Getting to the core of things.

Core muscles have become a buzzword over the last decade. Gyms promote them and those with bad backs are advised by their doctors to strengthen them.

Such is the focus on this key muscle group we wanted to look at what constitutes the core, and whether it’s really all it’s cracked up to be.

In simplest terms – and in much the same way as an apple’s core is the fruit’s centre – the core is the centre of ones body.  In Eastern disciplines it is just below the navel, equivalent to your centre of gravity.  In the mid-nineties, strengthening the core became popular due to research demonstrating that by strengthening the deep back and abdominal layers, including the pelvic floor muscles, back problems could be corrected.

But whilst this undoubtedly has its place in maintaining good posture and alignment, it is not the complete picture. The holistic approach recognises that the body as whole requires attention, and that no one muscle works in isolation.

Being mindful of our posture as we move through the day – in front of screens computer; picking up children; carrying groceries – by maintaining a long spine and grounded feet, will bring benefits.  Check yourself when you’re next in front of a computer: recognise that creep set in, when our chest sinks, shoulders slump, the chin pokes forwards straining the neck, and the abdominal muscles are pushed out.  Now try sitting up, feeling your feet on the floor, pelvis planted on your seat and gently lengthen the spine and the head.  Better?

During your exercise or yoga classes, don’t push, strain and force yourself into the positions.  Working harder like this won’t help you lose more weight, it merely increases disharmony in your body. Learning to listen, being intuitive and most important, loving and accepting your body for what it can do is far more important, and essential for those committed to a healthy lifestyle.

An entire generation believes you need to pull in your stomach and squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. But it is a myth.  All this does is disrupt the body’s natural balance.  Good breathing patterns are essential for calm and wellbeing: not possible if you are intent on pulling in your stomach, tightening your pelvic floor and squeezing your buttocks.  This is counter-intuitive and will work against you moving with grace and ease. Watch an accomplished climber, dancer or Tai Chi expert and you will see that they move effortlessly.  A strong core won’t get rid of a tummy either, no matter how hard you try; a good and balanced diet however will.

But what about pregnancy and beyond? The pelvic floor needs to be able to stretch for the best and most pain free labour. After labour, yes, it is essential to strengthen those muscles and make sure you exercise them regularly.

Meanwhile, focus on integrating mind, body and soul, and respecting their entirety. The whole – it would seem – is the new core.