When I was an 18-year-old yogini, I was also an active bulimic. I was in college studying dance, training to be a shiatsu therapist (Japanese pressure point massage), making sandwiches and slicing salami at Jimmy John’s Deli, racing around Chicago learning yoga, and using food to self-medicate.

During that time, I remember never feeling connected to my core, my abdominal muscles. My Pilates teacher was always giving me corrections that I could not embody. In dance class, I was never able to find balance in my turns or jumps, and I would often duck out of class in frustration. Then I would become even angrier with myself because I was a quitter! This would inevitably lead to a binge and purge.

Getting in touch with my core through touch

One day, I confessed to my yoga teacher that I was bulimic and that I had a hard time feeling my abdominal muscles. She handed me a bean bag shaped like a large hamburger bun and told me to place it on my abdomen, lay on top of it and breathe into my belly. It was agony. I had so much tension, discomfort and bizarre pain. And then it came — the grief. That bean bag tapped into a mother lode of suppressed rage and sorrow that I’d been storing in my gut for years.

Back in my dorm room, I rolled up a towel into the shape of the hamburger bun and began laying on it every day, moving the towel from tender spot to tender spot on my core until I no longer felt pain or resistance. It worked! And so did I. I made progress in my healing, found a therapist and began treating my body with respect — which resulted in other people respecting me more, too. I soon fell in love for the first time in my life, and my bulimia completely evaporated by the time I was 20.

Have a ball reshaping your core

Twenty years later, I have innovated on the old “towel burger” prop and now use a kinder and gentler squishy air-filled ball called the Coregeous® Ball. I can tell you from experience, this process of self-abdominal massage is not just an excellent self-treatment for emotional wounds, but also helps with scar tissue from abdominal surgeries.

According to my colleague, Kelly Starrett, DPT, this process “should be a first stop for anyone with back pain, post-abdominal surgery, post-partum depression, etc.”

In this video, Kelly and I discuss how the layers of the abdomen can become adhered, full of tension, and ultimately unresponsive to physical training. That is exactly what had happened to me in my early yogini/dancer/bulimic days. Using the bean bag/towel/squishy ball has freed up all of the internal tensions, and I now have the suppleness and fluidity to do crazy stuff with my core, like the lateral abdominal churning move called nauli kriya (pictured below).

No special effects here: This is lateral abdominal churning, aka: nauli kriya

Uncork your core, free your mind

If you have been living with physical or emotional scars in your core, tenderly dig into its layers and listen to your body talk. You will be one step further on the road to recovering the vitality of these tissues and experiencing the benefits of abdominal massage. My newest DVD, Coregeous, details embodied exercises (includingnauli kriya) to help you reinhabit the layers of your core and redefine your abdominals from the inside out.

If your self-image has become dependent on the size and shape of your abdomen, it is time to do something about it. I encourage you to step away from media that promises a quick fix from the outside in. What this calls for is an inside-out approach to help you refine your relationship with yourself and the layers of your body in a compassionate, respectful and honorable way. There is a way out, but it requires your willingness to want to change, remain consistent and believe that the world has a loving place for you. You are wanted, you are loved.

With love,

Jill

Check out Coregeous to strengthern your core.

Learn about Yoga Tune Up at home.

Find a Yoga Tune Up class or workshop near you.

[Reprinted with permission from GaiamLife]

Jill Miller

Jill Miller, C-IAYT, ERYT is the co-founder of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide and creator of the self-care fitness formats Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model® Method. With more than 30 years of study in anatomy and movement, she is a pioneer in forging relevant links between the worlds of fitness, yoga, massage, athletics and pain management. She is known as the Teacher’s Teacher and has trained thousands of movement educators, clinicians, and manual therapists to incorporate her paradigm shifting self-care fitness programming into athletic and medical facility programs internationally. She has crafted original programs for 24 Hour Fitness, Equinox, YogaWorks, and numerous professional sports teams. She and her team of 500+ trainers help you to live better in your body with an emphasis on proprioception, mobility, breath mechanics and recovery. She has presented case studies at the Fascia Research Congress and International Association of Yoga Therapy conferences. She has the rare ability to translate complex physiological and biomechanical information into accessible, relevant moves that help her students transform pain, dysfunction and injury into robust fitness. Jill is the anatomy columnist for Yoga Journal Magazine and has been featured in Shape, Men’s Journal, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, Yoga Journal, Self, and on the Today Show and Good Morning America. Jill is regularly featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network. She is the creator of dozens of DVD’s including Treat While You Train with Kelly Starrett DPT and is the author of the internationally bestselling book The Roll Model: A Step by Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility and Live Better in your Body. Based in Los Angeles, CA, she is a wife and mother of two small children and is currently writing her second book.

