Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tummy Love

This may sound a bit odd, but I've been thinking quite a bit about my stomach lately. And more specifically, I've been reflecting on how little attention it gets.

The lack of attention to my stomach became very clear to me when, two weeks ago, I received a wonderful Ayurvedic massage from my friend and massage colleague, Bethanie Sand. In her Ayurvedic massage sequence, Bethanie uses a lot of oil (a quality of this ancient Indian form of bodywork) and makes therapeutic contact with each area of the body, including the abdomen. Now, I've given and received abdominal massage many, many times, mostly in massage school, but it had been quite a long time since I'd experienced the calming, soothing, and therapeutic benefits of attention to this area of my body.

I had forgotten how abdominal massage relaxes my diaphragm and allows me to breathe big, full breaths; how I feel a 3-D awareness of my whole body when my stomach is touched; how my organs feel soothed and attended to; how any release of tension in my stomach muscles also releases tension in my back and other areas of my body; and how massage reflexively facilitates peristalsis, helping my body in its process of digestion and elimination.

Most importantly, though, this attention to my tummy enabled me to love it just a bit more. We live in a culture which teaches us to hold in our breath and stomachs tightly, to sculpt flat, hard muscles, and to cinch in our waists. It is relatively impossible to do any of those things during an abdominal massage. Instead, the stomach is praised for it's curves and bulges and expansiveness.

I have given perhaps two to three abdominal massages in the last year-and-a-half of my practice. So, why don't more clients ask for abdominal massage? For one thing, it can feel a wee bit vulnerable. We're not used to baring our tummies to one another. And, we're not used to touching our stomachs ourselves, let alone having someone else knead our tummies like dough. The therapeutic effects of tummy attention, however, seem, at least to me, to override any self-consciousness I initially feel.

So take a deep breath into your belly and give it some love and thanks. You may even surprise yourself and consider asking for abdominal massage at your next appointment. Until then, here's an exercise you can do yourself:

"Sun and Moon" Self-Massage

Imagine that your left hand is the sun and your right is the moon. Place your left "sun hand" on your belly and circle your belly button in a clockwise direction. Place your right "moon" hand on your belly and follow the sun in the circle, moving over it when the hands cross. Move slowly and with light to medium pressure, depending on your comfort level. This stroke reflexively reinforces peristalsis and aids in the sensory and energetic awareness of your body.

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