your mind to influence your experience or skill in any area. By generating a mental image – a vivid, multi-sensorial mental representation – and applying it to the skill you are practicing, you can swiftly transform your experience. Imagery can be especially useful in a movement practice. To your brain, there is little difference between imagining a movement and physically performing it. The neuromuscular activation is very similar in both instances. This is why imagery has proven so effective in the training of elite athletes and artists.
One of my favourite things about imagery is how versatile it is. When I talk about imagery with students, I sometimes get the response, “imagery doesn’t work for me.” When people say that, their idea of what imagery is may be too narrow. There are different kinds of imagery, and it takes a little experimenting to discover the one that is best for you.
For example, when deciding what to have for lunch, you might imagine what different foods would taste like or feel like in your mouth to see what you are in the mood for. This is an example of kinesthetic imagery that many of us use regularly. Sometimes the imagery is visual, like imagining what your body would look like as it performs a particular movement. It can be metaphorical: how would your shoulder blades move if they were made of slippery bars of soap? Or anatomical: how do the bones of the shoulder girdle interact with one another as you life and lower your arm? Imagery can also be emotional. Try lifting and lowering your arms while thinking “sad, depressed arms.” Then try the same action while imagining your arms to be happy and light-hearted – is there a difference in the sensation and ease with which you move?
Learning to work with imagery is like learning a new language. The more you practice, the better you get. And best part is that it applies to any type of movement, from Pilates, to sports to household chores, to sitting at your desk. The opportunities to practice are limitless!
How Does it Apply to Pilates?
A regular Pilates practice relies on repetition to improve your movement. You repeat many of the same exercises each workout to build strength and competency in a variety of physical skills. However, the traditional idea of “practice makes perfect” is inaccurate if you are practicing inefficient movement patterns. Eric Franklin has tweaked this common aphorism to say “practice makes permanent;” meaning that whatever you practice most often is most deeply ingrained. Therefore, how you do the Pilates exercises is more important the number of repetitions.
To that end, Pilates teachers use cues to give their students an intentional focus during their practice. These cues, in order to be effective, must accurately reflect the anatomy they address and create a sense of safety and empowerment. If they do, the student will be able to move more freely and efficiently so that they can get the most benefit out of their practice with the least wear and tear on their bodies. Common Pilates cues like “pull your belly button to your spine” or engage your core to protect your back” are actually counterproductive. They are not based on the bio-mechanical reality of the human body, and they create an atmosphere of fear or danger, which in turn produces tension. Because Franklin Method imagery is always grounded in an accurate, embodied experience of anatomy, it generates an experience of freedom and dynamic stability.
How can it help you?
The Franklin Method is a student-centred approach that values two way communication between the brain and the body – it is not a top down situation. When you apply a particular image, what is the physical outcome? Sense into the body and discover what the result of the image was. Imagery is very personal, and the most successful images are the ones that are vivid and meaningful to you. Your Pilates practice should be individual and experience driven, not an attempt to exert the will of your brain on your body according to the advice of your teacher. Your teacher is there to guide you and make some suggestions based on their experience and observations, but ultimately the experience is yours. What would you like it to be? Use imagery to create the experience you want!
About Allison Birt
After a series of injuries prompted her to reconsider a career in dance, Allison transformed her passion for movement as an art into a passion for movement as medicine. In 2001 she began learning to teach Pilates from Dianne Miller, teaching at the Vancouver Pilates Centre until 2016. A perennial student, Allison has learned from and studied the repertoire of multiple first-generation Pilates teachers including Ron Fletcher, Kathleen Stanford Grant and Mary Bowen.
Allison is also a Level 3 Franklin Method Educator, adept at applying mental imagery techniques to embodied anatomy to create lasting positive change in the mind and body. She loves to collaborate with students to help them discover movement resolutions that will maximize their physical potential so they can move through their lives with as much ease and joy as possible.
If you loved this article, and you’re hungry for more from Allison, check out The Mighty Kidneys and The True Core – Imagery for Organ Movement.
To experience Allison’s brilliant teaching style in person, book a private Pilates appointment with her here!
Stay tuned to Moving Spirit for upcoming Franklin Method workshops.