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Free Your Belly

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Okay, ladies. It’s time to stop sucking in your stomach.

Take a quick survey. Are you sucking it in right now?

If so, here’s the big question: WHY? (Really, is anyone looking at your stomach in this very moment?)

A few weeks ago, I realized I had inadvertently engaged in this unhelpful habit yet again. I was walking around, breathless, holding my lower abdominal muscles inward throughout the day. Ack! This is a habit I spent a good year breaking, so I was annoyed to find it had returned.

It’s also a habit many women share. The flat stomach myth is greatly perpetuated in our culture, so it’s no wonder that many fitness and fashion gurus actually advise sucking the stomach in throughout the day. Unfortunately, this habit creates havoc in the pelvic floor region and in our normal breathing patterns. Whether you’re wanting to find pain relief from vulvodynia, interstitial cystitis, or irritable bowel syndrome, hoping to lose weight, or just trying to feel more content and peaceful, this is a habit that’s gotta go.

My answer to the big question above is quite simple. I want my stomach to look flat, and I have the misconception that it is supposed to be flat. I have bought the party line, in other words.

As you ponder changing this habit, I imagine you’ll find many different thoughts, fears, and self-judgments. Perfect! These are all aiding and abetting you in perpetuating this unhelpful habit. This is a perfect place to practice your thinking skills. None of these things you are thinking about yourself are true, and it’s high time we stopped believing in the stomach myth.

First of all, stomachs are not really designed to be flat. Even in very fit people, there is a lovely rounded lower belly area. In people who practice lower belly breathing regularly, this rounded low belly has a muscular look to it. This is because these people have strong breathing muscles and are fully oxygenating their body with every breath. NOTHING decreases pain, tension, and panic faster than deep, lower belly breathing.

I hope you see the irony here. The people with the pooch are actually healthier and happier! You don’t have to stick your belly out, but you do have to befriend your belly enough to enjoy a relaxed, loose lower abdomen. (And models posing for photo shoots are sucking in, for sure. Don’t let that be your beautiful belly guide!)

Second of all, sucking in your stomach means you are creating tension in the lower abdomen. Tension is not a bad thing, unless it is present all the time. There are times when you need to tense the lower abdominal muscles, but doing so every minute of the day simply fatigues these muscles and creates imbalances. If you aren’t letting the breath flow in and out of the lower abdomen, you are missing out on the most useful element of your own breathing patterns. The deep, lower belly breath is the most efficient breath. (Ever watched a baby breathe?) It oxygenates your body quickly, calms your nervous system, and aids digestion. It helps your mind stop circling in worry or panic mode. And it energizes your whole body. All of these elements of the lower belly breath help you reduce pain and connect with yourself and your emotions. Which means less overeating, more relaxation, and a calmer mind.

When I told my husband I was unlearning my belly-holding habit, he looked confused. “You hold in your stomach all the time?” he asked. He was astonished. Holding in his stomach had never occurred to him, ever. Seriously.

Holding in one’s belly, in the name of beauty, health, or some other reason, just isn’t worth it. This is one cultural ideal to toss out so you can embrace true beauty, which comes from your oxygenated, energized self.

In Qigong, the lower abdomen is called the Dan Tien, or Tan Tien, the “field of the elixir of life.” A flat belly is considered a bad sign, and signals sexual repression/dysfunction and weak life-force energy. Holding this area in is said to make the muscles pull up and tight, which is reflected in our emotional lives and makes us mentally and emotionally uptight. Yikes!

I’m going with lots of energy in the field of the elixir of life, personally. I choose breath and energy. I choose to love my rounded lower belly. I choose to allow myself to relax and release the muscles. I’m done being uptight. I’m ready to choose my own belly ideal, and it has nothing to do with flatness.

If you’re ready, too, let’s join forces and free our bellies! No more holding ourselves hostage to ridiculous, external ideals. 


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