“It is the mind which shapes the body”. Friedrich von Schiller
I had the pleasure of being invited to teach in Germany some years back. On my last day at work in New York City before departing, I asked a German Pilates instructor on my team how to translate a word I knew I would need a lot – Powerhouse.
“Kraft Centrum” she replied. I practiced the intonation a few times and was out the door to the airport. Since that trip, the words in English and in German, have stayed with me.
My teacher, Romana Kryzanowska used to say that Pilates was “movement flowing out from a strong center”. The center she referred to was that self same Powerhouse. The word itself is an interesting one defined in English as “a person or thing of great energy, strength, or power.” If we look a bit closer at this idea of a “thing” maybe we can construct our own definition, one that serves our individual needs based on our own levels of energy, strength or power.
What exactly is the thing we call the Powerhouse? Anatomically speaking, we can reduce the word to a group of muscles incorporating the Abdominals, Spinal Muscles, Gluteals and Pelvic muscles. Collectively, we call upon this group to initiate the bulk of movements executed in the Pilates method. This initiation is unique to Pilates and requires a specific action to occur before any actual visible movement takes place. The muscles from the mid-torso to mid thigh are recruited to organize and arrange themselves to behave as a supportive structure, a structure that provides a high degree of stability for what is certain to follow – a high degree of mobility.
As an example, let’s look at the Teaser. Everyone’s favorite exercise, the teaser requires the exerciser to begi
n flat, extend the legs to a 45 degree angle and then curl the spine up to arrive at a full sitting position, folding the body up into
a “V” shape. But if you rewind the tape a bit and focus on the moment just before the legs assume their extended position you’ll find the moment that the Powerhouse is activated. It’s a moment defined by intention. The exerciser must make a decision to draw in this group of muscles in a single coordinated effort. That decision is repeated again at least two more times in each exercise – the middle or peak of the move and once more at the end of the move just before the exit. In exercises that are challenging for an individual, the decision to activate the powerhouse is a continual process, repeated throughout the move propelling the student through the routine.
Whichever the exercise is, once the decision is made, muscles are in motion. This partnership of decision and action is the quintessential Pilates relationship of mind to body. Which begs the question – is the powerhouse merely just a group of muscles? Our definition of Powerhouse above states that it is a “thing of great energy, strength and power.” Might that not be our will, our determination -our mind? In both English as in German the word Powerhouse is a combination of two distinct words, one indicating strength and the other indicating the center or house of that strength. In Pilates more than any other exercise system, it’s apparent that your mind OR your body can house your strength and you’ll need some degree of both to achieve success with this system of exercise.
Whichever you choose to believe about your own Powerhouse – you’ll have to use both if you want to get the most out of your Pilates practice and that of your clients. Perform each exercise with clear intention. Decide what will happen. Choose to perform your best. You’ll discover that this elusive “thing of great energy, strength or power” may just be yourself.
Alycea Ungaro, NYC
(c) 2014 Real Pilates & Real Pilates NYC. All Rights Reserved.
Real Pilates owner and founder Alycea Ungaro is best known for her international best-selling Pilates titles, including Pilates: Body in Motion. Alycea brought some of the very first mat classes to New York City and continues to break new ground in the Pilates industry today. As About.com’s resident Pilates expert, Alycea is also the creator of SpringTone(r), the newest Pilates group class to deliver the method to the masses.
Alycea has grown her popular Pilates classes into a fitness media empire. Moving from her first multi-media project, the innovative Portable Pilates(r), Alycea wrote a series of books dedicated to educating the public about the benefits of Pilates through her books and products. She created the 15 Minute Everyday Pilates DVD (DK, 2007) and the patented Real Alignment Mat for the home exerciser before turning her focus to educational programming. Alycea and her team now offer a mentoring curriculum for teachers who are business owners as well as a comprehensive teacher training program. Her Real Pilates studio partners with studios internationally to elevate the practice and visibility of Pilates in the marketplace. Alycea teaches and presents at conferences and events worldwide and conducts sessions and workshops at Real Pilates in New York City. For more information, visit www.realpilatesnyc.com.