Yoga Articles



By: David Emerson


When we talk about “the core,” two separate but deeply related ideas come up: core strength, and an actual, physical center in the body. It is important to understand both concepts if one is to teach trauma sensitive yoga effectively. Core Strength involves the musculature from the knees to the solar plexus (bottom of the sternum/breastbone). This “field” makes up more than half of the body! In yoga, we are interested in cultivating strength in this part of the body on the front, back and sides. Having a strong core supports the lower back and stabilizes the knees. Being strong and stable at the core allows one to relax muscles in the neck and shoulders, which often compensate for a weak core and try to “hold up the spine.” One key shift is to learn to support the spine from the base, the root and to not try to hold up the spine with the neck and shoulders (which is often our default). Holding up the spine with the neck and shoulders is very stressful and often leads to tension in the neck and upper back; the breath gets stuck up in the chest, which in turn taxes the nervous system.  


For a moment, try holding up the spine with the neck and shoulders. Feel the shoulders pull up toward the ears and the muscles futilely contract all the way around to the throat. Feel how the muscles strain, sensing that the mechanics here are actually impossible – do you notice anxiety rise up? Can you feel the breath get choppy and erratic, no longer integrated in the muscular effort but perhaps working against it? Now relax. Pause. Come back to the breath.

Let’s begin to find the physical center. Here, while we are engaging strength in the whole field from knees to solar plexus there is a particular emphasis at the center of gravity, the core of the pelvis, located about two inches below the navel and in toward the spine. Sit in your chair preferably toward the front of the chair so the sits bones can be firmly established but if this is painful in the back for now, you may sit back in the chair. Bring your feet to the floor hip width or a little wider. Feel your feet making contact with the floor. Feel the sits bones rooting down through the chair. Take a moment to Get Centered (Gentle movements side to side and forward to back may help. Notice, as you gently move, abdominal muscles beginning to wake up/brighten/engage.) As you come back to the upright, Seated Mountain Pose hug the lower belly in toward the spine. Gently but firmly draw the lower belly in toward a mid point at the core of the pelvis. As you keep the center engaged at the same time allow the lower back to release – a letting go in the lower back. Allow the tailbone to gently lengthen down toward the chair.  


When you have established this physical center, you will have a more stable place from which to experience life. Trauma knocks a person off a stable center and this is a big part of the problem. Without a stable center sensations, information etc. coming at you from all directions are very likely to bring you down. When a traumatized individual learns to maintain a center in the midst even of intense sensation they have gained an invaluable tool to help them along the healing process. Yoga, this practice right in the body, can help with exactly this.


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