When I was an 18-year-old yogini, I was also an active bulimic. I was in college studying dance, training to be a shiatsu therapist (Japanese pressure point massage), making sandwiches and slicing salami at Jimmy John’s Deli, racing around Chicago learning yoga, and using food to self-medicate.
During that time, I remember never feeling connected to my core, my abdominal muscles. My Pilates teacher was always giving me corrections that I could not embody. In dance class, I was never able to find balance in my turns or jumps, and I would often duck out of class in frustration. Then I would become even angrier with myself because I was a quitter! This would inevitably lead to a binge and purge.
Getting in touch with my core through touch
One day, I confessed to my yoga teacher that I was bulimic and that I had a hard time feeling my abdominal muscles. She handed me a bean bag shaped like a large hamburger bun and told me to place it on my abdomen, lay on top of it and breathe into my belly. It was agony. I had so much tension, discomfort and bizarre pain. And then it came — the grief. That bean bag tapped into a mother lode of suppressed rage and sorrow that I’d been storing in my gut for years.
Back in my dorm room, I rolled up a towel into the shape of the hamburger bun and began laying on it every day, moving the towel from tender spot to tender spot on my core until I no longer felt pain or resistance. It worked! And so did I. I made progress in my healing, found a therapist and began treating my body with respect — which resulted in other people respecting me more, too. I soon fell in love for the first time in my life, and my bulimia completely evaporated by the time I was 20.
Have a ball reshaping your core
Twenty years later, I have innovated on the old “towel burger” prop and now use a kinder and gentler squishy air-filled ball. I can tell you from experience, this process of self-abdominal massage is not just an excellent self-treatment for emotional wounds, but also helps with scar tissue from abdominal surgeries.
According to my colleague, Kelly Starrett, DPT, this process “should be a first stop for anyone with back pain, post-abdominal surgery, post-partum depression, etc.”
In this video, Kelly and I discuss how the layers of the abdomen can become adhered, full of tension, and ultimately unresponsive to physical training. That is exactly what had happened to me in my early yogini/dancer/bulimic days. Using the bean bag/towel/squishy ball has freed up all of the internal tensions, and I now have the suppleness and fluidity to do crazy stuff with my core, like the lateral abdominal churning move called nauli kriya (pictured below).
Uncork your core, free your mind
If you have been living with physical or emotional scars in your core, tenderly dig into its layers and listen to your body talk. You will be one step further on the road to recovering the vitality of these tissues. My newest DVD, Coregeous, details embodied exercises (including nauli kriya) to help you reinhabit the layers of your core and redefine your abdominals from the inside out.
If your self-image has become dependent on the size and shape of your abdomen, it is time to do something about it. I encourage you to step away from media that promises a quick fix from the outside in. What this calls for is an inside-out approach to help you refine your relationship with yourself and the layers of your body in a compassionate, respectful and honorable way. There is a way out, but it requires your willingness to want to change, remain consistent and believe that the world has a loving place for you. You are wanted, you are loved.
Practice yoga with Jill Miller on GaiamTV.com.