Pilates and Using Imagery

By June Scharff

Many times a Pilates instructor will use descriptive images to help their client attain a particular movement or muscle engagement. We hear so much about the amazing results of participating in Pilates. These results are in part due to the concentration and mental imagery used to get certain muscles to behave in a particular way. 

Often we are asking our muscles to do things that are completely counter-intuitive to how they normally would operate. For example, when raising our arms above our head, it is completely natural to raise the shoulders up with them. Your instructor may offer an image of your shoulders flowing back and down like a waterfall, or to keep your shoulders in your back pockets. If the instructor emphasized strongly “keep those shoulders down”, the client might end up locking their shoulders down and impinging the needed mobility. Because of this we try to choose our words carefully.


There may be a time when your instructor is helping you to engage a muscle that just doesn’t seem to respond. You may get frustrated and think, “it just won’t do that.” Don’t stop there… Keep using the imagery. You may come up with your own imagery that works better for you… just keep thinking about it. Many times your body is responding, but it is not that visible yet, or you cannot feel it yet. Just keep at it, you will be amazed at how well your mind and body will work together.

So much of what we do in the Pilates Method is very subtle, and yet those subtleties make the biggest difference.