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Katie Alba

Step away from the media! Wise words. I’ve discovered this week that my core is completely adhered to everything. What a powerful discovery. I look forward to my journey of ungluing my guts and many layers of hurt that are buried there. Thank you for helping me heal.

Icia

After reading this I am Very interested in using the squishy ball. It all hit home and reminded me of things I already knew but had been avoiding….and I’m sure have been storing in my belly. Thank you for this clear message and demonstration of self compassion and understanding and the journey that has brought you to us with this deep insight.

Michelle Rakoczy

I am very happy to have across this article on the blog. I had my first myofascial treatment about one year ago and even though I initially went in for back and neck pain, the therapist ended up working on my abdomen for a good amount of the session. I was really shocked as to just how sensitive this area was in my body, and how so much of the discomfort I was feeling elsewhere in body was connected to an area that I really think of as being tight. This one session gave me greater overall body awareness and… Read more »

Nell Guzman

Thank you Jill for sharing this experience, I have so many clients that will benefit from using the inflated ball. As a Massage Therapist, I have learned through the years the importance of abdominal massage but using the inflated ball will definitely make it more personal for my clients. They can easily do it at home by themselves.

Cailyn Edwards

I have started keeping a journal about my mood before using the coregeous ball, how it feels during use, how I feel right after and how I feel hours later. It is amazing what we store here and how some days it will feel wonderful to allow the ball to do its magic and other days I can find myself in a puddle of tears. This work has done so much for my moods, my relati1onship with food/what certain foods do to my stomach and my posture. So amazing! More people need to be exposed to this

Kaiitrin Doll

I would like to echo the sentiments of other bloggers and say thank you for sharing your story. I have done some ball rolling and find it very powerful and would like to incorporate it more into my practice. I am curious whether or not is may be dangerous for anyone who may be an active bulimic to be rolling on their stomachs? Couldn’t it aggravate already damaged tissues or swollen intestines? I found this process very painful, how can we help people to identify if this is appropriate for them or not.

Veronica

I find your article very interesting. I can say 2 things. The core is important because it can tell us what emotion we’re hidding, and also with a strong core can support the lower back that some times it’s in pain because we’re not able to engange the core muscles.
I’m going to try the ball with it, I’m sure I’m going to know me better.
Thanks for sharing Jill

Marisa

Thank you for sharing your story Jill. In another yoga therapy training I did I learned that it was common for women to have uneven pelvis and it was often related to emotional storage. I related to these symptoms having and do struggle with low back pain, weak lower core and uneven hips for a majority of my life. I’ve come a long way but I know there is still a long way to go. Thank you again for sharing.

Marion

This is an amazing tool to rub out all the core kinks and it’s gentle. Chester (my dog) loves it, although his use for it is much different than mine. I’ll post more pictures of him when time permits. I used to think and love my rock hard(ish) core; but now come to think that rock hardishness is some rather harden fuzz aka fascia mixed in with abdominal muscles. But having a core that is pliable and supple is just as important. If we massage the rest of our body why is the core not getting the same attention? The… Read more »

Sophie Maranda

Thank you, Jill, for sharing your story of your struggles with bulimia. I had considered these ball exercises in regards to depression and post-trauma, but never with eating disorders, although this now seems obvious. These exercises really do seem to work miracles and I look forward to helping students in the future heal their belly “wounds” by helping them connect to their core.

Nicolette

Jill thanks so much for sharing!!

Your story is so inspiring and gives many hope for taking ownership of their emotional pain that is often linked to their belly and eating habits. I’m so intrigued about what I will uncover and learn about myself but more excited about what I can heal.

You are beyond inspiring and a creative genius, so thankful for you and all you share with us.

I can’t wait to get my Coregeous DVD and ball set, if you have some left tomorrow!

xo

Elissar Hanna

Thank you Jill ! I am personally, just beginning to discover the corogeous ball on the belly… and going gentle to start. Last year, I had a little injury belly rolling, which caused me to bleed internally a little bit. So I shied away from belly-balling for a while. Now, I am re-approaching the ball and have had no injury yet 🙂 I am really looking forward to making a daily practice of belly-rolling and getting to know this belly of mine more intimately. Also, I am an opera singer and as I work with the belly, as well as… Read more »

Tomoko

This your personal experience is so inspiring!
As a massage therapist myself, “touch” is caring/healing. I’ve seen so many my clients has tightness in their abdominal area,but never connect with massaging our vital organ area for emotional scars!! but totally make sense!!
Also if you wants to change the size or shape of your abdominal, most of people try a diet or exercise before even massage their abdominal. Your note totally changed my idea of abdominal massage. Thank you so much!

