The Essential Energies: Core

In class last night I briefly discussed an issue I’ve been having with one of my coaches; in trying to “sink” into my stances, I have been struggling to find the balance between really sinking my center of gravity, and feeling like I’m going to tip over backwards. She reminded me to use my abdominal muscles to support the motion, which so far has made a real difference (I still have work to do in order to incorporate the change into my movement).

I needed the reminder that the abdominal muscles, or core muscles, are vitally important in taiji movement. All movements involve this part of the body; most are initiated and directed by it. The core is literally the center of the body, the crossroads where everything connects. In order for the entire body to move in a connected, fluid way, the core needs to be strong and active.

I’ve been paying more attention to my core muscles since last night, as I move through my ordinary activities. On the treadmill this morning I really noticed it at work; as I pushed my walking speed up over 3 MPH, my core muscles naturally engaged to support the effort the rest of my body was making, where at slower speeds I can get away (and commonly do) with not actively using my core. I’ve observed before that I have a tendency to slouch, and if I need to stand for long periods of time my lower back typically gets very stiff. I’ve just realized that when my core muscles aren’t engaged, all of the weight of my abdomen effectively hangs off my spine in a way that makes it practically impossible to relax and lengthen my lower back. When I use my core muscles to support the abdomen, the extra stress on my lower back is released.

I’m not done observing how my body uses and needs my core to support it, but I am already reminded of some global life-lessons. Do I have a strong sense of my “core” as a person — who I am, what I believe in, who and what I love, who and what I am committed to, what I am good and bad at, what I enjoy? Do I have clarity about these things, and am I doing anything to increase that clarity? Am I working to strengthen these fundamentals? Am I using this core of my being to support and guide what I do in life?

Taiji teaches me I need a strong physical core in order to have a healthy physical body and in order to move well. It also reminds me that I need a strong core as a person, if I want to be healthy in every aspect of life and in order to move effectively through the world.

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