When I was creating the schedule for 3Tree Yoga, I wanted to offer classes that would allow students to have a truly well-rounded yoga practice, and that would make the biggest impact on overall wellness. To that end, each class style has a particular goal and purpose. Core class, at first glance, may seem baffling—why would a core class be offered at a yoga studio? How is it possible to do 60-75 minutes of core without collapsing into a puddle on the floor?
The truth is, I could not be more excited to bring this class to the Fort Worth yoga community. This is not a class about seeing how many crunches one can squeeze into 75 minutes (oh, the horror!), but it is instead a class intended to optimize the function of our core so that we move better.
“Core” is a huge buzzword, and I know there are vast differences is our understanding of its meaning and purpose. I want this blog, and the class, to clear that up. Our core anatomically consists of the deeper muscles in our trunk. These are the pelvic floor (where the private parts live and work), deep abdominal muscles like obliques and transversus abdominis, deep spinal muscles, the psoas (your main hip flexor muscle), and is topped off by the diaphragm. I like to add to that your pelvic stabilizers, like deep gluteal muscles and deep hip rotators, as well as scapular and shoulder stabilizing muscles. That may have sounded like gibberish, so here are some handy pictures. The main idea is that the core consists of a lot of muscles!
The problem with thinking of our core as a bunch of muscles that we need to strengthen is that this idea leaves out the most important element of core function—coordination. Coordination happens at the level of our brain and nervous system. When we decide to lift our arm up or to take a step, the very first thing that should happen is a contraction of core musculature so that our trunk stays upright. As we add more difficulty to tasks, such as getting up off the ground, lifting something weighted, pushing or pulling, walking on an uneven surface, climbing stairs, jumping, changing directions, balancing, or a plethora of other daily movements, the requirements for coordination of our muscle contractions and strength of our muscle contractions increase. It is important to have enough strength and mobility in our hips and shoulders to support these movement challenges, and more than that, we must be able to coordinate our movements in ways that allow our muscles to function the way they are intended to function.
In the absence of coordinated movement, we put a lot of wear and tear on many joints of our bodies, including the joints of our spine. It is so important to train ourselves to move in coordinated ways to help us avoid injury, and this is where something like core class comes in. This is a class in which we train our muscles and our brains to function optimally so that we move in healthier ways all day long. We practice poses and movements that strengthen all sides of our trunk, our shoulder stabilizers, our hip stabilizers, and our diaphragms in multiple positions to mimic the many positions we may need to sustain in a day. In addition, we practice fluid movement, balance, and challenging our ability to perform activities with excellent alignment of our joints and our spines. It can be a big challenge to do this! But I promise the benefits make it so worthwhile.
With a regular core practice, many elements of our yoga practice will become more easeful. Plus, our balance improves, back pain may decrease, and we begin to notice a sensation of increased strength in our arms and legs. As an extra bonus, we may begin to feel more flexible, because as our muscles learn to function in more appropriate and balanced ways, they get better at lengthening. Generally I advocate spending the last several minutes of a core practice stretching to allow our muscles to use this newly available ability to lengthen.
The more regularly core work is practiced, the easier it becomes because your brain learns how to coordinate the challenging movements. This is a practice that takes effort and determination, but it can also transform your yoga practice and your physical health. I cannot say enough great things about adding a well-rounded core practice into your weekly routine. Give it a try! We can never benefit from something we never try.