Katherine

For some reason I would never think to massage here! Even in thinking of emotion or tension stored in the core, I think of the back automatically; of course the belly makes total sense, especially in thinking about how much has to happen there and how this area is perceived in our own minds. SO looking forward to exploring these ideas.

Narcedalia (Nars)

I must confess my eyes were filled with water while reading. I recall on my 19s having kinda the same stuff going on- and doing so much chakra and other work with my counsellor – I was determined to get out of that ‘hole’ and I did, but it quite never left 100% – I guess I put some of the remaining necessity of control over sports and not food anymore. Thanks to the universe I met one of my yoga teachers Larry Schultz who once saw me practicing ashtanga in SF and he was like — “you know, you… Read more »

Diane M

Thank you so much for sharing your story to really reveal what so many of us need to hear. We all carry so much “stuff” in our gut. I started using (parts of) your Coregeous video about 1 month ago. In addition to helping my low back via freeing up my psoas slowly, I feel other emotional releases also and am getting stronger literally and figuratively. Thank goodness for the Hamburger shaped pillow inspiration!!!

Helen

This article is inspiring for me on a personal level as well…thank you . I was a living liver donor over 10 years ago . Hence a lot of stuff inside was moved , shifted , put back….not to mention cut, and oh yes my 1/2 of a liver regrew. So I struggle with trying to connect with my abdominals from this. I’ getting there…thankfully from using the coregeous ball. And reawakening some tissues. This a wonderful tool to really access the psoas as well! :). P.S. my donor is doing great!

MaryBeth Frosco

Jill – I cannot imagine you in any way but “healthy”, so thanks for sharing that you are indeed mortal….although still quite mystical and magical. So important to see that you can take what could have been insurmountable and turning it into a lifes-work that is transforming the lives of others. I am dealing with scars from years ago. I’d given the scars the rolled up mat treatment before, but so much of it was so intense that it only lasted a short while before I pulled away and moved on to something more “comfortable” and stayed with that…ignoring what… Read more »

lorimerburns

I love the story of you reclaiming The Sugar Plum Fairy!!!! So much! Brava and aren’t wigs THE BEST!!!! I can not wait to try the abdominal balls. My PT does skin rolling and fascial stuff on my diastase and c-section scars but I can’t feel much…maybe more frequent proprioceptical exploration will!!!!

Michelle Dalbec

Jill – Thanks for sharing such a intimate part of your path thru this article. I have had similar issues with relationships with food and my perception of my belly/body over the years. Yoga has helped me a greatly in facing this issue but there’s been something missing. As I stated in a reply in another one of your blogs, I feel like I have finally met my core. Now I need to start unearthing everything that is hiding in this deep cave where I know I’ve stored things like disappointment, discontent, hurt, fear and who knows what else. I… Read more »

Heather Lindsay

I am beyond grateful for the addition to the abdominal massage work I have learned from you. If I go more than two days without giving the belly attention with self-massage I feel effects of the tension in my back, in my breath and even in my mood. I will be rolling tonight for sure. Thank you.

Emma

This post is so inspiring. Thank you, JIll, for being so open and willing to share your story and use it as a platform for healing and inspiration. I want to purchase a soft ball now!

Lauren F

Although I haven’t rolled on a soft ball yet in the manner described above, I can already sense it will help immensely. Thank you for sharing the story Jill. I have suffered from an intestinal disease for 10 years and my core has definitely suffered in the process due to my resistance and avoidance of attention to the area out of fear of exasperating anything in that region. I know that to move forward in my practice, I need to start giving it some love!

ShellY Zagor

I would love to try the softer ball on my abdominals! I have been rolling out on a foam roller for years on my abs, but the use of a softer ball seems like it will give me valuable feedback for my own abdominals, which are difficult to access at times.To understand how to soften the abdominal space is difficult. I would also love to try it with several clients who have chronic back & stomach issues

najla

once again youve made me cry! having struggled for over ten years with anorexia, and having experienced similar “agony” when encouraged by my voice teachers (when i was studying acting) to breathe into my abdomen, havinig endured the avalanche of emotions and fears that seemed unstoppable, i was astonished to discover during my ytu teacher training that, all these many many years later, there is still more inside. its amazing, but i feel so lucky to have these new tools to help myself!

