When I was 29 I injured my hip. Nothing is a blow to your sense of youth then hobbling around complaining about hip pain. So off to physical therapy I went. The main lesson that I learned from physical therapy is that I have no recognition of my core muscles. The therapist would give me great advice like activate your core, tighten your abdominal muscles. My response was great! How?
I had no idea how to tap into my core. I could do the motions, but without tensing the right muscles it did nothing for my abdominal strength. No wonder I had a hip injury! Not having that central strength left me vulnerable. After learning how to strengthen my core and refocus on correct posture the pain from my imbalance reduced.
Emotional balance and strength is developed very similarly to how we develop of physical core strength. If you don't work on it, you don't sustain it. How you build this strength changes depending on what season you're in, what injuries you've sustained and what is going on in your life. For example, keeping a strong center physically and emotionally looked a lot different for me when I was pregnant versus before I had children.
So what makes up our emotional core? These are the values, purposes and beliefs that underlie our lives. Just like our core muscles keep up centered and balanced our emotional core (or philosophical core if you prefer) is the meaning and purpose behind what we do. Being aware of the values and beliefs that are core to us, strengthening them and utilizing them in our daily lives can help correct the imbalances we experience from stress, pressure and duty.
Living our lives according to our core values helps protect us when things get rocky and difficult. Reconnecting to our values helps us heal from hurts we have sustained. These values are the bedrock of our emotional equilibrium. Living a life aligned with our values not only protects us from injury but creates a sense of satisfaction with life.
Satisfaction does not equal happiness. Living a satisfying and meaningful life has led me to joy but it has also led to sorrow, anger and exhaustion. Whatever the emotional response, following my core was honest, true and real. It has brought me to deep abiding joy and connected me to a community of shared meaning and support. When I'm able to follow my internal compass and live according to my values, no matter how hard, I feel more like me. My capacity to love, care, be active and awake is increased. Some values have persisted since childhood, some have grown and changed through time and experience.
The first step is to identify your core.
If you're overwhelmed with your tasks and duties it's often hard to identify the core pieces holding you together. You may be more use to pushing through pain than readjusting or changing. Set aside some time and space to start looking into what drives you now and how to adjust to what you want to drive you. Start with the time you have and get support as needed.
If you have some ideas of what your core values are check and see how often you're doing things that fit those values. Do things that connect you to meaning, and remind yourself of the meaning behind why you do things. You may work to pay the bills but you may also work out of a value of productivity, challenge or growth. Keep at it regularly. Notice where you are off balance and listen to your discomfort and pain. These are often the first signs that something is off balance.
And remember balance isn't something you achieve, it is something you actively do. Tightrope walkers don't just march across the rope. They thoughtfully take each step, arms raised to the sides, observing what is coming next. Sometimes they lean to the left or the right, and that's okay, because they tighten their core to bring themselves back to the center so they can keep moving forward.
Need more help? Meeting with a coach or therapist can be the resource you need to get on track with living life according to your values versus your to-do list. You can also check out our 4-week workshop geared at helping you find and live from your core.