Lately, I’ve been pondering speech patterns we develop over time (analyzer that I am) and what they reflect about our inner workings, specifically my mother’s relationship with the word “inside” (I’m sure she’d be thrilled). For example, in response to a question about where something is located, like “Where is the cat?” my mother might respond, “He’s inside.” She means he’s not in the room she currently resides in but in another part of the apartment (just to be clear, he is not an outdoor cat so she is not referring to the literal meaning of the word). In  essence, wherever she is, inside is not. It occurs to me that she, from this perspective, is always on the outside. This is interesting to me because I have felt like an outsider for most of my life. I don’t doubt that this pattern emerged long ago, a family relic, something she picked up from her mother, and which her mother, my Grammy, picked up from her mother (Yiayia). I naturally also picked up on these familial speech patterns, carrying these words from one generation to the next. Several years ago, I was a nanny for two children, ages 7 and 9. We were in the kitchen one day and one of them asked where something was–their backpack, I think. “It’s inside,” I responded, meaning it was in the dining or living room. They began to giggle and one of them acknowledged, “We are inside!” It hit me in that moment that the statement didn’t make much sense. I laughed too.  Although, I have to say, a part of me still believes this sentence makes perfect sense.

For the past several months, I’ve been doing core work. Physically speaking, I am doing the work that will strengthen my abdominal muscles enabling my transitions from one yoga posture to another to be more fluid, graceful, easeful. Metaphysically speaking, I am connecting to my center, the unwavering space inside free of worries and concerns and the opinions of others. My center is where I can access my sense of power and grace.

Toddler photos of me reveal a cute, protruding belly; it seemed to be one of my signature features. My aunt once told me that my mom was a little concerned: “Will she grow out of this?” To answer her question, at the ripe age of 37 I may finally be ‘growing out’ of or transcending my belly issues. In my teenage and young adult years, I hid my stomach. It was usually dissented and I was embarrassed. My stomach expands easily; sometimes, when I drink water or eat fruit my stomach grows into what looks like a pregnant belly or an inflated balloon. I’m thin and it’s easy to hide but it’s uncomfortable; you can’t breathe well when you are sucking in your stomach.

It occurs to me that I have been hiding my power center for most of my life.

I had a dream several years ago that I had the ability to move objects by the sheer power of my will. Similarly to the little girl in the movie Fire Starter (remember that movie? It was a favorite of mine), I could set my gaze on an object and rather than set it on fire, I could send it flying across the room like it had acquired wings. It was one of the most vivid dreams I’ve ever had and I remember becoming aware in the dream of this inner power I’d possessed my entire life. Of course, I thought to myself in the dream, of course I have always been able to do this. It was a little frightening–these super powers I held–but at same time made perfect sense to me. When I awoke it took me a little while to understand that it was ‘only a dream,’ that I could not move objects by gazing at them. I even tried.

If I were to have a most-used-words contest “might” and “maybe” and “hopefully” would be contenders. Tentative words. Uncertain words. Maybe this. Might that. Hope this or that. I watch them fall from my mouth, pause and, if I am feeling grounded/present, change my word choice to something more certain, confident. My body posture, pre-yoga, also reflected this tentative nature, this unsure heart of mine: when I began practicing yoga and bringing attention to my body, I realized that I stood on the edges of my feet. A bizarre balancing act, I called it in one of my essays about how yoga has enabled me to shift unsupportive patterns in my life. As I allowed my feet to feel the ground beneath them, I realized I had never stood fully, comfortably on my own two feet. I had never felt supported and like I was “inside”, connected to myself and others and my environment, a part of something bigger. I felt, as the songs goes, that I was “always on the outside, looking in on other’s lives.”

The opposite of those wishy-washy maybe’s and might’s is will: I will do this.

The Manipura chakra or the third chakra, located in the solar plexus, means “lustrous gem” or “city of jewels” and is the seat of our willpower. To take a step back, the chakras are likened to energy wheels or vortexes that live along the spine, from the base to the crown of the head, and reflect the metaphysical or ‘subtle body’ underpinnings of that area of the body. It is represented by the color yellow (the color of the sun) and is connected to our willpower/inner power, our confidence, our truth. Interestingly, yellow had always been one of my least favorite colors and now I am drawn to it. The manipura chakra represents our power source; just as we cannot live without the sun’s energy, we cannot thrive with a weak power center. I am not speaking about the type of power that is manipulative or forceful (in fact, that type of power use likely indicates an imbalance in this area of the body) but a purity that comes from knowing yourself and what you need, and the ability to meet those needs, and to express yourself honestly with both strength and kindness. A few days ago, at the close of my yoga class, a student came up to me to tell me that she loved the way I taught because my voice was “commanding and clear” and that I moved at a pace she could follow. This was the best compliment I could have received because my voice, my self expression, is one of my greatest struggles (it is why I write: to make sense of what I feel). The student’s comment reminds me that my core is beginning to shine through, even if some days I don’t feel that way (i.e., it is a, let’s say, work in progress). Even on those days that I feel weak again, I do know this: I am less fearful these days of being seen and heard and of being rejected, which I believe is the culprit behind my weak core and hidden power. Not good enough said the little voice that plagued me every time I attempted something new, put myself out there, so to speak. It might as well have said Boo Hiss, you suck, rotten tomatoes. I listened to that crabby, little voice for a long time, was beholden to it.

I believe my bloated abdomen is due to my sensitive system (I try to avoid foods that seem to cause bloating) and, on a metaphysical level, my inability, for a long time, to absorb and process what nourishes me. Maybe I didn’t feel good enough about myself to accept nourishment, support. That has slowly been changing over the years, each time I step onto my yoga mat and reconnect to my body. Building, strengthening my abdominal muscles is part of the process and, even more importantly, I think, is the commitment to a practice each day; for many years I’ve practiced yoga but never, if I’m honest, consistently (until more recently). That, I believe, is how the willpower is developed and sustained. Step by consistent step or one step at a time, as the saying goes.

You may have heard yoga teachers invite you to “Find your center.” The center is the essence of who we are beyond all the stuff that covers up our truth and beauty (not perfection beauty: beauty beauty) and brightness. When I am feeling centered, I notice that I am not as easily swayed/affected by other’s opinions and responses (whether positive or negative). I can carry on strongly and gracefully whether or not I feel “liked” or “accepted” by others because I have accepted myself; I can rely on my own center to support and sustain me. When I am in that zone I feel nothing (relatively, speaking) can knock me off my course. It occurs to me that I don’t want to live on the periphery of life anymore. I have begun my journey inward but I have a lot of work to do still. I want to feel my emotions and I need to be able to breathe freely in order to do this (emotions begin in the body), so I can face them, process them (digest them) and risk being rejected and hurt (the elusive culprit of my fear), so I can truly live on the “inside” of life and, from that centered place, reveal and share my light.