Amy Deguio

And this is an approach I am sure will help with the residual tightness and scar tissue from my c-section 2 years ago! And beginning to really peel down the layers of the core and the diaphragmatic connection to all of the inner workings of the body is just tremendous in educating instructors and clients. Time for to delve into the Coregeous video and eventually the Core Immersion training!!!

Oliana

I am reading this blog with watery eyes as I have in front of me the image of someone very dear to me, who’s belly bears a scar from the pubic bone up to the sternum. A lot of scar tissue and even more emotional matter entrapped in there. Doctors don’t tell their patients what to do after a surgery, how to break down the scar tissue, proper nutrition, and let alone deal with emotions. It is not in their agenda. I have been time and again, witness of the gap that exist between application of western medicine and finding… Read more »

alex

I think it’s so mindblowing to put together the surface of your belly (which our society spends a lot of time telling us to obsess over) and the organs and life-sustaining processes underneath. I’ll be honest, I don’t yet totally embody integration there and am definitely still working through some past digestive traumas of my own, but just the idea that we don’t have to slice apart the layers of our center is one that I am eager to keep exploring.

Kirsten

I have realized that I have no connection with my core and that I compensate with other muscles, so that I avoid any ‘hard’ core work. After taking the core workshop with Jill last year at the ECA conference, it took me a while to revisit the idea of laying down with an object under my abdomen. I’m working with this slowly, each time that I fully exhale, tension spikes and my body ‘protects’ itself from this foreign object invading my space. I will always be a student of my body and the steps may be small, but I will… Read more »

Andrea Borrero

I want to try this! I’ve felt for awhile now that I have trouble accessing my core strength at it’s deepest levels & also felt that it’s correlated to some unresolved, or unreleased, issues. I often have lower back pain coming out of a more vigorous practice, but been confused by it because my overall strength is good. Now I need a big enough squishy ball, and enough floor space to roll around on it.
And some nerves of steel.

Elizabeth W.

Nervous and excited to get into some of this abdominal work with you.

After initially healing from abdominal surgery last summer I played with nauli and abdominal massage but got distracted by shiny barbells and sweaty workouts. I suspect I am in for some really intense work this week in YTU TT.

I’m ready!

Natalie Miller

Your story hit me right in my own gut. Thank you for sharing your relationship to your stomach through out your life. It is such a sensitive area of my own. I am eager to try abdominal massaging to reconnect and promote self love…we only have one body in this lifetime!

Roxanne

So well written, Jill! (:

I can completely relate to the internal abdominal pains and discomfort from all the stress and tension build up. Undereating, overeating, binge eating, and all the other nutritional diseases are discomforting to the body. When I get my clients to rest over the ball, allowing it to sink into to stomach, and to roll it from one lateral side to ther other of the abdomen, and then to contract while rolling, most of them will fart or burp. It definetly helps with digestion!

Lauren Goodwin

As many others have said, thank you for sharing this deeply personal experience in an informational way and to use as a teaching for others. I too come from a dance background and despite hours spent at the gym could also never really feel my core. Whenever my teachers said to “engage your abdominals” I always faked it by just tightening up my muscles which only lead to me holding my breath and maybe, just maybe, acheiving the balancing position or amount of turns they were asking for. It wasn’t until recently that I was in a yoga class with… Read more »

SherriS

Jill, thank you for being so courageous and generous to share this very personal story. I have heard and read about storing feelings in our gut and I am aware of Yoga stomach cleansing exercises, but I’ve never heard of this method, and it seems so simple! I’m dying to get started! Like you said, I work out, I have the muscles there but I feel the weakness – the disconnect – when I attempt to do yoga poses. Hence, I always say (despite my workouts) that I’m weak in the abs. Maybe I am, but also maybe there’s more… Read more »

Sonya G.

This article is so inspiring and important! There is HUGE trend in the media and popular culture towards having “hard flat abs”. And if your belly doesn’t look hard and flat you are mislead to believe you are fat and should be ashamed. Well I am here to tell you that your soft belly is beautiful! In fact, there is nothing healthy about having frozen rock hard abs. We need core strength BUT it must be in balance with spaciousness and fluidity in the belly area. So many many emotions dwell in the belly, as well as our intuition and… Read more »

Lynda Jaworski

Hi Jill, a great post and very timely reminder for me. During the last few months I’ve been going through a time of upheaval, stress and uncertainty, and yes, unfortunately I’ve been storing a lot of anxiety and tension in my body – in my gut. I’ve been “doing my yoga” but still feeling out of sorts and out of balance. Reading your post brought my attention to my tense belly and got me rolling into it – rolling out the fear and armouring that was keeping my belly hard. Wonderful! I’ve been at it for a week now and… Read more »

Meg

I think your message is beautiful. In society today there is such a pressure to conform to a certain look and size. Growing up I felt a lot of pressure to look like girls on magazines and movies. Yoga is a great way to connect with your body and see yourself differently than those images in the social media. I think we’re all somewhat affected, but it’s brave and encouraging of you to share your story.

