by Téana David
Perhaps the most widely known aspect of the Pilates method has to do with what Joseph Pilates called 'the powerhouse.' The powerhouse includes all the layers of abdominals (rectus, tranversus, obliques), the deep back muscles, the gluteals and the upper inner thighs. With the right awareness and training, this group of core muscles acts as a pillar of support, underlying all of our movements so that more fragile areas like wrists and ankles are spared undue stress. All of our activities, whether it be tennis, yoga, or just climbing the stairs, become more precise and graceful with correct and consistent activation of the powerhouse.
In working with a wide variety clients and seeing them progress over the years I have come to believe that waking up this area of the body - that is, learning how initiating movement from the core of our being - not only strengthens us physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. In Pilates we first learn how to stand on healthy, flexible feet by doing 'footwork' on the reformer, or perhaps standing footwork if we're on a mat. We then move up to core-based exercises like 'the hundred.' Learning to connect down through the legs and feet into the earth from an awakened powerhouse changes the way we move through space, impacting our exchanges with the world in healthy ways.
If we look from Buddhist perspective, we can consider whether cultivating deep inner physical stability might also help us open our hearts and be more compassionate. Buddhist teacher Donald Rothberg has this to say,
"I find that grounding in the body is very important for Metta practice (loving-kindness meditation) ... I know for myself, I could have a wide open heart and until I was more grounded in my body and connected to the earth, I could be very open and be knocked around a lot ... there's something about that grounding and centering that's very crucial. So you might find that by really emphasizing awareness of the body, maybe a body practice like yoga or QiGong, you can find ways to develop that center... We're really looking to find that sense of groundedness and connection, so there can be some stability when the heart is really affected."
In the Japanese martial art of Aikido, we talk about initiating movement from the hara. In Chinese forms such as Tai Chi and QiGong, it's known as the dan t'ien. The Pilates powerhouse may be more of a musculoskeletal-skeletal understanding of our centers, but over time it translates into an energetic awareness as well. Donald's words echo and articulate my findings: it is only by becoming deeply secure in our bodies that we become courageous and available to our fellow humans beings. Our stability allows for accessibility. Listen to DonaldRothberg's entire talk about Metta practice here: