Strengthening the core is to commit to staying safe and comfortable in your skin. The core is the structure within and when awake, it is a seat of confidence and grace in action for any body. There is nothing more dull than a bunch of boring sit-ups that make you grit your teeth and bear it. This bit of writing wishes to dispel the myth that core strength requires such militant crunches. The core is the sweet stuff at the center of you, no reason it can’t be entertaining to get in there.
Any action that requires the activity of the muscles along and around the spine and pelvis can be core strengthening. This means that every act, from brushing your teeth, to serving a heaping portion of salad greens is an opportunity to connect to your core. The muscles of the abdominal wall are the outermost core muscles. To cheapen the experience and definition of core down to these superficial bits is just faking it. The deeper you go (closer to the spine and true core lines of the body), the more subtle and integrating it all gets. Crunches may address building a six-pack set of abdominal wall muscles, but might leave the depth of your core rather untouched and weak. It’s smaller, more integrated action that actually get in there, like minding the way you extend your arms from your heart for a good hug, that does more interesting work deep inside.
A little nitty gritty about the core muscles themselves and where they are inside:
The abdominal wall is a sweet case for your internal organs that wraps the core of the abdomen in fascia and strong, powerful muscle sheaths. Obliques, transversus abdominus, rectus abdominus and pryamidalis allow for activity and motion along the lower spine (i.e. flexion, extension, laughter, sneezing, coughing), and stabilize the pelvis and spinal relationship in every action of life. Going lower, the hip flexors allow for movement that requires lifting and changing the position of your legs. These muscles pick up the femur-bones for every step you take. Deeper sill, the hip extensors allow your legs to reach back into space behind you to twinkle your toes or complete a graceful, balanced walk in the park. So far our core list has expanded from the six-pack of abs to all sides of the pelvis and thighs including psoas, iliacus, quadriceps, hamstrings, abductors and adductors. To be thorough, let’s include also gluteals at the back of the pelvis, sling of pelvic floor muscles at the base of the spine and sinewy muscles of the neck. Just for fun. Finally, the breathing muscles of the respiratory diaphragm deep at the center of your body and the intercostals between the ribs complete the list.
For today, our delicious exercise will be watching and directing the breath. To begin, lie on your back with knees bent and feet planted firmly on the earth. With your hands resting on your lower abdomen, feel an expansion of breath laterally across the cage of your ribs. With exhalation, allow your ribs to settle in and back to center. This is an grounding, calming style of breath, bringing the life force of inhalation deep into the center of the body. Try it for fifteen rounds, then relax, releasing your arms by your sides and softening breath to a resting rhythm.
Next, with your hands back on your belly, lift your ribs as you inhale. Focus on lifting the front, back and sides evenly. On expiration of breath, lower the cage of the ribs down toward the pelvic bowl. Investigate stretching and lengthening the side body, creating lightness with inspiration and earthiness with exhalation. This breath is vitalizing and invigorating, stimulating the qualities of lightness and freedom that come from strength and mobility in the core. After fifteen rounds, let this one go, too, and ride the waves of even, restful breath for a minute or so.
Third, on your in-breath, draw your front ribs toward your spine and lift your sternum toward your crown. With exhalation, allow everything to return back to resting space. These resistant and opposite actions create deep lines of connection in the body and root breath into the core. Fifteen rounds of this dynamic breath and you will be feeling deeply connected to your center. To complete your core practice for the day, try all three actions together, creating intimacy and familiarity with the feel of the body of your core in relationship to respiration. The kind of strength we all yearn for begins with relaxation, and relaxation begins with breath.