Engage without striving; flow without force.
Engage your core.
For many of us this is a pretty loaded request. It sounds an awful lot like “suck in your gut,” which sounds a lot like your belly is not allowed to be here in this space. For me, the act of sucking in my gut is violent. It feels like my organs are being stifled, “Shhhh…. Stay quiet and take up as little space as possible until bed time, then you can be organs.”
When I stopped caring about the belly-should-brigade, I just let it all hang out… I had organs floating around 10 feet in front of me, leading the way as I walked.
Through the practice of yoga, though, I’ve discovered that engaging the core is more subtle, intentional, and loving. It’s not about the belly and the organs, it’s about the spine. When we engage the core, it’s an invitation to support the spine with love.
“Suck in your gut” is the Elmyra version of love.
Engage your core is the kind of love in the anonymous quote “When you like a flower, you pluck it. When you love a flower, you water it.”
Engage the core just enough to support the spine. There is still room in the abdomen to breathe and for the organs to do their thing. Imagine the spine is a baby just learning to sit up. You want the baby to learn to sit up, so you’re not going to hold on to her tightly. However, you hold your hands so close so that if she topples, you’ve got her. You might even provide a soft cushion for support.
Experiment with the differences between these experiences in the body. Pay attention to how each feels.
First suck in your gut in the way that you normally would. Do you have room to breathe? Do you feel relaxed or anxious? Does this feel sustainable? Perhaps you've been engaging all along.
Next relax your core completely. Does your spine feel supported? Do you feel like you can do what needs to be done safely or do you feel a bit disjointed or untethered? Do your organs feel like they have room to do their work?
Now move between these two extremes like a pendulum. Engaging the core a little at a time, checking in with your breath, feelings, and organs. The goal is to support the spine while remaining pliable in the abdomen for breath and digestion.
This is engagement without striving, flow without force.
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After burning out from a long career as a middle school/high school reading/math/science teacher, I returned to school to study massage, hypnotherapy, mindfulness, aromatherapy, and yoga.