Look at the core as a relationship—with gravity, with your body, with other people and with the environment.
Over my 40 years of teaching, I have come to deeply appreciate the innate intelligence of the body. I have learned to listen to its messages. Out of this appreciation and listening I have developed the 3-Core BodyMapping Perspective—not as a new concept or belief system, but as an inquiry into what the core is from the body’s perspective.
Once I suspended my attachment to how I had previously understood the core, a door opened, giving me deeper access to how the body works from a whole-person perspective, in relationship with the earth’s gravitational field. Many questions emerged from this inquiry. I wanted to know how the many parts of the body related to one another. Among these connections, I wondered specifically how the following related:
- the foot to the head
- the hand to the shoulder and spine
- the foot to the hip and spine
- the breath to the spine
- the head to the tail
- the front of the body to the back of the body
- the inside of the body to the outside of the body
Sensing these relationships enables us to know ourselves on a deeper level and to be self-healing.
The Whole Body
I studied with first-generation Pilates elders, initially with Romana Kryzanowska and then with Kathleen Stanford Grant, Mary Bowen, Ron Fletcher and Lolita San Miguel. Consequently, I learned the diverse ways Joseph Pilates taught each of these inspiring teachers. Each elder told me that Joseph Pilates never spoke about anatomy. Rather, he implored students to “use [their] whole body.” And yet, the fitness community has focused primarily on a static muscle/bone anatomy paradigm of muscles working in isolation.
In following the “isolation approach,” we have come to believe that “core control” results from accessing and contracting the abdominals. I suggest that this view of the core, as an isolated group of muscles, keeps us locked into a static perspective. The only option is to do something to the body. We are distanced from listening and moving with the body. We are not embodying the movement.
We discover embodied movement in the early years of infant growth. Our brain maps chart the internal body and the space around it. We learn to sense our surroundings by lifting our heads, crawling, sitting, standing, walking, running and engaging in many other activities. The “body-mapping” theory reveals how plastic our body-centered maps are—from birth throughout the rest of our lives (Blakeslee & Blakeslee 2007).
A Shift in Focus
Let’s look at a vital juncture in our development—the emergence of our vestibular support. While studying with Hubert Godard, an advanced Rolfer™ and movement teacher, I learned that the inner ear is the first sense to develop in the womb and also the first sense we lose in aging. It occurred to me that some way we are using our bodies and perceiving space could be causing that to happen.
Our orientation is either effortful as we fight gravity (overusing compensatory muscles) or effortless as we partner with gravity (allowing connective tissue to support muscular effort). Since muscles atrophy as we age, it makes sense to learn how to move from a connective-tissue/fascial focus in order to support muscle and engage the perineural nervous system (Oschman 2003). This system forms earlier in our embryology than our classical nervous system and is a slower, more precise analog current and controller of whole-body functions. It is also responsible for overall regulation of the classical nervous system (which is faster, more digital, more “point to point”), and for regulating wound healing and injury repair (Oschman 2003).
In his book Energy Medicine in Therapeutics and Human Performance, James Oschman, PhD, talks about the importance of a connective-tissue/fascial focus: “For the body to function as a whole, there must be a system that reaches to and into every cell,” he says. “For the body to function at its absolute peak of performance, all parts and processes must be interconnected by a system that delivers energy and information [by] the fastest possible means that nature has available. The living matrix (connective tissue/fascial system) is the system of systems that accomplishes these integrative activities, and is a multi-directional, liquid crystalline, semi-conducting web.”
This expanded perspective provides us with a dynamic, “living-systems” approach to understanding movement. It sees “core” as a normal, adaptive response to demand. No extra effort is needed.
Being or Doing?
As Pilates teachers, we are familiar with the phrase “moving with the whole body.” Yet, what I have found over the years is that we often treat ourselves as objects to be trained. We think we have to contract muscles or do something extra to move. I am suggesting that moving from the core is about being responsive to what is actually happening inside, outside and around us.
In developing this perspective, my vision has been to contribute to our growth as teachers by bringing forth a body map from the body’s perspective. Through this portal of living anatomy we can see the vital relationships—from foot to head—that support our movements. The following examples of 3-Core BodyMapping offer insights into exploring gravity in a new and different way.
Area of Body. Helix/dome of each foot to pelvis. In the lower core we ask: “How can I release into gravity’s support while lying, sitting, standing, walking, running, etc.?”
The foot has a double function: it is an adaptive structure that transmits weight from the body (above), along with irregularities from the ground (below); it is also a supportive structure responsible for our quality of movement in all activities. Feet are mirrors for the rest of the body. Tension in the feet translates as tension in the body. If there is weakness in the feet, there is weakness in the body.
Area of Body. Pelvic floor to respiratory diaphragm. In the central core we ask: “Am I allowing breath to support and move me?” This is very different from “How should I breathe?”
By allowing the inhalation and relaxing on the exhalation, we let the “wave of the breath” move us. Breath changes with metabolic need. As we listen to the deep intelligence of the body, guided by breath, our backs open, our organs have space to function and the body discovers internal support.
Area of Body. Diaphragm to cranial base/palate. In the upper core we ask: “How can my head, neck and shoulders feel like they are floating?” We experience our inner ear and peripheral vision as an internal awareness gyroscope that orients us to our gravity-based muscles for support, freeing up the external muscles for action.
As the crura (roots of the diaphragm) soften, the tailbone drops, freeing internal lift and sensory awareness along the front of the spine.