We are bombarded with messages that we need to protect our backs and strengthen our ‘cores’. There are so many misconceptions and assumptions made about ‘core stability’ which have seeped into our culture. However, more and more people are waking up to the limitations of the approach and realising that the premise needs to be deeply questioned. Even the notion of what the ‘core’ is and if it actually exists is disputable.
Interestingly enough, some of the same physios who were involved in the early research and ‘core stability’ wave, are now leading the way for more integrative, holistic ideas to be adopted in rehabilitation and training. It’s ironic, as the horse has long since bolted. The wisdom from the original concepts and ideas has been oversimplified on a mass scale, taken out of context, and read as gospel. Even Paul Hodges, (one of the early researchers,) has said that people have misinterpreted the information to mean that restricting movement is a good thing … it isn’t.
I have worked with many people who have beliefs about the vulnerability of the back, including elite athletes, and people with back pain. I have also worked with many practitioners and teachers who have used core stability. I spent several years (before I was introduced to Feldenkrais) working relentlessly on my ‘core stability’ to try to counteract a chronic back injury I had sustained as a tennis player. Eventually, I came to the frustrating realisation that it was not helpful, and even detrimental to my situation. It ingrained in me a huge amount of fear based restrictive and protective movement habits and patterns, that were very hard to overcome. Feldenkrais gave me the basis to work through this, freeing up my movement and opening my eyes.
I do not want to make an argument that one approach is right or wrong. If core stability doesn’t work for someone- then there needs to be the space to try something else. Let’s go one further and say it isn’t always appropriate to make it the ‘go-to’ approach. It has become almost sacrilegious to question certain ideas about the ‘core’- especially from within the industry. Happily the Pilates teachers, fitness trainers and others from a core stability background, who come to my workshops are extremely open to discovering something different. Ultimately, to have more tools in your arsenal as a teacher can only help your ability to adapt to the person and the situation you are working with.
What I try to offer in my workshops is the space for people to leave the question open, and to be able to make a choice. They are encouraged to give themselves permission to use the spine, and use the belly and back muscles in ways which may have felt prohibited before, or which have become habitually restricted. The habits become more conscious and there is the opportunity to experience the sensation and the effects, whether that is freedom of movement, or reducing effort and stress. There is often some kind of emotional release from changing out of what Moshe Feldenkrais called the body posture of anxiety (a habitual shortening of the abdominal muscles).
It can be very confronting to face the ways in which we have consciously or unconsciously put chains around ourselves in the way that we are or are not allowed to move. When we give ourselves permission to explore alternatives, with awareness and without judgment, then we can begin to re-awaken self trust. We learn to listen to ourselves for answers and let go of the baggage of ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ that we have been carrying.
In this audio lesson, taken from my workshop, I give the space to explore simple, natural movements of the spine, finding an easy use of the belly and the back, and connecting the movement to the head, the pelvis and the hip joints. I invite you to experiment with it, and to see for yourself how the lesson moves and affects you.
The physio I refer to in the lesson is Prof. Peter O‘ Sullivan, I highly recommend his youtube talks on this topic.