By Diana Nguyen
One of the common things I see during my remedial massage therapy sessions is a weak core which predominantly results from poor posture. You only need to look at the people around you and you’ll most likely be able to spot someone who’s shoulders are hunched over ever so slightly, their upper back has a bit more curvature to it than it should, and their neck is more forward than it should be. This is the inevitable state of where we are now given that we as a species have gone from a life where our days were full of physical exertion to a life where it’s mostly sedentary.
If you go and see a personal trainer, chiro, physio or even a massage therapist, most of them will say “you need to work on your core to improve your posture”. So what exactly is the core (and no it’s not JUST the abs so doing crunches and sit ups might not be THAT beneficial). The core is the set of muscles that act to stabilise your spine so if you were to look at a diagram of the muscles in our body, you’ll be quick to realise that there are a lot more muscles in there than we thought!
When we stablise our spine, our posture is better, our movements are more efficient and we are less prone to injury. Every movement that we do is essentially using the spine and therefore requires our core to turn on, so let’s start with a pretty basic movement that everyone does – walking!
We tend to walk unconsciously – i.e. we don’t pay a lot of attention to our bodies when we’re walking (unless we experience pain). If we were to think about walking, most of us would think about the parts of our body from the hips and down. Whilst this is correct to a degree, it’s important that we pay attention to what’s going on above the hips too. In fact, our psoas muscle is a hip flexor that pretty much attaches our lower spine to the legs that enables us to walk. If you’ve been a client of mine, you’ll know that I have a holistic approach on things, so the psoas is situated very close to the kidneys, which in Traditional Chinese Medicine, hold the emotion of fear – which is funny because fear tends to make us run away from things and the psoas is the muscle that helps us walk and run 😉
Moving up the body on top of the psoas is the diaphragm. As you can see, the diaphragm has a pretty interesting shape, and it’s the tendons and ligaments of the diaphragm that connect with the psoas (not to mention the fascia). In a previous article, I wrote about the importance of breathing and how to breathe properly so we won’t go there again, however it’s interesting to note breathing can have an effect on your psoas, the way you walk and ultimately your core. When breathing properly, everything from your diaphragm and below all the way to the pelvic floor (including muscles and organs) gets toned, massaged and stimulated. The effect of this is that your core is also getting a work out.
Another interesting thing is that the diaphragm is innervated from the spinal nerves at C3-C5 of your cervical vertebrae, which is where your neck is… so changes in posture around the neck and upper body can have an effect on the operation of the diaphragm!
So, an exercise you can try at home is to walk from your diaphragm. This sounds weird but hear me out. If you place your awareness at your diaphragm and imagine that your legs start from there and start walking, you might notice that your posture all of a sudden changes to make you feel a lot straighter, and perhaps even feel that your shoulders come back a bit. Whilst walking, try taking some deep breaths as well – you might notice more things relax and open up further – this is the way we should all be walking!