With Pilates the way in which the exercises are executed is of more importance than the number of repetitions completed or the exertion used. Mastering a simple exercise is often far more complicated than forcing the body to create a larger movement. Pilates teaches us to bring subconscious control into habitual movement patterns so that we can move with more ease and efficiency.
Following the eight principles of Pilates helps us to get the most from our practice. Last time we looked at concentration.
This time we’re going to look at centering.
In Pilates the ‘centre’ refers to the neutral position of the lumbar spine (lower back) & pelvis. Joseph Pilates describes ‘the centre’ as the area between the ribs & the hips, at the front & back of the body. Nowadays we have extended that definition to include the sides of the torso.
Your centre is the pivotal point of the body from which all movements start. Movement, balance, force & strength all come from the centre – a weakness in the core will affect the body’s ability to perform any of these functions.
It is important to understand that core control is more important than core strength. Abdominal control provides fluidity of movement which is crucial; abdominal strength provides support which is beneficial but secondary.
Your centre is controlled by use of the abdominal muscles, the muscles in the lower back and the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles surround your abdominal cavity and form a central cylinder (see diagram below)
When you activate your core (ie. all the muscles surrounding your central cylinder) you are better able to manage the intra-abdominal pressure which gives stability to each movement.
Once the core/centre has been activated, we add arm & leg movements to challenge your stability and develop better muscle tone.
Finding your centre:
One of the keys to success is being aware of when you have ‘lost’ your centre, and making sure that you work within the capabilities of your core control – if you try to progress too soon, or push ahead without maintaining your centre, you will not develop a stronger core. Instead, you will risk overusing the muscles in your lower back or adding downward pressure into the pelvic floor or adding outward pressure into the abdominal wall (or perhaps all three!) potentially leading to less stability than you started with (& maybe some pain too).
There are many ways to find and activate your centre/core and we spend time doing this each time we move into a new position. We find a neutral pelvis, where the core muscles are in the optimum position to ‘fire’, and then we think of drawing gently upwards and inwards with the pelvic floor and deeper core muscles as we exhale (we’ll look at breathing as a separate principle).
Ideally you will keep an awareness of your centre during the class, but if you find you have forgotten about it, simply take a breath and come back to it on the next movement. Outside of your Pilates class, it is useful to keep an awareness of your centre to improve your posture in everyday life.
Finally, remember that we are looking to achieve a light connection with the core muscles – you don’t want to activate them to 100% otherwise movements will not flow and your posture will become unnatural – aim for 30% contraction so that you are just aware of a gentle feeling in the tummy wall.
Next time we’ll look at breathing as the third principle of Pilates – breathing.