Have you ever listened to or said something for the millionth time and heard it completely differently? Of course you have. Everyone has. But why does that happen? Hmmm…. If the words weren’t any different, I’m guessing you were. This happened to me just yesterday, and voila, a blog was born!

I was having a conversation with a new patient yesterday about her back pain. Back pain, as anyone would suspect, is among the most common topics of conversation in any chiropractic office, so I’ve had this conversation literally 1000’s of times. This particular patient is a fairly astute researcher, and so she’d come armed with some ideas about how she’d ‘gotten into this mess’ and what she might do to get out of it. One of the things she wanted to discuss was whether I thought working on strengthening her abdominal muscles with exercise would be advantageous? Yes! What she wanted, was a discussion of the merits of building core strength (strengthening your abdominal, side, back, and pelvic musculature) to relieve strain on passive structures such as ligaments, bones and discs… which is a valid contribution to relieving back pain. I love an informed, proactive, invested and eager partner in a health/well-being journey and so I was happy to have that discussion with her (and we did). But while my conscious mind was extolling the virtues of core strengthening, core stability and core activation; my sub-conscious was lobbing a ‘new-hearing’ at me… one that I needed to investigate in/for myself – about having a strong, stable, and active Core. Was I attentive to my Core in the same way I’m attentive to my core? Just like the core needs to stay challenged to remain physically engaged, maybe the Core was looking for the same things. And maybe, lobbed my subconscious mind (which monitors not only the physical body but the integration of everything else too), I’d been falling down on that front. Hmmm….

Core Strengthening. Core Stability. Core Activation. Those are the 3 things I encourage patients to look at when working on the intricate physical balance of muscles, ligaments and joints that will help them stay pain free. So, let’s look at each element as it applies to the harder-to-see, internal, personal ‘Core’.

Core Strengthening – Let’s imagine the Core as a muscle. We know that exercise and use make muscles stronger, while dis-use causes them to waste. Just like the core has many components, so too might he Core. For me, I define my Core as the alliance of my gut (instinct), heart (emotions) and brain (rational thought). I value all 3 but tend to use them disproportionately. Have you ever experienced a personal trainer touching between your shoulder blades as you lift a weight? It brings awareness to those muscle fibres you’d been ignoring because bigger, stronger muscles (the ones you use daily) could get the job done. And the awareness causes you to use those smaller muscles, and consequently they get stronger and take responsibility for sharing the load. Borrowing the same idea, Core strengthening is going to be about exercising heart/gut/mind in balance and strengthening the less-depended-on aspects so that they can share the load and lift the ‘weight’ of my world equally.

Core Stability – When the muscular, body core is functioning optimally you can trust it to remain strong – taking pressure off the accessory structures that had been bearing the load. When it’s not strong, you depend on external sources to hold you up; slouching into a desk chair, using tables or the arms of chairs to hoist yourself up, ‘falling’ into your car rather than sitting gracefully.  What happens when the Core (unified gut, heart and rational mind) isn’t strong? I suspect that you also rely on external sources; you seek approval, you dither about decisions, you don’t rest easy. And just like the physical body exhausts easily without core strength, the internal milieu exhausts without Core strength. And it’s a basic theory that in exhaustion lies susceptibility to disease (or in this case, perhaps more appropriately dis-ease). Core stability might then be about building the resiliency to rest on inner strength rather than depending on fickle, accessory, external feedback.

Core Activation – I recommended a simple tool to yesterday’s patient to start working on core activation. A small air-bladder that can be added to any chair will make her just a little unstable when seated. It’s the concept of a ball-chair without the daunting appearance of ‘I’m sure to topple off that’. When she sits on it, the wobbly surface ensures that her core muscles must stay active to keep her from falling off – it’s ongoing exercise without the need to ‘exercise’. Similarly, Core activation is going to be about recognizing and allowing the ‘little things’ to make me stronger on a constant (or at least consistent) basis. As just one example, I’ve been feeling defeated that I don’t meditate as much as I wish to – but it feels equivalent to a ball-chair type daunting exercise right now. So I’m going to work on staying mindful, which I perceive as meditation’s little cousin – a moment of conscious awareness as I go about my day. As with all things I’m going to implement that, celebrate the little wins as they build up, and allow them to motivate me towards bigger goals.

For whatever reason, yesterday I said something I’ve said 1000 times about core-awareness, and heard it with my own ears in a completely fresh way. The words were the same, so it must mean that I was different… ready for a new lesson. So I’m taking it and running with it. And – I hope – inspiring you to do the same along the way!

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