Place your hands on your belly. Relax your belly. Just let it go. Let it be round in your hands. (Despite the culture’s fascination with concave bellies, bellies are supposed to be at least slightly rounded).Barbara Carrellas, Urban Tantra.
I read this last week, sitting on my yoga mat, preparing to meditate. And this, THIS …obvious truth (!) landed with me on my mat, and has stayed with me ever since. Relaxing my belly is really hard!
I’m reading Urban Tantra by Barbara Carrellas, an epic how-to guide on applying ancient tantric principles to modern life. There is so much I’m experimenting with and taking away from this book, but the above quote has stayed with me the most.
Back to the yoga mat. I read the quote and discovered that I could relax my abdominal muscles to what my body thought was soft, but then poking a bit I realized I was still unconsciously squeezing. It took a couple of deep breaths and a lot of mindfulness to fully relax my belly.
But here’s the thing that has been fascinating me. It’s not only a muscle thing, its emotional. Relaxing my belly feels vulnerable. I’ve been discovering that each layer of relaxation brings up feelings. For example, on the initial relaxation it feels like I’m relaxing an armour of muscle and control, and with that comes vulnerability with a dash of anxiety. As I relax deeper and I feel my belly push a little more against my waistband, I’m hit with a swell of inadequacy and some body shame: that any show of belly roundness is going against restrictive, damaging and unconsciously internalized beauty standards.
I didn’t even know I carried this with me. I didn’t realize my belly held so much.
On the flip side, I’ve discovered a little bit of magic. When I relax my belly, other things happen. My breath deepens, allowing more air into my lungs. My pelvic floor relaxes. My jaw loosens, and I notice the rigidity with which I’ve been holding it. I feel a moment of ease, calm. My mind slows for a second or two and drops into my body. I take stock of how I’m feeling, and where I’m at.
It’s like a reset button for my nervous system.
Since I first came across this, I’ve noticed that as I go about my day, my default is a tight abdomen, tight jaw, shallow breathing. So I’ve been consciously relaxing my belly, taking in a deep inhale and feeling my body thank me. I do it on the subway, at the library, on my bike, walking down the street, sitting in class, at work…whenever I remember.
I’ve been imagining that we live in a society where belly roundness was the beauty norm. Imagine how things would be if people breathed deeper, let go of rigidity in their bodies, discovered a bit of ease and flow throughout their day….I feel like we’d see more compassion towards self and other, less RE-action, lower stress and anxiety.
If you’re reading this and your belly is clenched, I invite you to take a deep inhale and let it go. You absolutely have my permission to relax all those upper and lower abdominal muscles, to relax your jaw, to relax your throat and to breathe. Maybe you’ll feel a lot with this, and if you do, try and cut yourself some slack. You’re fine, and so is your belly. Look for the ease.