I was nine years old the first time I took diet pills. For years, when I stood naked in front of the mirror, I would cry out of frustration. By the time I graduated college, I was put into treatment for anorexia nervosa with bulimia subtype. I was almost 50 pounds underweight. As recently as my late 20s, I continued to count calories and measure my food. Even at my most unhealthy, I could never truly see what I looked like, especially when it came to my stomach.
Looking at pictures of those little girls now, I wish I could transport myself to them. I wish I could hold them tight and tell them how beautiful they are. I may not be able to take a time-machine back there, but our young selves still exist inside of us, and as adults, we can learn to love ourselves—every single part.
Many people tend to be self-conscious about their stomachs. It took me nearly until now to feel comfortable in a bikini. I didn’t start wearing sports bras in photos until my mid-30s! Even now, when I am under great amounts of stress, I feel like I’ve gained weight in my gut, even when the scale (which my husband has to keep hidden) says otherwise.
There is no denying it. We are a core-obsessed world. Stick “core” in the title of any fitness class, and you’ll have a full room. Physically, the core comprises our entire trunk, not just our stomach. Like the core of an apple, this includes our shoulders, torso, and hips. If the core is weak, it can lead to lower back issues, poor posture, and compromised breathing and digestion. People who are self-conscious of their stomachs tend to hunch over or wrap their arms around themselves, weakening the back body and constricting the front side, which contracts our whole being.
What I’ve learned over the years through my yoga practice is that we can strengthen our core without having to do a single sit-up. You see, it is what lies beneath the coveted washboard abs that we want to access and fortify. To do this, we must be willing to dig deep—to dissect the belly’s many layers: physical, energetic, and emotional. Because a strong core is so much more than our abdominals. It is our power center, our sense of self.
See also 16 Poses for a Strong + Stable Core
From an energetic viewpoint, the stomach houses our sense of self and acts as a second brain. Anxiety or alarm bells signal butterflies. Intuition gives way to “gut reactions.” The third chakra, manipura, lives here, as well. Some translate it to mean “city of jewels” or the “jewel within,” conveying the luminosity possible when we can access our truest self. Located between the naval (belly button) and the solar plexus (bottom of sternum), manipura is represented by the element of transformation: fire.
To have a strong core means knowing oneself intimately. It means having healthy boundaries and defined beliefs and values. It means being connected to your truth and responding from that place. When we live from our center (both literally and allegorically) we are more powerful in every way. Think of a great tennis player swinging their racket from their entire body, or a football player gracefully averting an oncoming player. Even the simple, everyday action of bending down to pick up something heavy is made easier by moving from your middle. Similarly, when you make decisions and choices from your center, they are more powerful.
We do not need six-pack abs to feel comfortable in our own skin. We simply need to live from our center, because no one looks or feels better than when they know who they are.
This five-pose sequence will help you build your core strength without requiring a single crunch: