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Reprinted from:
 J. Soft Tissue Manipulation, August 1998 
©Keith Eric Grant, 1998
Imagery, Movement, and the Dynamic Dance of Life
Keith Eric Grant, Ph.D.
ovement is human. Unlike the static structuralbalance of trees, our balance and alignment aredynamic and ever changing. We possess thefreedom to walk, run, bend, stand ,and sit at the cost of continual small muscular corrections. Beneath the grossvolitional control of our movements and balance flow theneuromuscular patterns that we long ago learned andpracticed until they became unconscious parts of us.Without such patterns, we would have to consciouslycontrol every nuance of muscle activation and coordination.We might benefit from such control by never carryingunconscious tension in a muscle, thereby obviating manybenefits of massage. More likely, our early ancestors wouldhave been so slow in responding to attacking bears and thelike that they would have become part of some food chain.We need our ability to learn and use neuromuscular patternsin order to balance and move quickly and effectively.Some of the patterns we originally learned by imitation andtrial may not have been optimal. Beyond that, physical oremotional traumas may have degraded our original patterns.When even a single muscle or ligament is injured, the wholebody learns to compensate for its temporary weakness. Oneset of muscles may become chronically tense, pulling us outof our delicate balance with gravity. Instead of balancing onthe support from the levers of our bony structure, wechronically overwork our muscles. Conscious efforts tostraighten ourselves only activate more muscles, furtherincreasing our pain and tension. This is an old problem.Between 1929 and 1931, dance movement educator LuluSweigard studied the ability of mental imagery to reprogramneuromuscular coordination and produce measurable im-provements in skeletal alignment. She called the techniquesthat grew out of this research
, literally “therepeated ideation of a movement, without volitional physicaleffort.” Sweigard’s research demonstrated that voluntarymovements activate existing neuromuscular patterns. Incontrast, when a person imagines a movement without vol-untary muscular effort, an optimal reorganization can occursubcortically. This observation opened the door to using theimagination to effortlessly deactivate hypertonic muscles.Irene Dowd, a student and assistant of Sweigard’s at theJuilliard School, illustrates how powerfully our imagesaffect us physically. “Suppose someone is standing withweight evenly distributed over both legs. If that personsimply imagines shifting his or her pelvis to the left, I willbe able to feel some change in the activity of the muscles onthe outside of the person’s left hip,” she observes. With thedeep tissue classes I teach, I use this simple exercise toincrease kinesthetic awareness and palpation skills. Mystudents are always intrigued that perceptible muscleresponses are triggered so subtly. I believe that this exercisereveals much about the constant ripples and waves of neuromuscular activity that surge within us in response toour daily cycles of emotions and stresses.Dancer and choreographer Eric Franklin has studied andtrained with some of the top movement specialists aroundthe world. He notes that an image can be visual,kinesthetic-tactile, or auditory. All of these modes can beinvoked either consciously or by the subtle olfactory input of aromatherapy. Images can also be direct or indirect. Adirect image is a nonverbal representation of an actualmovement. An indirect image may invoke a bodilytransformation into a symbol of the flexibility or quality weseek. Franklin suggests, for example, that in reenforcing ourpelvis as a structure of support and stability we envision itas Roman arches with our sacrum the keystone.Changes in motor patterns are often discontinuous. Thereare times that nothing appears to be happening, yet ourbody is preparing for a leap forward. When changes do startoccurring, there is often a state of sensory confusion ordisorientation as the rewiring takes place. I reassure mymassage students that, as they learn new techniques andnew tempos, it is common that what they had learned beforewill feel less familiar and smooth. This is a temporary stageof learning and integrating new motor skillsTurning now to the practical aspects of ideokinesis, a basicbody position used for imagery is the
Constructive Rest Position (CRP)
 shown in Figure 1. Lying in this supineposition, the floor supports the large surfaces of our body,helping to release tension. In the CRP, we are feeding yourbody pure imagery signals with the goal of creatingimproved alignment. While standing or sitting, there isalways strong competition from the old patterns. We live and move within the field of gravity. Our structuralparts push down against the structures below them, beingsupported by the upward forces provided in return — anintimate application of Newton’s 3
 law of force. Toincrease our proprioception of floating comfortably andsecurely on our supports, Eric Franklin suggests visualizingthe heads of our femurs as floating buoys supporting our