I watch my toddler constantly pull up her shirt and show me her belly with a giant smile on her face. She doesn’t care if we’re in the middle of a store, or a meal, or a conversation. All she knows is I have to check out how much she LOVES her belly. For most children, their belly is a source of esteem, not of shame. They know what they want to eat and they know what their boundaries are. They are proud of their developing self. They know their “No’s.” And from this, they find their “Yes’s.”
Now imagine how most adults feel about their bellies. We suck it in, cover it up, maybe even feel rage, shame and resentment towards it. Eve Ensler wrote in her book The Good Body (2004), “Maybe because I see how my stomach has come to occupy my attention, I see how other women’s stomachs or butts or hair or skin have come to occupy their attention, so that we have very little left … for much else… Maybe I identify with these women because I have bought into the idea that if my stomach were flat, then I would be good, and I would be safe. I would be protected. I would be accepted, admired, important, loved. Maybe because for most of my life I have felt wrong, dirty, guilty, and bad, and my stomach is the carrier, the pouch for all that self-hatred. Maybe because my stomach has become the repository for my sorrow, my childhood scars, my unfulfilled ambition, my unexpressed rage.”
I love Eve Ensler’s words of wisdom, the raw power and vulnerability of them. The stomach is an area for many women, many PEOPLE, that holds a “pouch of self-hatred.” When I work with people around developing a different relationship with their stomach, we often explore the questions of:
What are you hungry for?
(cookies, sweetness, salty snacks, ice cream)
What are you REALLY hungry for?
(to be loved, to feel safe, to be connected and not alone, to feel that I am safe in the world, to know that the world is trustworthy and I can stomach it.)
What can you digest?
(ex: nourishment, the right amount, honesty)
And what CAN’T you digest?
(ex: toxicity, being asked to stuff or stuffing myself with what is “not mine,” secret keeping, dishonesty)
In yoga, the stomach is the third or “solar plexus” chakra. It is the place where self-esteem (or lack of) resides. It is where anxiety rests in “the pit of your stomach.” And it is the place where you experience your “gut instinct.” Getting your gut instinct back, listening to and honoring it is a major part of recovery, from trauma, from disordered eating, from self-hatred. Here is my invitation for you: Instead of changing the shape of your stomach, how will you listen to your gut instincts more? What can and can’t you stomach in your life? What are you REALLY hungry for? And what esteem able acts will you take toward honoring the answers that come?