Sunday, December 13, 2009

Show me your belly

There is something about the nature of the belly that feels warm, soft, open. Whether it’s that of my cat, husband, or my own - connecting with the belly feels like I’m connecting with one’s true essence.

In the Chinese and Japanese traditions, they believe that the navel contains one’s Dantien or energetic center. By focusing on that area during particular movements, they say one can strengthen their life force.

The naval is also the place where we, as mammals, were connected to our mothers in a nurturing, symbiotic relationship from conception to birth.

In Yoga we learn that one of the most fundamental and essential means of nurturing ourselves is through belly breathing. The science of belly breathing states that it activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which elicits the relaxation response and lowers blood pressure, turns on our immunity, calms unruly emotions, and prevents premature aging. I like to think that belly breathing’s greatest gift is the feeling of being more connected to all of life.

To a fault, the belly is the most honest, open and exposed place on a person. Animals know this. To have an animal turn over and bear their belly is a sign of vulnerability.

Yet, within it’s openness also resides its strength. Far below language and facial expressions, the belly’s amazing sounding board registers our intuition. For many of us, the first sign of something ‘not right’ shows up in our gut. It’s also the place that tells us when things are true and good by the overall warm feeling emanating from the belly.

In Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese, she says, “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” The soft animal of my body is my belly and I’m learning to trust this truth.


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The title led me down memory lane to being a young child, pulled into the "if you show me your belly, I'll show you mine" game with a more aggressive friend. Odd that my first real feeling of vulnerability should involve the belly.

This is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I'll come back to it, I'm sure.