What does accessing our CORE really mean?
Yoga for the core, a term you hear often. What does it mean when we say our core? Most of us think it’s that place in our belly & doing crunches & situps will help us get a strong core. With these exercises you may get the coveted six pack abs, but does that mean you have a strong core? Those six pack abs are made when the external rectus abdominis muscles are strengthened specifically & the amount of “packs” depends on the bands of facia crossing the abdominal region. But does this mean you have a strong core? Not necessarily. True core muscles are ones that stabilize the spine & pelvis during our everyday movements & during exercise. These inner core muscles are things like the transverse abs (our inner girdle around our belly, sides waist & back), pelvic floor, multifidius (deep layer along spine). We need to learn to access these deepest layers of our core without causing tension in the outer layers. In fact focusing on the outer layers without using the inner layers can cause back pain & injury.
But our core is more than these abdominal muscles, it is everything from the pelvic floor to the base of our neck. I like to even think of it extending through the crown of the head, as our head position will change how we can access our core. So while performing core focused yoga poses, it is important to keep the heart centre (chest) open, & the head in a neutral position by lengthening through the neck & crown. So I find it is helpful to first loosen up the outer body by releasing things like your shoulders, back, hip flexors, so you start with as neutral a body as possible. If you don’t take some time to open the outer body, when you do your core work, you might be just adding more tension instead of strength, by re-enforcing unhealthy patterns & not building new ones.
The diaphragm is another important aspect of the core. In class, often, we begin with belly breathing learning to affectively use the diaphragm to breathe. Using the diaphragm in this way helps to keep it supple & strong. When we ask these deep core stabilizers to engage, the diaphragm becomes part of the supporting structure. So think of the pelvic floor, transverse abs & diaphragm as a way to encircle the lower body like a inner girdle & stabilize the pelvis. Now the rest of the body has a strong foundation to move from & when added to the multifidus, the whole core becomes the support for movement.
See http://physioyoga.ca/what-does-core-stability-really-mean for more info on these ideas.
When we stand, our legs become another aspect of our core, as it is our foundation. When we have a stable foundation, the rest of the structure of our body can find it’s most affective way to move through life. So the importance of our feet in yoga can not be understated. That is why we practice with bare feet, so we can work on feeling from the ground up. When we are grounded we become more able to notice how each part of our body affects the other & make those subtle adjustments to feel ourselves move from the inside out.
See https://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/core-strength-in-your-yoga-practice for a wonderful explanation of this.
But I see our core work as more than a physical exploration. Our Core is also our Spirituality, our place that is our True Being. We can work our body all we want, but if we are not connected on a deeper lever, we will not find healing or peace.
When our Core, whether physical or Spiritual, is weak, we find life’s challenges harder to take. When we practice & strengthen our Core, in both ways, we become more resilient.
Meditation, breath & mindful movement help us to connect to our Core state of being. When we practice yoga, it is more than how our body moves, but how does it feel when we move it & can we not judge ourselves when it’s doesn’t meet our expectations?
So in our Yoga practice, we work on physical & Spiritual aspects simultaneously. That is what separates the asanas (physical postures) from just an exercise. We are accesses all levels of our Core through breath, meditation, & physical movement. So whether you came to yoga to help your body, or as a way to destress & find some peace, we can help all aspects by finding OUR CORE
"Yoga is not a work-out, it is a work-in. And this is the point of spiritual practice; to make us teachable; to open up our hearts and focus our awareness so that we can know what we already know and be who we already are.” — Rolf Gates
Anne Cox E-RYT 500