Core Attitudes

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.

Crow Pose

Regardless of what my core looks like, it HAS to be strong to hold up the rest of me. :D

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. :)

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I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

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Posted in core, non-asana
7 comments on “Core Attitudes
  1. Chris says:

    I don’t comment on blogs often, but this was really beautiful. I appreciate it t very much, very sincerely. That endless quest for the “six-pack” causes so much misery to young men and women. I have never been happier (or stronger, for that matter) since I just gave up that particular aesthetic ideal and just concentrated on my sport. I have also used some of the yoga movements and can vouch for how effective they have been for my own core strength development.

  2. [...] I discussed yesterday, there’s a big societal focus on the appearance of the abdominal muscles. So it’s probably no surprise that when a lot of [...]

  3. Lately, when feeling like I want to be able to see my abs, I say to myself, “Don’t worry, they’re in there somewhere.”

    • anytimeyoga says:

      Yep, and seeing them and being able to access them (for different types of body movement and support) are two way different things. In experimenting with different kinds of exercises, I’m finding that the muscles that help me most (and this might be different for different people) are the deepest ones, the ones no would would ever see at all.

  4. G says:

    This is great! My abs are strong, they’re there under my belly, and that’s okay because they still work just fine. It’s pretty obnoxious that “washboard abs” is just another way we’re supposed to put ourselves on display and be judged.

    • Tori says:

      Yup, mine are the same way. The presence or absence of abdominal fat is independent from the presence or absence of abdominal muscle. And while I appreciate the strength of my abs for what they help me do, I sort of resent that even that is sometimes display-based — as in, because I don’t have washboard abs, folks (when I am talking about strength/fitness/activity/etc.) are more likely to ask me to prove that they are strong.

  5. [...] at Anytime Yoga has an insightful post about the language used to describe core [...]

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