Your body, your Self: Use your core to find your center

September 5, 2012
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“Engage your core!” is a popular chant in yoga class, Pilates studios, gyms… even offices, where workers are sitting on Physio Balls trying to maximize their “core strength.”

“The core” is an old concept and contemporary term that refers to anatomically and functionally interconnected muscles of the lower back, abdomen & pelvis. These muscles function synergistically to stabilize the spine, and include: the diaphragm (“roof”), the pelvic diaphragm (“floor”), the anterior abdominal wall muscles (antero-laterally), and the deep muscles of the back (posteriorly). Together, they help the trunk maintain a protective posture in the face of destabilizing forces—like a moving subway, a football tackle, or flailing limbs during dance class.

The core muscles are distinguished from other stabilizing muscles in the body due to their location, which encompasses the body’s center of mass (located in the midline of the body, anteriorly to the second sacral vertebra). The center of mass is important because the rest of the body (or the rest of the mass of any system, for that matter) behaves as if all of its mass were concentrated there; as a result, the center of mass is the point around which the body can be balanced. For instance, when standing on one leg in the yoga Tree pose, once you find your center, it does not matter how your free leg is positioned— with its foot resting on your ankle versus calf versus inner thigh—your balance will not be disturbed. It will likewise not be disturbed if your hands are in prayer position in front of your heart, or above you, reaching toward the sky. But the converse is also true— if you are unable to find your center, you will not be successful at standing on one leg regardless of where the free foot is placed.

Finding your center is no mean feat in yoga class… let alone in the rest of life, where destabilizing forces abound! Whether these forces come from a job that requires more than 24 hours in a day, family pressures, or your own sense of “what needs to get done,” it can be easy to lose your center, as you’re pulled in many directions at once.

The good news is that your center is never “lost.” Even if you can’t seem to find it, it’s always there. Cause it’s you at your core! (Pun totally intended). It’s an inner authority that knows your personal power, even if you don’t use it; it’s the place that reminds you “Hey, everything’s gonna be OK,” in the face of challenge. In other words, it’s You, free of interference.

To effectively guide your life, your center needs to have a strong presence. You need to know where it is, how to access it, and how to return to it. That way, instead of jerking or falling every time the subway (of life) moves, you simply bounce around (your center).  And the times you do fall, you know how to stand back up. Knowing who you are and standing up for it ~ now that’s core strength!

Working on strengthening your core? Trying to find your center? With focus, patience & practice, you can use your body’s core to find your center:

Observe your core. Core strength starts with acknowledging core weakness.

  • How stable is your core? Are all supports equally strong (roof, floor, anterolateral, posterior)? Or are some areas tighter/weaker than others?
  • Stand up & engage your core. How do you feel? Taller? More confident? Confused about where it is or how to engage it?
  • When’s the last time you felt centered? What circumstances promote feeling centered? How can you adopt more of them into your daily routine?

Know your core. To know it is to engage it…

  • Like you, your core has many facets. Attend to all of them:
    • Diaphragm: Lie down with arms & legs extended. Place your hands on top of your navel. Now breathe deeply. With each inhale, feel your belly rise into your hands, with each exhale feel it fall. Don’t let your breath stay trapped in your chest.
    • Pelvic diaphragm: Kegel’s Kegel’s Kegel’s.
    • Anterior abdominal wall muscles: Two types of sit-ups will work all of your abs (and, done properly, won’t just crank your neck). First: regular sit-ups with bent knees, feet flat on the floor, and hands behind your head. Second: bicycle sit-ups, with legs off the ground; bring the left knee to the right elbow, followed by the right knee to the left elbow, and keep switching.
    • Deep muscles of the back: These important stabilization muscles can be engaged during the yoga Cobra pose. Just remember to relax your butt muscles to properly strengthen your back ones!

Use your core. Use your core to find your center.

  • Once you find your core (above), take it without you throughout the day. Remind yourself as frequently as possible—on the subway, standing at the coffee counter, sitting on the couch—that it’s there to serve you, by engaging it.
  • Lose your center? Your core breathing muscle (diaphragm) will help you regain it. 2 minutes of Alternate Nostril Breath is pure magic (close your eyes for even better results!).
  • What’s your personal, core value for today? Love, peace, gratitude… Choose a meaningful value & commit to it internally. Incorporate it throughout your day, and return to it at moments when you feel off-center.
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