Your Core, What is it Good For?

 

Summer 2006

In recent years the term “core strengthening” has been popularized by the Pilates Method. Prior to that, people often focused on the abdomen. Yet few people understand what their “core” truly is. Your center of gravity lies approximately 1.5 inches below your navel and 1.5 inches inward towards your spine. In addition to being your physical center of gravity, central axis and balancing point, this area has been identified over the centuries as a key area for strength and well being. In the tradition of Yoga, it is often referred to as the “Hara” as it is in Zen and Japanese traditions, while the Chinese medicine and martial arts traditions usually refer to this region as the “Dantien.”

So what makes this area so special? Why is it useful to focus one’s attention in the belly? In a culture that is obsessed with outer appearances, we have lost touch with the inner sensations and strength that are available in this region of our body. Models, actors, and health and exercise gurus may all have perfectly flat or rippled “abs,” but do they have true strength? On the next page, I will introduce you to the power of your core.

I have come to believe that the “power” in your belly comes from actually feeling it, from the inside out. Without the felt sensation of your breath in your belly, without being able to feel the weight of your “sits bones” on your chair, without an understanding of healthy skeletal alignment that is not dependent on muscular effort, your mind will intellectualize your sense of posture and deprive you of the strength and satisfaction that comes from being able to consciously tune into this area of your being.

Beginning with the “sits bones”: these are the two bones on the underside of your pelvis that you may be sitting on right now. Or maybe you’re slouching and have rolled off the back of them onto your sacrum (the triangle bone at the base of your spine)? Just take a moment to find these. Feel these as they support your pelvis, your spine, your entire trunk, ribs, arms, and head. It all begins down there. Your sits bones are shaped like rocking chairs, and as you rock back on them, you are usually inclined to slouching, and as you roll forward, you may find yourself sitting up taller.

The trick is to learn to let the rolling of your sits bones and pelvis influence your back, spine, and posture, rather than letting the muscles of your back get over fatigued by continuously trying to hold you up. As you gently roll a small amount forward and back on your pelvis, allow your trunk and spine to relax. See if you can let your back feel like seaweed undulating in the currents, grounded via roots in the seabed. Your pelvis is the root, your spine is the seaweed, and your muscles can learn to relax around the gentle movements of your pelvis and spine. With practice and attention you can eventually enjoy the sensation of your trunk being as soft and light as the seaweed in the water.

Once you have a sense that your spine can move from and is supported by your pelvis, it’s time to feel the rest of your vertebrae. All 24 of them. Your vertebrae rise up from your pelvis in a curving fashion. The low back/lumbar bones curve forward, toward your belly button and provide support for all of the movements of the rest of your trunk. Your middle back supports your ribs and curves very slightly backward, until you get to your neck where, like the low back, there is a forward curve.

Now, you can learn to sit in a relaxed, yet powerful and upright way, by using the movements and adjustments in your pelvis to guide your spine. Sitting in an upright way, allows you to be able to learn to breath fully into your belly, your core.