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A Fluid Core: Redefining Core Strength

by Liz Koch(more info)

listed in bodywork, originally published in issue 124 - June 2006

Core Strength, a buzz word heard throughout the US fitness community, is intended to help stabilize, coordinate and organize movement in the human body. Yet 30 years exploring the core muscle, the iliopsoas,1 has brought me to a very different conclusion and perception of how real core strength evolves and how to sense centered power within our body.

The discrepancy between what I understand and what is typically taught appears rooted in a difference in core beliefs – specifically about ourselves as human beings. Core strength taught in almost every Pilates, Yoga, Exercise and Fitness programme or written about in most health magazines promotes isolation of function (exclusion), density of tissue (muscular prominence) and limitation of perception (repetitive movement).

Gravity is perceived as the enemy, weighting us down, and the good war means keeping ourselves pumped up. With the main focus being the abdominal muscles, the six pack abs keep the spine captive within its tension. As any body builder, dancer or athlete knows, sculpted muscles must be consistently maintained. A fight with gravity must ensue if strength confused with form is not to be lost. But the ideal sculpted body shapes a physical form that ultimately limits our human potential.

Biomechanical Premise

Identifying ourselves as machines with arms and legs that move like nut and bolts, organs that function like pumps, barges and pipes, spinal vertebrae built like the layers of a car tyre, or the spinal column understood as a rod for support, curtails our expression, limiting our freedom as human beings. We either strive for the biomechanical ideal form or are doomed to failure. Without the good fight, our body loses all tone, shape and health. Locked in time, history and fear, our ageing tissues bring dysfunction and eventual sickness and death. Like a see-saw we throw ourselves back and forth between two extremes in an attempt to discover balance. With the potent question of human survival on everyone's mind, I invite us all to re-evaluate our belief about the very core of our being.

A.    (On the floor) Constructive Rest Position: Spend approximately 20 minutes a day simply being in constructive rest.
A.    (On the floor) Constructive Rest Position: Spend approximately 20 minutes a day simply being in constructive rest. With no agenda and no destination, experience what is. This position provides a restful, yet dynamic opportunity to observe the inner fluid of the core. Gravity releases the iliopsoas muscle, frees the diaphragm and slows the parasympathetic nervous system. As you rest in this position, tune your attention to sensation. What are you sensing? What are you feeling? What is the sensation of your emotions?7 Notice your thoughts, images and daydreams. Return to sensation. Each time begin with the sense of weight and connection to the ground. You may find that you begin to shake as your core melts, like ice crumbling. Allow soft but open eyes and when ready roll to your side.

B.    (Side position) Fluid Fish Movement: Resting on your side begin with gently rocking. Imagine your spine like a fish – fluid and wavelike – move towards a soft lateral and up/down giggling
B.    (Side position) Fluid Fish Movement: Resting on your side begin with gently rocking. Imagine your spine like a fish – fluid and wavelike – move towards a soft lateral and up/down giggling. Allow the freedom of random movement to take over your exploration. Melting and softening, the movement you have evoked will begin to guide. Let go and let yourself be moved.

Bio-Intelligent Perception

Switching from the current fragmented bio-mechanical model to an Earth integrated bio-intelligent perception of the human core is not an easy task. Our thought forms co-opted during the machine age identify strongly with the evolution of mechanical devices. Whether it is pervasive reductionism, puritanical beliefs, increased city living, or the speed of electronics, waking up as organic processes seems an almost insurmountable challenge. It will take nothing less than a revolution in movement – an experiential paradigm shift to embrace our full potential.

The very desire to shift paradigms causes ripples in the fabric of cultural reality. A bio-intelligent perception challenges the colonization of our mind. That is the agreed upon collective cultural consciousness. Yet to experience our true core we must be willing to experience ourselves as natural processes, rather than as objects. The time has come to perceive ourselves not as isolated machines crossing a static landscape, but as part of an intricate living changing ecosystem.

In simple terms this means no longer identifying with your physical core as a rigid static structure by word or deed, but rather exploring yourself as a supple dynamic expression of life. Pioneer Somatic Educator Emilie Conrad2 likens our human movement potential to the octopus. The octopus emanates from the centre and ripples out in diverse, dynamic and expressive ways. With a fluid core there is a powerful expression of life; supple and soft yet strong and resilient. Like the octopus who can strangle a shark much larger than itself, strength is found not by isolating movement but through dynamic interaction. Just thinking and speaking in organic, rather than mechanical, language is one step in recovering ourselves as a bio-intelligent species. Another equally important step is to stop behaving like a machine.

When we stop defining ourselves as a biomechanical structure, our capacity for dynamic change becomes apparent. Returning to fluid, like the dolphin a land animal who returned to the sea,3 we emerge as new expressions of life ever changing and evolving. Moving in slow spirals, multilateral waves and in gravitationally diverse relationships, bathes our tissues with new information. Fluid movement stops us from identifying with isolated thought forms. Expressions become refined and breath universal. The long exhale returns us to our rightful place in the universe.

The Fluid Core

Fluid, Conrad recognizes, is the great harmonizer. Fluid has no boundaries. A conductor of electrical impulses and information, fluid is boundless. When we merge with our internal fluid we open ourselves to being 'informed' by all the species that once and now inhabit the earth, as well as cosmic influences penetrating our sphere. We become receptive, capable receivers.

