‘Engage your core’ and ‘squeeze your abs’ are common parlance in gyms and fitness studios. But what is the core, how are we meant to engage the abdominals, have we ever been given some clear instruction?
Time to find your core. Exhale as you close your eyes and rest your hands on your stomach. Feel your hands rest on your abdomen. The feeling of your hands resting on the fabric of your top. Quite easy to start to make a connection with this part of your body. Just notice what thoughts come up as you rest your hands on your stomach; I don’t like this part of my body, or I often get stomach aches… Try to just observe those thoughts come and go, rather than get caught up in them.
As you rest and become more introspective, see if you can sense the area below your hands, under the first few layers of skin. We talked last week about external landscape, so this week, it’s your internal landscape.
What you’re starting to sense here is your core. Not, as we often think of as purely muscular, something we turn on in specific postures. The ability to locate and engage the core takes pressure off the lower back, strengthens the pelvic floor. We begin to walk tall.
Your core is a deep web of connective tissue, like a hammock, suspended in perfect tension. With a hammock if we pull too hard on one of the straps, it causes stress to the structure and will pull the hammock out of alignment. This can be the same for our bodies. The core supports our vital organs, if we pull too hard on one side (over stretch) or if we allow too much slack to get into the structure (inertia, not moving enough) we have a problem.
Your core is therefore not just your abs, it’s your entire body. In class I encourage students to see their core as a line of central intelligence through the body. Keeping you upright, stable and strong. When we put too much tension or slack into the line, movements become more challenging. Life becomes more of an effort. When we practice yoga with proper awareness of the core, we re –a –line the body.
In traditional yoga we think of this central line of intelligence as working with and removing blockages in the chakras. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we think about clearing the shushumna. This word has many translations, my favourite translation is the path to a joyful mind.
Whatever words or imagery appeal to you, enjoy the feeling of connecting with your core.