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Reflections on the Core

April 19, 2010

A couple of weeks ago during the first class of the spring quarter, we dragged the dilapidated skeleton into the room and attempted to get an image of what the core consists of using words and imagined images. We waved hands in the air and in our minds to draw the line of the diaphragm and the longest flexor, the psoas. We talked about the infamous 6-pack and the need for a more thorough review of the stabilizing structures and muscles of the trunk. And, we acknowledged that all the efforting to have a strong core might, just might, be focused on the surface. We agreed there’s a deeper level to the organization of what holds humans up and supports us in our lives, and that we wanted to explore what that felt like.

My intention this quarter is to lead my students on the layperson’s walk through the function of the Core, using Frank Wildman’s Brain as the Core of Strength and Stability series. Frank visited Portland last March and taught an advanced training to a group of Feldenkrais practitioners with a focus on some of the finer nuances of his idea that we can have strength without compulsion, stability without breath holding, and grace without trying.

Thinking back about that advanced training, I recall my own experiences with the lessons. I had gasped because they seemed so strenuous and provoked a deep hesitation. But, I trusted the process of a Feldenkrais lesson, so I took my time, wiggled my way, navigated over some slippery slopes and finally arrived at some sense of completion of the tasks. I was astonished at all that I could do and even that I was occasionally more “capable” than others I’d always perceived as more flexible or stronger than me.

Ah, but therein lies one of the problems. The problem of comparison. As if being able to do something makes me a better person. As if I am more “this” than someone else makes me more legitimate or valid. Or, I if I am not “that,” then I am on a higher plane of learning. These types of comparisons are dangerous. They lead us down the path of performing and doing and outside our experience of knowing and understanding.

On the last day of the advanced training, I teamed up with another practitioner and we were exploring the psoas muscle and it’s attachment to the spine. Yes, the spine. Not in the pelvis where massage therapists can reach a good portion of the fibers. No, we were approaching the psoas from the soft belly wall, putting our hands and fingers in a particular way that would invite the organs in the abdominal cavity to slip apart and aside and make way for this inquiry. It takes time, time for the breath to soften, time for the abdominal wall to let go of all the holding and time for the trust to develop. Finally, finally, gradually and ever-so-slowly, my practitioner partner worked her way to the front of my spine. If you’d seen a picture of us from afar, it might look like her hand had slipped inside my belly and I could tell the moment she touched my psoas. Honestly, what a surreal experience. One that highlighted the power of the torso to protect, hide, shelter, and support all the inner workings of digestion, metabolism, locomotion, and reproduction.

It also highlighted for me that although we would like strong muscles in every aspect of our lives, that we also need to be able to let those muscles go slack. There’s no way to reach a psoas when the muscles around it are banded together and bunched so tightly that they are almost like a corset. In fact, maybe that’s what the current fad has done, is create an internal corset that keeps one from breathing freely, from bending easily, and from balancing with suppleness.

In a learning context such as the Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement classes, what we’re after is an efficient synergy between flexibility, softness, strength, and balance. In any moment, we need varying amounts of each of those in order to do all the things we’d like to do in our lives.

For my class, we’ll carry on in small steps, with increasing curiosity, and with ever-growing willingness to stop and wait and observe and notice. There isn’t an end goal, there is the process of learning to access torso support, function, and control in many, many different ways.

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