"Maintain a strong centre..."
"Engage your core..."
"Use your Powerhouse ..."
All references to your 'centre', 'powerhouse' or 'core' usually mean the same thing ..... your abdominal cavity!
Imagine your abdominal cavity as a cylinder with your pelvic floor at the bottom, your diaphragm at the top and the Transverse Abdominus (and some back muscles) as the side of the cylinder: this is your 'centre', 'powerhouse' or 'core'.
When you engage the pelvic floor and your transverse abdominals (TVA), this increases the pressure in the 'cylinder' which stabilises your torso, protecting your spine in it's neutral alignment. Good alignment includes the neutral spine (not over arching or flattening in the lumbar area) with your ribs stacked on top. If you arch your back, you will notice your ribcage flaring out forwards ... if this happens, soften your rib cage so the front of your ribs line up more with the hip bones.
With this neutral alignment, when you mobilise (move) the shoulder and/or hip joints, those mobilising muscles and your deep core muscles will be strengthened, but at the same time, protecting your back from strain or injury.
So when your teacher tells you to 'maintain a strong centre' or 'stabilise your core' during an exercise, they're reminding you to:
If you cannot maintain a 'stable core' or your back is arching away from the mat, you should drop the exercise down a level - e.g.: if you have both legs in table top but you find your back is arching, work with one foot flat on the mat and just one leg in table top at a time. You will be able to build up your abdominal strength in time and then you will be able to progress.
Please feel free to comment on this blog post. Are there are any particular pilates cues that you don't understand what they mean exactly ...? Don't scratch your head, let me know and I'll try to do a breakdown.
Level 3 Mat Pilates Instructor.