“Core stability is less something we consciously learn as much as something we unconsciously re-awaken” Richmond Heath, Physiotherapist, TRE Australia.
Core strength does not mean the ability to hold the body in a single stationary position but rather is the ability of the body to stabilise and control the full range of movement using the deepest muscles of the body. Nearly any core stability exercise can be held and sustained using peripheral muscle strength without accurately engaging the deeper core muscles.
In response to any stressful, overwhelming or traumatic experience our body initially creates tension to protect and guard the core of the body in a defensive or ‘armouring’ pattern, regardless of whether that stress is physical, emotional or psychological in origin. Every stressful experience or emotional state we experience (such as anxiety, fear, irritation or frustration) is always associated with an accompanying physiological reaction in our body.
While symptoms of these defensive reactions often appear as chronic peripheral muscular tension and pain, this armouring pattern is initiated and activated primarily by the brain stem and our deepest abdominal muscles – the iliopsoas. These primary defence muscles just in front of the lower spine are much deeper than many core stability training programs tend to focus upon and are the only muscles to directly connect the top and bottom half of the body.
The defensive activation of the liopsoas muscles flexes the body towards the foetal position such that for many people the iliopsoas muscles are continually activated in response to ongoing psychological and emotional stress. This can result in a range of poor postural adaptations including hunching the upper back, poking the head forwards, excessive arching of the lower back, tightness in the groin and rounding of the shoulders.
While these postural adaptations can themselves create tension and pain, their chronic holding also reduces our range and freedom of movement creating ongoing stiffness and rigidity and reduced adaptability to new movements and positions. A common example is when we are unable to sleep on a different bed or pillow without causing pain or stiffness the next day.
At it’s extreme, beyond the initial fight and flight response, the defensive response of the body is to create a freeze, feint or fold state. Chronic activation of this ‘collapse’ response, (where the body starts to become limp and loose as if ‘playing possum’) readily becomes an automatic and habitual response to even low-level stress resulting in reduced core muscle tone and activation eventually manifesting as reduced core stability and dynamic control of movement.
Using the simple exercises of TRE to activate the bodies’ innate tremor release mechanism provides a freely available and ongoing resource to gradually release these defensive reactions and habituated patterns providing an opportunity for our core muscles to return to their naturally functional and engaged state.
As muscles that were tight and overactive become more relaxed and those collapsed and asleep are re-activated and re-engaged, the body returns towards its naturally functional and dynamically stable state without requiring excessive focus on the conscious activation and control of muscles and movements designed to be unconsciously coordinated by the body.