Rethinking Core Movement for Effortless Strength & Flexibility

When a child is born, he is rooted in the navel, in the hara.
He lives through the hara. Look at the child breathing – his navel goes up and down.
He breathes with the belly – not with the head, not with the heart. But by and by, he will have to drift away.


One of the most amazing gifts my own yoga teacher gave me was the opportunity to completely rethink movement. Maybe it was all about timing, but I do remember the light bulb went on and it suddenly made complete and utter sense. Organic and natural movement from the “core”. Not tensing the core, not squeezing the belly. In fact, not actually tensing anything. Just subtle and slight postural adjustments that naturally engage the correct muscles and ensure each movement becomes pure, intelligent fluid and effective: Dynamic, but yet virtually effortless.

It’s pretty much the way young children move when they are working it all out and creating pathways between their mind and their physical body. It’s what is meant by somatic awareness. Children’s bodies are usually relaxed and so they breathe diaphragmatically. That’s not to say that little ones do not get stressed, but it’s usually very much in the moment.  Here one minute and gone the next.

Somewhere along the line though, the majority of us lose the ability to move in this way. There are many contributing factors of course. Our spine and postural habits are challenged daily by modern lifestyle factors including technology and repetitive movements. It’s not unusual for some people to sit for upwards of 15 hours a day.  For the majority of us, we rarely think about how we move. It tends to be more about the result than the micro-movements involved in the action.

What I often see in my classes – and particularly with women – is an inability to move in a functional way due to a lifetime of holding the tummy overly tight. The results are many and varied including stiff hips, back pain, dodgy shoulders, tight neck, other niggly aches and pains, stress, digestive problems, sleep disorders, hormonal imbalances….. In fact, the list goes on because most common ailments have at their essence, something that began right here. So, if we can understand the idea of the “core” as being our “centre” then let’s compare it to the centre of other things to get a clearer picture in our minds of what it means to be strong and stable in a functional sense.

When I jump on a trampoline, generally, I am going to get the most amount of movement or bounce if I stand in the centre. I won’t get much movement though if the trampoline is too taut – this also makes it weaker – but then neither will it work very well if there’s not enough tension. We could also think about how a see-saw works. The pivot has to be fixed in the centre for perfect weight distribution and it needs just the right amount of tension so it moves freely without just hitting the ground at each side. If I was going to carry a long plank of wood, it makes sense for me to hold it somewhere in the middle, not at either end. It’s also the case that the morning after a hurricane, it’s mostly the strong and bendy palm trees that are still standing.

Relearning to move from a soft core means we start to feel much better – physically and emotionally. Flexibility increases and we recover quickly following intense exercise. The likelihood of injuries and niggles is diminished. It’s also the case that less physical effort is required but performance and strength improves. In other words, we end up getting more for less. And isn’t that what we all want?