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.