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A Love Affair With Food

I would never tell someone else what to eat because everybody is different.

People come from different places, different cultures, and different times of their lives.

My own process with food is a love affair.

I am one of those fortunate individuals who want to experience many things in life, so I tried a lot of cuisines, used to shop at ethnic groceries, and found out what I liked also agreed with my gut.

I used to be a natural foods cook and a vegan caterer, but that was in my youth when I was in Berkeley CA.

Now I just cook at home for me & my husband because we want to eat healthy but I try to have no judgements about what he or other people eat.

I have a list of things my body loves because all my life I want to pay attention to what my body said to me.

I tried a lot of different diets when I was in high school and college. (Green drinks, macrobiotics, wheat germ fried chicken, and peanut loaves because that was the ideas circulating in my youth.)

First I was a vegetarian, then a pescatarian, and then I just wanted to eat from an organic garden, because no matter what I ate, if I ate fresh food: I felt better.

Not everybody can have their own garden, but some of us, if we try can, find fresh vegetables and healthy fruits to eat instead of processed food. And we can eat local foods instead of stuff flown in or driven to us from from far away.

Sadly, American food is fast, but not too healthy. Too many fries, hamburgers, and pizzas may lead to obesity and diabetes later in life. Too much plastic wrap is bad for the environment, and if you had the ability to eat better, you would.

Now this is the best thought I have ever had in my life, and my favorite massage therapist said this to me, “Guilt is an overrated emotion.”

Every day you wake up, and you get a new chance at living a better life. Your body, your thoughts, and your heart will lead you to a better place. Be helpful, harmless, and listen to others, and you will be happy, healthy, and well.

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Who Am I?

I am nobody important…just another woman who has struggled all her life with her body and self-confidence.

You are reading this probably because you care about your health, your appearance, or your self-esteem. Yoga has helped me all through my life to deal with the ups and downs of being a woman. However, I am not the skinny supermodel type that you see in yoga magazines. I am short, fat, and approaching old age, although–according to my friends–I have a great attitude and am very funny.

This is not an advice column, but just a personal journal about learning how to be at peace with having a woman’s belly.

If you write me with suggestions on how to lose weight I will delete your comment with prejudice.

However, if you find my journal about my belly and yoga practice interesting, you can drop me a line.

I’m big on women feeling good about their bellies.

Belly Massage and How to do It

Before you begin:

  • Read the directions before you attempt it
  • Study the anatomy of the digestive organs
  • Follow peristalsis which is in a clockwise direction
  • Always be gentle and stay in touch with yourself, or recipient, if you are giving the massage to someone else.

OVERVIEW

Abdominal massage, which may sometimes be referred to as stomach massage, is a gentle, noninvasive treatment that may have relaxing and healing effects for some people.

It is used to treat a wide variety of health concerns, especially those related to the stomach, such as digestion issues, constipation, and bloating.

You can give yourself an abdominal massage or visit a massage therapist for a session. 

You may benefit from the effects of self- massage after only 5 or 10 minutes per day.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before getting an abdominal massage if you are pregnant or have any health concerns.

The simplest of all abdominal massages is just to rub your belly clockwise. This is the direction of normal peristalsis.

MY ROUTINE

This is best done when you are relaxed, on your bed, a beach towel on your floor, or your yoga mat.

  1. Place your palm on your navel and take a deep breath. Then move your hand to a circle outside your navel and work your way in. Do this as many times as you like and are comfortable doing. You don’t have to press hard, but if you give some firmness to the touch, it works better.
  2. Now you are going to address the lymphatic part of your belly. This is where your immune system gets a workout. Gently stroke the sides of your abs up and down with the heel of the hand, both sides. Think of it as a sponge that wants fresh new water in it to clean your body effectively. You wouldn’t want to clean your house with a dirty sponge, would you? (So after the belly massage, drink some pure water.)
  3. There are two valves that are the gatekeepers for your belly: the ileocecal valve on the left side and the sigmoid flexure on the right. Rub those valves and help them relax and reset. They are in the lower corners of your belly above the pubic bone and below the navel. (See diagram).
  4. Place your hands under your ribs on the soft part of your belly just under the diaphragm. Breathe softly into your hands, and let this part of your belly relax. Work your way down repeating the same breathing technique. It is better to let your belly relax naturally, then forcing yourself to take big breaths. I like to think of it as watching a flower unfurl. When it feels soft, give your stomach and pancreas (left side) a massage, along with your liver and gallbladder (right side). Don’t worry about being anatomically correct, the area under the ribs benefits if you rub it there.
  5. You can do these in any order you want. Try it once and find out how your body responds, then adjust the routine to fit your tummy. We are all women, yet we all are different, so it is up to us to become experts on our own bodies.

