Wherein our blogger realizes she’s been focusing on her stomach for all the wrong reasons
-Melina Gerosa Bellows
I’m doing cat cow pose at Hot Yoga when I see something horrifying.
“Look, look!” I blurt to my yoga instructor, Jessica.
“What?” she asks, alarmed.
“This!” I say, pointing to my misshapen, puckered stomach, which has somehow escaped from my T-shirt. “It looks like the character in the animated movie Pocahontas. The old lady who appears in the tree trunk.”
Jessica’s knowing laugh-she has two young daughters-tells me I’m exactly right. My midriff is a dead-wringer for the wise, bark-faced crone who advises the ingénue to ditch the loser fiancé and follow her dreams.
“So? Do a little core cultivation,” Jessica suggests diplomatically.
Core cultivation. Nice euphemism, but what it basically means is sit-ups, crunches, leg lifts. I already work out five times a week, isn’t that enough? One glance south to my stomach and the answer is apparently not.
Deep breath, switch gears, I can do this. I am not going to let the demands of two preschoolers and a full-time job on newly single mom status get between me and the body I deserve. I make a plan for better time management and organization. Perhaps with more yoga and meditation, healthier food in the house, and a stronger backbone to decline the invitations of Energy Vampires, I’ll claim the core meant for me. My goal is not six-pack abs, just a little less Grandmother Willow on the loose.
Well, there’s nothing like a 48-hour stomach flu to set your priorities straight. Each member of my family falls like dominos to the vomit bug, me at the very end. Bedridden and weak, I could care less about how my stomach looks. I just want it to feel better.
When I finally do recover and go back to work, I decide to look on the bright side. I’m grateful to be up and about, and perhaps I’ve even lost a few pounds! I take off my shoes, jewelry, pashmina and even glasses, and step on our Weight Watchers at Work digital scale. The red number blinks–and how can this be?–I weigh more than I did right after the holidays! I’m stunned and dejected. With the exception of a bowl of steel-cut oats, I ate nothing for three days.
Still, the flu was a wake-up call. No matter what I weigh, I’ll take feeling better over looking better any time. Several days later, however, I realize that I don’t feel better. Now that I’m really paying attention, in fact, I notice that I’ve had a dull stomachache on and off for about six months. The pain is like a smoldering ashtray in my gut, with heartburn and a bad taste in my mouth. Some days I’m fine, but others I’m depleted, exhausted. I can’t work out, and I don’t even feel like getting dressed.
I face the fact that five pounds is not my problem. My issue is a level deeper, and like the old lady in tree, my gut is trying to tell me something. In the movie, Old Grandmother Willow tells Pocahontas to listen with her heart and follow the colors of the wind to her true destiny. What is the wisdom in my gut trying to tell me?
I’m scared to know. Impending divorce is terrifying enough. The economy, the mood in my workplace, the increasing needs of my kids, some days just muscling through the requisites takes maximum effort. When I don’t feel good, it’s impossible.
At the urging of my mother, I make an appointment with a gastroenterologist. He schedules me for a colonoscopy, which I dread. Even worse, my appointment is three months away. So I do what always makes me feel better, I share my pain with all my friends.
“It’s stress,” says Rebecca. “While your brain is going around coping, your body is taking the hit.”
“It’s rage that you’ve stuffed down being a Good Girl your whole life,” says another friend Gloria. “Of course it’s making you sick.”
Another friend, Barbara, suggests a holistic approach to set my digestion straight, special pills she swears by from The Medicine Shoppe. They are all right, even Jessica, my yoga instructor, says. I do need to cultivate my core, and I’m not talking about the fat rolling over the waistband of my low-rise jeans, or even my chronic indigestion. Core cultivation is a deep commitment to paying attention to my feelings, tuning into the wisdom within me, and accepting the truth even if it breaks my heart.
I’m in for some dramatic changes, of that I’m sure. Everything I’ve always taken for granted as trusty and solid-my marriage, my home, my work-life balance-suddenly seems all up for grabs. It’s dawning on me that my true happiness does not lie in the comfort of the familiar, but the bramble of the unknown. But just as Pocahontas has Grandmother Willow to show her the way, I, too, have inner guidance.
As I stumble forward in the dark, trying new things and inevitably failing, my most reliable G.P.S. system is something that every woman can rely on, her gut instinct.
Melina Gerosa Bellows is a best-selling author and a leading magazine editor. She is a columnist-blogger for BettyConfidential.com