Loving Your Buddha Belly

Leafing through the latest glossy yoga magazines I wonder, “Where are all the bellies?” Images abound on the pages, mostly of women, yoginis contorted into poses most of us will never get near, and looking so lean they have a concave space where their belly should be. Can they breathe like that? How can the prana circulate in a belly that tight?

Western society bombards us with images of flat bellies, “abs of steel”, and “six packs”. Most of us walk around “sucking it in”, ever conscious of how our bellies look. We equate having flat abs with success, good health, and fitness, yet anxiety and antacid medications are some of the most proscribed drugs in the United States. Flat abs don’t necessarily mean you also have a relaxed nervous system, which most of us would also equate with wellness.

This is not a Buddha belly.

This is not a Buddha belly.

Yes, having toned abdominal muscles and core work is important to your overall health, but most exercise targets only the muscular core. Yoga helps you access the energy core, as well.

Your gut has a wisdom of it’s own. Call it the Belly Brain, or the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is located in the sheathes of tissue that make up the esophogus, stomach, small intestine, and colon. The ENS is linked with the Central Nervous System, where our rest-and-relax responses live, along with our fight-or-flight reflexes. What happens in our gut affects our mood, and vice versa. A strong energetic core anchors the mind in the body, and helps establish our boundaries. When the belly is relaxed, so is the nervous system.

There are over 100 million neurons in the gut, more than in the spine. These neurons help make two-thirds of our immune defenses, along with many other vital functions. They also help you access the intuition, literally your gut wisdom. If you’re hyper-aroused, or thinking about pulling in your gut all the time, you can’t access your intuition as readily. It’s like you’re cutting off communication between the mind and the brain, not to mention the flow of the breath and prana.

Check out this Buddha statue and notice–is he sucking it in? No, he’s got a little soft roll of tummy tissue. He looks very relaxed. And notice, his left hand is indicating the relaxed belly as if to say, “Pay attention to this.” A little buddha belly is desirable.

Buddha's hand invites you to check out his relaxed belly.

Buddha’s hand invites you to check out his relaxed belly.

A few things you can do to love your Buddha belly:

  • Instead of pulling the navel straight back to the spine as we do countless times in a yoga class, think of lifting it up and in. Try it both ways and see which way feels more supportive of the spine.
  • Practice variations of plank to engage the muscles and energy of the core. Make sure you keep breathing.
  • Do some restorative work such as savasana with a folded blanket placed over the lower belly.

Flexibility, strength, and stability are key when practicing yoga, but don’t lock up your belly. Let the breath and energy, the prana,  flow in the belly, and everything else will follow.

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