Sorry this month's newsletter is a little late… I have been distracted by celebration! I turned the half century this month! I thought I'd better “out” myself as I always “out” the rest of the teachers on their birthdays. Mostly because I am so inspired by them… as role models breaking the mold on aging and what it should look and feel like! On her 50th
, Kath was rocking out some advanced postures for the re-shoot of the Xmas demo we had just done! People often refer to that “young guy” who works at the GCYC meaning Cam!! And why not! He is as youthful as many decades younger.
Age, as they say, is just a state of mind… I have known young people who are old in body, mind and deed, and old people who are extremely young! Biologically I have always tested at least a decade younger than my chronological age, sometimes more. I don't feel 50, and many tell me I don't look it (thank you) but what's important about that is that the limitation gets broken. When we are surrounded by stereotypes and expectations of how a certain age should look, and how their health should be, it is harder to go against the grain.
Luckily in our world, we have LOTS of youthful yogis & yoginis of all ages who are trailblazers leading the way to creating our life the way we want to live it. Getting stiffer in older age is normal, but not natural. Loss of the senses is normal but not natural. If it was, EVERY person would age the same way… but some older people have heaps of energy, are flexible and strong, and enjoy life to the max!! Even worse is rigidity of the mind! This can also affect the young, but typically sets in around middle age, hardening up in older age – but it doesn't have to!! Of course we are respectful to our bodies’ needs – but that holds true at any age, at any time! Keeping your mind relaxed, calm, empty, receptive and as flexible as your body is key to staying youthful. Learn new things, be curious, study, explore, surrender, see another's point of view, stay open to alternate opinions… try to get in contact with that deepest inner part of yourself, focus on living/life, not your age… all of these things help!
Of course, I credit our youthful experiences to yoga! Maintaining optimum health in body, mind and spirit definitely helps. Continuing to grow and evolve and letting go of that which doesn't serve; conscious living – including diet, lifestyle and the way you relate to others all play a part. We have much greater input into our experience of aging than we are led to believe. We are co-creators who create through our choices... so choose… how old do you want to be? Or not!!
In general, when you hear people refer to the “core” they are referring to the band of abdominal muscles around the belly/lumbar spine.
In yoga we refer more to the energetic core and the corresponding muscles that activate when the energetic core is switched on
. It's more like an apple core than a “band”. Initially, the action of the core is quite subtle... it is the awakening of the energy through the central nadi (energy meridian) called the shushumna.
You begin by being aware of the breath filling the base of the belly and moving upwards through the spine and out through the crown of the head. As the breath moves upwards, the belly moves in towards the spine and up, the sacrum moves inward and up, the whole spine lifts, the heart inflates, and all of the muscles relating to these actions switch on. The bandhas (locks/supports) also activate. The muscles involved in a yogic sense are all the muscles that attach to the pelvis and spine from the tailbone to the back of the skull.
During the inhalation the muscles and body relax, but the energetic action stays “on”. The flow of breath up and down the spine causes prana to move up through the shushumna. This not only brings about a calm, clear and peaceful mind, but it gently “magnetizes” the central channel (physically the spine). It is almost as if the spine has a magnetic attraction that draws the muscles towards itself producing great stability and a sense of integration.
When these interior muscles are on, then you can move the spine safely and efficiently. These muscles are the ones designed to support and move the spine, but too often they get ignored, and the larger exterior muscles of the back, limbs and gluts are used to bear weight, lift and stabilise instead. As they are not designed for this function, they tire easily and the spine can be unstable. There is extra wear and tear on the joints as these muscles tighten and fatigue. These exterior muscles are meant to be for movement and joint support, not the weight bearing actions we ask of them. When you lift up in a pose (inversions, some abdominals) it is more efficient to use the interior core muscles rather than muscles of the arms or back, hence you sometimes hear the instruction “draw up into your core”.
Here are a few hints to make sure you work efficiently with your core:
1 – Get familiar with the correct muscle groups that are related to the core and spinal movement and weight bearing. Dedicate some time of your asana practice for this daily until you get it. In a comfortable seated position, close your eyes and become aware of the breath moving up and down the spine. Feel the energy core get stronger as you spend time focusing on it.
2 – Spend a few minutes before every class to connect to these muscles and make sure they are switched on and part of your practice.
3 – Only go as far in a pose as you are able to maintain conscious awareness of the core – as a primarily energetic action, your awareness is priority. This is particularly important in postures where the spine is not vertical, but leaning over the centre of gravity – e.g Trikonasana. Use your mind, but listen to your body. Modify the actions of the limbs and joints in postures until the core is strong (i.e come out of the pose to the point there is no strain in the back)
4 – Allow the other muscles to relax and let the energy flow through them to “express” the pose
5 – Build core strength up gradually – too much too soon can see you fall back on the habit of using the “exterior” muscles to compensate and potentially aggravate your spine and joints, and weaken your pose.
6 - Practice abdominal movements that use your whole spine e.g Navasana (boat pose – holding and lifting), rolling up/down into postures such as Halasana (plough), lifting up to jump back and so on. Actions that roll your up and down along the mat are also useful e.g Garbapindasana (embryo).
7 – Be aware of your posture at all times – whether on the mat or not. Slouching, improper seat held for long periods of time, shoulders collapsing forward… all of these put pressure on the larger exterior muscles and compress and restrict the flow of energy in the spine. In yoga, use props such as blankets to ensure a lengthened, spacious spine.
“There is only one purpose for all of life, and that is for you and all that lives to experience fullest glory” Conversations with God, Neale Donald Walsch