The Practice: Belly Love
Our belly, my belly, your belly, women’s bellies, men’s bellies “should” be flat, flat, flat. I have met very few people that are not on a quest for a flatter abdomen. I, too, have striven for this perfection as the message I heard growing up from my misguided but well-intentioned mom was “you can never be too thin (or too blonde)”. I wonder, though, if in our quest for perfection we are sacrificing our wellbeing.
A strong core and firm abdominal muscles do indeed help stabilize our low back and lumbar spine. We do need strength in our body, and in particular in our abdomen, to hold ourselves upright and to move through our day with integrity.
The beauty of a Buddha belly
A strong belly does not necessarily equal a flat as a board, six pack belly. In the practice of Chinese Medicine, a healthy belly is one that actually has some softness that resembles a slightly rounded “Buddha belly”. The softness indicates that tension is not being stored in the abdomen and that the breath is freely moving through the belly, diaphragm and chest. I’ve noticed that when I feel most relaxed my breath moves and when I feel stressed my breath hangs out in my chest and is quite shallow. I could go on and on about body image and societal pressure to be thin, but today I want to offer a few tools to simply help us get to know our belly and possibly even love our belly AND let you know that a soft, slightly rounded belly is normal, healthy, and dare I say even beautiful.
Ways to love your belly
Abdominal massage is a great way to love your belly and has the added benefit to help with constipation. Rub your hands together to warm them before placing them at 12 o’clock above your belly button. Allow your fingers to sink into your belly but not too much that you feel pain. Move your hands around your belly button in a clockwise motion. You can use some coconut oil or sesame oil to help your hands move smoothly around your belly.
Sit or lie down and place your hands gently on top of your belly. See if you can bring your breath all the way to your belly enough so that you can visibly see the rise and fall of your hands.
Find movement that makes you feel great and beautiful. One of my favorite things is to put on music, turn up the volume and simply move and dance with no particular purpose and with no one watching. It helps me to feel free and connected to my body and my belly.
Practice speaking kindly to yourself. Write yourself a love note. Be kind to yourself.
Wendy Swanson, L.Ac, E-RYT 200, is a healer, transformational leader, yoga teacher and licensed acupuncturist. Wendy has been leading groups for over 15 years both domestically and internationally. She is an open hearted yoga instructor who is currently studying at Kripalu to obtain her 500 hour yoga certification. As a licensed acupuncturist for over ten years, Wendy’s strives to help people live a life filled with greater ease, joy, well-being and balance. Wendy owns Be Yoga & Wellness in Charlotte, NC.
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How Ayurveda Helped Me Love My Body
Like many young women, I grew up idolizing images of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and the Spice Girls, all of whom graced magazine covers with size 2 bodies and gave off the impression to five year old girls that it was normal to wear belly shirts everyday.
Mixed Messages and Me
Now, I have never been a size two, and never will be. In fact, I think the closest I have ever come to a size two was on the day of my birth. As an athletic kid, I grew up with more brawn than slim. Because of this, as a young girl being fed a one-size-fits-all image by the mainstream media of what “attractive” women look like, I failed to develop an appreciation for my natural body-type. As I moved into my teenage years, my poor-body image, along with the mixed messages from the media about what I “should” and “shouldn’t” eat (Fat is Bad! Eat as many Avocados as you want! Eat cabbage soup for a month!), I developed a very distorted understanding of what my body truly needed in order to be healthy. The worst part was, I loved to eat! And the more I deprived myself in order to look a certain way, the unhappier I felt.
After years of confusion and dissatisfaction with my body, I received a pulse reading from Dr. Lokesh, a globally renowned Ayurveda and Pulse assessment expert, when he visited my hometown of Chicago. And after years of feeling that I wasn’t the person I was supposed to be, I was suddenly reminded who I truly am.
I sat down beside Dr. Lokesh, and he immediately asked for my wrists, skipping over the nervous chitchat played out at the usual doctor’s office visit. After a few minutes of his listening to my pulse, he announced that, out of the three doshas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha), I had a predominantly Pitta constitution, along with a little Kapha. What did this mean? According to Dr. Lokesh,
“Pittas are intelligent, focused, attractive, and leaders. You also have strong digestion, but because of that you often think you can eat anything. You also have a strong appetite – never skip a meal. And don’t get seconds, as you have the tendency to overeat.”
And the Kapha?
“Kaphas have a strong build and stamina. Kapha people are patient, strong, and loyal. However, you can get lazy and have a sweet tooth. Stay away from sweets and overeating to avoid weight gain and diabetes.”
All of my body-image “shoulds” were wiped away within the span of 15 minutes as I learned the reality of my constitution and what I need in terms of food, herbs, and lifestyle to experience optimal health.
Recognizing my Strengths
Learning about my constitution through pulse reading has helped me to identify my strengths, rather than weaknesses. For example, while I may not be a top candidate for the spot of fifth Spice Girl, I am blessed with a strong stamina and athletic build, which allows me to be a top competitor in sports, and will allow me to stay active late into life. Those competitive traits, when balanced, also support my natural leadership skills and focus.
Besides providing me emergency body-image relief, pulse readings with Dr. Lokesh have often unearthed the non-physical aspects of my life that may be affecting my health. As Ayurveda takes a holistic approach to health, incorporating body, mind, and spirit into each evaluation, guidance provided by Dr. Lokesh has helped me transition out of a dead-end job, identify how romantic relationships affect my health, and develop trust.
For those interested in receiving a pulse reading for the first time, remember that pulse assessments are not a replacement for western medicine, but rather are a strong complement, and can provide basic insights into food and lifestyle often overlooked in the pharmaceutical-dominated medical industry. Whether you are new to Ayurveda or are a pulse-diagnosis pro, I invite you to take advantage of Dr. Lokesh’s United States tour and listen in to what your pulse has to say!
Written by Lucia Whalen
Editor’s Note: Thank you for sharing your life-changing experience with us Lucia.
If you’re interested to learn about your body type, register for a free telephone consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner – click here
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.