Art in Action is a weekly post: a simple, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.
The core is your body’s source of balance, power and grace. The three body weights – pelvis, chest and head – are connected with the spine and allow for a huge variety of movement. Most of us, however, don’t allow it to move in all the ways it can. We may do some crunches in the hopes of a six-pack and walk or run or ride in a linear way without much variety.
Since the core is connected to everything else, this linear approach can lead to back or hip pain, shoulder or neck issues, reduced breath capacity and lots of other unpleasantness. Here are some ways to wake up a sleepy core even if you are fit (and as you might expect, practicing Nia develops all of these!). Pay attention to how you use your core during the day and while working out to see if you can incorporate a variety of movements with (and from) your core.
Strength (Energy moving in) –
1. Workout: In addition to traditional crunches, also play with strengthening all the way around with Cobra pose, and side crunches by lying on your back with your feet flat and knees bent, reaching alternately for your heels. Think of your core as a cummerbund of muscle around your body and strengthen with movement on all sides.
2. During the Day: As you unload the groceries or sweep the snow off your car, pay attention to your core. Draw your belly button in toward your spine to give your low back support and to build strength and power.
Flexibility (Energy moving out) –
3. Workout: Lie down on your back with legs long and arms long on the floor overhead. Lift opposite arm and leg, reaching as far away from center as you can while you do. Boat Pose is also a good way of feeling the strength of extension.
4. During the Day: Engage your core as you reach for something on a high shelf or at the back of your closet. Notice how the strength in the length of your body.
Agility (Quick starts and stops) –
5. Workout: After warming up, include precision movements that take your body quickly go from start to stop. Hopping and stopping, shadow boxing, or sports like racket sports, soccer or basketball all train the core to respond with precision.
6. During the Day: Teach a kiddo to play hopscotch. It’s old fashioned, but a great way to play with agility and balance. Or play catch – the poorer your partner’s aim and arm, the better for you to play with quick, agile catches!
Mobility (Continuous movement) –
7. Workout: If you walk or run, include some shuffle steps (side together side) or grapevine steps in your usual forward-facing trek. If you’re on a treadmill, walk backwards for a while to challenge your core’s ability to flow.
8. During the Day: After working at your desk for a while, do some seated Cat/Cow Pose to get movement all along your spine. Stand up and do some Qigong arm swings not only will it wake up your core, it will wake up your energy, too. When you’re walking along a busy sidewalk, play with keeping your body moving while staying out of the way of other people. Feel the sensation of flowing down the street with awareness and constant movement (and when something unexpected happens, like someone steps in front of you or a guy with a leaf blower points it in your direction, you can tap into your agility skills and get out of the way).
Stability (Energy radiating out from center in all directions) –
9. Workout: Any way you can take your body out of balance is a great way to improve your stability. Do squats or other movements on a BOSU or any kind of unstable surface. Take a yoga class and pay particular attention to how your core can keep you stable in poses like Warrior III and Tree.
10. During the Day: When waiting in line, stand on one foot while engaging your core. If that’s too easy, close one eye. If that’s too easy, close both eyes (but be ready for the line to move!). And instead of a chair at your desk, sit on a stability ball!
Of course, all of these ideas are dependent on your body – listen to sensation and do what feels both challenging and healing. The main idea is to change it up and allow your core to do what it was designed to do: move in a whole variety of ways. I’d love to hear how you wake up your core this week – please leave a comment below or on the Focus Pocus Facebook page.
Happy Core Awakening!