Core Strength & Organisational Sit-ups

She firmly, yet not unkindly, pats her hand on my midriff as I try to “stand normal”. She is assessing my posture. It is unnerving.I’m literally head and shoulders taller than her and as I pull myself up to what my Gramps used to call my “fighting height” I feel like I’m a giant.
This is awkward.
For me
But seemingly not for her.
This tiny, compact Vietnamese woman has been scrutinising me with laser precision. Walking round me, head to one side sometimes. Peering at my back, my sides, my arms…occasionally moving me this way or that — gently pushing me here and there…She stands back and, after an achingly long pause, says firmly: “You have no core”

Me: I’m sorry?

She: You. You have no core. No muscles. No strength in the middle.
You are floppy.
Collapsed.
Not strong.
You have no core.

Me: [unsure what to do with this information] errrrr… OK[She gives me a gentle/firm nudge and I immediately lurch sideways and stagger a little]

She: See. No core. No resistance. No middle strength. You’re a pushover.

Me: [getting defensive now] Jeeze. Alright. I hear you.[She is frowning at me a little.. and jabs her finger toward me]

She: What do you do for your core?

Me: I swim. I cycle. I run a bit

She: [unimpressed] Meh! These things are for your arms and legs if you don’t do them properly… You are not doing them properly. You have no core.

Me: Thank you. I think we’ve established that.[I’m nervous to ask, but have to…]

Me: So… what does it mean? To have no core?

She: It means you have less balance. Less stability. Your back will ache. Your shoulders are carrying your body. You will get pushed over……..Oh. and your belly will look fat.

Me: Right.

_ _ _ _ _

There is something faintly devastating about being told you have no core, even in the slightly comedy, matter of fact way this information was delivered. I mean, what does it mean to be core-less? And who would want to be thus? In my usual way, I carried this thought around with me through client work and my week.

For some years now, I have worked with somatic and embodied Leadership — not in any detail, but I’ve trained to get some basic understanding of what it means to be able to stand physically (and metaphorically) solid, centred and calm — normally in the midst of organisational chaos, but sometimes just in the flow of lifestuff. What you notice, when you gather yourself and get centred, are basic things — like your voice is clear and calm; like your ability to access good judgment in maelstroms or moments of off-guardness is less impaired….there is a ton of science out there on the benefits of operating in a calm, low-adrenaline fashion in life and how your body posture/positioning alters outcomes of conversations and situations in subtle but incredible ways.

I don’t say a lot about my somatic work — I do use it, in groups, in coaching, on myself: breathing, posture, standing firm, finding centre…. I don’t make a big deal out of it…perhaps I ought to make more of it. I find some clients are skittish of the notion that we actually do Bring our Bodies to work. Yet whenever I start working this way, folk generally get it, respond to it, find something in it that is powerful or useful or shifting.

What Linh really brought home to me, in her inimitable “Oi. You with the soft centre” kind of a way, is the importance of deep core strength in life. I want to be balanced and not stagger weirdly when pushed or pulled by strangers and circumstance. I want to be stable for myself,for people around me, for people I work with. I want my back and my body to be strong enough to carry me. (oh, and really… I don’t want my belly to look fat)

So I started working on my core strength more — gym, running differently, swimming differently — minor adjustments designed to ensure I’m not a pushover….
But it takes work. Real work.And I have been reflecting on the work, real work it takes to develop our core mental, emotional and social strength too. When I hear about resilience training, I can’t help drawing parallels now with resistance training in the gym — up the pressure, develop the muscle. It’s all linked, I suspect. And so as I am facing a summer of curls, twists and swimming less-from-my-arms, I find I have questions: What happens if we see resistance as a force for something good to develop?
When we look around our team, does it have a strong core, or would it stagger under a nudge from someone smaller?
What is the organisational equivalent of sit ups?

In my pathway to understanding use-of-body in life and work, I have been honoured to work with or be connected with the following:

Amanda Ridings Amanda’s work in Fife and Scotland on dialogue and embodied leadership brought me into this field — she has taught me much.

Wendy Palmer — Leadership Embodiment — Wendy’s work is grounded in Aikido and focusses on using the body to give us information about our patterns and responses

Louise Robb — Facilitator Extraordinaire who I had the privilege of working with at WHO in Bonn recently — I’m in awe of her skill and knowledge of body work in and Organisational Context

The Centre for Embodied Wisdom