Fire in the Belly

FireInTheBellyI have always hated doing abs, you know, abdominal exercises. I do love yoga, so I tolerate the abdominal asanas. Or, I go to the bathroom. When someone explained to me that “Pilates” was “like yoga, only all abs” I decided never to try it. An hour of abs? I’d rather swim laps in toxic waste.

Then, one day on the mat, everything changed. In the middle of abs, Julian, my savvy mind-body yoga teacher, turned up the drumming music and started chanting “fire in the belly.” The room went tribal and suddenly I was in the zone, crunching and groaning and sweating.

“Fire in the belly… what will you commit to the flames? What will you give to the fire?” He called out the words in sync with the beat. My stomach muscles pulsed and quivered in the same groove. “Fire in the belly… what will you to take from the fire?” And he carried our yogi clan along like this for a timeless stretch. It wasn’t painful. It wasn’t boring. It was downright ecstatic. “Work a little harder than you think you can,” he prodded, but we already were.

He’d used this line before, but until this day, he hadn’t broken through my ab-hate shield. What happened?

I’m sure it had everything to do with the “Fat Nation” cover article in The Atlantic. The writer argued for the absurd conclusion that our best hope for beating the “obesity epidemic” is making bariatric surgery more widely available and affordable. He didn’t have nod to spare for those of us pushing the boulder — reducing overconsumption and increasing exercise — up the hill every day. He nearly suggested our weight loss strategy is a fool’s game.

I tossed that magazine into the fires raging in my belly and fueled the flames with every muscle contraction I could muster. “Hell if I am going to admit I’m powerless over my daily choices,” I thought. Yes, I had failed in my lifetime of weight loss efforts. Yes, I knew the statistics on how much weight is re-gained after a big loss. Yes, I knew diets don’t work. “But don’t fuck with my grit! And don’t try to scare me into the lap band techno-fix with potentially dire consequences.” I pumped it up on the mat. I committed the fatalism of “Fat Nation” to the flames.

Now I am on my back, block squeezed between my thighs, hands clasped behind my head, curling and pulsing. What will I take from the fire? Will it be the core strength need to walk the talk of reducing my consumption? Will it be gratitude that my fifty year old body has the stamina and resilience this challenge demands? The heat from the fire in my belly spreads. When it reaches my heart I am overwhelmed with compassion. I take this compassion and use it to melt my harsh judgment of those who choose the lap band. I use it to transmute my disdain into lovingkindness. May all beings everywhere suffering the battles of obesity be happy and free.

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