Building A Stronger Core (this is not a workout guide)

What is a core?  The word gets tossed around a lot but there are many differences of opinion so it’s a challenge to have a clear point in mind when we refer to the core as a means to accomplish certain tasks such as “firming it” or “lengthening it.”  This doesn’t mean many ideas are wrong and only one is right, the one which forever eludes us and we’re ever attempting to refine. 

The “core” isn’t a tangible anatomical section of the human body.  Similar to much of our musculoskeletal anatomy the core is a mental construct which we may make real by dissecting “core” related tissues from the rest of the human form.  We have made dissections of structures such as the transverse abdominis and psoas, for example.  Structures within the health and fitness arena we consider “core” structures.

  For a long time “core” referred to the prized and elusive abdominals rectii and obliques only for many to train those in exchange for their spinal integrity.  For many it still refers to these muscular areas.

 I myself still do crunches early in the morning in order to firm up my belly and while still laying on my back half asleep with the consideration that I do something to counteract rolling forwards hundreds of times such as rolling backwards hundreds of times.

Doesn’t mean any of this is right or wrong.  No anatomy god came down from above and handed us a core to hold and to cherish.  It’s completely what we want to make it but if there is a universal element about it I think it’s best to first look at the definition of the word and go from there.

    core- noun

  • a central and often foundational part usually distinct from the enveloping part by a difference in nature
  • the usually inedible central part of some fruits (such as a pineapple); especially : the papery or leathery carpels composing the ripened ovary in a pome fruit (such as an apple)
  • the place in a nuclear reactor where fission occurs
  • an arrangement of a course of studies that combines under basic topics material from subjects conventionally separated and aims to provide a common background for all students
  • the portion of a foundry mold that shapes the interior of a hollow casting: a vertical space (as for elevator shafts, stairways, or plumbing apparatus) in a multistory building
  • a basic, essential, or enduring part (as of an individual, a class, or an entity)
  • the essential meaning
  • the inmost or most intimate part

These are from Meriem-Webster’s Online Dictionary and as we can see again the core can refer to several different things (the physics notions of core where not included).  What we do see is this repeated idea of a center, a foundation, even an essence.

 Could you relate a toned belly with essence?  How about with cable chops?  How about while balancing on one foot on a BOSU while a trainer tosses his balls at you?  The thing is there is no central anatomical element in those images or activities.  It’s all created by us and our perception of what we want core to mean.

  Notions not only vary between people but within people themselves at different times in their lives during different activities.  What is common about these things however even the wilder examples is the orientation.  Whether consciously, subconsciously, or both everyone is having to orient around a center line and center of gravity.  The center line is the force of gravity running straight down from above to the core of the earth.  The center of gravity is the lowest most point where weight is supported and distributed to whatever is making contact with the ground forces. 

Before I suggest this is the root of the core I have to recognize what I’ve just wrote about dissecting the world to fit our understanding.

 Is physics and are physical laws not also dissections?  They are indeed ways we perceive the world but that’s not to say they’re somehow falling short of the reality.  They’re just how were framing reality so that we may begin to appreciate its existence even though it doesn’t really care whether or not we give it value. 

Yes, this is another dissection but I’ll have to start here because it’s one in which the majority of people can agree on who agree with physics.  Starting here developing a notion of core and forming a healthy relationship with it seems rather easy though it takes a while for both core and human beings to warm up to each other.

This is the starting point of the fifth session in the series of yoga practices on which I’ve been working to develop into a clear program.  Last time we worked on even being able to support a core by solidifying a relationship with its foundation to the ground forces via legs and pelvis.  Spatially this means the core begins at the base of the pelvis and runs up the central axis of the spine.

  This is our anatomical center but it can also be our center of orientation.  The better relationship we have with this area the better that orientation will be.  We will be much more like a fixed central point in a compass than one that shifts around as we move ourselves around.  For our purposes we must have a stopping point and if we were to look at our bodies in terms of layers the deepest one would run along the axial column culminating just at the base of the cranium or roof of the mouth.

 This said the hands, arms, shoulders, feet, legs, and hips aren’t separate from the core.  They’re extensions of it just as my the arteries in my hand or extensions of my heart, not separate from it. 

I can exist though without many of these extensions considering I still have my head and neck.  Regardless of my form and composition there still remains a core.  Anything that contains an essence can be considered to have a core.

 It’s not so much about a physical landmark.  It’s about a relationship from the inside/out.  The practice then emphasizes developing awareness form the inside/out yet it often is the case we have to soften the external layers in order for what’s within to be able to relate past it’s coverings.  If we can get to that point and then be able to soften, harden, and move from each layer more independently, then our core will have a very clear and definite meaning.   

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