What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think “core?" Maybe anxiety over wearing a swimsuit next summer, agonizing crunches, the pain in the neck that crunches literally are, or the feeling of dread that washes over you every time your teacher even hints at core work for the day? But have you ever thought of what your core really is? Here’s a hint: it’s much more than meat and organs.
Instead of thinking of the core as just the front of the abdomen, I challenge you to think of the core as a soft tissue canister that fully contains your center. Your abdominals (rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques) wrap ALL the way around. They don’t just cover the front of your body, leaving the spine and back to fend for themselves. They create this pressure-cuff like sleeve that completely envelopes the center of your mass – providing support and structure for your entire body. The abdominals and their fascias create a support structure that runs from rib cage to pelvis, wrapping around from the linea alba (fascia that runs down the midline of the front of your abdomen) to the sturdy anchor of the thoracolumbar fascia in the back. In every conceivable angle, the abdominal muscles and fascia cross across your sides, midline, and back horizontally, diagonally, and vertically. Think of how you would wrap a box with packing tape before sending it cross-country: you would wrap that thing up tightly, with tape going every which way. Well, you are built very similarly.
Be grateful that your soft tissue canister has a top and bottom – or all your guts would be dragging around on the floor (sorry for the visual). The coreso (core+torso) is enclosed from the top by the parachute-like diaphragm, the primary muscle for respiration. It works in conjunction with the lower parachute of the coreso – the pelvic floor. The diaphragm and pelvic floor work in opposition (when working properly), so that every time the diaphragm presses down into the abdomen on inhale, pressure is also applied to the pelvic floor. The two then spring back into place on exhale. If your belly poufs outwards as you inhale, it makes sense that the bottom of the coreso would as well. You inhale, on average, about 20,000 times a day. So, 20,000 reps a day, your diaphragm and pelvic floor are simultaneously stretching and toning one another. Pretty cool, huh? Ready for another blow your mind cool fact? The fascia on the diaphragm is continuous with the fibrous sac around your heart – so every time you take a breath, your heart is massaged by the gentle tug of the diaphragm. The diaphragm has its tentacles on every bit of you – sharing fascial connections, both direct and indirect, with every part of your body. Picture the diaphragm as the center of a wheel, with spokes spreading out in every direction. Now lay a bajillion wheels in and around one another so there are spokes in every direction. You are so cool, right!?
Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to assist Jill Miller on a Yoga Tune Up Core Immersion. The trainees spent 4 days diving deep into their guts, exploring every nook and cranny, strengthening, stretching, and letting go of all kinds of stuff. It was amazing to hear the stories of healing; from acute to chronic, physical to psychological - we all carry some serious stuff in our cores. If you avoid working into your abdominals for any reason, I challenge you to study why. Self-massage of the abdominals using a soft, inflatable ball is a self-care practice that must be adhered to, like a prescription. You wouldn’t skip your thyroid pill for the day – so why is your self-care routine any different?
It was a very enlightening experience to feel my hip discomfort manifested in a variety of ways during the Core Immersion. I felt asymmetrical tightness in my pelvic floor when rolling with the therapy balls. I felt restriction in the psoas and hip extensors on one side in a variety of poses. Even while skin rolling (an amazing myofascial release that you can do to yourself and others that is also a primary side-effect of using the therapy balls), there was a noticeable difference in sides of my lower back. Clearly, I have work to do, but the wonders of the body never cease to amaze me.
Anatomically your core is the center of your body. Emotionally, your core is the center of your being. Embody your core, and fully embrace the center of you: respecting it with a self-care practice that includes better posture, self-massage, and some good old TLC!
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