Is there an exercise for that?
By Franklin Method® Faculty Teacher Alison Wesley
“Is there an exercise for that?” – I hear this often in my classes, and I’ve said it a million times myself. All it takes is a couple days of back pain to start Googling “exercise for back pain.”
In my experience, the effect of an exercise is all about how we think about it. If I have back pain, I can do child’s pose, which is supposed to help, but what’s happening in my inner landscape is really what will make the difference.
This is something I learned years ago with my own experience of debilitating back/nerve pain that had me out of work for weeks. I tried to do everything…every exercise, stretch, strengthening. I tried it all.
If I’m honest with myself, looking back, while doing those exercises, my mental imagery was all about pain, fear and self-hatred. I wanted to fix myself because I felt broken. I was so angry at my body and wanted something to just take all the pain away.
Try out an exercise with all that self-talk. Yikes.
But by seeing an image of the spine as corks floating in water, as presented Eric Franklin’s Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery, and spontaneously imaging that my spine was a series of those corks, I had a relief instantly. I could feel the parts of my leg that had been numb. The pain in my back dissipated.
The thing was – in that moment I wasn’t trying too hard. I wasn’t forcing myself to think of those corks. I just saw them, and for that second, my mind believed my spine to be corks. And the experience of freedom followed.
It seemed so simple. How could just looking at a picture help me so much?
Of course, this led me down my path to study and teach Franklin Method®, but I point this out because imagery was the thing that created the change. It’s so easy to skip over this idea and look to the next cool exercise or pain intervention, but the actual change comes from the way the brain identifies what’s happening in the body.
Step one: is there communication happening between the brain and body? In the Franklin Method®, we often accentuate this with a tap or shake of the body part.
Try it in your lower back: take loose fists, and tap up and down the back. This is waking up sensory receptors in your skin, fascia and muscles that communicate with the brain, giving real-time up-to-date information about where your back is in space. It’s like any relationship, if we don’t update how we see the other person, we’re interacting with an old version of that person. The same is true with the body! Get to know your back right now with a tap.
Step two: come up with a juicy, exciting image. What do you actually want your lower back to feel like? Free? Flexible? Slidey glidey? Like clay? Picture something you’re interested in and create small movements while focusing on that image (maybe you do the exercise you found while Googling…you know, the one that’s “for” back pain. But practice the exercise while connecting to your mental imagery and notice how much more effective it is).
Step three: notice. Did it work? Are you even a little bit freer? If so, name that change so your mind can record it. You might even say to yourself, “this is a relaxed back.” This way, you can recall the feeling later.
So, is there an exercise for that? The answer is yes. Any exercise is for “that” as long as your mind is present, interested and believing in the image in that moment.
You can experience Alison Wesley’s approach to imagery in her latest webinar “Dynamic Cueing for Yoga” with L3 Educator Ann Teachworth. This two-hour webinar focuses on applying the Franklin Method® for dynamic cueing and imagery as part of a healthy and embodied yoga practice. Both Alison and Ann have years of experience in pairing Franklin Method® with yoga, offering you unique perspectives on integrating mind, body and soul. Find out more:
Alison Wesley is a Faculty Franklin Method® Educator and Registered Yoga Teacher/Therapist in Portland, OR. She owns Working with Yoga, offering workplace yoga and assists Franklin Method® Teacher Trainings alongside Eric Franklin. With him, she co-wrote Understanding the Pelvis: A Functional Approach to Yoga, published by Human Kinetics. She designed and leads mobility classes for back care at Rebound Physical Therapy and has a therapeutic movement video series called ThrUMovement. Along with geeking out about movement, anatomy and mental training, she plays music with her husband, spends hours trying to train her two German Shepherds, dances salsa and samba and will endlessly be studying Spanish. Find out more at https://workingwithyoga.com/
Don’t miss regular free lessons with Alison and the rest of the Franklin Method® Faculty on our YouTube channel: