As a culture, we seem to feel that our bodies must live up to a particular ideal. Whether or not we can achieve that ideal becomes an obsession. The part of the body that is most focused on is the abdomen. Yes, we have all seen the advertisements, movies, and television shows that repeatedly depict the person with six pack abs getting all the love, while the less-cut individual is shunned. Whether you run to the gym for an hour every day to torture your tummy into shape, spend every day sitting on the couch looking at your tummy and wishing it would just disappear, or something in between, it is pretty clear: we do not love our tummies.
Think about the last time you had a negative thought in your head about your belly. Many of us direct a great deal of negative thought to that part of the body, and many of us neglect it as a result. Yes, you may do five hundred crunches a day, but have you done something kind to your tummy? Not just what is best for fitness, but what is kind.
When practicing yoga, there are many activities that stretch or grind the abdomen. One practice that I have found to be amazing, however, is a detox method wherein one sits cross-legged, puts the hands palms-together in front of the navel, and moves the hands together over the navel for several minutes. Yes, I thought it looked silly when I first saw it… but I tried it anyway. Whether you believe in chakras and prana, or just believe that activity improves circulation, this exercise releases negative emotions and helps give you the strength to go through the day.
It may sounds bizarre, but when is the last time you took time to feel love for your tummy? You pulled on those tight jeans, or wore that fashionable waist-cincher… you sucked your gut in when you were trying to look taller… you ate something that you knew was going to make you feel crappy later because you needed the emotional boost from the sugar rush right away… We don’t take the time to care for our tummies. The only exception to that rule that I could think of was pregnancy (which, obviously. is not a universal experience – but the point is relevant to everyone, so keep reading). When we are expecting, we often view the tummy as a special place, and we treat it well. What if that famed pregnancy glow was really because the tummy was getting positive attention – not just from the person to whom said tummy belonged, but from everyone around. We dress in ways comfortable for the tummy in pregnancy, we hold it happily, we massage it with moisturizers to try and keep stretch marks at bay. Not only does this give us a more positive self-image, it also does what that yoga move I mentioned does – it increases the circulation in your midsection.
But situps do that, you may say. Yes, any exercise that utilizes the muscles in that area will increase the circulation to that region. But massaging your tummy (or having someone else massage your tummy) when relaxed doesn’t just increase abdominal bloodflow. It actually improves overall circulation. For example, if you have a cat like mine, then your cat LOVES to knead his paws on your tummy. Did you ever notice that your neck and shoulders are less tense after the cat walks in circles on your stomach? It’s true. Better circulation.
To test my theory, I decided to smooth moisturizer on my tummy every day for a few months. I figured that constantly trying to forget that I no longer look like I did at nineteen by ignoring, and thus never touching, my tummy was the root of the problem. Yoga talks about frozen prana – or stagnant energy – that exists in the body when we are not keeping active. Amazingly, after just a few weeks, I started to find I was losing weight. Not massive amounts, but healthy amounts. If I have done yoga during the day, and have used the tummy exercise, I am better able to think – it’s that improved circulation again. The most miraculous thing for me, however, was regaining sensation in the abdomen. After two c-sections, I went for years with absolutely no feeling in the skin over my abdominal region. It was completely numb, like novocaine numb. Always. Now, I can feel things again. The nerves in my navel region have come back online for the first time in 8 years. It’s bizarre to be getting used to feeling the presence of a shirt, or knowing that the cat has stepped on me without seeing him there. Something as simple as putting moisturizer on your belly every day can truly make a difference in stress levels, circulation, and, apparently, nerve damage.
Before you ask, yes, i do exercise. I practice yoga, and I walk at least two miles a day. I do eat fruit and vegetables, and I tend to prefer foods without heavy sauces or dressings. I am not judging anyone’s lifestyle choices, as i know well that there are many factors that determine the level of activity in which a person can participate. I am posting my own observations, and I am not a personal trainer or a doctor…
But regardless of any of this, don’t we owe it to ourselves to take a moment each day and think more positively about ourselves and our bodies? Perhaps, if we were all kinder to ourselves, we would all find a little more happiness in our lives.
If you try this, drop me a note to let me know how it worked for you. If you think I am a silly hippie for talking about sending positive energy to your stomach, you may be right – but it never hurts to try. 😉