Your Core is Not Just Your Abs
There’s lots of talk of core strength and core stability and even equating particular yoga postures and practices to ‘core work’. It’s interesting then to notice that this is a very modern phenomenon within yoga and any movement that we make, any postural practice we do is never simply separated out into one part of the body but it is a culmination of exactly how our body is – one big completely interconnected system.
Understanding our true core also moves it away from a part of our body we simply focus on when exercising. Feeling it as the central channel, from where all of our movement originates opens out the physical exploration we do on the mat to noticing how we move ourselves through the world. This connection can then play out in a sense of grace and ease as go about our day.
The most recognised definition of the core is the region containing the abdominal muscles but to simply segment this area does not allow us to view our bodies as the connected web of continually motion that they are. A more systemic, whole-body way of looking at things has grown in recent years through the work of people like Ida Rolfe, Thomas Hanna, Moshe Feldenkrais and Thomas Meyers, the author of Anatomy Trains.
Woven throughout the whole of our bodies, connecting every part is a sensory network called fascia. Of this, myofascia (from ‘myo-‘ meaning muscle) is that which connects all muscle in long, continually tracks that run from the bottom of the feet to the top of the body in many lines; both deep-down and closer to the skin. This is a system that provides supportive tension, glide for movement in not just muscle, but also under skin, between organs and between joints. There are ten times more sensory nerve endings in your fascia than your muscle, this is not just about structure and function, but as yogis have been exploring for centuries, how we can sense our internal landscape and interface with the outer world.
Viewing ‘the core’ through fascia rather than through simple abdominal muscle separation can offer us an integrated view of the body; one that makes more sense alongside what we actually feel and how we most gracefully move.
Anatomy has traditionally separated our structural bodies out mainly into muscles and bones. This stems from the work of pioneers like Leonardo da Vinci, whose only way of making sense of the body was through dissections of cadavers. This gave us huge information about the larger, more obvious tissue structures, but dissection involves cutting through the fascia, through the network, in which our skeleton, muscles and organs are suspended and intertwined.
So, take the deep muscle that is truly at our core – the psoas. This is the long muscle that reaches up from our thighs, up through the belly and into the diaphragm. In humans the psoas extends to allow us to stand upright on two legs and curls us in to protect our heart and belly when we feel scared or vulnerable.
As the only muscle that connects top and bottom body, the psoas has a major role in bipedal standing and walking. It is also critical for alignment and movement, but also for our feelings of well-being. As we gauge its ease or non-ease from deep in the belly, tension in the psoas affects us on a deeply emotional level; it acts as a messenger to and from the brain and stores responses to replay them when we remember, imagine or revisit situations that cause us difficulty.
On a functional level, it is the psoas that allows us to move from the core and stabilises us there through its relationship with the lower back. As we rise up from the ground through the channel of the psoas and up through the spine, its health and pliability provide feelings of being centred and grounded. According to the article The Supportive Psoas by Donna Farhi and Leila Stuart, when the psoas can engage and relax appropriately, it can, “encourage feelings of safety, self-reliance, and being in one’s own power.”
So having core strength is not about having hard abs, but a connection with our centre and the awareness to be ability to move out from the centre with awareness.
One of the meridians that Thomas Myers describes as an Anatomy Train (in his book of the same name), is called the Deep Front Line, the one that runs all the way up from the arches of the feet up through the insides of the legs, taking in the psoas and all the way up through the middle of the belly up the front of the spine and eventually up and around the jaw and to the roof of the mouth. It is this that he often refers to as ‘the core’ and it is this continual track that is our midline, our central axis and it is here that we move out from and come back to.
For instance, a twist moves from the belly, through all connective tissues there and through the organs. It is a core movement because it moves through the Spiral Lines (another Anatomy Train) out to the top of the ribs, diagonally across to the opposite hip through the abdomen. Depending on where the arms and legs are, it will reach out through those in some way. Nothing is separate. Nothing is uninvolved in any movement that we do.
Stabilising the lower back through our abdominal muscles can come from the square area between the hip bones and the mid-bottom ribs.
So, one of the most helpful things that we can do to have a pliable, hydrated healthy core line from which we can really move with ease and through the almost fluid pathways is to wake up our feet to get some elasticity into our feet and into our in-steps where our core originates where we lift up the whole of the body from. Simple paying attention to the lift in our insteps (pada bandha) in our postural practice – particularly when standing – can create a whole new relationship with the core. Waking up and suppling this area by rolling your feet over a spiky ball can do wonders here. This wakes up the nerve endings in the feet and engages the sensory input up the entire body through the fascia, which is about ten times more than that which we get from muscle all the way up the whole centre channel of the body. As you roll the ball, pay attention to what you might feel up into the belly.
Enlivening this true core connection help us sense internally, but also how that relates to the world around us and how we move through space. It is this core awareness that allows us to tone the core through moving the body in the way that it is best designed, the way it organises itself up from the ground with least strain.
This blog post was originally written by Charlotte Watts for Om Magazine. To see more of Charlotte in the press, click here.