I’ve long been a fan of cross-discipline analogies and metaphors as a way of learning and teaching. To fend off boredom in high school physics, I pondered how people’s moods were like sine waves or how light being both a particle and wave connected to the mysteries of our existence.
Flash forward – I belong to a gym that is based on small group personal training. For the past couple of decades, I have come to recognize how valuable it is to have a trainer who can make micro-corrections to form when engaging in weight training. Perhaps due to a less well-developed body awareness but having received thousands of cues to lower my shoulders away from my ears when doing a pulldown or a row, the little buggers still have a way of creeping up as my other muscles fatigue. The phenomenon of these other muscles trying to “help out” is often a source of injuries, whereas, working the targeted muscle with correct form, builds their strength and supports better posture and overall functioning. Yet, despite my cognitive knowledge of this phenomenon, I STILL NEED CUING!
So, the other day, the ever patient trainer was having me do plank rollouts while keeping my forearms balanced on a large exercise ball. This exercise is intended to strengthen core muscles, and here the cue often involves a small pelvic tilt so that the lower back muscles aren’t trying to compensate for the abdominal core muscles. Again, while I KNOW this, a little cue from the trainer to tuck a bit and activate my core, made the exercise instantly more challenging, safer and more effective to it’s intent.
Trying to distract myself from my complaining ab muscles, I asked the characteristically perky trainer about something I knew had been upsetting to her in her personal and professional life. Indeed, as she relayed the circumstances, she was rightfully hopping mad about an injustice that was happening in her life.
During the next break between exercises, I asked if she would be interested in exploring a micro-adjustment in how she was experiencing her anger. Knowing what I do for a living and being a generally open-minded type, she agreed. So I had her access and activate her core state – of calm, curiosity, compassion, etc. My next cue was to take a couple of deep breathes into that space to deepen the connection. From this place, I cued her to find the part of her that felt righteously aggrieved and the part that feels enraged in a protective way. I asked if those parts of her could recognize and take in some of her and my core qualities of calm, centered, compassionate presence. And further, whether those parts of her could trust her centered self to represent them fully when she needed to speak later with the offending party. After a few breaths, when she opened her eyes – she exclaimed – “WOW, that was amazing. That was an incredible shift, I feel so much clearer and stronger now”.
The remainder of the training session, we continued marveling at (or what we AEDP folks would call “metaprocessing”) the power that these micro-shifts to core activations could have both physically and psychologically. Moving from core enables us to carry our bodies and life experiences with more power and grace, more strength and intention.
Interestingly, in a gym workshop designed to teach techniques for strengthening one’s core muscles, the trainer pointed out that healthy human infants naturally know how to breath with fully engaged diaphragmatic breaths. By adulthood, most of us have maladaptively “learned” a less complete chest breathing style which does not engage our core muscles. This is why most mindfulness meditation activities begin with consciously deepening our breaths to “belly breathing” because by doing so we activate this core state of calm and centeredness.
For these reasons, I will continue to activate my core at the gym and in my office so that I am building genuinely healthy strength and improving my capacity for relational connection.