‘It’s all about finding your core’. As yoga teachers we seem to be saying this a lot. But what do we mean by it? Are we talking about muscles, bandhas maybe? Or are we talking about authenticity, Buddha Nature even? Finding your core seems to have two broad meanings, but they are not mutually exclusive, the overlap between physical core strength and emotional core strength is found at many levels in body, mind and consciousness.
At the physical level the work seems obvious – get on your mat and ‘do’ yoga! However, working with the bandhas to engage and develop core strength requires a level of mindfulness and willingness to put in some effort. Yoga teachers who encourage core strength in regular classes or who teach specific core yoga classes know just how often we need to cue students to ‘lift the pelvic floor’, ‘compress the belly’ and tuck the chin to ensure, the three primary bandhas that strengthen the core are engaged throughout the practice. As students we all need constant reminding to come back to this fundamental aspect of asana practice.
It is interesting to look at why we need to be reminded of this practice so often. How come, if our mind wanders off to focus on the breath or posture (or to pondering dinner or the toenails) we tend to release the bandhas? Why can’t most of us keep this physical work going without bringing our direct attention back to it regularly? I don’t have an answer for this but my guess is that at a physical level, Western society has made our domestic and work lives so comfortable that our physical bodies have been allowed to grow lazy to some degree and at the cognitive and emotional levels, we are not currently a well-grounded, balanced culture. This is very broadly speaking of course, but consider the people you know and come in to contact with regularly. Are they able to (for example):
- confidently, without apology, say ‘no’ when they need to?
- avoid over-committing themselves at work or socially?
- avoid being manipulated or even gently coerced into doing things they’d rather not do?
- take complete responsibility for their actions and choices (e.g. not blame others when understanding or communication has failed)?
This strong, confident and grounded position arises in the psyche as the core strength of the body develops and it is something very clearly lacking in contemporary society; particularly among women.
Watch as your core work develops; I notice the emergence of awareness at both levels, physical and emotional, independently, simultaneously and sometimes so subtle I wonder at all the effort.
Soft front, open-heart, deep breaths.
Strong back, broad shoulders and collar-bones, steady.
But what of that between? Lift, contain, mindful of what holds you up, mindful of intention.
Reflecting on that which has been abandoned, guided by intention.
Abandoning flimsy boundaries and voicelessness, abandoning anger at my own inability to say no, letting go of resentment, setting aside shame, guilt and self-pity. I move forward, seeing clearly those things left behind.
Intention to find my truth, to live authentically, to ….. Just be kind. To speak quietly, without force or strong opinion, without aggression or violence. To be confident in my choices and confident in knowing I always have choice.
Core strength holds me upright, uplifted and on track. I know when I’ve done good core work, I feel tall and lean, strong and confident, able to face the world without fear, just as myself. I feel good about who I am.
Breathe in to lift and expand. Breathe out to contain and consolidate your strength.
Stand tall, you are a yogi.