I have been ashamed of my belly my whole life. There, I said it. And even as I write these words, tears begin to well up in my eyes. Will I never get past this feeling of inadequacy and shame?
Find out how I found the courage in my core in this two-part post on the Yoga Tune Up® Core Integration Immersion. One of the foundational YTU immersion trainings.
I arrived at Kripalu last August, my too-large belly tucked and belted firmly into my high-waisted stretch jeans, wondering what Elizabeth Wipff’s “Core Immersion: Total Abdominal Awakening” could do for this unsightly bulge.
In my younger days, I didn’t even know how I felt about my belly. It was there. It was ugly. It was my enemy. If I couldn’t make it go away, I could try to control it.
I sucked it in. I did crunches. One time I ate grapefruits for 3 days and another time I ate hard-boiled eggs for three days. I exercised and exercised and exercised some more. I punished my belly for being inadequate. I distanced this part of my body and considered it broken, irreparably broken.
And, as I learned more about nutrition, I came to understand that my “jelly belly,” as my kids lovingly called it, was the result of metabolic and hormonal disarray. My unalterable apple-shaped midsection resulted from my slow thyroid, my near-constant high stress life-style, and, perhaps insulin resistance, which turned me into a fat-storing machine. But there was much more to learn.
My Belly was a Body Blind Spot – Abused and Overused but still Numb
Even with this relatively new awareness of my belly, it was still, for me, what Jill Miller calls a body blind spot. My belly was a source of inappropriate attention. I fussed about my belly. I looked for quick fixes. I clicked on every Internet sidebar that offered five foods not to eat.
What I was not doing, even after all this time, was connecting to my belly in a way that could help me design “a new normal” – a way of understanding how my belly was not a separate and numbed-out body part, but was instead an integrated piece of my whole being, both body and soul.
Kripalu Means You’ve Arrived – Permission to Feel
This was my second trip to Kripalu after completing the Level 1 certification training and I knew that as my shuttle turned right off the main highway, heading down the steep grade toward the red brick Kripalu campus that I would be in good hands, no matter what. I smiled when I saw the sign by the road that said, “Breathe, You’ve Arrived.” Three meals a day I didn’t have to prepare. All the vegetables I could eat. And, peanut butter and jelly, when absolutely necessary. I had checked in, connected with old friends and now, finally, seated on my mat, and wondered what was in store for me – and my belly — during the next five days. (The core immersion is a bit longer than usual at Kripalu.)
We began our first evening with introductions. Nancy Bellantoni, who would assist, told us about her competitive sailing activities and how Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model® had provided much needed support for her overworked body.
Elizabeth Wipff, our lead immersion teacher, helped us to connect with our Sankalpas, our mindset mantra. This was new to folks who hadn’t been at the Level 1, but for me, I easily remembered my own simple Sankalpa that had supported me so profoundly during the Level 1 training, “I am supported on my journey.” Each time my frisky brain decided to do a nosedive into some old, useless, thought patterns, I used my Sankalpa to pull myself to safety.
Elizabeth spoke eloquently and passionately about her own journey – her own path and how she found and embraced Yoga Tune Up®. She is a competitive weightlifter with an exceptionally stretchy body (thus, her website address is www.strongandbendy.com). She told us that first evening that the core is not good and not bad; it’s not your stomach and it’s not your abs. This definitely got my attention.
At its most basic level, according to Yoga Tune Up®, the core is anything that mobilizes and stabilizes the spine. This made me curious.
She went on to say that we are the sum of our parts in a positive and holistic way. Opening up to the core is nothing less than who we are, what our identity is, and what each of us brings to the world. Now I was getting butterflies in my stomach, which I was soon to learn was part of the immersion! To sum it up, Nancy wrote on our wall-mounted notes, “#permissiontofeel.” I wondered if I could give myself that permission.
My Belly Has a Brain #WhoKnew?
What do I perceive my core to be? I had been thinking of my belly as an isolated mistake in my otherwise acceptable body. But now, Elizabeth was asking me to connect with this area in a new way, experientially, with feeling, from inside out. What would it mean to connect to my belly in an embodied way?
The belly actually has it’s own brain — its own nervous system – but, as Elizabeth Wipff explained, it doesn’t have language. This blew my mind. Apparently there is a long line of research investigating the belly’s nervous system called neurogastroenterology. Our gut contains nerve cells that can operate on their own, without instructions from the spinal cord or the brain. Experiments in the 1800’s demonstrated that the peristaltic reflex of the intestines worked even when there was no connection to the brain and the spinal cord. This local, self-contained system is now called the enteric nervous system.
The enteric nervous system supervises digestion, taking food from the esophagus through the system to the colon and, the fascinating thing is, it does this with a set of tools that look very much like the neurology of the big brain – the one that lives inside our skulls. I didn’t know, for instance, that 95 percent of the body’s serotonin lives in the gut. This essential neurotransmitter creates feelings of well-being, but it also gets things moving in our intestines.
A lot of attention has been paid recently to the microbiome or ecosystem that is our gut. There’s much we don’t know. For instance, if I become constipated and my gut is struggling to process food, does my brain get information about what’s happening? Or, are there signals coming from my brain to my belly that created a situation in which I became constipated? While the burgeoning field of neurogastroenterology is just beginning to explore how the belly’s second brain operates, scientists are sure that these hundreds of million of neurons connecting the brain to the belly play a much larger role than being a traffic cop for digestion.
All this belly talk provided food for the brain in my head as we rolled and breathed on the Coregeous® ball in ways that I had never imagined. Up, down, and all around we rolled and we breathed.
At one point, Elizabeth reminded us of a research study cited in Jill Miller’s book, The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility, and Live Better in Your Body (p. 160). Researcher Lisa Hodge, in a study published in the International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine (15, no.1, 2012:13-21) reported that a group of rats infected with lung cancer received rhythmic abdominal massage and that group’s tumors decreased and contracted less pneumonia.
What, then, could rolling on the Coregeous® ball do for our immune systems? We know that our lymphatic system – which is a type of connective tissue – stores cells that boost our immune system. Can rolling on the Coregeous® ball unleash healing lymph into our bloodstream? It just might, along with mobilizations such as inversions or abdominal contractions.
Next week, we’ll find out about the courage (core-age?) I gained during my summer Core Integration Immersion.