Good Belly Yoga

As we age, our bodies go through many changes: we lose flexibility, our moods change, we get a little forgetful, and our legs are not as springy. Yoga is the key to maintaining a fully functioning body at any age. You won’t always feel like you are young again, but you will feel like the best self you can be.

Key for me was understanding how my digestion affected my arthritis, my energy levels, and my immune system. The better I ate (and the way I felt while I was eating) affected my digestion. Other factors that changed my digestion took a lot of learning. What I needed to eat when I was young is somewhat different from what I need to eat now that I am 67. I need less protein, so my portions got smaller, and I needed to eat more specific foods that enhanced my ability to fight stress and disease.

The reason I called this yoga Good Belly Yoga is because it is focused on improving the health of your digestive system which will improve the quality of your energy, memory, joints, and blood circulation which will get all the good things your body can do for you get to the places where they will do the most good.

This is not a weight loss site. There is so much out there about weight loss that it would be counter-productive to consider weight loss as a goal. A better goal would be to develop a close and loving relationship with your belly: to feed and nurture it as it was the most important relationship you will ever have in your life because your body and belly will always be with you. People and pets come and go. However, if you treat your belly well, you will treat all of your relationships better because you feel better.

Movement is Massage

Every time you move, you are massaging your belly. No matter whether you walk, run, do yoga, swim, or dance, you are massaging your belly. Anything that requires you to focus on your body and use alternate movements of the shoulders and hips will be help you feel better. That is the best massage there is: moving the body.

The beauty of yoga is the stretch. It creates space and helps settle things back into place. That is why yoga helps you feel so balanced. You are actually making up for all those crazy life moments when you are rushing to work, rushing to buy groceries, pick up your kids, or just trying to meet a deadline. If you don’t take time out, your stomach would always feel like it was in your throat, because stress affects the stomach first, and then the rest of your organs.

The stretch is the first step. But….there are two more steps.

  1. Stretch
  2. Stop thinking too much
  3. Move and be inside your body

Stopping the mind by focusing on holding a pose (even if it is difficult) will help you switch to body consciousness. Then the rest periods help you assimilate the changes in your nervous system, circulation, and muscles. That is the when the real work of yoga happens, and to make it happen, you have to learn how not to control anymore. You actually need to control less to have more.

Our modern life gets mixed up with yoga in an unfortunate pattern: we think if we stretch more, we will get better. The meaning of yoga is yoking the mind to the body, as if you were yoking an ox to the plow.

The mind obsesses and wanders, gets lost, and then comes back. This is OK, this is the nature of mind.

Yoga is a way to get your mind more focused faster because you are not just exercising, you are letting go to stay in a pose, letting go at the end of the pose, and then at the end of the session, letting go of the practice, the day, and all your problems. For one moment in time, you forget time, and live in your body because you no longer feel driven by the mind. They are one.

Belly Massage

The simplest of all abdominal massages is just to rub your belly clockwise. This is the direction of normal peristalsis.

Yogis were adept at doing all kinds of things to improve their digestion, but it is not necessary to go into depth about that here. Let’s talk about modern times.

Overview

Abdominal massage, which may sometimes be referred to as stomach massage, is a gentle, noninvasive treatment that may have relaxing and healing effects for some people.

You can give yourself an abdominal massage or visit a massage therapist for a session. 

You may benefit from the effects of abdominal massage after only 5 or 10 minutes of massage per day. Continue reading to learn more about this self-healing technique.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before getting an abdominal massage if you just had surgery, are pregnant, or have health concerns.

The benefits of abdominal massage

According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), massage therapy can have a positive effect on the physical, mental, and social well-being of people. It’s thought to improve overall health and wellness.

Abdominal massage may provide these additional benefits for digestion, blood circulation, arthritis, and immunity.

Relieve constipation

Massaging the abdomen may help to relax your stomach muscles. That, in turn, helps stimulate digestion and relieve constipation.

