by Dr. Bohdanna “Billie” Zazulak: I was mountain biking on the majestic fjords of Norway, during the time of the midnight sun.
The midnight sun is an amazing phenomenon that occurs near the Earth’s poles in the summertime, when the sunrise and sunset color heaven and earth in the middle of the night. It was in this beauty that I sustained a high force injury after presenting at the 1stWorld Congress for Injury Prevention in Oslo.
I fell with my bicycle 50 feet down a steep, rocky cliff. Ironically, I had just presented my research on core stability and its importance for injury prevention to the world’s most brilliant sports medicine scientists, surgeons, and clinicians. I left the conference center feeling on top of the world as we were finally starting to understand the important connection between core stability and its relevance as the control center and powerhouse of the body. Within a split second I went from the top of the world literally and figuratively, to laying bloody at the bottom of a narrow deep inlet of the sea.
Injuries happen fast! We know that most traumatic injuries occur within 40 milliseconds. That’s eight times faster than a blink of your eye! We now also know that lack of core stability is directly linked to injury, and that dynamic training of your core is a key component of injury prevention as well as rehabilitation from injury. Fortunately, you can train your brain, nerves, and muscles to react quickly enough to respond and prevent damage to your body.
So why is it that I survived with minor injuries with such high forces acting on my body, whereas another person may sustain incapacitating lifelong injuries from a slip on a banana peel, a minor event with low destabilizing forces? Why is it that I pulled myself up, found my bike, and hopped back on to ride back to the conference center, get stitched up at my colleague’s hospital, and made the best of our faculty dinner in the beautiful harbor that evening.
My research shows that some people activate their core musculature differently during dynamic activities with different movement strategies. Research also shows that mindset and psychological factors such as positive thinking, resilience and ability to overcome fear and negative emotions, are equally important for predicting risk of injury, as well as in recovery from injury and overall health and well-being.
I have devoted my career to figuring out why so many people get injured in sports and everyday life, and what are the best strategies for rehabilitating people from injury. What I have discovered, in my 30 years of clinical experience as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Orthopedic Certified Specialist and Researcher at Yale New Haven Health and Yale University School of Medicine, is that properly training your core, is the most important thing you can do to improve your health, build strength, reduce your risk of injuries, improve performance, as well as your physical, mental, and emotional health.
The term “core stability” has been overhyped and misconstrued, leading people astray with endless crunches and swinging kettlebells onto a fast track of injury and despair. So what exactly is the core? Here in the Western scientific world, we describe the core as the body’s center of balance and strength. This includes thirty-five muscles (abdominal, back, pelvic, and glutes), plus the spine, pelvis, and hip joints. Eastern philosophies, dating back to the Ancient Greeks to traditional Chinese and Indian yogi masters, have looked beyond the physical aspect of the core for thousands of years, attributing to it certain spiritual properties. These traditions claim that mastering the spiritual components of your core through practices like deep breathing, meditation, and moving your body into and out of different postures can help you achieve inner power and enlightenment. New scientific evidence supports the benefits of these Eastern complementary practices, such as meditation, yoga, and martial arts, and their abilities to improve your health and empower your core.
This new research has created a paradigm shift in modern integrated health because it has forces us as scientists and medical professionals to recognize the importance of the mind-body-spirit connection for optimal wellness and injury prevention. This new paradigm has created a symbiotic approach that draws from both Western (conventional) and Eastern (alternative and complementary) philosophies to understand each person’s unique set of circumstances and address their full range of physical, psychological, social, environmental, and spiritual influences. Science has shown us that merging some of the best practices from Western and Eastern healing modalities is the best way to improve core stability and overall health.
Throughout my decades of clinical and investigative experience, I have learned that the foundation for injury prevention, recovery, and overall wellness is based on four fundamental principles of a healthy core BASE (of Breathing, Awareness, Stability and Empowerment) that each person must learn and incorporate into their life to truly flourish:
Breathing: Breathing deeply with dynamic stretches to align, balance and awaken your inner core. Without deep diaphragmatic breathing habits, you will never maximize your inner core strength and stability.
Awareness: Awareness of your mind-core connection through meditation, kinetic learning, and nervous system training with scientifically based core exercises for activation, strength, coordination, and control.
Stability: of your core as the control center of your body, developed through a dynamic core stability arsenal of exercises for your core to function properly and protect you from injury. This means you have to develop not just your core hardware which is the muscles, but also your software, which is your nervous system,
Empowerment; Empowerment of your core using principles of ancient wisdom and modern science to unleash your full potential from within to feel more centered, positive, and powerful. Use alternative philosophies and activities that will help you make core training part of your lifestyle.
Use your own unique interests and skills to achieve core empowerment while having fun and enjoying new adventures and challenges, such as Pilates, Yoga, Martial Arts, and Outdoor Adventures in the wonders of nature to explore and empower your core BASE so you can learn to live your life from your core, and harness and embrace your unlimited potential for strength, health, and growth!
When you train your core, you create engrams (movement software programs in your nervous system) for complex movements. These engrams dictate which muscles will be used, in which order, and to what degree, then encode these neurological blueprints in the brain and peripheral nervous system. These blueprints allow automatic control processes to operate faster than conscious control of the body.
Core training not only empowers your body to avoid injuries, but also has a positive effect on psychological factors such as depression, anxiety, and fear of injury, which has been demonstrated even in older people, proving that your brain and body have the potential to grow and improve throughout your entire lifetime. It’s never too late to start training your core for better health!
Dr. Bohdanna “Billie” Zazulak DPT, OCS is the principal investigator and author of the first published research to establish a scientific link between core stability and reduced injury rates. Dr. Zazulak won the highly regarded and prestigious Rose Award from the American Physical Therapy Association for her groundbreaking research, and has three decades of experience as an American Physical Therapy Association Orthopedic Certified Specialist, a Doctor of Physical Therapy in Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, and a researcher and faculty member at Yale New Haven Hospital and Yale University School of Medicine.
Dr. Zazulak’s pioneering research on core stability, injury prevention, and rehabilitation has been published in top-tier medical journals and textbooks in medical and physical therapy curricula. Her main interest is in promoting core stability for all women and men so that fewer injuries will occur in their younger lives, and fewer incapacities will be experienced in their older adult lives. Dr. Zazulak received her Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy from the State University of New York, Master of Science in Orthopedic Physical Therapy from Quinnipiac University, and Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Temple University, and now works and lives in Connecticut, where she was recently recognized as a Top Doctor in the region by Women In Medicine. Her new #1 New Release “Master Your Core” is the 1st Place winner of the 2021 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards in Sports & Fitness and the TCK Publishing Reader’s Choice Book Awards in Health.