Move from the Core

1. What is the core?

The “core” is the area in the lower abdomen, about 1.5 inches below the navel,  also known as “dantian” in China.  In Chinese internal martial arts, dantian is where breathing should initiate and awareness should remain.  The core also corresponds to the enteric nervous system,  our “moving brain” with more neurons (4 times more) than our entire spinal cord.

2. The myth of core stability

The term “core stability” is sometimes mentioned in Pilate and Yoga classes as well as physiotherapy sessions.   In practice “core stability” often translates to “navel to spine” for better protection of the lower back. Although not wrong, this instruction often results in “locking” the spine (and the core)  through engaging the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation. This over tensing of abdomen not only immobilizes the spine but also the diaphragm, our main breathing muscle, causing stress, impeding digestion and the reproductive system. Simon Borg-Olivier of Yoga Synergy speaks about core stability and how it can be achieved by actively moving in and out of a posture while the abdomen remains soft to breathe.

3. Move from the Core

Initiating movements from the core not only helps us regain our natural body movement and enhance the circulation of energy and information within the body. The very idea of moving from the core indicates not only the core engagement but also the freedom of core which allows the diaphragm to work properly, this in itself is an expression of “harmonizing Yin and Yang”. It makes us stronger and more flexible without having to breathe more and increase the heart-rate, which is the main drawback of most gym-style workouts.  In addition, core movements are fluid and often curvy and often form an infinity symbol “∞”, rather than zigzagging, such movements are artistically beautiful and pleasant to the eyes and with practice, it is possible to initiate any movement from the core thus establishing a system particularly useful for performing artists to move more organically, with less affectation.

4. Sthira Sukham Asanam

“Posture should be firm but calm”. This defining quote for asana (posture) from Yoga Sutra has become a moment to moment testimony of one’s yoga practice.  What makes a yoga practice is not a posture that can be named in Sanskrit but whether one can stay relaxed so the fingers and toes are free to move, tummy is soft to breathe while remaining in the posture or movement.  This is a “must” finishing touch even in the most challenging postures, as the tranquility of a lotus blossom is deemed a victory over the struggle to reach above the mud.

Why spinal movements?

With 24 movable joints, spine is the most important part of the body to mobilize, yet it is often the stiffest part of the body for most people. A stiff spine not only causes discomfort and pain in the spine itself but also effects its adjacent joints: the shoulders and the hips.  These spinal sequences not only develop suppleness in the spine, massage the intervertebral discs, promote healthy function of central nervous system, but also improve the function of heart and lungs (thoracic region) and strengthen the digestive and reproductive systems (lumber and sacrum regions). Associated movements initiated from spine also bring awareness, stability and flexibility to its neighboring shoulder and hip regions.

What is Anvaya?

A Nath Yogi, 19th century India, showing the ascending of chakra, an internal pilgrimage. Smithsonian collection, Washington DC, photography by Tangkao Tan

Anvaya is a sanskrit word which implies both connection and separation. In Yoga sutra 1-2 “Yoga-chittavrittinirodha”, where the term “Yoga” is defined as “stilling the fluctuations of the mind”. Accordingly, Anvaya encompasses both attaining and losing Yoga and reveals a reality that Yoga is a moment-to-moment choice, one either ascends or descends. In the Vedanta school, Anvaya signifies the all-pervasive nature of  Brahman, the Absolute, and our true Self, the Atman, existing beyond the realm of the physical body.  In our practice Anvaya signifies the perpetual movement and energy of heavenly bodies, as above and within ourselves, so below.