The Franklin Method in the Pilates Studio

Insights Imagery and Exercises with Pat Guyton

franklin method
Pat Guyton shows the similarities in movement and form between the pelvic bowl and a tensegrity model. (c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

Part 1. Introduction to the Franklin Method

The Franklin Method is a system of working with imagery to facilitate better alignment and greater ease in movement. Developed by dancer, movement educator and author Eric Franklin, The Franklin Method is well-known in Europe and gaining momentum in the United States.

For Pilates practitioners, the Franklin Method offers a creative and individualized approach to working with posture, imagery and exercise that is very compatible with Pilates training.

Image-based cues are popular ways of communicating a lot of information in a holistic way, without having to use too many words. If I have the right image, my body naturally organizes itself in response to that image and I don't have to think so much about muscles and bones and their umpteen interrelated dynamics. But a refined sensibility around the cues and imagery we use is needed in order to provide a foundation for peak performance, whether it be in Pilates or any other body/mind endeavor.

In the Franklin Method, for an image to be useful it has to meet certain criteria. For example, it has to be functional, it has to be healthful and there has to be motivation to use it. An integral aspect in this method is that an image has to be anatomically correct. That doesn't mean it has to directly reference muscle, bones and planes of movement, but it does have to relate to how the human structure is set up and moves optimally.

An image also needs to be specifically appropriate for the person who is going to use it. Though many common images are useful to a broad range of people, metaphors are not one size fits all.

Eric Franklin synthesized work from many leading-edge explorers in the worlds of ideokinesiology (ideo - image, kinesiology - movement) and somatic (of the body) disciplines to develop an his understanding of posture and how it relates to movement.

What he brings forth is the idea that alignment is a play of balances and counter balances, and tension and compression. This is a significantly different view than the prevalent "stack the body parts and hold them along a plumb line" view. Combining this dynamic approach to alignment with the effective use of imagery is the basis of the Franklin Method. Franklin's book goes into these ideas in-depth. It is a treasure trove of information about working with images and alignment for those interested in movement arts like Pilates. Buy Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery by Eric Franklin on Amazon.com.

 

Part 2. The Franklin Method in the Pilates Studio

To give us a better understanding of how the Franklin Method translates into the Pilates studio, Pat Guyton, a Pilates instructor and third-level(there are three) Franklin Method educator invited me to her studio. In a mini workshop, Pat shared some of the basics.

Along with the requisite Pilates equipment, Pat's studio is full of fun learning aids. We have a drawing board with colored pens.

We have balls and bands of various colors and sizes. And we have bones. There is a full skeleton, a pelvis and a femur bone. We start our session talking about the pelvis. If you take Franklin Method workshops, the first one is called "pelvic power."

Remember, we want imagery that is compatible with our anatomy, so we take time to examine the pelvis and pelvic alignment in the body. Pat draws a red dog with a wagging tail, and we go from the critter posture to standing upright journey - noting what became of the tail, now the coccyx, and how the pelvic bowl and femur realign in the upright position.

We review the shape of the pelvis and the placement of the femur (leg bone) in the hip socket. But then Pat drops a new one on me. I knew the joints of the pelvis; the pubic symphysis at the front and the sacroiliac joints at the back are considered semi-moveable joints (with an emphasis on the semi).

But I did not know that when we bend our legs our sit bones open up and our hip bones close in, and when we straighten our legs, the sit bones come together and the hip bones flare out. I thought of the pelvic bowl as more static than that. I start to feel squishy.

Enhancing my new-found understanding of the subtle pulsation of the pelvic structure as I move, Pat brings out a tensegrity ball (see photo, page 1).

The idea of tensegrity combines the ideas of tension and integrity. It has to do with how structures are sustained by the dynamics between compression and tension. That's what's going on with the pelvis. There are muscles and bones, ligaments and tendons, constantly responding to one another in a dance of counterbalances, even in the pelvis.

The tensegrity ball is my new image for the pelvic bowl. Again, we've gone from anatomy to functional image. I need only take the image with me in my mind to work with these ideas further. As an example of how this plays out in the Pilates studio, later in our session Pat has me work with the sit bones open to hip bones narrow, sit bones narrow to hip bones flare doing standing legwork, and then we take it to the reformer with the footwork. With the sense of my pelvis as a structure stabilized by tensegrity dynamics, I find more space in my pelvis to stretch out of and more mobility in my hip sockets to fold into.

Here is another example of working with an image in a Franklin Method way: We start some simple shoulder mobilization with one of the most common shoulder exercises out there: shrugging the shoulders and releasing them. Pat then introduces the image that I have balloons tied to the top of each shoulder. The balloons inflate to lift my shoulders and deflate to let them down. The movement becomes lighter and easier.

You can try it now.

But we're looking for more freedom of movement around my shoulder blades. Pat gives me a choice: would I rather have my shoulder blades floating on my back in warm oil or warm chocolate? It's an important question. She is individualizing the image and making sure that I am receptive to it. I go for chocolate. Now I lift my shoulders with a completely different quality. They glide up with a more fully embodied feeling and as they come down, they slide down my back feeling like they could keep on going. I have more mobility without thinking about my levator scapulae, my trapezious or lower serratus anterior - which is a brain-full of stuff I don't really need in order do the movement. As Pat says, "Too often we try to teach through a part of the brain that doesn't do movement." Whereas an image, especially one that has been approved for the client, engages the body/mind in a more holistic way.

Later, we take my chocolate image onto the Pilates reformer. We play with an exercise called up-stretch, which is one that creates a big temptation to raise the shoulders instead of raising the body through the shoulders. It requires a lot of mobility in the shoulders girdle and arms. I do a few glides up and down and then Pat says: "If you want to, you can let your shoulder blades slide down your back in the warm chocolate." "If you want to", as in, I have a choice and I'm being invited to tap into my motivation.

I do want to. I think of my warm chocolate, and the whole move takes on a nice open glide. My shoulders stay down as I slide up through my shoulder girdle in a nice up-stretch. It can be as simple as that - no bones, no muscles, no "keep your shoulders down."

This has been a quick look at how the Franklin Method carries into a movement setting, but imagery is used with the body in a relaxed, receptive state. Of course, images don't have to be exercise oriented. One can imagine a cool breeze drifting through the body for a cool-down on a hot day. One can imagine one's eyeballs relaxing. One can imagine skin cells being happy and knitting together as I did recently when I sliced my finger. One can imagine a dance or athletic move.

The idea is the same: The image, provided it is appropriate to the imager, allows the body to organize itself to fulfill the qualities of the image without the conscious mind trying to orchestrate it. The constructive rest position is frequently recommended for this kind imagery work.

The Franklin Method is far more sophisticated than what I've been able to touch on here. But I hope this brief introduction has piqued your interest in the power of imagery in a health/fitness application, and perhaps in experiencing the Franklin Method. To learn more about the method, Franklin's books are widely available and workshops and teacher-trainings are taught internationally. See Franklin-Method.com

Special thanks to Pat Guyton for giving me an experiential introduction to The Franklin Method as applied to Pilates so that I might share it with you from that perspective. Pat teaches Pilates and the Franklin Method extensively in the U.S. and abroad. Her Pilates Studio, Pat Guyton Pilates, is in Boulder, Colorado.

 

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