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June 8

Use Your Imagination to Avoid Springtime Aches and Pains! Prime Your Brain for Easier Movement

Avoid springtime aches and pains

Spring is here! As you start to get outside to hike, bike, garden, and enjoy the weather, you may be surprised to find yourself experiencing some aches and pains.

Being sore may seem like a surprise. After all, you have done this activity many times over the years.

Here's a tip that can make moving into your favorite activity easier. Let's take gardening, for example. When you think about gardening, you usually imagine what plants you want to grow and how they will look as they mature through the season. Imagining this is important for your motivation.

What gets left out are the actual movements you will do to accomplish this—all the bending, lifting, digging, twisting, pulling, and pushing required to create those beautiful gardens. 

Use Your Imagination

In Feldenkrais lessons, we often use our imagination to make our movement easier. Sometimes we do a sequence of movements on one side and then imagine those same movements on the other side. The result is a quicker transfer of learning from one side to the other.

basketball free throw in the imagination

Practicing free throws.

Several oft-cited studies(1,2) have shown that basketball players who imagine practicing free throws from the sidelines will significantly improve their ability to make free throws on the court.  

When we imagine movements like this, we are activating the same neuropathways as when actually doing the action. 

With the advent of Functional Magnetic Resonant Imagery (fMRI)(3,4), we can see what is happening in the brain when someone imagines a movement. For example, making a physical movement of your hand and imaging the same movement activates the same neuropathways.

fmri brain scan

Example of an fMRI scan.

If you haven't been doing those activities for six months or more, the associate motor pathways will have become dormant. 

Using our imagination, we can actuate those pathways to prime ourselves for easier, better-organized movements. So when we start our favorite spring and summer activities, they are easier, use less effort, and we experience less soreness.

Imaginary Holes

Me and my trusty pic axe

Me and my trusty pic axe.

Here's an example. I'm going to install a six-foot privacy fence along the north side of our yard. It's been a few years since I have dug 24" fence post holes in our lovely Colorado clay soil, so I am imagining digging those holes with as much detail as possible. Imagining in detail helps prime my brain and nervous system for the actions I will be doing. How do I use my pelvis? How do I use my arms? What does it feel like when the shovel slices into the earth? What parts of myself are involved when the hole is deep, and I get on my knees, reach in and scoop out the dirt with my hands? How does the soil smell and feel?

It was pretty easy when I got out to physically dig the holes. It wasn't exactly as I imagined it, but it was pretty close. I'm happy that it was so comfortable, and I experienced no soreness!

As you prepare yourself for your spring fun, take some time to imagine the movement you will be doing. Go into as much detail as possible. If you do this, post a comment below and share your experience.

Works Cited

1. Fazel, Fatemeh, et al. "The Effects of Different Types of Imagery Delivery on Basketball Free-Throw Shooting Performance and Self-Efficacy." Psychology of Sport and Exercise, vol. 39, Nov. 2018, pp. 29–37, vuir.vu.edu.au/30151/1/Fatemeh%20Fazel.pdf, 10.1016/j.psychsport.2018.07.006.

2. Post, Phillip G, et al. "A Field Test of the Influence of Pre-Game Imagery on Basketball Free Throw Shooting." Journal of Imagery Research in Sport and Physical Activity, vol. 5, no. 1, 25 Jan. 2010, 10.2202/1932-0191.1042. Accessed 24 May 2019.

3. Szameitat, André J., et al. "Motor Imagery of Complex Everyday Movements. An FMRI Study." NeuroImage, vol. 34, no. 2, Jan. 2007, pp. 702–713, 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.09.033. Accessed 13 June 2019.

4. Van Oostende, Sylvie, et al. "FMRI Studies of the Supplementary Motor Area and the Premotor Cortex." NeuroImage, vol. 6, no. 3, Oct. 1997, pp. 181–190, 10.1006/nimg.1997.0287. Accessed 16 Sept. 2021.


gardening, Imagination

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