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.
Showing Up With 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, 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 and connected with old friends.
Now, finally seated on my mat, I 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 Sankalpa, our mindset mantra. This was new to folks who hadn’t been at the Level 1. But 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 – 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.
I realize that this might be a lot for you to digest in just one post. So I’ll wait until next week next with to share with you the courage (core-age?) I gained during my summer Core Integration Immersion.
This resonates very strongly with me! I have been unkind to my gut for a very long time! Disordered eating and being drawn to soothing via ingesting things have led me to understanding their is much to learn, repair and regenerate. I cannot give up hope on myself yet! I believe the YTU training will be a wonderful compliment to the tools and knowledge I have already gathered. Putting it to work and changing are habits though, are two very different things!
One day at a time, one meal at a time, one coregeous session at a time!
I can totally relate to AnnMerle’s description of belly shame and disconnection, although thankfully it’s no longer a total body blind spot for me. But this piques my interest in getting to know it better!
Thank you for being so open and honest about you journey to self acceptance. The list of benefits of rolling on a coregeous ball just seems to be getting longer and longer the more time I spend reading about ytu. I appreciate how you briefly mentioned the lymphatic system at the end of your article. I’m a CLT and there are so many major lymphatic structures that reside in the abdomen. Rolling on a coregeous ball would absolutely influence lymph flow.
I feel like so many people, whether large in the tummy area or smaller, deal with disconnect. Disconnect between when we eat food, what food we allow to enter our bodies, how those nutrients get translated into bodily function, how we feel about the “look” of our belly, and then even how the belly (and body in general) “feels” about how we treat it. I have gone through so much from disordered eating, to finally feeling at home in my body (thanks to my yoga journey). We are most definitely the sum of all our parts, but that doesn’t mean that we are just that linear or black and white. We are so much more than that! Treating our bodies with self-care from the inside with nourishing foods, and from the outside with movement, therapy balls, etc are key in the overall health of our guts, brains, and emotional well-being. Thanks for sharing!
“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.”
OMG: “My Belly Has a Brain”… It gives me different light on thinking and treating my belly! Since I started rolling on the Courageous ball regularly I have noticed some changes in how my belly feels and also in my thinking how I treat my belly, what I eat. This article opened my mind, seriously! My belly can not be abuse and overuse and rolling on the Courageous ball reminds about keeping healthy for belly habits and balance.
Thank you. I have been ashamed of my belly my whole life too. I agree that I am giving it innapropriate attention and that instead I need to connect with it. I love to learn about using the Coregous ball for releasing lymph. I recently took a course in lymphatic drainage and I absolutely agree that this massage method would be genius for clearing lymph. Most of your lymph nodes are in your gut! If you want to boost your immune system and your metabolism…clear your lymph!
Thank you for sharing your story as I can completely relate. Growing up, if my abs got too squishy I would do something to manipulate how they looked and get them “flat”. After living and working in the fitness industry, it’s taken years to break the belief that jiggle is “ugly” or “bad”. I freaking love my body now and how “soft” AND strong it is! Embodied YTU practice helps find and love the blind spots, it’s an incredible, sometimes tear-filled, adventure! Rock on!! ?❤️??♂️
Ah, the belly. Such a challenging space to work with for so many of us. I resonate so deeply with what you mentioned about feeling so separated from your belly. I feel that despite becoming so much more integrated with my body, my stomach is a place I still battle with, psychologically. I suck it in, judge it, pinch it, worry about it… I often don’t want to address it in a yoga class. But maybe a bit more love and attention would do just the trick to help integrate as well as strengthen this part of my body.
Thank you so much for sharing this part of your life! I find it so sad that society imposes us beauty standards.
It must feel so good wen you start bringing some light in this blind spot! I am the skinny type that would like to have more meet on the bone but I feel that my belly is a huge blind spot to. I am sur that taking this class will be emotionally difficult but really helpful!
Wow! thank you for being so open of how you feel about your own body. I totally relate to you. I have the same thinking with my belly. It has always been a spot I didn’t like on my body. I remember hiding it, retain my breath, exercing it… not liking it. Now that I’m older I’m learning everyday to appreciate what it gives me: two beautiful children and the good posture and stability I have. But still a work in progress!
I like your article- Breath and Bliss and here I’m checking your another training experience, thank you so much for sharing and talk about things we might afraid the most! Love your courage!!! I worked in fashion industry for decades and saw different kind of body shaming and self-conscious issues. I sincerely hope people in fashion can genuinely learn the true yoga philosophy. Anyway I practice “coregeous” time to time mostly for digestion issue. At first I blamed all the surgeries and cancer treatment I had, then my diet but I did notice it had a lot to do with nervous system, who will guess we our belly has brain too, what u said is so true. Beautiful written, thanks again.
What a fascinating journey you went on! I remember the first time I heard someone tell me about the stomach having its own brain and explaining that’s why it’s called a “gut feeling” it totally made sense to me! It is so astounding that more information gets revealed to us everyday about this. Cannot wait to hear more.
What a beautiful way to view your own belly. I have not yet taken the core immersion, and really love thinking of the belly as having its own nervous system. This sounds like a profound journey for you, AnnMerie, thank you for sharing!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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. 🙂
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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 🙂
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….
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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 (: