The brain is more powerful than our physical body; we can control an experience simply by narrating it in our minds. Try this, lift your right arm above your head and then lower it down. Repeat the exercise, but now tell yourself your arm is heavy, made of concrete and you hate lifting it. Repeat again, telling yourself your arm is light, made of feathers and it is easy and joyful to do.
How did your experience change based on your mindset? Did your arm actually change weight? No, but your brain told your body that it did.
Dynamic imagery is a crucial piece in practicing mind-body connection not only during yoga but in any physical practice where we are in communication with ourselves. This plays out more dramatically in yoga, where the practitioner is essentially silent for an hour or even ninety minutes. If just twenty of those minutes were filled with negativity, how would that impact the overall body experience? Using positive dynamic imagery can also be applied while running, backcountry skiing, during a deep tissue massage or even while doing the dishes.
I encourage all of my students to practice using dynamic imagery in the yoga studio, especially when we are stretching out areas like hamstrings. I’ve never had anyone walk in telling me they love their hamstrings and gosh are they flexible, but that’s what we try to think about when we stretch them with a strap.
Remember, your body is listening to your brain for instruction, for protection. If your brain tells your hamstrings they are tight and inflexible, chances are the hamstrings will respond by remaining tight and inflexible. If you switch the narrative to say your hamstrings are stretchy rubber bands, chances are your experience will improve.
There are several techniques to using dynamic imagery which we cover in the Franklin Method. The first is positive self-talk, or using words that describe what we want to experience (ie, relaxed shoulders, open hips). Start to become aware of your self-talk, during your yoga practice or within day to day routines. Try to notice it, but don’t judge it. If you catch yourself slipping into negative self-talk, make a note “Ah, this is interesting” and see if you can switch the narrative to be a positive one. By blaming or shaming ourselves for negativity, we just continue down the pessimistic rabbit hole.
The second technique is the use of anatomical imagery. When we lift our shoulders up and down, our shoulder blades move. How would the experience change if we focused on the awareness of our scapula or the muscles surrounding the scapula to move it? If you enjoy anatomy or understanding how the body moves, this one is for you.
The third technique is the use of metaphorical imagery. What if we imagined our shoulder blades as two slippery bars of soap, sliding and gliding down our back as we lift the shoulders? There are hundreds of metaphors that can be used in a yoga or Pilates class. My favorite instructors use them constantly.
The last technique is motivational imagery, or using mood words to change an experience. What if you were to confidently step your foot between your hands or lift your leg into the air with joy? Happy, free, playful, strong mood words help increase our desire to perform a movement and create an atmosphere of pleasure in the mind.
One technique is not better than others, situationally and personally they have different applications. I strive to use all forms of dynamic imagery in my yoga classes to be a constant source of positive encouragement for my students. Try using some of these techniques in your next yoga class or when you feel negative self-talk creeping in. Remember, your brain is powerful - give it the positive direction it needs and it will respond in your body tenfold.
Kat Carter is a yoga instructor and anatomy specialist living in Breckenridge, CO. She offers weekly yoga and movement classes at Meta Yoga and teaches Franklin Method Workshops at Meta Yoga and around the country.
Kat is an ERYT-200 and completed her training in 2015 in Bali. Later that year, she began her dynamic anatomy study with international movement educator Dr. Eric Franklin. She is currently on the discovery path of combining Franklin Method dynamic imagery with yoga and is seeing mind-blowing results.