Born 90% fluid, we carry the ocean within. Once we emerge from our mother's fluid womb we immediately begin responding to a variety of forces on land. Our very structure is an expression of our gravitational relationship with earth. Gravity not only pulls together it rebounds. It is the field of gravity that forms our bones and frees us to walk upon the earth. Shaped by our experience, we change as our experiences change. When we learn to interact on land in limited, mechanically controlled ways, (imposed by chairs, cars, shoes, exercise machines), we limit our potential and speed up the drying process. Static tissue increasingly becomes dense and unresponsive.

If instead we embrace our potential as resonating fluid, our human experience opens to endless change. Fluid within, harmonizes with fluid of the earth and so it goes throughout the galaxy. Just as a woman's menstrual cycle is responsive to the ebb and flow of the tides and the moon's influence, it's possible to sense and see fluid within and without – above and below.

C.    (Sitting up) Spiraling Exploration: Sit on a soft almost deflated ball (I like Slo-mo fitness balls) on the floor or on a flat chair.
C.    (Sitting up) Spiraling Exploration: Sit on a soft almost deflated ball (I like Slo-mo fitness balls) on the floor or on a flat chair. Begin rolling on the ball, sensing the floor of your pelvic core. Start a spiral down, following the natural collapse into your core. Allow for long exhales by softening your jaw and opening your lips. Let sound like air going through a cave Ahhhhh help deflate you. Slow your movement to almost nothing and sense the internal world of your core. The impulse to emerge comes from an internal desire or impulse. Spiraling in the other direction begin your ascent. Spiral up and up extending energetically out of your core. Feel the expansiveness. Slow down – spiral again back down. Move up and down several times exploring the sides, back, front, top and bottom of your physical core. Your core from the sit bones to the top of the cranium is one. As coherency through the core emerges, there is a feeling of wholeness. Return to neutral and sit with an open attention. Notice what is stirring.

D.    (Hands and Knees) Spiraling through Core: Use a wooden rod, the back of a chair or any solid pole like structure (or explore in hands and knees position).
D.    (Hands and Knees) Spiraling through Core: Use a wooden rod, the back of a chair or any solid pole like structure (or explore in hands and knees position). Sit back on bent knees and place both hands on the same side of the pole, or one hand on each side of the chair. Keep all your joints released and the belly soft. Begin to spiral through your arms exploring the lateral, diagonal dimension of your core. First explore the surface of your skin and then the muscles (latissimus dorsi) that attach from the pelvis and insert into the arms. (These bat wing or gills allow circular diagonal expression such as reaching, hugging and embracing) Spiral first in one direction and then in the other. Going deeper with your awareness, you may discover the direction that unravels scoliotic patterns in the tissue around and within the spine. Explore your fluid spine with a relaxed jaw. Be sure to keep the head in relationship to the spine, moving as one. Add spontaneous sound within long exhales of  belonging.

Awakening Fluid

When I work within the fluid system, healing spontaneously happens. My coordination realigns with an internal barometer and expression through internal relationship. This means my organism recapitulates itself. Just as when we tear, break or sprain ourselves we begin immediately to heal, so activated fluid reorganizes and recreates. By so doing, movement, function and over all health improve. Nerve pathways grow and complexify. Blood cleanses and nourishes. Traumatize tissue dissolves while muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones become vitally resilient. Refreshed, living tissue creates health. Options become plentiful. Conrad's work with spinal cord injury is a testimony of the power of awakening fluid. Wherever there is life there is fluid. Where there is fluid there is regeneration. The core, spine, heart, belly, brain are expressions of internal fluid.

Conclusion

Just as the heart is defined in our culture as a pumping device when actually it is the largest oscillator of the human organism – sending and receiving messages.4 Just as the spine is perceived as a column of support when really it is an ancient fish moving through fluid form – supple and dynamic.5 Just as the belly is spoken of as a plumbing system when it is a profound brain equal in complexity to the mental brain.6 So the core of our body is diminished when used as an anchor, built solid like abs of steel, or controlled through stylized breathing. In truth, our core is a centre of full expression; a receiver and transmitter of essential life energy.

Our language and experience need updating and our beliefs challenged. To stop the mind, body, emotion split we must perceive the whole core within a fluid world atmosphere. Core strength is coherency. An expression of adaptability and of containment within a larger body of life.

References

1. Koch L. The Psoas Book. Guinea Pig Publications. 1981.
2. Conrad E. Continuum: A Conversation with Emilie Conrad. DVD. 2005. Articles and workshops www.continuummovement.com
3. NOVA. Ultimate Journey. Odyssey of Life, Part I. Educational Series. PBS.
4. McCraty R, Atkinson M and Tiller WA. New Electrophysiological Correlates Associated with Intentional Heart Focus. Heartmath Institute Research on the heart. Boulder Creek. CA.
5. Gracovetsky S. The Spinal Engine. Springr-Veriag wein. New York. 1988.
6. Gershon MD. The Second Brain. HarperCollins. 1998.
7. Buhner SH. The Secret Teachings of Plants; The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature. Bear and Company. 2004.

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About Liz Koch

Liz Koch is an international somatic educator, and creator of Core Awareness ( focusing on awareness for developing human potential. With 30 years experience working with and specializing in the iliopsoas, she is recognized in the somatic, bodywork and fitness professions as an authority on the core muscle. Liz is a nationally and internationally published writer and the author of The Psoas Book, Unraveling Scoliosis CD, Core Awareness; Enhancing Yoga, Pilates, Exercise & Dance, and her new release Psoas & Back Pain CD. Approved by the USA National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB), as a continuing education provider, Liz Koch is a member of the International Movement Educators Assoc. (IMA).  She may be contacted via liz@coreawareness.com    www.coreawareness.com

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