“Our core is mush.” That’s what my yoga teacher said to me the other day. Now, before I go on, I should just clarify something. The phrase ‘my yoga teacher’ suggests I have a regular yoga practice, and that is far from the truth. In fact, the class I took last Thursday was my first one in a number of years and I’ve only dabbled in yoga in the past.
But I think it’s time. My body seems to be telling me it wants to do yoga – even if my mind is still telling me that if I’m not pounding the pavement or sweating buckets, then I’m not exercising. So I’m excited about trying to create a habit out of something that seems to benefit so many people. This is probably a huge generalisation but I’ve always found people who regularly practice yoga have a stillness and solidity about them – two qualities I’ve often felt I’m lacking. I’m hoping yoga will give me greater strength, balance, mindfulness, serenity and bodily awareness – in short, that it will help me feel more rooted.
So back to the “mush” comment. I was discussing with the yoga teacher the various types of yoga on offer to figure out which one would suit me best. I’d just done a Hatha class. I’d chosen it deliberately. I knew it was a slower, more meditative form of yoga compared to the more dynamic forms and I wanted to challenge my constant need for activity and that mindset that tells me that if my heart isn’t beating furiously, then there’s no point.
Whenever I’d tried yoga in the past, I’d always gone for the faster or hard-core varieties – Ashtanga or Bikram (in a hot room). Compulsive exercise was a big part of my eating disorder so I was naturally drawn to anything that promised a cardio workout and substantial calorie burn. But I always felt I should be able to master the most difficult yoga poses immediately and was very frustrated when I couldn’t. So, after a short while, I gave up. It seems I missed out on the gene of persistence and perseverance when it comes to certain areas of my life. I was always instantly good at sport – the kind of sport that involves running fast or catching and throwing a ball – and, since my youth, I’ve had little patience for any form of physical activity I’m not immediately brilliant at.
Also, in all my years of sport, I spent very little time bending or stretching – I used to think warming up or down was for wimps. I’d just get out there and run. I had great stamina but my muscles were really tight.
But now, at 40, my body is crying out for bending and stretching, my mind is crying out for stillness and my core is crying out for strength. Both physical and emotional strength. That was my yoga teacher’s point – that both our physical and emotional core is mush, that we run around, engaged in constant external activity, but our inner self is flimsy (which brings to mind the image of a very wobbly pea frittata I had for lunch last week – interestingly on the same day I did the yoga class).
This notion of a mushy centre certainly rang true for me. A weak physical core over the years has led to lower back trouble, poor posture and has hindered my recovery from a long-standing ankle injury. But my weak inner core has perhaps been more damaging.
Just like a tree with a rotten trunk, a weak inner core means I struggle to stand strong, to stand my ground. I wobble easily and can be toppled with a firm push. Over the past years, I’ve been working on strengthening my emotional core and there’s been great progress, but it’s a long, gradual journey. I know yoga isn’t going to come easy to me like running did. It’s going to take a while for my body to adapt to bending, stretching and holding poses and my mind is going to keep on telling me it’s a waste of an hour – where’s the sweat? But I know I’ll be building a different kind of strength and I’ll improve with time and consistent practice.
Similarly, my emotional core will strengthen as I exercise it and build up its muscles – the muscle that helps me to say ‘no’ when I mean ‘yes’, the muscle that helps me to state my truth even if I know the person listening won’t like it, the muscle that helps me walk away from work or relationships I know don’t value me and the muscle that helps me to battle negative, limited thinking and take risks with my life.
If anyone who’s reading can relate to the mushy core, I’d like to recommend Melody Beattie, an author who’s really helped me on this journey to strengthen my core. I particularly like her daily meditation book, The Language of Letting Go, which you can find via her site. And if anyone would like to sing the praises of yoga, feel free to comment, I’d love to hear from you!