There are so many reasons as to why it’s beneficial to activate our core. There’s the more well-known principles like improving posture, supporting cycling, lifting weights, running, dance, tennis, or any sport for that matter, and how core activation can support digestion aka get things moving, especially with twisting movements. If you’ve ever had a low back injury, you’re likely also aware that core activation is often prescribed as a way to heal. However, the emotional benefits of core activation are lesser known. Let’s dive into how activating our core helps reduce anxiety and improves vagal tone.
It encourages deep diaphragmatic breathing
When we curl, twist or pull a knee in as part of a climber, we naturally want to exhale with effort to activate and brace the core. The exhale helps pull up the pelvic floor and “fuels” our movement so we experience a deeper activation. This conscious breathing, helps train us to breathe more intentionally and to fill our lungs up beyond the 30% we typically fill them to. Shifting from shallow, upper chest breathing to deep, diaphragmatic breathing also strengthens our vagal tone. As a reminder, the vagus nerve is a collection of nerves that connect the gut and brain. The stronger our vagal tone, the more resilient we are to stress as our ability to shift from a sympathetic (fight or flight) to sympathetic (rest and digest) state is elevated. Strong vagal tone is also associated with reduced inflammation, something we can all benefit from (see study).
It creates a feeling of being held and safe
When our abdominals are contracted and engaged, it fosters a feeling of not only being physically held, but emotionally as well. It’s as if the body is telling the brain, I am supported, I am held, I got this…we’re okay! This is communicated via the vagus nerve. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious or stressed, rolling out your mat and doing 10 minutes of conscious core can be a beautiful way to shift your state and create a feeling of calm and ease.
Core activation helps pump lymph
When we breathe deeply and activate our abdominals, we help pump lymph through our lymphatic system. Lymph is a milky fluid that acts as a filtration/waste management system in our bodies; it circulates through our body and clears out wastes like abnormal cells that can lead to cancer, toxins, bacteria and viruses. If we don’t move regularly, lymph can get “stuck” and this can lead to feelings of lethargy, brain fog, anxiety, frequent infections, and the onset of cancer. By regularly activating the core and twisting and turning the thoracic cavity, we pump lymph through our bodies and clear out the gunk (source).
Moderate & sustained effort will induce a Runner’s High
We typically associate the “Runner’s High” with running…however any movement done at moderate intensity for 20+ minutes will induce that endorphin cascade, leading to a feeling of being uplifted and more receptive to joy. This is due to endocannabinoids, which are released and help alleviate pain and boost mood (source). “Areas of the brain that regulate the stress response, including the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, are rich in receptors for endocannabinoids. When endocannabinoid molecules lock into these receptors, they reduce anxiety and induce a state of contentment. Endocannabinoids also increase dopamine in the brain’s reward system, which further fuels feelings of optimism.” (source).
We hope this inspires you to approach core activation in a whole new way. Consider integrating core-focused movement a few times a week to support you not just physically, but emotionally, too.