Maria and Jonas are a couple and train with me together, bi-weekly, as Jonas’ work takes him out of Stockholm every other week, during which Maria takes a private. This particular session, I have them on the Cadillac doing the Teaser with the Pull-down bar- one of my favourite exercises that I probably use too much. Anyway, as I’m working with Jonas, who is quite stiff from a hockey background and those grueling strengthening workouts that go along with it, aiding him with his breathing and lengthening etc., when I realize my back is to Maria. To be fair in sharing my attention I turn to have a look at her progress, and then…BLAMMO!! The studio roof and walls melted away, revealing a sunlit sky of immense purity, sparsely inhabited with big fluffy smiling clouds. From behind the clouds emerges an army of glossy eyed angels, and in gloriously perfect unison they sing the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah. They, and I, are enchanted with the site before us, for Maria is truly engaging her center.
“Beautiful, Maria”, I exclaimed, “I really believe your center.” And I did.
As the angels floated back behind their fluffy clouds and the walls of the studio reassembled themselves Maria’s cheeks gave way to a broad grin as she continued with the teaser on the Cadillac, strangely unaware of the chorus of angels she had bestowed upon us. What was all that fuss about, you may ask, and my answer would be that there was Maria, in the v-position of the teaser, with her arms stretched over head as she gently held the bar, spine lengthened upward and outward stemming from the root of that strength – the center. Her shoulders were gently placed and legs not just lifted but stretching beyond their length. Her whole body was powerful, yet supple. Yes, a glorious moment. So today I would like to ask…Do you believe your center?
It is important to remember that any and every exercise performed needs to take into consideration the whole being. And that whole being is supported in a harmonious alignment with consciousness and strength of the center and how different parts of the body emanate from it. I believe this was also Joseph Pilates’ original intention and though I have yet to read it in an original text from the man himself, I read it from a quote of Friedman and Eisen’s book The Pilates Method Book.
“In order for the practitioner to attain control of their body they must have a starting place: the center. The center is the focal point of the Pilates Method…Many Pilates teachers refer to the group of muscles in the center of the body-encompassing the abdomen, lower and upper back, hips, buttocks, and inner thighs-as the “powerhouse”. All movement in Pilates should begin from the powerhouse and flow outward to the limbs.”
Citing the above quote was not to encourage you to believe in someone else’s option, in fact my view of the center is more isolated than the one stated above. The center, as I sense it and teach to my students, is placed approximately at the lower part of the abdomen, in the hollow part of the pelvis. Finding out what the center is, and how to move from that place is a lifelong endeavor and one of the wonderful things about Pilates as so many of the exercises are conducive to deepening that knowledge.
So how does one convey the idea of center to a client?
The method I employ is to constantly and gently bring attention back to excess tension held in the extremities of the body, especially the neck and shoulder area. The neck and shoulder are too often engaged far beyond their usefulness which not only prevents the exercise from being done in a more efficient way but also makes the person insensitive to what is actually going on. The mere recognition that the tension is there is often enough to decrease it noticeably, allowing the work to be done with less effort from lower down. And as if by default, the center starts to bloom in the consciousness of the client.
Furthermore, I like to use an easy spinal articulation to flex the torso, such as Hip Rolls (sometimes referred to Spine Curls or Bridging). While the client is in neutral, I ask them to trigger the tilting of the pelvis back and down from as low a place as possible, and then encourage them to have the intention to trigger from even lower. I ask them to always strive for that subtle depth that is always just beyond their grasp (ALERT: this can potentially be a beautiful and satisfying moment for client and teacher…)
Putting aside my attempt above to depict myself as a poetic writer, seeing Maria experience such integrity was one of those moments that we all strive for in our teaching careers’ which are particularly rewarding. Baring witness to Maria’s state of cohesion and harmony with power in the center, all body parts integrated with that strength and knowing that I had something to do with that, was wonderful.
Of course there are different methods to approach the concept of ‘the center’; it is an individual journey requiring intelligence, dedication, sensitivity, and discipline. But I suspect that any clues and knowledge brought about by investigating the question “Do you believe your center?” may just well be applicable to that other question you might have asked yourself … “What is the meaning of life?”
Wishing you a fulfilling and successful week of teaching!!