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.
When you are doing hamstring stretches in yoga class, you might notice that one leg is harder to stretch. That is normal, most people do have one leg longer than the other and you don’t have to be symmetrical: just flexible and strong. Get into the feeling of each leg, and try to find the place where they both are equally stretched and loosened.
In anatomy class I found out the reason one leg is longer is because when we are standing in a 3-D gravitational field, therefore we compress in a spiral. That is the geometry of bipedalism, two lengths in motion in a gravitational field will make a flunctuating spiral. We need that flexibility, and that is one thing that yoga will give us.
If you find the internal balance of the two legs in your yoga practice, and persist with your lengthening and strenghtening exercises, it will help you with the back problems that can be traced to the pelvic bowl.
It took a long time for me to find the best way to lengthen my spine, but one clue I had in my search was learning how to bring more circulation to my head, spine, and sacrum.
This routine was developed over years of research and observation. You may take this, try it, but your solution to any problems you are having comes through the journey you will take with your own body.
When I came home after work, I used to drink 3 glasses of wine and crash. That was not working for me because I could tell I wasn’t relaxing deeply.
I learned that one of the first things I could do when I came home is do soft yoga: I would massage my skull, empty my overstuffed head, and recharge my belly.
One of the most enlightening books I have ever read is The Secret Life of Fat by Sylvia Tara. She is a biochemist who has studied how fat is essential to our health and well-being as women. Our fat manufactures and stores hormones which help regulate how we store energy for living, child-bearing, and keeping healthy post-menopause.
Fat is an essential organ. Yes, I said organ because even though it is not a discreet well-contained organ, it nevertheless serves a essential role in the physical and chemical protection of the body. It makes many, many hormones: leptins and greylins, which control hunger and cravings, and hormones which allow women to become pregnant and carry children to term. And if there is not enough food or space, it limits pregnancies until food supplies return.
The Secret Life of Fat is available on Amazon Books as a paperback or audiobook. It was the best $8 I ever spent.
I found that even though I eat the best I can with the food choices I have, I still think my digestion could be better.
So why do I have this problem?
I used to think there was something wrong with me because I got so many stomachaches. I came to understand that my stomach is an important sign of what is going on in my body. I have come to the conclusion that I have a troublesome stomach because I am a sensitive by nature and respond actively to stress in my environment and in my relationships.
There are many easy natural remedies for stomachaches, and when you are hurting you don’t want to think too much; you just want to get rid of the stomachache.
Everybody knows crackers (saltines or rice crackers if you are gluten-free) will soothe a sore tummy. We are familiar with peppermint, ginger, and chamomile with a little honey will help. Yet there are many kinds of stomachaches, and sometimes you need to know what is going on inside to find the right remedy. First determine what kind of stomachache you have (too much to drink last night? Do I have a stomach flu? Did I just poison myself with iffy leftovers?) then you probably want to try one of these remedies.
Cinnamon and Lemon with Honey
This is a well-known remedy from Europe. And it works for colds too.
Tomatoes and Chili Powder
Although it’s not well known here in North America, this is a home remedy from South of the Border. And it works. First determine what kind of stomachache you have (hangover?) You probably want to have tomato juice cocktail with Worchestertire sauce and Tabasco. Now does it look familiar?
Often used to treat digestive upsets such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and heartburn, papaya’s natural digestive enzyme, papain, breaks down foods that may be irritating to the stomach. A half of thinly sliced fruit will do the trick.
A baked apple or some applesauce with clove and nutmeg are good for fighting a queasy stomach because they are rich in enzymes and the soluble fiber, pectin, that help to break down stomach irritants from other foods and as a bonus, also lower cholesterol. Apples are best baked if you have a particularly sensitive stomach.
This spice can treat a number of tummy problems from morning sickness to diarrhea gas. It stimulates the digestive system, which moves foods along the digestive tract smoothly. Sprinkle cinnamon on other stomach-settling foods like apples, bananas or in herbal teas such as chamomile or ginger. You can also make a plain cinnamon tea by adding 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder to 1 cup hot water; let stand for 5 minutes before drinking. It has also been shown to help prevent diabetes. I like having it in my coffee in the morning.
Anyone who’s ever had an upset stomach may have heard that ginger ale was the remedy to settle an upset stomach and for good reason. Ginger is believed to reduce nausea and inflammation. If you don’t like “the fizzies”that come with the carbonation of ginger ale, try ginger tea or fresh ginger soaked in hot water for a few minutes.
Mint and thyme
Both herbs stimulate digestion and move food smoothly through the digestive tract. Each can be used to make a simple tea to ease stomach cramps and to relieve pressure caused by gas and bloating. You may also chew on mint leaves for relief.
Fennel or caraway seeds
These seeds can work wonders to improve digestion and to ease gas and bloating. Add 1 teaspoon caraway or fennel seeds to 1 cup boiling water cover and steep for 10 minutes. Strain, and drink 3 cups a day on an empty stomach for best results until you’re feeling better. You may also chew on the seeds after a meal to prevent stomach upsets.
White Rice and Yogurt
I learned this recipe from my veterinarian who prescribed it for my beloved Labrador, Casey. Casey was in the habit of eating anything that wasn’t tied down, and even I kept him on a tight leash, if I let down my guard for one minute, say to talk to a mutual doggie friend, he would lunge and grab whatever he could find on the ground. He would devour chicken bones, (and those could puncture his digestive system), food garbage like wrappers, and bunny pellets. Ewww.
When I have stress and it goes to my stomach I know that I can relax my mind and tummy with something to drink, because the act of sitting with something in my hand immediately relaxes me. I can have herbal tea, (chamomile and kava kava stress are my favorite), sip mineral water if it is a hot day, drink kefir with mint and take 30 minutes for myself after I come home.
My life is good, but still I am sometimes confused about my belly. I know there is not one panacea to fix all my stomachaches. I have learned to be more sensitive to my body so I could hear its signals. To do that I lie down and do bed yoga so I can rub my tummy and get in touch with it.
Sometimes a stomachache is just a stomachache. It can also be constipation, pancreatis, an ulcer, IBS, or appendicitis. When I am rubbing my stomach, I can feel where the tension is and make a better decision on how to treat it.
I have had all kinds of tests on my gastric system, and the only thing the doctors could tell me is your stomach is irritated, but no ulcers or anything else to worry about. Maybe I should give up worrying.
Modern life is stressful–we cannot control that. The only thing we can control is ourselves. Being peaceful is a path, not a destination. And a happy belly is a good thing.
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.
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.
This is best done when you are relaxed, on your bed, a beach towel on your floor, or your yoga mat.
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.
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.)
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).
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.
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.
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.
Stop thinking too much
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.
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 difficult concept to embrace when our bellies rebel against us and we are bloated, funky, or uncomfortable.
The Belly Project is a blog that gave me strength because all kinds of women were sharing their bellies. This blog helped me feel better about myself.
Ironically, if we have a disease: such as fibroids, cancer, or obesity, we feel even worse. We feel as if we have failed. Yet, that is when our bellies need us the most, and want more nurturance.
At one time in my life I had fibroids and I looked pregnant, but was very tired and ill so I knew something was wrong. However, I knew the way to understanding is through listening my belly and trying to understand what was going on, rather than judging myself for getting sick. I worked closely with my doctors to get the right information about what was happening to me, had the surgery and it worked out well. I am happy and healthy today.
If we can be there for our bellies while we are going through 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 accept the unacceptable, we grow from our experience.