How To Establish Core Support

Find your core support before you try challenging ab exercises.
Find your core support before you try challenging ab exercises.

Core support cannot happen in the body if the neck and shoulder muscles are holding tension. When there is upper body tension, the whole body is off-center, however slightly. From an off-center position, the deep abdominal muscles cannot be accessed.

This simple session uses specific breathing techniques and your imagination to effect changes in posture. These techniques release unnecessary muscle tension and activate the deep muscles of core support.

  1. Lie on your back on the floor. Bend your knees, place your feet flat on the floor. Your heels should be directly in line with your sitting bones, located at the base of your pelvis. Tie a scarf or belt around your thighs just above your knees.
  2. Place your hands between the sides and back of your ribcage for feedback. Imagine that your ribcage is a balloon. As you inhale, inflate the balloon. Use your mental intention to inflate right where your hands are. Try to make this image come alive for you. Try also to inflate the balloon in the back of your ribs.
  3. On the exhale, make a long, slow hissing sound, as though you were letting air out of a tire. During each exhale, imagine that your neck and shoulders are made of melted candle material. Your neck and shoulders are soft, yet malleable.
  4. Let your imagination begin at your neck. As the wax flows down, in your mind's eye, see your neck softly lengthening toward your feet. Remember, you are still exhaling.
  1. Still exhaling, as your melted candle drip reaches your shoulders, it is as if a pair of hands smooths the wax out wide (the same direction your shoulders go), very gently. Work from the center outward. Allow yourself to relax.
  2. Next, the melted candle material flows down the center of your chest, from the breastbone to the pelvis, always lengthening toward your feet. Let the melted candle soften your chest and ribs as it moves.
  1. During the exhale, feel theĀ front of your body naturally falling against the back.
  2. After you have melted your upper body, but before all of your air has been expelled, pull in slightly at the front of your pelvis. The place to pull in is just below your belly button. Try to use more intention than force, but do exert a muscular effort. In Pilates, this would be the "scooping", or "navel to spine". Substitute force with muscular intention when scooping.
  3. I thank the teachers who contributed to my understanding of this work: Elizabeth Larkham of Polestar Education, Jean-Claude West and Anna Schmitz, Andre Bernard of Creative Body Alignment, Marie Jose Blom from Long Beach Dance Conditioning. The material in this article is a synthesis of the work of these people, along with the work of Lulu Sweigard, Mabel Elsworth Todd, Joseph Pilates, Rudolph Laban, Irmgard Bartinieff, and many others in this tradition.


  1. For maximum relaxation and concentration, read the instructions into a tape, and play the tape back while you experience the session.
  2. Don't force anything. It is all in the breathing and imagination.
  3. Tie a scarf around your ribs. This will provide resistance to your breathing, which will build posture muscles in the upper body.
  1. If you cannot keep your exhale going long enough to complete all the instructions in one cycle, that's okay. Just breathe in and continue from where you were. With practice, your breathing capacity will develop.
  2. You can also use these techniques to release stress and upper body tension.

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