There is a lot of talk about “Core Strengthening” in the yoga world and in the fitness world in general. Only, there is also a lot of confusion about it? This blog is an attempt to clarify this notion of core using common sense and experience. You may think that the stronger your trunk muscles are the safer your back and the more stable you are. It is not totally untrue. Yet, the popular consensus seems to be that strengthening is all about making something tighter and more compact. So it brings about the following questions.
How can inner or outer armoring allow you to function with ease and flexibility? How can you be stable without flexibility? Who decided that the core needed to be muscularly strengthened? And how can you separate the core from the rest of your body and exercise it specifically when everything in the body is intertwined? Are there studies showing it increases stability and helps back pain sufferers? Listen to Peter O’Sullivan in his U Tube video published on Apr 4, 2013 where he discusses cognitive functional therapy and the myth of “core stability” in relation to chronic low back pain.
In his paper “The Myth of Core Stability”, Professor Eyal Lederman from London also claims no studies actually shows the effectiveness of muscular core strengthening. In fact, we are told that studies have shown no such connection between muscular strengthening of the core and back pain or stability for that matter. Better daily use of the body and regular whole body exercising are the best tools to strengthen what needs strengthening. It is the best way to stay fit, to prevent back pain and create healing space when injured. And the Alexander Technique is the best tool I know to achieve this “Better Use of Ourselves” without relying on muscular control of individual body parts. It teaches you how to step out of the way so the wisdom of your body can do its job of strengthening, and balancing as you engage in any activity.
When you allow yourself to let go of muscular control while staying in a yoga pose for instance, you discover that the body takes over and goes the extra mile to accommodate your pose, only it knows how to do it efficiently. As a result, a new level of ease and flexibility comes about. All the while, you are still building the same amount of strength without building excess tension. This is where the ease of any good athlete comes from. Think about the strength and stability of skaters gliding, jumping or lifting each other gracefully on slippery ice as if it was the easiest thing in the world!
The psoas muscle system and the postural muscles happen to get stronger when they are free of excess tension. This way, they grow strong simply assisting your skeletal structure. The psoas muscle system, postural muscles and skeleton, in tune with the postural mechanism affect your body from head to toes, and dance intricately and fluidly together to keep you upright with no need for added muscular effort on your part. That is the beauty of your postural mechanism when you do not interfere with unnecessary tension.
The paradigm viewing the body as a mechanical object with parts to be trained, fixed or replaced is being challenged. Slowly but surely, it is being supplanted by an understanding of the body as a living organism where everything is connected and everything affects everything. An organism where each part is a mirror of the whole and the whole is more than all the parts put together. You are a coordination system in action at every breath. So how can addressing one part at a time work in the long run? At best, it may fix one problem at the expense of another. Do animals need to exercise their core specifically for it to be strong and flexible? It seems to happen naturally as they use their whole body to fend for themselves. House cats don’t even have to fend for themselves much, still they are amazingly strong and flexible because they always move their body as a well-functioning whole.
Therefore, especially when you exercise to compensate for your sedentary life style, include “Whole Body Awareness” even as you choose to work on one part of your body at a time! This way, you give your body a chance to develop the natural core strength and stability of the cat. With no notice, they can jump up or down a great distance with grace, precision and strength but their muscles remain supple and soft. How could they accomplish this if they had tight muscles? Why would it be different for you? Is it possible that you are confusing excess tension for strength? The fact is if you do not let your postural mechanism do its job, when you exercise, you are building strength and excess tension at the same time. That added tension can only decrease your stability. On the other end, look at these women below. Their strength also comes from using their body as a whole from a young age. This way, they never lose connection with its wisdom.
Learning to activate your postural muscles is one amazing key to connect to the intelligence and wisdom of your body. As you activate them, listen, notice, embrace and learn from the micro-managements made by your postural mechanism to keep you balanced, strong and stable.
Whatever your yoga style, and whether you are on or off the mat, you can use your body efficiently and prevent injury by listening to your inner teacher via your postural mechanism! My workshops and classes teach you to do just that. Click at the top of this blog-post to check them out and register. Also, you can sign up to follow this blog which is full of great info and helpful tips.