How to Harness the Power of our Client's Imagination
'A man was drowning in the lake near a little village. Many people around tried to reach out to his hand in order to save him, shouting “Give me your hand! Give me your hand!...” But it seemed he didn’t hear them; continuing to flounder and drown.
A Wiseman who was walking through the village, came near to the lake and asked to people “Who’s that man?” Someone answered, “He’s a usurer…The stingiest man in our village!” The Wiseman went near the water, stretched out his arm and told him “Take my hand!” Immediately the stingy man grabbed the Wiseman’s hand and saved himself.’
~From traditional Sufi tales
The imagination and physiology
The theory of embodied cognition suggests that information from our senses is central to the way we think and understand. Our thoughts can be affected by our body and vice versa. This theory has led us to understand that the brain is not the only cognitive resource we have to solve problems, our body also plays a role (Wilson and Golonka, 2013). Therefore, we have more options as to how we can make change and tap into to our physiology.
It seems that our brain doesn’t distinguish between something which is happening in reality and the same event happening in our imagination. Our body reacts similarly to evoked stimuli and to "real", tangible stimuli to which we are exposed to through our environment (Pascual-Leone et al, 1995). This is a well-known concept in Sports Psychology and has been for decades. Visualization is commonly used for both healthy and injured athletes. The use of visualization for injured athletes is particularly interesting as it is used in two distinct ways. The first, is for the athlete to imagine the injury healing as a way to speed up the process. The second is to imagine themselves in competition, using all of their senses (Clarey, 2014). Athletes and sports psychologists continue to utilize these methods of visualization to affect not only their performance, but also their healing.
Everyone’s imagination is unique
It has been found that three main pathways for encoding information exist: visual, kinesthetic, and auditory. We may “see” with our imagination as clear as pictures in a frame, or utilize sound, as if there is a voice in our head, or even sense physical sensations in our body. These three styles of learning have been proven again and again over the years. When these different styles are acknowledged and utilized appropriately, individuals are able to learn with more ease and efficiency (Marvel del Carmen Valencia Gutierrez et al, 2018). In reality, each individual has a different mixture of these three styles, but also usually has one that is predominant.
How does this apply to bodywork?
So, we know a few things:
Our thoughts can affect our bodies and vice versa
The brain doesn’t distinguish between real and imaginary stimuli
There are three different ways individuals absorb information and usually an individual relies on one method more than the others
When reading over that list it becomes clear that this information could be used to help our clients in our practices, but how exactly would that be executed? What are the ways that we can apply this information in our sessions?
1. Consider the environmental and emotional stimuli/challenges our clients experience consistently.
How do our clients interact with environmental stimuli such as gravity, the ground beneath our feet, lights/sounds/movements/smells/etc that affect our physiology?
As we have learned, many of our psycho-physiological functions depend on our interrelation with the environment and the challenges it poses us. The first and most consistent environmental challenge we experience is gravity. It is the "container" in which our life develops. Interestingly, the muscle fibers designed to deal with gravity are not controlled voluntarily and respond to environmental stimuli as well as emotional stimuli processed in our internal world.
These muscle fibers are the strongest and are involved in supporting our own body weight during any kind of activity, as well as in tasks involving our endurance. The good news is that they seem responsive not only to tangible stimuli, like tactile sensations and spatial directions, but also to mental imagery. We can help our clients utilize this concept of imagery to tap into their physiology.
Considering the emotional stimuli too vigorously can get us into a bit of a grey area in terms of scope of practice. This doesn’t mean we must disregard it all together. It can be acknowledged and making our client aware of the fact that our emotional state affects our physical state can be a profound awakening for some clients.
2. Consider the learning style of your client
We have to choose the appropriate words: words able to create mental images evoking the same kind of stimuli and sensations to which the involuntary muscle fibers discussed above would respond for each specific client. It is important to consider what kind of learner your client is when thinking about word choice. You may be asking your client to “see” themselves doing something, when in reality they may be more apt to imagining the felt sensation of doing something. Talk with your client to learn more about how they best receive information. In this way, you can begin to tailor how you communicate homework, movements, and imagery exercises to your client in ways that they can best internalize them.
3. Consider how your client experiences the world
Now, there is more to it than just the learning style of the client. In fact, the effectiveness of specific words on our mind and body also depends on our experience of the world. For example, if the man who was drowning in the Sufi tale shared above was a "giver", for sure he would have accepted the invitation to "give his hand" to those who tried to save him before the arrival of the Wiseman. The Wiseman was successful because he was able to find words that resonated with the stingy man. This is a more extreme example that I am using for clarity, but when you take a moment to reflect on how this could show up in other ways, you begin to understand the importance in the nuances of word choice.
The world of words and language is fascinating, and the way our brain reacts even more. A word can act as a magical key: it can open a door, or close it, depending on our personal experience of the world.
Would you rather give me your hand or take mine?
Our work as bodyworkers can sometimes be reduced to just the physical. In reality, we are effecting the whole system: body, mind, and spirit. It's rarely taught in our trainings, but with the right approach, you can begin to harness the power of the clients mind to assist you in your work. By utilizing the knowledge outlined above in the right way, your work can become incredibly profound!
There are many ways to tap into your the power of your client's imagination, but it just takes a little specific training to get you started! If you would like to learn more about how to apply this knowledge to your work that is exactly what is taught in our Morales Method® Move In Mind course on Teachable! This 10-hour course gives detailed instruction paired with movements and exercises to help you engage with your clients’ bodies and minds to promote more functional and connected movement patterns.