As I think about the questions that we face in our day, from the profound to the mundane, there are opportunities everywhere that challenge who we are and what we believe. Whether questioner or questioned, we want to feel confident and strong in our core identity and in-line with our gut instincts. Our core is the central, so we want this foundation to keep us stable in knowing where we stand against these questions we face. This core center is the fire within driving us towards accomplishing our dreams, keeping us aligned with that Divine light and energy that protects and guides us.
There are several muscles that make up the core muscles of the trunk. The function of these muscles is to stabilize the trunk in a neutral position while maintaining the natural curvatures of the spine.
Let’s focus on four major core muscles, the Core Box. When we think about our Core Box we have to remember to include all sides, the bottom, and the top. Because if you think about a cardboard box, how sturdy is that box without a base or a lid?
The base of the Core Box are the pelvic floor muscles. This thin sling of muscles helps to hold up and support our reproductive and other internal organs. These muscles can be put through a lot of strain, stretching and even possibly tearing for women during pregnancy and childbirth, which is why females are so commonly instructed in engaging Kegel exercises for proper toning and healing of these muscles. However, Kegel exercises do not only benefit pregnant and childbearing mommas, all females and even males can benefit from awareness and proper toning of these muscles to secure a strong core engagement.
A common cue for Kegel exercises is to imagine trying to stop the flow of urine during mid-stream, this tightening is engagement or contraction of your pelvic floor muscles. However, this often only engages the front portion of our pelvic floor muscles. So, not to be crude here, but you also must remember to engage the back portion of our pelvic floor muscles as if you were trying to hold in a fart. There, I said it.
The top to our core box is the diaphragm. This dome-shaped muscle separates our thoracic and abdominal cavity. When we inhale deep into the belly the diaphragm contracts and flattens in a downward motion creating pressure inside the thoracic cavity for the lungs to fill with oxygen when we take a breath in. As we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and draws back up into its dome shape into the chest while pushing air out of the lungs.
Then we have the sides of our Core Box, maybe the most critical of all core muscles, the transversus abdominis (TA). These muscle fibers wrap around our waist from the low back to the navel. When we draw the navel in to the spine, we contract this muscle, providing our trunk an all-natural back brace. So, the breath exercise to help engage these core muscles may be simple to do, but a bit more difficult to say—the transversus abdominis-assisted thoraco-diaphragmatic breath, aka TATD breath.
TATD Breath: Inhale through the nose. Exhale and draw the navel in towards the spine as you contract the TA until you feel an upward lift of navel and pelvic floor muscles. Be sure not to over engage the core muscles and flatten the curvature in the low back; the goal is to maintain a neutral spine. As you inhale, feel the ribcage expand but sustain engagement throughout the TA to maintain that neutral spine.
The final group of core muscles found along the backside of the core box are known as multifidus muscles and these fibers span across 2-5 vertebrae in our spine. These muscles work to create the fine stability at each segment of the spine. Weakness in these specific muscles have been found to strongly correlate with individuals with chronic low back pain. Alternate arm and leg lifts are great exercises for strengthening multifidus.
Prone Swimmers: Lie face down. Inhale, lift right arm and left leg. Exhale and lower.
Inhale, lift left arm and right leg. Exhale and lower.
4-point Bird-Dog: Position self on hands and knees on the floor or modify with a chair.
Inhale, lift right arm and left leg. Exhale and lower. Inhale, lift left arm and right leg. Exhale and lower.
In conclusion, find your core. Face the challenges you encounter with confidence and grace. Discover stability, unlock the key to the Self. The practice begins. TATD. Namaste.
Dr. Meghan Nelson is a licensed physical therapist and professional yoga therapist with a passion for using yoga as medicine for optimal health, injury prevention, and overall health and wellness. Meghan is co-owner of Lumin Therapy, which provides integrative healing of the mind, body, and spirit through the practice of physical therapy, medical therapeutic yoga, and mindfulness.