There are three main ways in which we learn (movement): visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.
Visual learning means you need to see what the exercise looks like so you can understand how you should be moving. This is the form of teaching that most of us have experienced one time or another. Whether you took skiing or tennis lessons, or exercise classes, most of the time your instructor showed you “the move” and asked you to copy it. This type of instruction has the unspoken underlying premise “Makes sure you should look exactly like me, when you do the exercise.” This is where we usually start. It’s the quickest way to “get it.” The focus is outward, first on the teacher, and then on our outer form.
Auditory learning means listening to the teacher’s instructions and interpret what they hear into movement. This is something you might have experienced after the first ten Pilates classes. Once you know what Double Leg Stretch looks like, you can stop looking at the teacher (or the other people in class) and start tuning into your own body. You probably like to close their eyes, while letting the teacher’s voice guide you. Auditory learning requires a bit more inward focus.
Unless you’re an avid listener of audiobooks or deliberately consume music (not just as background noise), most of us are not used to following our ears. Most of our daily tasks require looking at things and reading (on paper, the computer screen, the smartphone, etc). Rarely, are we guided by what we hear.
As a quick test, when you’re using a navigation system while driving, do you fully rely on what you hear the lovely recorded voice tell you? Or do you double check what she means, by looking at the screen? I’m curious, let me know.
Kinesthetic learning requires feeling the correct alignment in your body to remember it. If this is your preferred way of learning, then you appreciate the teacher using her hands to guide your body into the desired position. In areas of the body that we are not very aware of, this type of teaching can be invaluable, indispensable even.
For me, the top part of my thoracic spine (2-3 inches below C7 - the bone that sticks out at the back of the neck), is an area I have zero awareness of (yet). If you told me to move there, I would try, but I would move a different part of my spine instead. If you demonstrated the movement, again I would try my best, but move in a different part of my body altogether. If you laid your hand on this part of my spine - NOW I can start to feel the area, and I can begin to send thoughts there. Consciously directed thoughts are the cars on the road of the nervous system. Your nerves are like roads from your brain into all your body areas. The road to my upper thoracic spine is muddy, broken up and has not been traveled on for years. Making headway is going to be slooooooow. But not impossible.
Most of us have one type of learning that comes most easily. That’s a great place to start. Hopefully, you’ve realized that it’s helpful to embrace other forms of learning as well. I know it’s hard. It requires such a tremendous amount of attention, concentration and focus. But how else are you going to make a dormant area in your body come to life and do the work of your painful overworked areas? If my upper thoracic spine were a bit more present, it would take pressure off my neck. Would that be worth the work? I sure think so.