Note: This post discusses some of my struggles with body image and may be triggering for readers with similar struggles.
I want to start a series about yoga core work, but there are some issues I need to hash out first.
It seems like every time I go to check my email or Facebook feed or wherever, someone is telling me my stomach should be smaller:
- Curb Hunger Cravings and Lose Weight!
- Shrink Belly Fat Fast!
- Bikini Ready in 30 Days!
It’s not limited to the Internet, either. These same messages pop up in magazines on newsstands, in radio commercials as I’m driving to and from work, in conversations with my mother, friends, and health care providers. It’s not always explicit, and it’s not always intended to be judgmental, but the unifying premise seems to be this: healthy abs are skinny abs.
As someone who’s clinically obese (and not looking to lose weight), odds are, those “skinny abs” — those touted as “healthy abs” — are never going to be me.
But on some level, I’ve bought into that. On some level, what society tells me I should want, I do want. There is some part of me, however silly, subconscious, or small, that wants to “flatten my tummy,” that believes my body is wrong as it is. To that end, I’ve purchased fitness DVDs with titles and subtitles like:
- Ab Ripper
- Belly Fat Blaster
- 30 Day Shred
- Fat Burning Ab Attack
They’re all titles whose wording suggests that my body, or at least this part of it, is the enemy, worthy of attack. They also imply that the way to improve the fitness of my midsection is to remove volume and/or mass.
Neither one of these implications is especially correct, and both have the potential to be harmful to me. And it took me So. Long. to recognize that and to name those damaging forces for what they are — the imposition of narrow beauty and health standards onto bodies and people where they may simply not apply.
In my asana practice as in my daily life, I depend on my core muscles (which are more than just the abs, but we’ll get into that next time) to support my spine and posture, to help me move large amounts of other body mass, and to keep me balanced. For my personal goals, this means I need my core to have a certain amount of functional strength and suppleness far more than I need it to have any particular aesthetic look. Which is awesome, because my body likes to add in muscle far more than it likes to subtract… anything (muscle or fat).
All this means that any attempt to attack my fat or to blast my abs into becoming bikini ready is probably an exercise in futility. And that’s okay because my body — even my belly fat — is not my enemy.
I guess this is a long and convoluted way of saying that this series is not designed to give you “the six-pack you’ve always wanted”. Whether it works toward that effect for you or not, its intent is far more to help you explore the different muscles that make up the core and how they move and work for you.
Though some of the movements may feel intense or uncomfortable, there will be no shredding, blasting, or attacking. Because your core is not the enemy.