Title- “Core Awareness: Enhancing Yoga, Pilates, Exercise, and Dance.”
Author- Liz Koch
First published- 2012
Format- Hard copy and digital
Availability description- Amazon and from Liz Koch’s site http://www.coreawareness.com
I was originally interested in this book after reading the title and description. Being both a Yoga and Pilates teacher, I’m always looking for new ways to enhance my client’s and student’s practice. The description of this book by somatic educator Liz Koch had my curiosity about her approach to increasing strength and flexibility and gaining a deeper core awareness.
A majority of the book comes from Koch’s somatic teaching experience and focuses a great deal on the psoas muscles. Both personally and professionally I find the psoas muscles fascinating and I’ve read several books on the topic. This was another reason I was drawn to purchase this book. Let’s dive in to the book.
Chapter 1 – This first chapter is really an introduction and had me hooked right away. Koch covers several ideas of movement today, that I myself agree with. For instance how some people look at the body in parts instead of as a whole. To fix a knee problem, knee surgery is offered instead of looking at what could be causing the imbalance and injury. This chapter covers topics like neutral body, positioning, anchoring, initiation of movement, breath, etc.
Another idea she covers is what is true strength. Take a look at body builders who can have a six pack stomach but still lack the core strength and control needed for even simple movements and posture. They can look powerful but lack the ability to have good posture, resiliency and proprioception (awareness of where their body is and how it moves through space). She sums it up pretty simply in one sentence…”True strength emerges when the inner connections between all the various expressions move in harmony”.
One of the few times she actually mentions Pilates is in this first chapter where she talks about how the Pilates method is a great way to both strengthen and lengthen muscles. She also mentions ways to increase proprioception and how to modify a position if its too demanding. Ways that we all know as movement teachers such as: narrowing the range of motion, providing an assisted support or choosing a different position.
Chapter Two – This chapter begins to focus on the psoas muscle and ways to engage the psoas. Koch does a great job of describing the location and function of the psoas. Also, in this chapter she begins to talk about energy and how it is held in the body. She touches on how the body can hold emotions such as fear, especially the psoas and where it is the location of fight or flight response.
This chapter reminded me of another great book I read on the psoas “The Vital Psoas Muscle” by Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones. Staugaard-Jones talks more of the energetics of the psoas muscles and links it to our Solar Plexus Chakra. As a yoga teacher, I’ve always been interested in the chakras so I found “The Vital Psoas” fascinating. Koch only briefly touches on this link however. I was hoping for more on this topic. If you are interested in the energy lines or chakras and how they can affect health and vitality in the body I would recommend reading one of my favorite books “Anatomy of the Sprit” by Caroline Myss.
Koch closes this chapter by mentioning that the psoas does not respond well to manual manipulation such as myofascial release or deep massage. She says it is better to understand the muscle and how to release it. She suggests and introduces Constructive Rest Position (CRP). Interestingly enough, Staugaart-Jones also mentions CRP in “The Vital Psoas Muscle” and even mentions that it was something that Joseph Pilates was interested in and practiced himself.
Chapter Three – This chapter is all about centering the pelvis. Koch writes about different ways the pelvis can brought out of alignment such as poor positioning, muscle dominance and limited range of activity causing symptoms such as mid/low back pain, knee and ankle problems, pelvic and groin pain, shoulder pain and even headaches. As teachers we know that the body is interconnected; what happens in one spot affects both above and below as well.
Chapter Four – I can sum this chapter up in two words: “flowery” and “woo-woo”. I started to get a little lost and losing interest in the book at this point. Koch writes about the Earth, gravity, bones, rooting and grounding with the Earth. Now as a yoga teacher I love the “woo-woo” stuff but even I got lost in this chapter and the point Koch was trying to make.
Chapter Five – This is just another flowery chapter continuing on the themes mentioned in Chapter Four. Koch talks about the “spirals of life” and how “Core awareness is a powerful means for healing emotional, spiritual, and physical wounds”. Again I was a little lost and about to give up on the book at this point.
Chapter Six – This chapter is the first in the second section of the book where we get to the movement part of the book, or as Koch calls them, the “explorations”. We are again introduced to Constructive Rest Position or CRP. Every exercise that is covered in the rest of the book will be based off of CRP. CRP is an active resting position that helps to “decrease excessive nerve excitation” and help to unravel “all forms of tension throughout your body”.
Chapter Seven – The first exploration focuses on awakening core awareness. CRP is further discussed and a detail account of how to perform CRP is given. As I mentioned above it’s a very interesting exercise that I’ve previously explored after reading about it in “The Vital Psoas Muscles”.
Chapter Eight – This exploration is all bout engaging, lengthening and toning the psoas. Koch talks about how and why we initiate movement and goes deeper into CRP. This chapter gives a great breakdown of CRP and some great tips on how to release the psoas in CRP. This chapter regained my attention and was giving me what I hoped to receive from this book; great tips and ideas on how to release tension in the body and find core awareness. Explorations include different ways to release the upper psoas and the lower psoas. These are techniques that I’ve started adding in to my yoga classes, but haven’t found them useful for a Pilates session yet. Also covered is ways to use CRP to find pelvic and shoulder girdle stability.
Chapters Nine through Eleven – The final chapters include more exercises or explorations using CRP to center and balance the pelvis, articulate the pelvis, to explore the arms-pelvis relationship, spinal curling and arching, and core unraveling.
Overall, the book was not what I was expecting. The anatomy nerd in me was hoping for so much more from this book. I wanted this to be a great resource on anatomy, physiology and movement but I was disappointed. While I am interested in CRP and can see it’s usefulness for easing tension in the body (especially the psoas and spine) and helping to work on stability in the body, it’s not as useful to my teaching as I had hoped.
I also find the title misleading as Yoga and Pilates are mentioned only once or twice, and there is no mention of how these explorations can be related to either types of movement. As an experienced teacher I can take what I can from the book and the exercises/explorations covered and include them in my teaching. I didn’t find any information in here that can do differently for the body what just following the Pilates method already does. Pilates alone can teach the body stability, proprioception and help us with posture, strengthening, lengthening, and engaging of muscles. As we as Pilates teachers well know.
I do find the exercises/explorations interesting and they really were the meat of the book. If you are interested in the book I suggest borrowing it to skim the explorations that are discussed, as they include photos and detailed descriptions of the exercises etc. This would also be a great book for anyone interested in somatic awareness/practice.
To buy or to borrow? – If interested in reading it I would see if you can borrow a copy.
Reviewed by – Christopher Roberts