Kristina

Jill-I really appreciate how much courage it must have taken to post this. I have suffered with IBS for years and have noticed how much working my core has helped me overcome my digestive issues, but like Melissa, I have been focusing solely on those exercises that will give me abs. I am going to try the towel tonight. Also, I have found that giving up caffeine has been hugely helpful.

silvia marisol

Jill; I appreciate you being so open and honest about your personal experience-a very generous thing to do in through which others can feel they have found a road to get on for recovery. I “cleansed” myself of much emotional baggage through the Core Immersion course and learned effective techniques to help me continue on the path of healing. I am re-motivated to integrate these highly effectiveYoga Tune Up practices on a daily basis as they can be so crucial to emotional well-being and spiritual connectedness.
Namaste,
Silvia Marisol

Melissa Tilley

Great post and information! Honestly, until recently the only work I have ever thought my abdomen needed, are exercises that “will give me abs”. During our recent training we rolled a blanket to rest under our belly and helped keep our pelvis squared on the mat going into a version of Bow pose. WOW…. Hello sensations!!! This was a wake up call that I have some work to do. My gut is overdue for some attention! Thank you for encouraging us all to move into a place of looking from the inside-out.

annelie alexander

can’t help but wonder if the massage i get from my cat when he “marches” on my abdomen actually can be something i might benefit from. i do not at all enjoy full body massages that include the abdominal area, but my cat kneading is ok and a little more interesting than a rolled up towel…

Claire Miller Murphy

I cannot even begin to count how many of us, my friends, colleagues, students, all of us blogging here, have the same “uncomfortable” experience with this area. As we know- that which is uncomfortable, is likely something to study…And so my uncomfortable journey and study of this continues.

Jen G.

A few months ago I had a body therapy session in which the therapist spent a long time massaging my abdomen. It was an intense physical and emotional experience. I have had abdominal pain and problems with food allergies in the past. What that bodywork session made me realize was that my abdominal/stomach pain was tied up with my emotions. I have been paying attention to how my emotions affect my pain and working with it mindfully. I haven’t thought about massaging my abdomen on my own (maybe because the thought of how uncomfortable it will be makes me cringe).… Read more »

Sharon Stockla

After severe abdominal surgery, I have experienced the wonderful healing effect of the “squishy ball” ball in one of Jill’s workshops. It’s the only thing I have found that softens the scar tissue in the deep layers of the abdomen and relieves pain. I am going to start incorporating it into my daily life, maybe when I’m watching TV. I believe it can be the most important exercise I can do because the abdomen is where it all starts.

Julia Ho

Hi Jill,

Thank you for sharing your deeply personal experience. It’s so interesting that we store so many emotions in our abdominal area. I admit I have a jelly belly and have always linked self esteem to the size of my waist. I can’t wait to try some abdominal massage to see if I can give some loving to that area and in the process work on my negative self image.

Julia

Emily Sonnenberg

Hi Jill, Thank you so much for sharing this blog! I was introduced to using a soft inflated ball a year ago in my 200 hour teacher training and the soft ball wasn’t hard enough to get into my tense tummy! I stored all of my traumas and pain there and held on tight to it. I was even proud of my six pack! I had to upgrade to a playground ball and slowly over the past year I have noticed that my anxiety has dramatically reduced! On top of that my connection to my core has increased and my… Read more »

Claire Miller Murphy

Whoah. This is me except anorexia vs bulemia in my Professional dance days. Unfortunately, I have not excavated to the place of healing as of yet. I must get this video, try it out and then re-post.

Jill Miller

HI Leslie, There are many forms of IBS, so I cannot say that the inflatable ball is the best solution for all. Using the inflatable ball may be helpful for some, as it does help with tension in the gut region, although I would proceed very slowly with any student with IBS, and make sure that deep abdominal breathing is incorporated at all times. I do think that training the body through deep breathing and meditation practices while using the ball would be the most helpful scenario. If a student is chronically constipated, the ball could be very helpful for… Read more »

Leslie Fish

Hi Jill, what is your recommendation for students with intermittent IBS (irritable bowel syndrome?) If there is an energy block/stop with the rolled up towel or soft inflatable ball, is this appropriate for other elimination problems?
thanks, L .