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Can Core Exercise Be Fun?

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–by Coach Casey

What is your favorite part of the body to sculpt and strengthen? Is it your calves? Is it your biceps or forearms? Is it your thighs? Or perhaps your chest or back? What about deeper down in your mid-section? Do you like to work on your abs? Your deep core muscles?

Go back and read these questions again. This time read them out loud, and substitute the word “your” with “my,” and “you” with “I.”

What happens when you ask yourself these questions? What physical sensations do you feel when you address the various parts of your physique? Do certain parts radiate with pride, while others feel shame?

For myself, I’ve always found that working my limbs was much easier than working my core. What’s more, I’ve always been surprised that I feel such positive emotions of pride when exercising my arms and legs, and such negative emotions of guilt and shame when exercising my abs.

Over my lifetime, I’ve subconsciously developed patterns of avoiding feeling my abs. When we don’t like a particular emotion, we do everything we can to avoid it. Often this reaches a point where we carry a great deal of shame around the emotion. Shame is a form of self-loathing that we add to an already complicated situation. When we add shame to an emotion, it’s a form of self-punishment. We penalize ourselves by judging our emotions as either wrong or bad. This can spiral to the point of freezing up. Now we’ve paralyzed ourselves, making it impossible to learn or evolve from the experiences we’re in.

Our emotions are not the thoughts we have about the way we feel. Those thoughts are actually the stories we tell ourselves, which are made up of our opinions, beliefs, and judgements. The realm of emotion is very different from the realm of thought. Emotions are a physical phenomena.  We feel our emotions. We feel them directly in our bodies. When we feel painful emotions, we tend to react to them by forming stories about their source, while almost simultaneously developing strategies to try to get away from them. This process of feeling—> identification—> reaction happens so fast that unless we’re really paying attention, we rarely notice it occurring.  Why?  Because it’s an automatic process of self-preservation. The brain does not distinguish emotional pain from physical pain. For the brain, they are one and the same. And so we reflexively move away from the source of pain. This is the body’s natural mechanism for staying alive. This is the same thing that happens when we touch a hot stove and reflexively jerk away. The catch is that emotions, even the painful ones, aren’t eradicated through these knee-jerk reactions. In fact, our natural reactions tend to create more problems on the emotional landscape.

One of the biggest themes of our coach training at Cappy’s this year has been curiosity. In order to work through the emotions contained in my core, I have to stay curious about them. I want to know what feelings and sensations are hiding under the shame. That means, I have to experience in my body the very sensations that my body is telling me to avoid. It sounds counter-intuitive, and it is. But it also works.

Curiosity can lower the perceived risk associated with gazing into the abyss. It also opens us up to the possibility being surprised at discovering unexpected truths. What’s more, curiosity is child-like and exciting! When we are welcoming of painful emotions, we soften and invite them in, rather than tightening and resisting them. This is what boxers do. Boxers invite the pain and the fear, and stay relaxed when the fists come flying. Only in that frame of mind and body, will the boxer be able respond in the most strategic way possible to their opponent.

Welcoming painful emotions can be immensely challenging, especially if we are prone to avoiding them. It can be helpful to have the outside support of a friend or coach who can help us feel safe enough to take on the challenge.

Ready to take on the feelings that are holding you back? To schedule a personal coaching session, click here.

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