Celebrating my Buddha belly
Celebrating my Buddha belly
I recently participated in an Esoteric Yoga and Connective Tissue Movements Body Awareness programme where one of the presenters, Kate, who is a physiotherapist and an Esoteric Connective Tissue therapist, talked about releasing our ‘Buddha belly’ (lower belly, below the tummy button). Kate asked us to experiment with keeping our Buddha belly completely relaxed during the week between the programme sessions, just like the pictures of the laughing Buddha with his belly hanging out, and to build our relationship with our tummy.
Now, for someone who has held her belly in most of her life – especially when a good-looking man was nearby! – this was pretty challenging. Actually, I have always had a flat tummy, until menopause anyway, when a woman’s body starts to naturally change shape. Despite this, I had a belief that I needed to hold my tummy in, perhaps as a result of my mother and others telling me always to ‘stick your chest out and suck your belly in’. Most of the time I wasn’t even aware that I was actually holding my belly in. It had become almost a subconscious behaviour, based on wanting to look slimmer or ‘better’ or to be more attractive to men. Other women may hold their tummy in to tighten their core and use their pelvic floor muscles, a message that many exercise or Pilates instructors give, so they hold their tummy in from fear of something going wrong or the need for security. I have observed too that many women hold their hands in front of their bellies when being photographed. I know I used to do that all the time, because I didn’t accept my body and, in particular, I didn’t accept my curves. I always thought I was fat, so I wanted to cover up my belly to be more attractive.
At first, I kept looking at my released Buddha belly and thinking, ‘gosh I’m fat’. However, gradually over that week and the following week I found that I was actually beginning to really enjoy letting go holding my belly in, or half holding it in.
One day I realised that my belly was released a lot of the time and that when it was, I loved the feeling of freedom it gave me.
Kate had explained to those of us on the programme that when we half hold our tummy or pelvic floor in, our core muscles get weaker and weaker. Our core muscles – like our deep tummy muscles – need to relax fully to restore their energy reserves, so that when they are needed they can contract with full strength. When these core muscles are half contracted, over time it weakens their contractable strength, so you then get a weaker connection, which can lead to urinary incontinence and also, in my experience, lower back pain.
It can also weaken the connection we have with that muscle and body part. For example, if we constantly keep our lower tummy half pulled in, the whole area has less blood flow in and out, so it is not as warm. As that doesn’t feel so good, we can numb ourselves from feeling this, which weakens our connection to that body part. This can lead to women feeling numb from the waist down.
Isn’t it incredible to understand that simply by holding our beautiful Buddha belly in, we are denying the woman we are?
I could understand this because I had shut myself off from feeling myself as a woman for a long time, so it made a lot of sense to me as I became a tomboy pretty early on in my life and became sports mad. I often said that I ‘wanted to come back as a man’. I shut down my connection to my body, my connection to my inner beauty and it took me a long time to feel anything.
So you see the seemingly simple exercise of releasing our Buddha belly can allow us to let go the old beliefs and pictures we have around having a flat tummy to be attractive, and that letting our tummy out makes us look fat. It can also, in my experience, allow us to begin to have a deeper acceptance of our body and its natural curves.
What I discovered by letting go my belly was a freedom to be me, no matter what the shape of my tummy. Now I am enjoying my Buddha belly, and appreciating my womanly curves. And my muscles are thanking me for doing so!