Literally and figuratively, my belly has been my soft spot since adolescence. It’s the place I cover up and suck in and tuck around. I work out, crunch myself silly, eat whole foods but a flat tummy is not mine to be had. My belly is where my self-consciousness and body issues converge.
Not so surprising, then, when I started practicing yoga regularly a few years ago, I cringed a little every time my teachers said, “Pull in your belly.”
For the love of Pete, people, it’s what I’ve been attempting to do my whole life. Don’t you think if I could, I would?
But then my teacher, Lizzie said something that changed my perspective, “Pull in your inner belly. The outer belly is going to do what it’s going to do. It’s your inner belly that we’re working with.”
Of course. My outer belly is going to do what it’s going to do. Just like my eyes are a mish-mash of blue and gray. Just like my hair curls in some weather and frizzes in others. Just like I’m 5’ 7” and not 5’ 2” and not 5’ 11”. And suddenly, I felt less ashamed of my soft, round pooch and got more connected to what was happening on a deeper level.
The more I practice, the more I notice the radiating effects of a strong inner core. The stronger my core:
• The better balance I have
• The more graceful and easeful my movement is
• The better my back feels
• The better my posture is
• The better my feet feel
• The more agile and mobile I am
• The faster I can pedal and the higher I can hike
• The better I feel in my body overall
That’s a lot of benefit from strengthening a part of the body and it points (yet again) to the amazing interconnectedness of the human form.
My self-consciousness about my belly didn’t come from nowhere. Our cultural focus tends to be on the outer belly instead of the inner belly. I see lots of headlines in fitness magazines about getting a six-pack or flat abs, but not so much on strengthening the inner obliques. Which is too bad since focusing on the deep core muscles gives the greatest benefits…as will focusing on my deep core values and priorities.
Ho boy. This post is teetering precariously on the cliché edge of “beauty is only skin deep” and O how superficial we all are.
But there is some truth in all words, even cliché. It is worth considering where I put my focus and energy. Am I placing my attention where the most good will be done? Or am I doing something that only looks good? Am I going to the core of the issue or am I fiddling with the superficial?
And as I’m bobbling and hobbling through my practice, Lizzie drops another pearl of wisdom that I know (IknowIknowIknow) in my mind, but need to be reminded of over and over. She reminds us that how deep we can go into a posture or what it looks like means nothing about what kind of yogi or what kind of person we are. Says Lizzie:
It doesn’t matter what the pose looks like. It matters how you approach the pose. Come from the inside out.
I am grateful for my physical practices for bringing awareness to my body in a deeper way. But just as my deep core muscles connect to my feet, my physical practice radiates far beyond my soft tummy to the core of how I move through the world.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Explore this focus of Going Below The Surface in a special workshop that I’ll be teaching with Yin Yoga Instructor, Amy Kidd on Saturday, November 12 from 1-4pm at acac Albemarle Square. Stay tuned for registration information coming soon!