Everything is connected: in Nature, in nations, in families, in the body. Change something, add something, take something away, and the whole balance shifts. Energy flows in and out, not in just one direction.
I am fascinated by the core of the body as a physical design and as a container, exchanger and director of energy and emotion (click here to read earlier posts on the core). The focus of the Miracle and Wonder routine is to release tension in the wrists and ankles with the intent of opening the heart. By giving attention to joints in the extremities that regularly hold tension, we freed up energy and space for the core. But energy flows from the outside in and the inside out. So the opposite is also true: if we can move more through the core of the body, it frees up more energy and space for our extremities – our primary connectors to the world.
In Nia, we play with five sensations of fitness: flexibility, strength, mobility, agility and stability. For all five, I tend to think first about my arms and legs. But I can cultivate all five sensations in my core, too. The more engaged and versatile my core movement is, the more engaged and versatile my expression and connection with the world around me is through my extremities.
So let’s look at the five sensations as they relate to the core of the body – pelvis, chest, head and spine:
Flexibility: Energy moving out
There aren’t many long bones in the core through which we extend energy (the ribs are long-ish but they curve around rather than extend), so how do we create flexibility with the mostly small and/or solid bones of the core? The answer is in the spine and in the breath. The spine, the crustacean-like column of bones that encases the spinal cord and connects every part of you to every other part of you, is designed to move in 6 different ways: left, right, front, back, spiral left and spiral right. Using the weight of the head and the stability of the pelvis, allow your spine to tip to each side, to open front and back (think, cat/cow from yoga or looking up/lifting your tail and looking down tucking your tail), and twist left and right. As I create more flexibility in my spine, my breath can flow more fully and deeply and I radiate out and connect more expansively.
Strength: Energy Moving In
The most obvious answer to strength in the core is the ubiquitous abdominal crunch, but core strength includes the cummerbund of muscle that runs around the body. Core strength is in the back, sides and front – as well as internal and external. Playing with balance and extension in all directions and in all three planes is a powerful way to create more core strength. In particular, martial arts movements of kicks, punches and blocks also engage the deep core muscles – especially if we make sound while executing them! As I create more strength in my core, I can be clear, set boundaries, and tell the truth.
Mobility: Energy in Constant Motion
The spine is actually a long series of small joints running from the center of the skull (just behind the bridge of the nose) down to the base of the tailbone. Each of these joints is designed to move independently, although for most of us there are places in our spine where the vertebrae are “stuck” together. Spinal rolls and undulations are great movements to stimulate more mobility along the length of the spine. Pelvic circles can release more mobility into the hip joints. Looking curiously with the eyes can increase mobility in the neck. As I create more mobility in my spine, I can make micro adjustments and flow with what is happening in any moment.
Agility: Quick Stops and Starts
Each of the three body weights has the potential for agility. Hip bumps (or pretending you have a tail that you want to whip side to side) activate agility in the pelvis and lumbar spine. Chest isolations wake up the thoracic spine and fire up the core muscles on all sides. Head and Eye movement, when used with quick, bird-like precision, brings agility into the neck. (Watch out, though, head and eye movement moves a lot of energy. If you ever feel dizzy or nauseous, pat your belly and slow your movement down.) As I create more agility in my core, I can adjust quickly and precisely whenever I need to with ease and power.
Stability: Energy Moving from Center out in all Directions
Often, when we think of stability we think of density and heaviness (and this is often what we do with the spine: allow it to solidify and compress). The actual experience of stability in the body is energy moving from center out in all directions. I find the best way to connect with stability is to stand with lightness allowing my feet and tail to root and my crown to lift. Then I can allow the spine to open, creating space between the vertebrae and my ribs to expand and lift away from center. As I create more stability I feel more relaxed and grounded – ready to move into any of the other sensations with ease.
This week, experiment with sensing for all five sensations in your core: while dancing in class and through life. Notice how your connection with the five sensations in your core affects how you connect with yourself, others and the world. A-Ho!