The Center of the Universe
A few weeks ago, I was working with a long time client, who usually takes Group Reformer classes, in a rare private session. This client has extremely tight hamstrings that have been chronically strained. During Short Box series, she was always focused on her hamstrings, because they were the tightest part of her body. So I had her keep her knee bent during Tree on the short box, and the light bulb went off. "Oh," she said, "this is a AB exercise!" I laughed and said "Of course, they're ALL ab exercises!"
This week our "Great Start" students learned about Centering, as the fourth in our series of Pilates Principles. "Centering" in Pilates means moving from the center. Every Pilates exercise is designed to strengthen and build endurance in your powerhouse. There are many definitions and interpretations of "powerhouse" in the Pilates world. I think of it in three pieces - your central powerhouse, comprised of your abdominals (primarily your transverse abdominus), pelvic floor, back muscles (multifidus), and diaphragm; your upper powerhouse which includes your rib cage and muscles that stabilize your shoulder blades; and the lower powerhouse including the muscles that stabilize your hips. So the broad term "powerhouse" is your entire torso, including your core (abs and back), your shoulders, and your hips.
The principle of "Centering" then means that all movement originates from the center of your body. By stabilizing and aligning at your center, you free your arms & legs to move without strain. Arms move from the back, legs move from the front. All movements are anchored from a strong, stable center. We also use the concept of Centering as an alignment cue. Think of a line from your nose, through your navel, and down through your pubic bone to your heels. As you're moving your arms, legs, spine, be aware of the relative alignment to your center. In Frog & Leg Circles on the reformer, are you able to keep your heels aligned to your center during Frog? During the Circles, can you use your inner thigh/sitz bones connection to pull your heels together into your center line?
We sometimes use the concept "box" to reinforce the principle of Centering. Students of dance are often familiar with the concept of the box when referring to body alignment, but for those of us (including me!) who aren't dancers, this may be a new term. Your "box" refers to the rectangle formed by the two imaginary lines running from shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. Ideally, the rectangle should have four 90-degree angles. In less geometric terms, it means your hips should be aligned side to side and aligned at the top of your hip bones, and your shoulders should be squared and aligned right above your hips. Awareness of your box is important whether you're lying on the reformer, seated on the short box or mat, or standing. It's a great way to do a quick posture check no matter where you are!
One of the other concepts we utilize in Pilates that relates to the principle of Centering is "anchor & opposition." Every time you stretch, you have an anchor point that you're stretching away from. In Short Box - Side to Side, your hips are anchored into the box, and you extend through your waist away from your stable hips. On the mat in One Legged Circle, your pelvis is anchored to the mat which allows you to extend through your leg creating length. In Side Kick series on the mat, your pelvis is anchored on an even smaller base, increasing the difficulty as you stretch your legs long. Maintaining a strong, stable center enables you to move from that center with opposition, which creates length.
Centering in Pilates applies to the mind as well as the body, and is closely related to the principle of Concentration. With regular practice, Pilates trains your mind and your body to be strong and centered, which extends beyond your workout and into your life. I was recently having a discussion with some friends about meditation. I've never had a regular meditation practice, despite a few feeble attempts to make it a regular habit. One of my friends suggested that possibly practicing Pilates is my "meditation", and I think there's a lot of truth to that. Pilates can indeed be a moving meditation. While I don't think Pilates replaces or provides all the benefits of a regular meditation practice, I do think it provides many of the same benefits.
We strive to make our Studio a place where our clients can come to escape the stresses of their daily life for an hour, focus on themselves, and practice movement that strengthens their body and their mind.
When we moved the Studio from Four Points to that Oasis two years ago, we wanted a new name and brainstormed many, many choices. We finally settled on "Zenergy" because we feel it captures the feeling we want clients to have after their workouts - calm, centered, and energized. And yes, they are ALL ab exercises!