A 2016 Trusted Source – National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

A study at NCCIH examined the effects of abdominal massage on constipation following surgery.*

The researchers found that people who had abdominal massage — compared to the control group who didn’t receive massage had:

  • reduced symptoms of constipation
  • more bowel movements
  • less time between bowel movements

Abdominal massage was further shown to have a positive effect on their quality of life.

Larger in-depth studies are needed to expand upon these findings and to learn more about characteristics that can affect constipation.

Be an informed consumer. I had two abdominal surgeries in my life, and my best friend is in rehab after her second operation. I waited to massage my belly until my scars were healed and I followed my doctor’s advice.

If you are pregnant, nursing, or have a condition that precludes doing massage, you can still find other solutions to help your digestion, especially if your stomach is bothering you: a pill to get symptomatic relief is only the first step to health. Educating yourself about the body that you use to get where you want to go is a more permanent solution.

Sometimes relief is a just one step in the right direction.

*(That is unless you have had abdominal surgery, then you must wait until the wound is healed, and scar tissue formed, to start massage in the belly area). 

It takes a Microvillage

There are wonderful things that happen with aging: you stop caring so much about what others think about you, and start wondering where you put your keys instead. You don’t have the energy to resist all that is happening around you, so you start thinking in terms of efficiency so you don’t waste the energy you have.

Your digestion will not be what it used to be, even if you eat your vegetables, take probiotics, and meditate regularly, although all of these things help.

The thing is as you age, so does your microbiome. Aging digestive systems have more heartburn, gas, constipation, and then more gas. I was lucky to have a FIT test early in the process and my doctor pointed out that although I ate yogurt, drank kefir and kombucha, my microbiome had actually narrowed, and I needed a better probiotic with more strains specific to the older gut and to pay attention to the environment my bacteria needed to be healthy.

I started to emphasize cooked vegetables, and drink more green tea with ginger honey. I switched to a supplement regime that not only kept my stomach and pancreas happy, it also helped to reduce sugar and bread cravings. I introduced more pineapple and papaya into my diet and fewer bananas. I found out that the foods that supposed to cause more gas were actually the foods I craved when my stomach started to hurt. Coleslaw, anyone?

I also included a daily regimen of belly massage as part of my yoga practice in the morning. I had learned a system of belly massage when I was training to be a massage therapist called Feng Niu, but was reluctant to use it on my clients because of the intimacy brought up problems for my practice. However, for myself, it has had a great deal of comfort, as my belly was bothering me a lot when I turned 67.

There have been studies in complementary medicine as to the efficacy of abdominal massage, and to get an overview you can go to this recent study in the September issue of Complementary Therapies.

The Effect of Abdominal Massage on Gastrointestinal Functions: a Systematic Review 

Complementary Therapies in Medicine ( IF 2.063 ) Pub Date : 2020-09-12 , DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2020.102553 

Mahlagha Dehghan; Alireza Malakoutikhah; Fatemeh Ghaedi Heidari; Mohammad Ali Zakeri

Healthy Bellies

Women fret a lot about their bellies and also enjoy them.

We love to eat, unless we have been brainwashed to be too thin, and punish ourselves.

We also enjoy pregnancy and hate it when things are not right. (Like puking when we are nauseous, then are hungry and want to eat a ton of food.)

We hate being fat, and we love being sexy, but not all of us are built to be thin throughout our whole lives.

To actually live with our bellies as our companions instead of something we have to fight is a hard concept to embrace when our bellies rebel against us and we are have a disease, such as fibroids, cancer, or obesity. And yet, that is when our bellies need us the most, and want more nurturance.

Yet the way to understanding is through these hard times, because if we listen to our bellies while we are going through the tough times: pregnancy, surgery, or chemo, we might be able to stop judging ourselves and start relaxing into what is happening–even if it is painful–and do the best thing for what we need to do to get back to health, if we can, and accept the unacceptable, if we can’t.

One way to know if you are getting along with your belly on a day to day basis is to notice how good your digestive processes are going: this will affect your emotions, moods, and how clear your thinking is today. Just touching your belly and seeing how it feels, is warm and healthy? or cold and hard? Is it tied into knots, or bubbling merrily? (Yes, those gurgling noises are good signs: you are relaxing and getting in touch with your tummy.)

Then rub it and ask it what it wants. Clockwise is best. That is the direction of peristalsis.