What We Can Learn From Imperfect Movement

Forget perfection! Experimenting with misdirection and asymmetry in Pilates is a key part of the formula for discovering untapped movement capabilities (and untangling ingrained patterns).


By Chantill Lopez • Edited by Amanda Altman

WEIGHT. WARMTH. VARIABILITY. TISSUE INTEGRATION. PLAY. Being able to work when off-balance and out of alignment. Embracing the wiggles, the wobbles. Prioritizing wholeness over perfection.
How can these concepts, when applied to movement, enhance our ability to accurately assess safety in our lives through a neurological and psychological process?

How can training our bodies in a specific way unwind patterns of conscious and unconscious behavior and in turn promote greater potential for motor skill development and new movement habits?

Movement can be simple, yet the human brain is complex. The idea of “imperfect Pilates” began, in part, as a way to organize strategies that bolster vagus nerve health (vagal tone), open the body and brain to greater movement variance, and promote positive compensation. For most of my 22-year teaching career, I’ve been engaged in supporting movement skill development through exploration and curiosity, putting consistent focus on how we learn to make better movement choices no matter the context or environment. The overarching philosophy of working this way is to achieve integrative and wholesome movement in an imperfect setting—aka our bodies.

This approach has been an inquiry into how to teach movement to the whole person and all that they bring to each moment of experiencing their body. It isn’t a straightforward path. It’s meandering and fraught with twists and turns indicative of our entire mental, emotional and physiological history. The question becomes how can we address the whole person while still working within the scope of the body?

The Pilates Imperfect series (now also a Fusion EDU online workshop co-created with my friend and colleague, James Crader, and a series of articles on Pilates Intel) is informed largely by the Polyvagal Theory, developed by psychiatrist Stephen Porges. It’s designed to provide teachers and movers with an opportunity to tone and tune their vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve tasked with gathering information from our gut and other major sense organs and sending it to our brain. The vagus nerve is a keystone in optimizing learning and receptivity in the body. Without healthy vagal tone our ability to learn new motor skills is diminished.

Pilates Imperfect prepares us for more adaptive and highly varied movement sequences. It experiments with misdirection and asymmetry that intentionally invite the discovery of what might be possible when we’re allowed to safely explore the periphery. Through subtle shifts and variations and the use of heated Good Medicine Balls (which evoke, in most bodies, a sense of spatial awareness and proximal connection), this series makes for a playful, easily attainable (although not entirely easy) routine that is meant to evoke curiosity, embrace imperfection and insight surprising new revelations into what your body is capable of.

Because isn’t that what movement should be about anyway? PS

(Bonus gift for PS readers: Use this code: PSIMPERFECT to get 20% off the Pilates Imperfect Fusion online course.)

Here’s sneak peak of the exercises…


Why experiment with this move
• To mobilize the pelvis and hydrate critical connective tissue around the sacrum, hip joints and low back.
• To build greater, more versatile strength of the trunk in relationship to the limbs.
• To learn how to organize and work well

START Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place one ball under your sacrum and one on the center of your low belly. Allow your hands to rest on your ribs.

Preparation Arch and curl your pelvis for 6–8 reps, and then rock your hips right and left for another 6–8 reps, making sure the top ball doesn’t fall. Go slow; let it be easy rather than effortful.
Tilt Tilt your pelvis to the left, feeling more weight under your left hip without letting it rest on the floor. The top ball should move a little but not fall off. The goal is not to hold it on your belly with your hand, but to balance it as you move. Repeat several times, alternating sides.
Arm and Leg Reach From the tilted position, reach your left leg and right arm away from your center, keeping both off the ground. Think of a lightness, a floating feeling in your limbs as you simply notice where the challenges are and how you can best negotiate them. Return your arm and leg to center. Repeat on your other side.
Side Reach Move your left leg away from your center and your right arm to your side as far as you can without overtensing your neck or shoulders, or gripping anywhere. You’ll feel where your edge is if you go slow. Return your arm and leg to center. Repeat on your other side.

TIPS This is not about pulling your tummy in and holding your core tight! Breathe, enjoy, stretch, reach and experiment with possible ways to make the movement feel the best. Sometimes this means working less, sometimes it means working more. No matter what, let your priority be on making the movement feel good! 

MODIFICATION Omit the Side Reach. 

ADVANCED You can explore different movement patterns in the reaching arm and leg, like lifting and lowering from the reach or abducted position, or making circles. Remember this is all about exploring and experimenting, listening to where your edges are and making choices about how you want the movement to feel. 

Get the rest of this article and so much more in the November/December 2019 issue. 

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