Strengthen 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, a certified Pilates instructor who I met through MOPS. The admonition I hear out of her mouth easily 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."
Now that shouldn't be a hard instruction to follow, and initially it isn’t, but about 30 seconds into an opening Pilates 100 exercise, 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. It’s then that 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 your core isn’t an exercise in vanity but in form and function. It’s the center and the support for your body and a strong core improves breathing, helps to support and carry your body and keeps your back and posture in good shape.
In our mothering lives, I wish we all had a Jamie to remind us about our core. As moms we are torn in so many directions. Motherhood changes our lives in such profound ways. Work, volunteering, household tasks, making time for a spouse, and, most importantly, taking care of our kids are just some of the tasks many moms face on a daily basis. With all that going on, it’s a challenge to find, never mind strengthen, that core. The core of who we are. The core is the woman we were before we became moms, the woman that being a mother makes us become and the woman that God has planned for us to be. So we owe it to ourselves, our families and our God to refocus on that core.
Working on my core is something I can do in all seasons of motherhood. 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.
But it wasn’t gone; I wasn’t gone. Finding a church and being part of the founding of their MOPS group gave me the first glimpse of my core that I’d seen in a while. It was akin to the first 5 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. I felt stronger. The organized, capable and generous, not to mention freshly showered, woman I was prior to having children was returning. My dreams of writing and the confidence to pursue them returned. Now I 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 am still going to Pilates to tone my mommy body on the outside and strengthen my physical core, I am still strengthening my inner core. Both are a joyful work in progress.
Maria and her boys, Ben, 6; Noah, 4; and Caleb, 3 live in Phoenix, Arizona. In addition to writing, Maria teaches part time, volunteers, and is a founding member of the MOPS group at All Saint’s Lutheran Church in Phoenix.