Yeah, I've heard about core strength plenty, ever since I first started weight training in 2002. It took a mere 11 years for the phrase to mean anything to me.
As a piano player, yea verily a piano major for awhile in college, I well remember how painful my back would be after practicing. That pain was one of the reasons I changed my major. Same pain has shown up in secretarial jobs, any working at a desk, sitting around a campfire, watching a game from the bleachers, all experiences of sewing, and riding my bike.
I thought the key was stretching out my upper back.
Since beginning a dedicated yoga and meditation practice, I have been in daily touch with this pain, but have not been distracted by a keyboard (piano or computer), event, or task. Practicing yoga and meditation has given me a tangible awareness of this pain, and although the stretching poses are lovely in and of themselves, the phrase "core strength" came to me yesterday morning as a picture of the contrast between a tree trunk and the upper branches.
When the wind blows, the upper branches sway. The trunk may move slightly, but is mostly firm. When the branches are able to sway in the wind, they keep from getting broken off. And those branches up there depend on the trunk to keep them in the air. Their fitness is measured by their ability to sway with the wind as it blows.
That's what my core strength does for me. The upper part of my body can depend on my core muscles to support them. This morning's yoga practice included focusing on inhaling and expanding the strength of the core of support, then exhaling and softening the muscles in my back, allowing them to be supported by the core of strength.
Basically, I've been trying to keep the tree upright by insisting that the upper branches take responsibility for keeping the trunk where it needs to be. Kind of like thinking you could walk on one-inch dowel rods just by force of will, without any secure connection at all to your feet. If someone actually could balance and walk on dowels, I don't know of any way they could move forward on the dowels without some connection. The upper branches aren't the ones that keep that tree rooted.
My upper back isn't the part of me that keeps me solidly in touch with the earth.
It's my core strength. I've been experimenting with imagining my core muscles to be engaged as I drive, sit, stand, take the stairs, walk and run. An extension of my chiropractor's exhortation to me to keep my shoulders down, my elbows in, and my neck soft, letting my core SUPPORT me and allowing those back muscles to soften is a step toward having a difference experience of pain and comfort in my back.
I guess Mr. Dylan was right; The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.