Concentration. In one sense of the word it is “to become more intense, stronger, or purer.” In another it is “to bring or draw to a common centre or point of union; converge; direct toward one point; focus.” I believe that the Pilates meaning of the word is taken from both angles.
In one sense, we centre our attention onto our breath (I rambled on about the previously), this in turn, allows us to free our minds to focus on a movement, and the movement was designed to zero in on a muscle or muscle group. It is like that moment you see the last pair of boots in your size at a sale - the world around you disintegrates as you launch your body towards them, at a speed that would defy the laws of physics. It is in focus.
Working in tandem to that single mindedness, you allow that muscle group to work in its purest form, by not allowing stronger or more dominant muscles to take over. We all have our favourites. Runners tend to allow their legs to do the work over their gluteus as their legs are stronger and more resilient from running. We’re all different in this way. It’s like allowing your fast-typing co-worker to write up the report while the rest of you take a long lunch . We all know, it doesn’t end well as while the “math’s–dude” and the “I’m-good-at-strategy-chick” are getting fat and lazy on lunch, the other poor co-worker faces burnout and starvation. So how do we get the team to work together?
Without a friendly-faced HR person to mediate, it’s up to your brain to distribute the workload. Being primal and yet highly intelligent creatures, some muscles are so well trained at taking the entire load they find it difficult to give up the responsibility, (yeah, we all know people like that too). So practice and concentration on the lazier muscles requires more effort and focus (Side note: sending the Easter Bunny of Breath to them, keeps them motivated :).
We would hate for our co–worker to have a nervous breakdown or pass out from malnourishment, because a) who would do the work?!?!? And b) well… it sucks! The same is true for our muscles, with continual overuse and overcompensation, that muscle/group will become prone to injury.
Pilates is designed to create a balanced body. Not only in the fact that the left is equal to the right, but that all the supporting and intrinsic muscles (Basically the deep muscles closest to the Axial Skeleton, here’s a picture and if you’re struggling to get to sleep feel free to read the article tooJ) are equally strong and comparably supple. This means that each muscle gets to do what the Queen of the Universe or God, or Evolution intended for them to do, with the assistance of their opposite and supporting muscles. And it is in this way that we become stronger and more centred as a whole.
On a more reflective posture; concentration brings your awareness within. It can act as an opportunity for us to really feel and see our bodies and discover how we move through space (both literally and figuratively depending on your inclination). Having this kind of focused connection to your body is humbling. It is a marvel how our muscles learn and adapt, grow and stretch all the time without us consciously thinking about it. Concentrating through the simplest of movements can release a great appreciation for the complexity and effort needed to bring about these movements.
This little phenomenon is especially visible when you are rehabilitating an injury. Your logic tells you that a movement should be easy, but on its execution you find your muscles don’t want to co-operate or they simply can’t. There are many such movements in Pilates that even the strongest athletes find a challenge and it is in this learning and balancing out of our bodies that we also awaken our minds to muscles that have laid dormant getting fat on pizza while another muscle faces a melt-down.
Each and everytime you execute a movement it is a chance to bring awareness to yourself, and strive for flawlessness in each movement. How often in life is ok to be completely self-absorbed without getting an elbow jab from a friend or significant other – its rare. Here is you opportunity to be completely engrossed in yourself, your feelings, your body, your breathing, your TA, that one tiny muscle fibre. As you practice your Pilates concentrate on you!