Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Your Imagination Can Make You Fitter (and Birth Better!)

Last week, a student asked me to write down a comment I had made in a Pilates class I taught because it really resonated with her as a busy mom and athlete.

This is what I said in class:

"Mental imagery facilitates development of neuromuscular pathways which contribute to improved motor control and musculoskeletal strength."

Translated in English, what I said was:

"Imagination matters. You can be sitting on the couch or at your desk - or in a mother's case - you could be changing diapers or nursing or be too nauseated to exercise during pregnancy; and yet if you will simply imagine that you are exercising or doing Yoga or Pilates - you will get physically stronger.

This is a relatively new concept supported by research, but an old concept in the psychology world. When I took sports psychology in my sports medicine program (over 15 years ago, yes), we learned to teach mental imagery for peak athletic performance. Research dating back to 1983 supports the concept of mental imagery for both improving both mental and physical performance.

So what does Mental Imagery Training (MIT) look like?

Let's say you are stuck in carpool traffic, waiting for dinner to finish cooking, sitting on a conference call, or waiting in an airport - think about that last yoga class you were in.
  1. What are the one or two poses or exercises you struggle with the most, or know you need the most strength gains in? Chatarangas? Planks? Headstands? Warrior series? Weight training in the gym? That last mile of your run or walk each week?
  2. Imagine each action it takes to complete the task. Now do it again. Replay a "movie" of yourself performing. You are creating neural pathways which will improve motor control - or in other words - you are creating muscle memories to help you improve your physical strength.
  3. Specifically scan each muscle that you use to complete the movement - from shoulder, to chest, to back, to hip, to knee, and so on...
  4. Is there a point where you falter or lose your balance or will? Then stop there and dwell on the future success you will experience in the situation.
  5. One last time, replay the entire movie in your mind. Imagine success. You emerge victorious - stronger, fitter, and more confident.
  6. Women and mothers - you can apply MIT in any situation. Here are a few:
  • Birth - the biggie. Use MIT to prepare for labor and delivery. It was vital to my success through my births. MIT has been used to help turn breech babies. For example, my husband made his own MIT posters. He drew the picture you see above and posted several throughout the house for the last 1/2 of my third trimester.
  • Exercise Routine - Use MIT when you cannot get to your exercise routine or to work through trouble spots that need more attention.
  • Business Meetings - Use MIT when to dispel anxiety or nervousness surrounding a conference or meeting you must attend or speak.
  • Child Rearing - Use MIT to practice the responses and behavior you want to practice with your child. i.e. not losing your patience or dealing with multiple stressful tasks at once with grace.
Just like we are what we eat - we are what we think. But if you cannot be on the mat, in the gym, or adhering to a regular exercise schedule - take heart - Your imagination can make you fitter.

*photo is my own personal, hand drawn MIT from my husband, which I used during my own pregnancies to facilitate LOA (left occiput anterior), or best position for birthing baby.

*scientific research sources available by request

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ginger!

    I'm so glad you wrote about this fascinating process and provided the link to the scientific data and practical applications for its use. Great stuff! Take wonderful care, Stacey