“The sun shines not on us, but in us.” ~ John Muir
I was a dancer, and controlled my life, ahem, I mean weight, with exercise and bulimia—and I hated my belly!
I was a scared, high-functioning, skinny perfectionist that eventually became clinically depressed and over-weight. During that time, miraculously, I learned to love my belly and I began a journey to learn what that auspicious area was all about.
These days, my body, specifically my belly, and I are connected in such a profound way that she helps me process the world, digest information, feel safe, receptive and free.
That connection didn’t happen overnight. My twenties were dedicated to healing and eventually yoga found me.
Through yoga, I started understanding how the physical body works and began to see a direct relationship between my body, my mind and emotions.
Mostly, I noticed a pattern that revolved around my stomach area.
When I thought that something went “wrong” in my world, I wanted to eat. I binged on foods that would temporarily release a surge of pleasure hormones like dopamine and serotonin and put my extended stomach and me in a shortsighted fog that dimmed the fear. I noticed on airplanes, when we had turbulence, I ran for the bathroom. And, when I was nervous, it felt like there was a rock of tension in my belly and constipation followed for days.
As I became aware of these connections, my yoga teacher, the gifted Jasmine Lieb, spoke of the third chakra (Manipura Chakra, the navel center). She said this area is where we not only digested and processed food, but where we digested and processed life.
When people are in an uncomfortable social situation, one of the first things they do is cross their arms in front of them, blocking the solar plexus and creating a subconscious effort to self-protect.
And there I was, full of fear and making walls and trying to protect every chance I could—I didn’t know how to process and digest life in a healthy way. I had several health issues pertaining to this area and, consequently, my world had become very small.
I realized my third chakra was not in balance.
When we have feelings of anxiety, stress, fear, low self- esteem, uncertainty, obsessing about food, nausea and frustration from blocked creativity, there is often a physical problem in the third energy channel. Issues that can indicate an imbalance in the third chakra are:
fluctuations in blood pressure
Yogis believe that, on a physical level, when the navel center is functioning well, our energy level is high, we are filled with vitality, our blood pressure is balanced and we can heal easier.
On an emotional level, Dr. Koniver says, we “feel empowered, strong, effective, spontaneous and open to new things.”
So, if your belly is saying there is an issue, what can you do?
Obviously, see a doctor to help the physical problems or a therapist to support the emotional issues. Awareness is the key that unlocks freedom.
But there is also ways yoga can balance the Manipura Chakra:
1. Conscious Breathing. Take relaxing belly-filled breaths! Ujjayi breath (breath of sound) calms the nervous system.
2. Eat healthy, whole foods that are easily digested. Cut foods that cause gas. Decrease portions.
3. Drink water to help cleanse, hydrate, digest and provide a feeling of contentment in the belly.
4. Take peppermint, chamomile and ginger—as a tea, they are a perfect stomach soother.
5. Repeat mantras like: I am safe. I am supported. The world is my friend.
6. Say yes to life and opportunity (even when it is scary!). Taking on authority roles actually help activate this power center in our body. When we say no to what will make our heart sing, we create resistance and tension.
7. In social situations, don’t cross arms in front of yourself; instead, look the person in the eye and silently ask, how I can be of service?
8. Yoga Poses for general balancing and discomfort around the navel center are poses that twist, fold forward, stretch the belly and gently tone abdominals. Some goodies from Mr. Iyengar:
Belly hug: Lie on the back and hug knees into belly. Inhale slowly and fill navel area, exhale and hug legs into belly. The pose massages abdominal organs, helps digestion and relieves gastric troubles.
Revolved belly twist, locust and belly massage: Tones the belly area, helps digestion and relieves gastric troubles and flatulence.
Seated forward folds: Massages and tones abdominal organs and helps with fatigue.
Seated twists: Benefits intestines and reduces abdominal size.
Boat, plank, twisting triangle: Strengthen abdominals.
Reclining hero and bridge: Stretch abs.
Headstand: Builds confidence and tones abdominals. Make sure to practice with a teacher first!
Uddiyana: Helps chronic gastrointestinal disorders. Get help from a teacher.
9. Lastly, listen to your gut! There is truth to this old saying.
At this point in my life, there is a distinct uncomfortable feeling I get when something feels unsafe. When my belly tightens, I tune-in and check my intuition. When I examine the reasons behind the stress and choose to relax and connect, then, as Erich Schiffmann says, “the obvious choice becomes obvious.”
These days my belly is a place from where I draw power. I take care of her and in return she gives me nourishment, strength and vitality. There is a free flow of energy that supports and affirms life, allowing me to be present and engaged.
When this energy center is awakened, a radiant glow can be felt from the inside out! We are literally propelled forward in the direction of our dreams. And you will find inspiring people and sustaining experiences being drawn to the brightness that is you.
Chaudhary, Kulreet, MD. Finding Chakra Balance Through Your Diet. OZ Blog. 2013
Hay, Louise. You Can Heal Your Body. Hay House. 1987
Iyengar, B.K.S. Light On Yoga. Schocken Books. 1979
Jasmine Lieb. Therapeutic Yoga Teacher, Santa Monica, Ca.
Koniver, Laura. Chakra Vitality. Laura Koniver, MD. 2013.
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. National Institutes of Health. Irritable bowel syndrome. September 2007.
Author: Michele Bickley
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Author’s own