Do you love your belly?
I'm here to admit that I don't.
Right now I'd place myself a wee bit beyond loathing my stomach, but still closer to loathing than accepting. And while it's something I'm working on, getting to love is gonna take awhile.
I've had a complicated relationship with that area of my body for most of my life.
I started dancing at a studio at the age of 3 1/2 — tap dancing back then in pigtails and a very patriotic red-white-and-blue costume to "It's a Good Ship Lollipop" during our annual recital. I loved to dance, still do, but in the traditional studio culture, body comparison starts young — OK, maybe not at 3 1/2, but still quite young. It was on the dance floor where I learned to straighten my spine and suck in my stomach and keep them both there as I performed for other people.
As a family, we road-tripped a lot. Which was great, except for when I got carsick. Which was often. For many of the places we visited, I can't remember a ton, but I can usually tell you what went into, and came back out of, my stomach. (Dear California's Highway 1: Thanks to you, I will never eat gummy cherries again.)
These days, any extra weight I carry tacks on at the mid-region, causing jean-tightening and belt-loosening. It's common for many of us who are aging, but unlike a lot of my friends whose bellies softly curve outward as a result of child-birthing, I can make no such claim. Mine is the result of cheese pizza slices, vanilla soft-serve ice cream cones (with chocolate sprinkles!), and glasses of bubbly.
Compassion and love are primary components of my yoga practice. And as a teacher, I find it easy to express compassion and love for my students. I want them to know how I see them — as perfect and whole and divine beings, exactly as they are. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually.
As a student, though, I know it's hard, not only to accept and integrate that compassion and love from my own teachers, but to hold that compassion and love for myself.
It's hard to set aside social pressures, and ignore media photoshopping, and not cringe when I'm in a dressing room and the same sizes don't fit as they used to fit.
It's hard to not simply blame myself for eating too much, or the wrong things, or not exercising enough.
Whether or not those things are true, I don't believe they're the core of the issue.
And so I take a deep breath.
I place a hand below my ribs and feel my belly rise and fall.
I hear my former dance instructor's voice telling me one thing, but instead of following her sucking-in-admonishment, I puff out. I let the muscles stretch and relax. I watch my skin shift and expand, and I feel as if I'm breaking some decades-old rule. Which, I kind of am.
I resolve just for right now, right here, to let go: the voices in my head, the innate habit to pull my belly button in toward my lower back. I open instead to finding a little peace with this place in my body. To giving myself the same compassion I believe others deserve.
And for the tiniest moment, I feel a wave of something that might just be closer to acceptance than loathing.
For today, it'll do.