Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Suck it In for the Right Reasons

When I was growing up, one of the things I remember that all us girls focused on was trying to hold in our stomachs. We were told, and believed that we would look skinnier if we kept our stomachs sucked in at all times. It made us look better, in our minds, so we did it. It was a pretty common practice - with the reasoning being that it would improve our attractiveness.

When I got into recovery from my eating disorder and started to do a lot of body image repair work, I encountered a different line of thinking. In the quest to accept and appreciate the body, we were encouraged not to 'war' with our bodies and do things that were intended to excessively control them. Letting the stomach relax and deliberately NOT sucking it in was one of the exercises I remember reading about and embracing. My belly was beautiful and sacred, and if I loved myself totally, I wouldn't try to hide it by sucking it in. That was my new line of thinking.

Interestingly enough, after many many years of not sucking in my stomach, I ended up with some interesting lower back problems. Some of these problems are directly related to weak and atrophied abdominal muscles! Now, it didn't all come from that one practice I did to 'let it all hang out,' but that practice was most definitely involved.

Several years ago I started physical therapy, and have been learning about 'activating my core' which in some ways is very closely linked to 'sucking in my belly!' As I've learned to turn on those muscles, and pull in and lift my abdominal area, my lower back issues have improved. It's really quite amazing how much of a difference it makes.

In fact, I went hiking a week ago, and was disappointed that towards the end of the descent from the mountain I hiked up, my right knee began to hurt on the outer edge of the knee cap. I've had this problem before, but last summer, I hadn't experienced it at all! The fact that on my first hike of this season, I experienced the problem was a bit discouraging and frustrating.

When I told my physical therapist about it, she understood the problem immediately. She said that the muscles that connects to the inner part of the knee cap wasn't do it's job properly, and so the knee cap was pulling to the outside slightly, causing the inflammation and irritation that I experienced.

She had me lie on my back and tighten my right quadricep muscle. She poked a bit at the area on the inside of my left knee cap. It seemed normal to me. Then she asked me to 'activate my core' and contract my quadricep muscle again. She poked the same place and it was rock solid! When I didn't 'activate my core' that muscle wasn't able to contract and hold my knee in place. When I did activate my core, the muscle was 'on' and I could feel that it made a huge difference to the support that my knee had.

What's my point? The point is, that we can do things from different places inside ourselves. Back when I used to hold in my stomach because I was ashamed of it and wanted to look thinner, I was coming from a place of self rejection and control. It was better for my back, but I didn't know that then, and I probably wouldn't have cared if I had known! It was all about appearances and attractiveness back then.

Now, I'm learning to perform that action for a valid reason that is rooted in self love, acceptance and respect for my body. I want to take care of my body because I love it and want it to function at it's best.

What a different place to come from!

An outer action can look exactly the same. Activating your core is still basically sucking in your gut. One comes from a place of self criticism and judgement and one comes from a place of self respect and love for one's body. It makes all the difference in the world which place we're coming from!

Exercise can be an act of self love, or an act of imposing a tyranny of obsessive, anxiety ridden beliefs about ourselves and what we have to do to be acceptable to ourselves.

Keeping a clean house can be an expression of a calm, clear inner world, or it can be an expression of an obsessive, compulsive imprisoned personality. To an outsider the house might look the same in both cases, but the level of peace and contentment within the 'cleaner' would be radically different.

My goal in life is no longer to just do the right things. My goal has become to do the right things from the right place. The quality of the experience is so much greater when we do.