When I think of the word “core” I think of the deep center of an object or an idea. That word has been abused so mercilessly in the fitness industry that it is impossible to type it without cringeing a little. I’m forced to use that word a lot in this article, because it is the main concept I’m trying to get across. It is the core concept.(sorry! couldn’t resist 😉)
The usage of the word core should be limited to the abdomen and thorax. The boundaries are set by your rib cage on top, abdomen in the middle and the pelvis below. This can also be called the “ventral cavity”. The ventral cavity is bounded behind by the back. Which is relatively rigid due to the presence of the bony spine, pelvis and ribs. Even though the spine and ribs are mobile to some extent, compared to the abdomen and chest, they’re almost rigid.
All your vital organs reside here. Except the brain.
The ventral cavity, is divided into two parts- the upper thorax and the lower abdomen by a muscular partition(the diaphragm) that never stops moving till your last breath.
Breathing is powered mainly, by the diaphragm. At least it should be. With modern sedentary lifestyles, the diaphragm is being used less and less. More of the work of breathing is being done by the upper chest and neck. This leads to a host of problems.
I’ll list a few.
1. Poor oxygenation- lower part of the lungs carry the most blood. Getting more air there, improves oxygenation. If your chest expansion is mainly in the upper chest and the base of the neck, you’re missing out on oxygen. This means you’ll have to take more breaths.
2. More breaths means greater energy expenditure. You’ll get fatigued easier
3. Using the small muscles of your chest and neck to breathe, means you’ll not be able to draw enough air in by volume. This is, in addition to the earlier problem of being able to extract less oxygen from the air you draw in.(see point 1). This is a double whammy. This leads to point 2.
4. Using the accessory muscles of breathing also means that these muscles are now doing double duty of breathing + whatever their primary purpose was. This leads to a deficiency of their function in their primary purpose, movements and posture. This is one of the reasons for the epidemic of chronic pain in our society. Mainly low back, neck, shoulders. Also, to a great extent knees. Yes, breathing without using your diaphragm properly, will affect your knees too refer to https://youtu.be/IGqv3LUhrf0 to get an idea about that concept.I talk about how everything is connected to everything else there. A specific explanation for the hyperbolic sounding claim I just made about the connection between the knee and the diaphragm will come later.
5. Using the accessory muscles for breathing is to be reserved for emergency situations, where even the extremely powerful diaphragm is unable to meet the demands of a movement, because the diaphragm is busy doing double duty as a stabilizer. The accessory muscles will then act as a booster pump to help the diaphragm get enough air in, to keep your engine going. This will depend on the strength demand of that movement and how much you are able to provide. Have a look at this link below to get an idea of how breath and strength are related. The strength required will dictate how much pressure you need to generate within your core to provide the stability required for that movement. I talk about this concept in the link below https://www.evomedindia.com/2020/07/15/breath-and-resistance-training/
6. Another emergency situation is under intense cardio type exercise when you’re running as fast as you can, or when you’re fighting for your life against a predator (human or animal), where the diaphragm needs help in getting more volume of air in to meet the oxygen demands of vigorous, sustained physical activity. The problem is that sustained use of the accessory muscles of breathing triggers an emergency response from your nervous system and the endocrine system. This is known as the stress response. In the short term- over a period of few minutes, the stress response is good for you. It makes you stronger. In technical terms, a short term stress response is hormetic. A stress response that is unrelenting and lasts for years (modern lifestyle) will break you down. Will accelerate wear and tear. This is what makes you age faster.
I finally get to the actual point of the article now. Took me long enough. Take a deep breath, and dive in. Using breath to unlock movement. You can think of the ventral cavity as one large balloon. But unlike a normal balloon, this one has superpowers. You can direct the inflation and deflation if this balloon. You can decide which part of the balloon needs to inflate more, which part needs to be restricted. You can decide the speed at which it inflates and deflates
We, have all got this superpower, but very few of us know how to use it. For that, the first step to do is to take full control of your diaphragm, and for that you need to start breathing through your nose- https://www.evomedindia.com/2019/12/21/keep-calm-and-shut-up/
The second step is to inhale in a way that makes your belly bigger (than it already is 😁) and exhale in a way that makes it shrink. Think of making yourself stretch like a balloon (a uniform, all round stretch)while inhaling and think of using every last millilitre of air inside you to fill up an imaginary external balloon, during the exhale.
The next step is to become aware of where this air you’re drawing in goes. If you restrict one area, that volume of air will be forced to go into other parts of the ventral cavity. You have to plug the leaks. The two main leakages are the upper end and the lower end of the ventral cavity
1.chest/base of neck
2.the lower end of your torso -anal, urethral sphincters (insert juvenile joke about Uranus here)
Plugging leaks at the lower end is what is called “moolabandha” in yoga. Kegel’s exercises do something similar. This needs to be trained. Various ways to do it, but the easiest, most unconscious way to do it is to pick up a weight that is challenging your strength. Another way is to get into a pose that is challenging to maintain( Yoga/Pilates)
Plugging leaks at the upper end is a lot tougher to train, because you’ve all had years of experience and habit doing things the wrong way(Smh). First step is to start breathing through your nose at all times. Second is to restrict the movements of your shoulders with breathing. Stand or sit in front of a mirror and take a deep breath. Observe yourself. You’ll see two things happen. Your shoulders shrug upwards. Your head will tip backwards. That needs to stop. You’ll have to learn to draw do breaths in, while locking down your shoulders and keeping your head level.
The final step is to practice the above two steps in various static positions at first, and then as you get better at it, progressing on to the same during movement. Finally getting to a point where this becomes unconscious practice, even under heavy load.
You could join a yoga class(common)by someone who knows what they’re doing(uncommon). Or you could train yourself, if you have the basic body self awareness (not as common as you’d think)
If you’ve decided to train this yourself, you’ll have to practice breathing keeping the above principles in mind in the following positions, in the following order
1. Lying down on your back
2. Lying down in your stomach
3. Raising yourself up on just your arms
4. Raising yourself up on all fours(hands,knees, feet)
5. Raising yourself up on all fours (hands and feet only)
7. Half kneeling
10. Standing while holding implement/tool/weight
11. Standing on one leg
12. Half hanging
13. Full hanging
As you gain proficiency to breathe correctly in each position, you progress to the next. Occasionally it’ll be good to regress to the lower levels when you’re injured, or sometimes even otherwise, to check if you’ve still got the basics right.
The above broad classification of static positions have numerous variants within each of the 13 levels above. And you’re limited only by your imagination and skill. Do you see the resemblance to yoga here? All of the above steps have been codified and put into a system that has been perfected over millennia. Yoga has all this incorporated, in addition to the spiritual benefits. The ideal solution would be learning yoga under a real/genuine Guru. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. I’m not much of a perfectionist, and I like experimenting on myself, so I take a different path. I’m just detailing that path here. I’m not asking you to follow. I’m telling you that this path exists. And I’m writing all this down to clarify my own thought process as I go about learning more about this.
Hopefully, I’ll be driven enough to make a video series of this.