Cores and centres
What is our core and what is our centre? I often use core and centre interchangeably but in my head, I make two distinctions: my core is physical and my centre is metaphysical. Whilst they are different, they are related. This piece of writing is an attempt to explain what I mean when I use these words. I’ve written, deleted, added … it appears it is a work in progress. Have a read and let me know what you think.
When we move from our physical centre, we move with fluidity and grace. When we move from our metaphysical centre we move with integrity and grace. If we are displaced, we become agitated and tension develops. A displacement in one centre, affects the other. Tension in the mind filters into the body and vice versa. If we have become disconnected through trauma or to protect ourselves from a level of discomfort, we have to mindfully rebuild connections to allow us to return to coordinated beauty.
Different bodywork practitioners and teachers often refer to ‘the core’: working from the core, strengthening the core, feeling the core. It is a complicated system providing stabilisation and movement. The core is located at the body’s centre of gravity and is where all physical movement begins. (I am aware that not all practitioners work with these concepts and you may have your own understanding/visualisations.)
Structurally the core is considered to be the part of the skeleton that makes up the lumbar spine, pelvis and hips (the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex) as well as the thoracic and cervical spine.
There are twenty nine muscles with attachments to the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. These muscles are also part of the ‘core’. The muscles form two systems for either stabilisation (in the trunk) or movement (trunk and legs). These two systems need to work together to distribute weight, absorb force and allow movement.
The quality and state of the muscles is important. Imbalances in muscle strength and their recruitment can create strain and discomfort which leads to increased tightness and weaknesses. Imbalances may be caused through lack of use, repetitive and habitual movement, poor posture, illness and stress, also trauma through sport or accidental damage. As well as lack of comfort, muscles become tired (we become tired), as the wrong muscles do the wrong jobs. Global muscles or muscles of movement start to stabilise by ‘locking on’. They are doing work they are not designed to do. Muscles can adapt to get you through the day but it is not sustainable. Whilst some muscles become overworked, others are not used and weaken.
The following thought experiment illustrates what happens when we use global muscles for stability. How do you feel in your mind and body at each stage? Take half a minute or so to be at each stage:
- imagine walking on an even, stable surface …
- now change the walking surface, for example, walking on the deck of a boat, soft sand or a pebbled beach …
- finally, return to the first visualisation …
In order to walk on unstable surfaces, we make many adjustments. It does not take much imagination, to feel the concentration required and sense the tension developing in the muscles, as well as the outstretched arms and tentative footsteps mimicking the uncertain mind. Those tired muscles have become stabilisers as well as being required to move you. Stabilisation is not their job but they will attempt to do it. It is also clear that the muscles are not separate to our being. We do a good job of separating out parts of the body, as though the bits that don’t work are not a part of us.
In summary, the core needs to be stable in order for us to move efficiently, avoiding strain and fatique. Our core has a ‘centre’ of stablising muscles which work in concert with larger global muscles. When we use global muscles to stabilise, we take ourselves away from the core and centre and the effect is tiredness on all levels, leading to discomfort and vulnerability.
Coming back to our metaphysical centre all the above applies. Afterall we are holistic beings, a whole organism. We can become chronically tired which often results in our moving away from our metaphysical centre too. The response to find comfort is commonly a physical one to ignore or over-ride symptoms:
Consider these possible responses to feeling tired:
- I’ll have a coffee
- I’ll have a rest
Or possible responses to feeling stressed:
- I’ll have a glass of wine
- I’ll meditate
The scenarios I’ve written are my own but they are not unique to me; tiredness is my main de-centring influence. It affects my physical core and my metaphysical centre. I can override it by ingesting false adrenalin or I can give be kind to myself and rest or come back to a single focus.
In homeopathic teachings, symptoms are a call from the soul that attention or change is needed. The first symptoms of dis-ease are minor and physical. Have you been in the position where you have been exhausted but you ignore it? Perhaps you develop a cold and work through it. It might be ok or you it develops further and you have to stop because it ‘goes to the chest’ or you experience deeper symptoms elsewhere. Once we are well, we often return to the same routine that made us unwell, forgetting or choosing to forget that our lifestyle choices made us susceptible in the first place. And the cycle begins again.
Centres and cores are important:
They allow our deeper selves to be nurturing and cultivate a holistic approach to self-care. When we can care deeply for ourselves then we can care for others. Yoga is not a system to enable us to withdraw into our own centre and ignore the outside but a practice that allows us to be in our centre and available to others. This is true of most therapeutic work. Life is relationship.
When I am in my centre, I am strong and knowing – both physically and in myself. Discomfort and desires are fleeting distractions. I can be in relationship and know where I end and the other begins. Their projection of the world does not influence my understanding of me. I also am aware of my projections and expectations. I am responsible for my thoughts, my words and my actions. Blame and judgement can be put down. It is liberating.
My connection to centre is sacred and sometimes elusive. It is a personal journey. A teaching passed to me by my teachers was that of axis and form. The axis is our centre or core and the form is the shape we make. In yoga philosophy, the axis and form is described as purusa and prakrti. Purusa is constant in the universe and ourselves. It does not change and is immaterial, elusive, it cannot be described. It can be translated as the ‘dweller in the city’. Prakrti is everything that is material, it is in constant flux. It is the ‘city’. We have practiced yoga with the idea that the inhale takes us into our shape (prakrti) and the exhale returns us to centre (purusa). I have invited you to discover your own relationship to centre.
One argument for purusa’s existence is that if we are aware of change and flux (prakrti) then something must be constant for us to know there is change. It is this argument that clarified purusa for me. In the stillest moments of meditation, when I am absorbed, it is amazing. Unfortunately, those moments are rare and I am not steady enough to just stay there, I notice that ‘I’m in it!’ and with my attention distracted, the moment is gone.
Does any of this resonate? I hope it makes the yoga classes/lessons clearer. It also gives some insight into how I offer bodywork whether that is reflexology, massage or reiki. I enjoy exploring these ideas and putting them into my life is the practice.
Looking forward to more discussions with you