My core is not a new exploration for me, but like any meaningful relationship, it's one that evolves, deepens in understanding, and challenges me to know end. It's part of me that beckons and often times screams for attention. As it should. My core contains precious cargo.
From the top of my skull to my pelvic floor, my core includes my brain and central nervous system, my heart, lungs, and digestive, elimination and reproductive systems and organs. My skull, ribcage, spine and pelvic bones give it structure and protection. Muscles and miles of connective tissue mobilize it and hold it all together. My seven chakras, or energy centers, run up and down my core. It nourished, sustained and birthed my baby boys. The tissues of my core contain my feelings of self worth, memories of love and abuse, and my motivation to heal. This is just a broad brush stroke, a sweep, and it's enough to make me cry by it's shear beauty, mystery and magnificance. The core is a complex system and in every way is greater than the sum of it's parts.
But oh do I love to compartmentalize and make things easy and simple. I'm lured by the headlines: "5 Foods to Eat to Lose Weight," and "7 Things Happy People Do." By the looks of my news feed, everyone else loves these quick fixes too. Our knowledge of the core is often reduced to just a few muscles - the Rectus Abdominals (the infamous "six pack") and recently the Transverse Abdominals (the "navel to spine" muscles). It's tempting to go after a handful of targeted exercises and work 'em hard until we feel the burn in the belly. While this approach certainly turns on a few muscles of the core, it does little towards creating balanced, functional and integrated awareness and strength.
I have long struggled with pain in my low back, SI joints and Sacrum (literally, a pain in my butt). I added diastasis recti, an umbilical hernia and pubic symphasis disorder to the list of my core dysfunction while pregnant with twins. I've always chalked it up to years of abusing my body through grueling gymnastics practice and then to being pregnant. While these factors no doubt added strain to my system, they were not the reason my core gave out. Something bigger was at work. If you can't manage intra-abdominal pressure effectively, when you add extra pressure (crazy exercise, pregnancy, weight gain, etc.) something will pop. And pop it does! This is what happens with hernia, pelvic floor dysfunction, and diastasis recti.
Most often than not, we can't manage the pressure system well because our alignment is so out of whack, and I'm not talking about in Warrior 1. I'm talking about how we stand and sit, day in and day out. I'm a chronic rib thruster, which mean I habitually push my rib cage up and forward. This puts a big, archy load on my low back, which I've tried to correct by tucking my tailbone, only to shorten and tighten my pelvic floor. Gymnastics and yoga exacerbated this pattern (moth to a flame, baby!). Your alignment may be completely different from mine, but the result is the same.
Now I understand why, as a society, we are seeing so many people (including men and children) with hernias, incontinence, respiratory and digestive problems, pelvic/hip/low back pain and degeneration. The reality is everything we do affects our core because we use our core for everything. Standing, sitting, squatting, lifting, twisting, reaching, pushing, pulling, walking, and specifically how we do these activities (alignment) and how much we do them throughout the day, affects our core health more than anything. An hour of walking in the woods trumps a brutal 10 minute "ab" workout. (can you tell I've been following Katy Bowman? You should too.) In fact, my favorite core exercise is...wait for it...breathing! Yep, the diaphragm is one of our deepest core muscles and learning how to use it consciously is a game changer. Even better when you learn how to connect and integrate the diaphragm, the abdominal and back muscles, and the pelvic floor (also known as the pelvic diaphragm).
If you need a bit more direction, start by checking out my short video below. The first is a guided breath technique that teaches you to use and feel your core and how each part is integral to the whole. The second is a gentle yet effective core stabilizer. Then come to my workshop on March 29 all about core integration. Lastly, check out my inspirations Katy Bowman, Jill Miller and Ana Forrest and Julie Wiebe.