Be strong, but soft. Do not tense; do not force the position. Engage the muscles, work hard, and then release some—soften the body. Use deep breath—full inhales, complete exhales—to find space between your bones, your muscles, your tissue.
These two ideas—being strong, but soft; engaged, but relaxed—perhaps seem contradictory. But in reality, they are complimentary, and create ideal form in any kind of movement, whether it is Pilates, yoga, a sport, or simply just moving through daily life.
Think of movement in its most natural state—the movement of a wild animal. Call to mind an animal that moves beautifully, such as a cat. A cat moves with strength, but also with ease. It walks, runs, and jumps with power, but also with softness and grace.
This concept of being strong, but soft, is something I only recently integrated into my body, and it has completely changed how I feel both physically and mentally during my practice. I realize that I used to do Pilates with a tense body, which greatly limits the benefits of the practice—you tire more quickly, hold stress in the body and mind, and you are less likely to zone in on the “core” if the limbs are overly engaged.
Give this concept a try in your own body. For those of you who practice Pilates or yoga, come into Teaser (Pilates) or Navasana (yoga). In this pose, many people feel as if they cannot help but grip into the muscles of the front thighs. If this is the case for you, engage the mind to create change in the body. Give your body precise verbal cues. Legs are strong, but soft. Arms are active, but free of tension. Then, draw the real power from the deep abdominal muscles. Scoop the belly in and up, but do so with a sense of softness. There, you will discover that essential balance between being active and relaxed, strong but soft.