Everyone agrees that movement is necessary to be healthy. Sadly, today’s sedentary lifestyle has caused us to move away from what our bodies are designed to do and love--move!
Over time, a sedentary life wreaks havoc on the body. Obviously, muscles need to be used in order to maintain a decent level of strength. Weak muscles, especially weak core muscles, lead to poor posture and alignment, and can cause a host of physical problems and injuries, especially through the back and shoulder area. Common back injuries, such as herniated disks, can often be traced to a lack of core strength.
Movement is also essential in terms of one’s energy levels. Have you noticed that you feel tired and sluggish when there is an absence of movement in your day, whereas when you make time for a physical practice or simply just move a lot, you feel energized and invigorated?
Moreover, movement has the power to feed our minds and souls. Physical exertion calms us, reduces stress, and releases “feel good” endorphins. For many people, their physical practice is also a time to contemplate, work through thoughts, process feelings, come up with solutions, make plans, etc.—all things that are essential to maintaining a healthy, balanced mind.
For some people, it’s also a time of creative and self expression, which can be clearly seen in practices like yoga, dance and martial arts, just to name a few. But really, any time dedicated to movement can be an opportunity to come deeply into oneself and access the more buried, untapped parts of our being. Physical practices can be a gateway to the inner world, which is why so many people feel they are exquisitely powerful. Why has yoga become so popular in the West in the last twenty years? Because it not only transforms people physically, but transforms their inner world, their mind, as well.
Yes, I know that in reality, not everyone has time for a regular physical practice. But even if you’re crazy busy, you can still incorporate movement throughout your day in very practical ways. Clean vigorously, use the stairs, and take hourly breaks from your desk to walk for five minutes.
Give your body what it needs and loves. Movement is essential.
The core is a misunderstood word. People often think it refers solely to the stomach muscles. This is only part of the core, however. The core also includes the back muscles, pelvic floor muscles, and diaphragm. Moreover, the core is connected to the legs, so the butt and thigh muscles also play an important role in core strength and stability.
Another common misconception is that the “six pack” equals a strong core. The six-pack muscle, or rectus abdominis, is the most visible of the stomach muscles, so it gets all the attention. However, real strength comes from the deeper muscles, like the transverus abdominis (stomach muscle), which you can’t see, but which is continuously engaged during a properly executed Pilates practice. When you “scoop” your stomach, or pull your navel in and up towards the spine, you are engaging this deep muscle.
It’s important to understand that exercises such as ab crunches and sit-ups will not strengthen your entire core. They will strengthen a section of your core—the superficial muscle, the rectus abdominis, as mentioned above. The best core exercises are those that work the entire core—front and back— including the deeper muscles, simultaneously.
So why is it so important to build and maintain core strength?
The core is the sturdy, central link connecting the upper and lower body. When strong, the core muscles stabilize the entire torso and create a strong base of support. As a result, one is able to move well—powerfully, freely (with a good range of motion and flexibility), and with balance and control.
Therefore, when you build a strong core, you will notice a difference in all physical activities in your life; even the simple ones to which you never gave much thought, such as standing, walking, bending down, etc.
Core strength also promotes better breathing. The diaphragm is part of the core muscles, and when you work on inhaling and exhaling fully, as you do in Pilates, the increased amount of oxygen improves the body’s overall performance.
Ultimately, a weak core is detrimental to the body’s health. It results in poor posture, lower back pain, and makes you more prone to injuries.
Pilates is undeniably the most effective exercise for strengthening the core, which is why it has become so popular in recent years. When you build a strong core, your body is transformed (and that’s not overstating it!). You sit and stand taller, you’re free of common back and shoulder pain, you’re stronger in all physical activities, and generally, you just move better! I speak from my experience with my own body, as well as from my experience with my students and fellow Pilates instructors. In order to have a healthy body, everyone needs to do core-strengthening exercises on a regular basis!