Strengthening Your Core
by Maria Zafonte Levine
One of my favorite things to do for myself is to schedule time for an exercise session with my friend, Jamie. She’s a certified Pilates instructor I met through MOPS. The admonition I hear from her a dozen times during a one-hour session is some variation on: "tighten that core." She doesn't just mean "suck it in!" But instead she provides the visual and mental cue to: “Pull your belly button in toward your spine."
That shouldn't be a hard instruction to follow, and initially it isn’t. However after about 30 seconds into an opening Pilates 100 exercise, l’m lying on my back with legs raised off the mat, arms out and pumping and, Oh yeah, I am supposed to breathe through this exercise. Multitasking mom though I am, the miniscule section of my brain devoted to coordination and physical activity goes into overload and suddenly my belly is puffing out like the mother of three that it is.
Then I hear Jamie gently remind me, "Don't forget your core." Right, core, yeah, got it! I'm right back — belly button to spine, strengthening and toning those core muscles.
Tightening the core isn’t an exercise in vanity, but rather in form and function. It’s the center and the support for your body. A strong core improves breathing, helps to support and carry your body and keeps your back and posture in good shape.
In our mothering life, I wish we all had a Jamie to remind us to take care of our core. As moms we’re torn in so many directions. Work, volunteering, household tasks, making time for a spouse and taking care of kids are just some of the tasks many moms face on a daily basis. It‘s a challenge to find, never mind to strengthen, our core: who we were before we became a mom and the woman God has planned for us to be.
In my first few years of motherhood, my core was MIA. Life with three boys under the age of four was overwhelming. Recently transplanted to the Southwest, I was trying to get my bearings and deal with the demands of childrearing without the supports I had grown to depend on back East. The woman I was had gotten lost. My core wasn’t gone, but it sure was in hiding, much as physically my core was buried under the extra belly fat that motherhood so generously provides.
Finding a church and being part of founding their MOPS group gave me the first glimpse of my long-lost core. It was like the first five arm pumps of a Pilates 100 exercise. Slowly, bits and pieces of the old me — the core of the woman I was — began to reemerge. And I felt stronger. The organized, capable, not to mention freshly showered, woman I was prior to having children was returning.
Years later, I now realize that a woman with a strong core is an asset to her family because of her strength, wisdom and self-knowledge. Just as I’m still going to Pilates to tone my mommy body on the outside and to strengthen my physical core, I’m still working to strengthen my inner core too. Both are a joyful work in progress.
Maria Zafonte Levine lives with her three boys in Phoenix, Arizona. She teaches part-time and is a founding member of the MOPS group at All Saint’s Lutheran Church.