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My Core Immersion Summer Vacation

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.

Belly Shame

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.

Sometimes you need a reminder to breathe

Breathe. Sometimes you need a reminder. 

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.

Nutritious. Delicious. Coregeous!

Nutritious. Delicious. Coregeous!


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.

Liked this article? Read Tubular Core: En-CORE-age a Muscular Orchestra that Illuminates Your Mid-Section

About This Author

Hello, there! If you like my perspective on self care, please sign up for my weekly blog at http://sni.ps/GetUnstuck. When you sign up, you get a free e-manifesto that says who I am and what I stand for. I started yoga as a 50-year-old single mom: a stressed-out, sleep-deprived, achievement junky, suffering from constant pain and headaches. After that first eye-opening yoga class, I immersed myself in yoga, movement, and breath. I did all of Ana Forrest’s trainings, continued studying with Steve Emmerman and Talya Ring and now I’m completely thrilled with the Roll Model Method® and Yoga Tune Up® with Jill Miller and her mighty tribe of extraordinary teachers and trainers. Strength, breath, and mobility create a pain-free, vital body and this precious body is the starting point for the life you want to live. My classes and workshops help you to go inside; study your body and your breath; and learn that healing is within your grasp. I look forward to connecting with you!

My Core Immersion Summer Vacation

  1. Amalea Fisher Amalea Fisher says:

    Thanks for sharing your belly struggles! It’s so easy to think of core muscles as just being cosmetic only. We don’t really think of all the other functions like breathing (might need that!), digesting, and helping to the stabilize the spine. Looking forward to reading the next blog post.

  2. Chelsea says:

    As a student new to Yoga TuneUp, I am really interested in how I can use the Coregeous ball in my regular life. I am naturally a small person and have very little “belly” to be ashamed of, however I think my belly has still been a blind spot for me for many years. I have always struggled with digestion issues from a very young age, and I think I have held a lot of tension in my belly due to this. I have recently had some fascial massage done on my psoas, pelvic floor, diaphragm, and so on, and realize how tense my belly area gets. I am excited to explore the different Coregeous exercises to see how I can awaken this part of my body in a positive manner, and possibly affect my digestion.

  3. Renee Bolan says:

    Ah-mazing. I had heard about the study of rats injected with lung cancer! On my first day using the coregeous ball I fell in love with it. I love how it makes me feel. I just completed my Level 1 and I know my next step will be the core class!

  4. Carrie says:

    Like many of us, I have had body issues since my teens. I have shamed my misproportiined midsection most of my life. I have shamed myself for shaming my gut, what I hadn’t thought about is the fact that even til now, after years of self acceptance and care work, I have looked at it as separate during my journey. Thank you! Also, thank you for going into the discussions of the enteric nervous system. I can’t wait to take this immersion!

  5. Dejia says:

    I absolutely loved your article. My thank you is two-fold: I really appreciated your truth when speaking about how you felt about your body. My stomach has always been my “area” that I’m self-conscious about, so your words spoke to me. I particularly appreciated: “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.” ….. So true. And so important to be reminded of. I needed this reminder. Secondly, I really enjoyed (and was shocked) by a lot of the info regarding the anatomy and brain information! I mean, holy crow! I’m going to fall down a total rabbit hole looking into this – thanks for starting the dig. 🙂

  6. Leah says:

    Wow. This makes me want to take the core-immersion
    So brave of you to offer up your vulnerability about your own body too, this post is a lovely combination of personal, informational and inspiring.

  7. Kirsten says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and providing “some food” for my brain! I share a ‘hate-love’ relationship with my belly. There are times when I tuck it away and suck it in, so no one can see the fat; but there are also times when I feel confident about my belly. Rolling on de Coregeous ball helps a lot!

  8. Pascale hazledine says:

    I too loved your blog on the belly.i just finished the level one training and was thinking about taking the core immersion.you have convinced me!

  9. christina uleano says:

    I recently lost over 80 pounds and had a previous c section. I have skin and scars…you name it. I go back and forth with ” who cares…these are battle scars” to ” I wish my tummy really reflected my hard work. I have even considered a tummy tuck recently. thank you for sharing!

  10. Wendi says:

    Mm, the post 50 gut! I hear ya, Sister! This is such a great article, I could totally relate to you and your journey! I’m glued to the blog, awaiting your next installment! Thank you!

  11. Tammy Gruber says:

    AnnMerle! This was such a great share! I too did not know that the gut has it’s own “brain” and that most of our bodies serotonin is stored in our belly… Interesting for sure as it has me curious on a few levels about my own digestive issues and thyroid issues too. I look forward to part two and hopefully seeing you at another immersion! #permissiontofeel 🙂

  12. Cintia Hongay says:

    Glad you could take the core immersion workshop, AnnMerle! I’ll try to catch up soon. Meanwhile, catching up by reading blogs, buying and watching the videos, and following up the Facebook page…. oh well….

  13. I loved this post, AnnMerle! Your eloquent writing really resonated with me. Yes, the core is so much more than our abs. Reading this really makes me want to attend the Core Immersion as soon as possible. So much to learn and experience!

  14. Yvonne says:

    I absolutely loved and connected with this blog. We all have something that we feel inadequate about. Your words were so eloquent and honest and encouraging. I thank you for sharing. ##persmissiontofeel…wow…so powerful!! I am so humbled by the brilliance of YTU and all it offers us all. Glad to be part of such a team.

  15. C Rhoades says:

    Just a tip watch your courageous balls on furniture. The plastizers can interact with the woods finish and ruin it. Have a really nice piece of furniture that this ball ruined? So do not leave them on wooden furniture.

  16. Cathy Favelle says:

    Beautifully written AnneMerle! I have struggled with my own “apple belly” for years. Hiding it, sucking it in, working it to oblivion, smashing it in Lycra, never satisfied. Petting zoo was an emotional game changer for me in Core Immersion…bare my belly and let people palpitate it in public? I was terrified to unveil that which I hide, ignore and have tried to emotionally detach from for years. The floodgates opened in so many ways that day and I felt somehow relieved and ready to take in ALL the magic of this incredible Yoga Tune Up® immersion. I’m happy to say my belly and I are finally friends and thanks to Coregeous work she is stronger, embodied, more integrated and supple than ever! Thank you for this article and sharing your own experience. I look forward to your next article.

  17. Helen McAvoy says:

    Great beginnings! I too have struggled…more with surgery and scar tissue…the core immersion opened a door to my mental and physical disconnect and thus turned the corner …it is my daily go to and a bonus is my psoriasis has almost gone away! Can’t wait to read the next article!!

  18. Chealsea Karma says:

    Fantastic post once again (: I once too was a overworked middle age woman who was constantly suffering headaches. Running my own business and taking care of two kids really has a toll on people! Especially on only four hours of sleep every night. Ever since I have found yoga, me being able to deal with the challenges of life have gotten much easier because of clearer thought! I’ve been following this one program that has lead me to get rid of some weight really fast, feel free to check it out (:

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