How to Do Imprinting in Pilates
Imprinting is a way of setting up your body in the correct position on the floor to perform certain Pilates moves. It's one of the first positions you'll learn in a Pilates class, along with neutral spine position. In neutral spine position, you maintain the natural curve of your spine. But in imprinting, your back is flat. There are no gaps between your spine and the floor. Imprinting helps protect the back during Pilates exercises that require both legs to be raised off the floor, such as the Hundreds. As you gain strength throughout your core, you will be able to maintain an imprinted spine with your legs extended at a lower angle to the floor. Keeping your back in contact with the floor creates an anchor, which will allow you to more actively "scoop" your abdominal muscles during the exercises.
Imprinting also helps you center your thoughts and clear your mind before exercising. It can be a gentle exercise to help relieve the tensions of the day and to help you feel settled and relaxed. You can practice imprinting even if you don't continue on to harder moves!
Do not use imprinting if you have a bulging disk; instead, keep your spine in neutral position. If you have a back injury or degenerative disk disease, check with your doctor before imprinting in Pilates. Those with back concerns should only practice imprinting under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable Pilates instructor.
- Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, hip-distance apart. Rest your arms at your sides with your palms facing down. Align your heels, toes, knees, and hips.
- Begin in neutral spine position with a natural curve in your lower back and neck.
- Relax your shoulders and let them drop to the floor.
- Breathe deeply. Relax your ribcage, neck, and jaw with every breath.
- Continue moving your awareness down your body. Let your back ribs press into the floor.
- Let your abdominal muscles drop toward your spine. As you do this, relax your spine, imagining it is melting into the floor. You may need to adjust your position to allow your spine to lengthen fully along the floor.
- Let your hips and legs relax.
- As your spine sinks into the mat, visualize its imprint on the floor beneath you. Do not press firmly; simply allow the lengthening and imprinting to happen as you relax.
- Breathe deeply and consciously as you relax and release your body's tension.
- Stay in the imprinted position for 5-10 breaths. If you are using imprinting for stress reduction, remain in the position for 5-10 minutes.
Hot Tip: Keep Your Tail Down
Whether you are practicing imprinting or neutral spine position, keep your tailbone on the floor. This helps to prevent your lower back from over-arching when doing Pilates exercises.
Modifications & Tips
Imprinting your spine when performing certain Pilates exercises will help reduce back pain while building deep core and abdominal strength. Keep the following information in mind when practicing imprinting:
- Keep your shoulders, neck, and legs relaxed.
- For extra neck support, place a small, rolled towel or pillow beneath the back of your neck.
- Your back should be completely flat on the floor without any gaps. If your lower back has a deep natural curve, it might be difficult to fully imprint at first. That is fine. Just do the best you can without forcing it and practice regularly for the best results.
- Visualization can help your imprinting. Picture your spine becoming longer as it sinks deeper into the mat.
- Do not press your spine and back firmly onto the floor. Instead, allow the muscles to relax downward using the force of gravity.
- You should have no pain in your lower back. If you are feeling any pain when imprinting, try doing the same exercises in neutral spine position to see if that helps. As you gain strength in your core, your ability to hold various spine positions will improve. Remember to practice consistently and be patient as you build your ability!
Imprint for Support
Imprinting will help support your back during many of the floor exercises in Pilates. It will also help you maintain correct alignment, reducing fatigue and physical stress throughout the exercises. It can also be a relaxing way to release muscle and mental tension, particularly at the end of the day! Practice imprinting on a regular basis to lengthen and strengthen your entire torso.