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A Core Shift

2 months ago by

To center oneself, to find freedom, to access intuition all require a healthy relationship with the core — the most primal part of ourselves. For many of us, the dialogue we have with our own cores has been influenced and shaped and categorized and labeled by the wellness industry, the patriarchy, opinions from friends and strangers… essentially anything but personal power. Check in with yourself now, how do you relate to your core?

For most of life, my relationship to my “core” was one of exertion, a constant striving to flatten it, tighten it, lean it out. Workouts were for calorie burning and counting macros was for shedding that last layer of five (ten, or more—wherever my body landed after the New York winter) pounds.

My uniform consisted of high waisted jeans because they tucked away any remaining fluff, alleviating the need to remember to suck in. (It’s too easy to forget, and then, God forbid, allow your body to take up space.) These actions were residue from disordered eating that reared its hideous head in highschool and yanked me through my mid-twenties. It was a mental disease. My body was healthy and athletic-looking, and the self-induced stress of relating to my core in this way was, in retrospect, in vain. Much ado about nothing.

This is not to minimize my eating disorder, or any eating disorder, but to recognize how tragic it is to have lost this time and energy scorning my body for its natural shape, re-scorning myself when I didn’t achieve smallness or tightness, and—going for the triple scoop—meta scorning when I realized my self-criticism got so out of hand. It was spilling over into my interactions with loved ones. It’s worth noting that this was (and is) surrounded by a special brand of shame that comes with being a 31 year old white woman who recognizes her privilege. And still, here I am, writing about my fucked up relationship to my body, rather than dedicating my time and energy to literally anything else more worthwhile. The shame cycle is real.

This is precisely why, I reckon, I got sick. Really sick. My diagnosis changed the way I interact with my body and I have to believe that was (is) its purpose. I have a rare condition called IGG4-negative autoimmune pancreatitis, and it landed me in the hospital several instances for days at a time earlier this year. I often couldn’t eat and was fed nutrients through an IV for long stretches; I have been procedured endoscopically at least nine times so far this year, and now have to adhere to a diet so restrictive, it extracts most of the joy from eating. The pain of pancreatitis kept me almost entirely house-bound this winter, and my strength withered. I lost about 30 pounds at my lowest weight. Tight core? Yes. Small? Yes. Fulfilled? Nope.

Before this health and healing crisis, I subconsciously (even after lots of therapy and self-work) maintained the belief that a desirable body was, somehow, the key to success and feeling loved. All kinds of love—romantic, platonic, and universal. Thank God this belief now sounds absolutely absurd. It is truly ludicrous! I’m ready to move on knowing full well it doesn’t serve me, and more importantly, it doesn’t help me serve my community. It’s debilitating to the collective. My chronic illness gave me the gift of time and space: time away from work, away from the chores of daily life, away from food, even. After looking death in the face, your priorities and joy become crystal clear and working to achieve a tight core was not one of them. This was a freeing realization.

It wasn’t just my brush with death that catalyzed a new and life-changing relationship to my core. Prior to all this, I’d been slowly buoyed by the wellness movement, inspired by the notion of body neutrality, and given permission by witnessing acts of self-love and self-care in the social media sphere. Resting, softening, and being soft were more than allowed. They were and are encouraged as a way to cultivate feminine power. What it means to be a woman-identifying person on this Earth has shifted in all dimensions, dare I say demanding a softness that can only come from finding your own center.

And that shift started in wellness. Particularly in fitness, we’ve seen a pivot away from intense, masculine, boot-campy classes that promote, you guessed it, tight cores. Instead, frameworks and teaching styles that consciously engage the mind, body, breath, and sometimes even spirit through pilates, breathwork, yoga, meditation, and recovery-based movement encourage gentle power. Centering oneself is a rebellious act, and this is precisely the work that has helped me recover most.

Perhaps we’re burned out from the attention economy, perhaps most of us were not built to sustain super fit physiques, perhaps the realities of reading the news requires us to revisit this primal place, the core. Have you experienced this? What kind of shifts have you noticed inside yourself in relation to the changing “wellness industry”? Moving and breathing from the core is generative, creative, and resourceful—which is what ails of all kinds, both personal and planetary, ask of us.

7 comments

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  • Leigh Weingus June, 18 2019, 1:00 / Reply

    I so relate to this—throughout college and for a few years afterward, I often felt like my sole purpose was to become the fittest, smallest version of myself. Although I’ve never dealt with prolonged illness, when I got pregnant in January the way I viewed my body completely shifted. Suddenly, it was all about listening to my body and giving it what it needed so it could grow another human being. Now, if I don’t feel like moving much on certain days or am craving red meat over vegetables, I listen to my body. I’ve started trusting it again for the first time in over a decade, and that feels really good.

    Thanks for your words, Lindsay. I think so many people will relate!

  • Really honest and beautifully written post! Props on your transparency and shining a light on this very real issue that I think almost every women faces with today. You are completely right on the shift that is happening in the wellness industry. It is really great to see soft power being promoted and accepted. That said, I think the retail industry is changing too! It is so nice to see more real women now being featured in e-comm stores and ads that have soft arms or a little of bit of back fat or a bit of a belly. These things are normal. Even if you eat a salad every day for lunch, unless you are genetically a size 0, you will have some softness. I personally come from an athletic background of training 6 days a week in judo and wrestling and I’ve got a great mix of arm fat and back fat that will stay there till I die – no matter how vegan and plat based I eat or how much I train. You just gotta accept it! Its cuddly :)

  • The irony for me is that, after years of embracing movement that was more about soft approaches, I’ve fallen hard for kickboxing, and it is teaching me the most fantastic lessons about the body. Including that you never know, from the shape of the body walking through the door, who’s going to kick ass. Long bodies, short bodies, lean bodies, thick bodies, older bodies, younger bodies – you cannot tell what a body can accomplish by its shape. And oh, does it feel good to focus on what you can do instead of how you look doing it. And frankly, nobody looks that good kickboxing anyway… too busy!

  • All kinds of matters are preached as if we are all the same and want the same, but that is not the case. Embrace being different, and being diverse colors the world! I also had to find out what fits best with my core and my health and don’t let anyone tell me anything else any more. So I won’t be 100% anymore but at least I’m at my best I can be! Now ART is my happy world which I have neglected for too long. (@fabiduister)

  • Being aware of one’s center or hara is important, having flat abs, not so much really! ;-) It’s really a pity so much emphasis is put on external appearance when what is happening inside is so much more important.

  • Such a beautifully written piece – and I couldn’t relate more! I have had constant anxiety surrounding my core for years now. Partially because its physical dysfunction (I suffer from acute IBS, cannot process most food groups and bloat after most meals) and partially because of the mental effect my constantly physically distressed core.

    A big shift happened when I realised how interconnected the physical and mental are. I started doing breathing exercises, meditating while eating and changing my thoughts on body image. I started listening to my body, eating what makes me feel good, cutting down on the foods that irritate me (bye sugar, gluten, dairy) and try to be in tune with the rhythm of the body without stressing about it.

    This has saved me just in time for summer, and I will be happily wearing a bikini this summer, something I couldn’t imagine even a few months ago

  • Thank you Lindsay for this powerful and strong subject!

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