Core Strengthening

January 23, 2013


A few years ago I injured my lower back in a yoga class.  It was one of those things that had been waiting to happen for several months and it has led to some interesting and important discoveries about the function of our abdominal muscles and those related to our core.

Those of you who take my classes know that I do a lot of core strengthening.  As we age, this is the first part of the body to "go south."  Very literally, the muscles weaken, our bellies swell forward, our backs curve in unison with our stomachs, and they begin to hurt.  This is a common but unnecessary development of getting older.

According to Pilates, everything from our knees to our shoulders is involved in our core.  In my classes, however, I focus on the inner thigh muscles (the adductors), the transverse abdominals (ashtanga's uddiyana bandha), and the obliques (at the rib cage).

My intention is to cultivate awareness of these muscles, to establish communication links between the brain and the muscle fibers, and to strengthen both the links and the fibers.  In my own life, doing so has given me better posture, a greater ability to perform my daily activities without injury and increased enjoyment of asana.

But there are other benefits to cultivating your core.  Among these are improved digestion and elimination, increased energy, and an ability to set personal limits.  Indeed, one of the greatest benefits is a strengthening of willpower.

For many of us, willpower has been associated with willfulness--an insistence on having one's own way regardless of consequences.  True willpower takes into account how one's actions affect others, but it is not swayed by what others want.  It's the ability to be directed in one's life without worrying about whether or not we'll be liked or disliked for what we're doing.

And, truly, a short core practice during class can do all that.

Nancy McCaochan, an M.A., E-RYT 500, taught freshman composition at a small technical college in Southeastern Ohio before moving to Michigan in 2001 to study yoga with Jonny Kest. Because of her varied background, Nancy has a pragmatic approach to yoga. Her motto is "breathe, be aware, and do what works for you." Nancy's primary influence is Krishnamacharya, but she also studies shamanism and is currently exploring Kundalini yoga. Nancy's classes are breath-based explorations of inner space.

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