Out there in the good ‘ol U S of A, there is a sky high divorce rate… but I’m not talking about divorce from your marital partner. I’m talking about divorce from your gut instinct.
Sometime between birth and puberty most of us have been conditioned to put the “ideals” of society above the wisdom of our gut. This has contributed to a painfully superficial relationship to our centers. We have agreed to a narrow margin of what’s considered acceptable in the belly department – and obsessing over that ideal does much more harm than we know.
With every judgement we’ve pasted onto our centers and every unrealistic expectation we’ve slapped onto our abdomens, we’ve insulated ourselves from our own instinctual wisdom.
Back when I was 14, I got into rarely eating (also known as anorexia). Yes, it was a confusing family time. Mom and dad had divorced, and there were different rules and expectations in each household. Which resulted in me generating a split personality to function between the two homes.
Plus there were a few other things going on that caused an overall experience of sorrow and no control. I did not feel safe behaving authentically. So rarely eating was a satisfying way to retain my own power of choice.
My strategy was to try to refrain from eating all day until school ended. After school I would eat a bowl of mac & cheese, or perhaps Honey Bunches of Oats. Then at dinner I would eat a little something more.
I was probably consuming around 600 or 800 calories a day. And my body showed it. Skin and bones! People would sometimes pull me aside at school to tell me I looked too skinny and ask if I was okay. It gave me great satisfaction to hear this. It meant that I was succeeding. I had overpowered my body’s urge to eat.
The part I remember loving the most about not eating was how I could feel so many sensations in my belly: An emptiness, a gnawing and an inner tug that left me light-headed.
I especially liked to sneak a cigarette sometime in the day. While sucking in the smoke, I’d feel that digestive acid release in the stomach that occurs when your body thinks you’ve just eaten something. But if food isn’t actually coming down the pike, there’s this sort of dull burning sensation because the digestive acid has nothing to soak into.
This hunger felt wonderful at the time. I felt connected to my core. I felt like deep inside, my life was my own.
Respecting Your Coping Mechanisms
When I’ve shared my teenage disordered eating with others, I am often met with squishy sympathetic expressions. Coos of “that must’ve been so hard”, etc. At which point my insides shout “F no!” The other stuff going on was hard. My anorexia was my power!
Sure, it was a convoluted expression of power, but it kept me connected to my inner self until I could shift into healthier choices.
This is one of the things I love about the Somatic Experiencing® trauma resolution work I do. From the SE™ perspective, those coping mechanisms shouldn’t be judged and condemned – they should be understood and respected.
By understanding the body’s positive survival urge within negative behavior, you can reimagine that urge in a healthier way.
Which brings me to the magic of Core Awakening work.
Shifting from Superficial to Deep
Over the next couple years, I realized I had more options than I originally thought. I didn’t have to live a split reality for much longer. I’d be an adult soon and be free to create the life I wanted.
So I decided to eat a more balanced diet again, and shift into exercising my core to stay in touch with it.
But the core exercise programs out there were pretty superficial. Each day I tried to do “8-minute Abs” with Denise Austin or Claudia Schiffer’s “Perfectly Fit Abs”. Both strengthened my center, but the entire focus was on just the rectus abdominus (6-pack) and oblique muscles. And both promoted ab fitness primarily to look sexy – not the most profound approach.
Years later, fresh out of yoga teacher training, my friend Clio and I decided to design core workshops to learn more about our inner workings. We called them Crazy Core Parties and they were wildly fun and popular.
But it wasn’t until I came across the Core Integration work designed by Jill Miller that I was able to understand the deeper layers of my abdomen. I finally found out how intelligent my center really is.
Then my cadaver dissection lab with Gil Hedley pushed it over the top. Actually seeing the abdominal organs, along with the many muscles and fascial layers of the core… It was just too wonderful.
Since then, a wide range of unique core and breath exercises have become central to trusting my instincts and tapping into genuine self-confidence every day. And I absolutely love spreading the core love through my Core Awakening workshops.
What it Means to Awaken Your Core
To awaken your core means that you build a relationship with your abdomen on a visceral level. Your viscera are your abdominal organs: your stomach, liver, gallbladder, large intestine, small intestine, appendix. This is where you convert food to fuel and eliminate the waste.
Core Awakening also means you come to know your enteric nervous system, a.k.a. your “Second Brain”, which governs the function of the gastrointestinal tract. This division of your nervous system is so self-sufficient that it operates separately from your brain and spinal chord. You could be a vegetable and it could still function perfectly. I know, rad.
Furthermore, approximately 90% of your serotonin lives in your gut (which regulates intestinal movements along with mood, appetite and sleep). Serotonin is famous for helping keep you happy and positive. 50% of your dopamine lives there too (dopamine assists in many functions throughout your body, but on an emotional level it controls pleasure and reward.) Yes, please!
During Core Awakening, with abdominal massage on soft sponge balls, you stimulate and soothe those abdominal organs and nerves. Then with conscious breath and focused meditation you tune in to all the positive processes in this center – including your always trustworthy gut instinct.
On Becoming More Alive
But Core Awakening doesn’t end there. Just above your belly lies your respiratory diaphragm – a wide, thin dome-shaped muscle that intersects the abdomen and chest. Right now notice your breath – it’s moving in and out of your lungs because of the automatic contracting and relaxing of your diaphragm.
When your diaphragm is strong and supple, you have tremendous power to regulate your own life force. This is why breath work in yoga is called “pranayama”. Prana is your chi – the energy that animates you – your vitality.
Because your prana is energy, not gross matter, it exists independently of the age of your physical body. Which is why you can be 90 years old and have an energy force that’s more vibrant than a 20 year old. Once again – yes, please!
In Core Awakening you practice a wide variety of approaches to Uddiyana Bandha – the “abdominal vacuum” exercise. Through combined diaphragm stretch and breath retention, you stoke your connection to your own life force.
And then, yeah, you do a bunch of other exercises to wake up spinal muscles, back muscles, deep and superficial abdominal muscles. But it all moves from the inside out.
The emphasis is never on “sucking it in” or clamping down on your guts. It’s all about respecting your center and building the muscles to stabilize and support this most precious source of vitality, joy and wisdom.
Life After Core Awakening
Basically what happens when you’ve fully awakened your core is that your inner boss rises up, and no one fucks with you anymore. You know when you want to eat, and what. You know who you want to get down with, and who you want to get away from. You stop having patience for the inane and unreal.
Your confidence in yourself starts to override your fear. Because you know for certain that there ain’t nobody who should run your life but you. As a result, you call off the inner divorce, and get remarried to your true self.
You + your gut = a match made in heaven.
So I hope once you’re done reading this, you take a few moments to show your belly some serious love. Then take some time to pause and listen to it every single day.
Oh yeah, if you want to come to my next Core Awakening Workshop, it’s in Millburn New Jersey at Bhakti Barn Sunday July 9th. REGISTER.
*Title photo courtesy of Dinneen Viggiano while I was teaching about abdominal anatomy in a Yoga Tune Up teacher training at SOHO YogaWorks. Gil Hedley’s cadaver dissection video is in the background.
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