What core strength really is
1. STRETH FROM, NOT TO!
In his book “Light on Life,” B.K.S. Iyengar (http://www.bksiyengar.com/) stresses, amongst other things, the essentiality of stretching from rather than to, not only in yoga, but in all facets of life. But what does that really mean? In the context of yoga, this translates to using the core muscles, the trunk of our being, to perform asanas (poses), hence requiring less strain on the limbs and a more effective and long-lasting yoga practice. Most people that I know who have somehow “injured” themselves doing yoga, including myself, have made the mistake of stretching to, of wanting more, of going past their limit at a particular moment. On the flip side, when one applies his/her whole self in breathing and moving, lengthening the spine and softly engaging in the abdominal wall, the pose takes on a new form, and feels entirely different for the practitioner, that is much more steady, real, and organic.
But the motto stretching from can be very powerful in our everyday lives too. A simple example resides in Iyengar’s observation that society has taught every one of us, very much to our detriment, to ask “How do I sound?” rather than “How am I doing?” We can liken this to the idea of thinking “How do I reach my toes?” versus “How do I make this pose work for my body?” It all comes down to performance, which can be a dangerous thing. We all like to please others, to make them smile or laugh or approve of us, but in the process sometimes our deeper needs and desires get lost. When Iyengar writes that “intuition transcends rationality and is from the heart” (Light on Life, p. 179), he reminds us to trust our innermost self and not focus on the material or what’s easily seen. This is why “core yoga” isn’t about doing a ton of crunches and being able to flaunt an impressive six-pack; it’s about being brave enough to feel the poses from within and shine this internal energy out onto the world, which doesn’t mean it’ll always be aesthetically pleasing… and the same goes for how we can more fully approach life in general…from the core, the very center of our being.
2. CLEAN UP YOUR INSIDES…OR WORK WITH THEM!
Not entirely different from what a psychologist might say, Iyengar explains that our “I-shape” is covered with the superglue of the construct of “my” through memories, possessions, desires, experiences, attachments, achievements, opinions, and prejudices. We all want to be “here and now” but we are predisposed to a conflicting desire to be irrevocably linked to past and future events. In order to build a strong core, Iyengar wisdom stresses the need to “find and eradicate the worm, so that the whole apple, from skin inward, can be a perfect and healthy one” (174). Yoga is one of the methods that allows us to express the “will to be free” from the worm inside of us, and only then will we be using our authentic core.
Incidentally, Debbie Ford, New York Times bestselling author and respected advocate for positive personal transformation and realized human potential, takes a slightly different approach, one that seems just as valid. She goes so far as to state, in a proud tone mind you, that she is a “bitch” and that her path to success only began when she stopped being ashamed of her bitchiness and started embracing it. Weird, huh?! But kind of awesome, because she’s right: if we don’t find a way to use the qualities inside us that we deem “negative,” then these qualities could wind up hurting us in the end. The idea can be summed up in the following motto: “What you resist persists, what you can’t be with won’t let you be. And you’re human be-ings. Embrace the totality of your humanity.” And as Carl Jung once said, “I’d rather be whole than good.” Having a strong core is about not being afraid to express all aspects of ourselves, both the good and the bad.
3. HAVE FAITH IN BOTH STILLNESS AND TRANSFORMATION.
Despite Debbie Ford’s emphasis on the importance of showing our darker side in life, she still believes that making changes for the better is important, and although Iyengar argues for separation from our past and future, he does not tell us to entirely forget how we got here or where we are going. The key factors here seem to be integration and transformation, involving continuous reevaluation of ourselves and searching for our “core being,” whether we are in a yoga pose or in the midst of making a difficult life decision. Yet, we also need to be able to find the stillness, true contentment in the way we are, to take a breath or two or three and just be. And as long as we remain willing, “at any moment, to sacrifice what we are for what we could become” (Charles Du Bos), we are exercising admirable core strength. No six-pack needed.