We Need Good Belly

A note from Erin:

Hello, brilliant human,

My favorite season is here and I find my whole system softening into the cooler temperatures, the longer nights, the numinous light, the beauty of impermanence in a glorious display. To be honest, some part of me wants to pull all my soft body parts into an imaginary turtle shell and tuck in and just read and cook and snuggle with my fam until 2020 completes itself (US election season, I’m looking at you) – another part of me feels strongly called to show up wholeheartedly. To connect.

I have to tell you – I can’t stop thinking of the phrase and the practice of “good belly.” I’m told by friends who’ve spent time in Japan that while here in the West, we might say of someone whose steadiness of character we admire, “He has a really good head on his shoulders,” in Japan, they might say, “She has good belly.” Or of someone who tends to experience and express a lot of emotional reactivity, they might say, “His belly rises easily.” (Picture someone ejecting straight up out of their center and up into their head.)  I love this language! I wish more of us invested in growing our capacity for good belly. A belly that doesn’t rise so easily.

I’d like to extend an invitation for you to join me in practicing “good belly.”
How about right now?

This has nothing to do with having toned abs, but much more to do with a quality of embodied presence in your low belly.

Take a moment to sense it right now – drop attention below your navel. How is it there? Is anyone home? Is it full of your presence and breath? Or is no one there?

For the next several breaths, as you exhale, I invite you to hum a low tone and gently exaggerate a fullness in your lower belly, as if you were expanding a balloon three-dimensionally in your belly and pelvis. Haaaaaaaaaah. Again! You might find yourself making a sound like a badass martial artist. Haaaaahhhh as your belly gently expands forward and backward simultaneously. How do you feel? (If you find yourself struggling to exhale while your lower belly expands – try laughing. Same thing! We just do it in slow motion.)

Lately, I find myself imagining a new kind of sensor. Do you know how those thermal cameras show where a body is warm and cool? It’s red where it’s hot, yellow into blue/green where it’s cooler? I keep imagining the invention of one of these sensors that could read embodied presence. Show those places where consciousness is present or absent in and through the body. (Some of us can do this kind of sensing with our hands.) For most folks rushing around and living in their heads, there wouldn’t be much other than blue/green below the neck, indicating no one is really home down there – unless something is hurting – then it might be red. (Bless those pains that invite us to inhabit our bodies more fully and with more care! Bless the used-to-be-chronic back pain that changed my life for the better!) For those with good belly, there would be a red and yellow glow in the lower belly – the hara, the dan tien – this important energy center which in Tai Chi I learned to call “the sea of chi” or “the field where you plant the seeds for the elixir of long life.” Can you recall an experience of being with someone and feeling that someone is home down there? With good belly, the belly – of whatever size or fitness level – is full of presence. And often being with someone else who embodies good belly helps your own system to settle and relax.

Sometimes when I find myself disconnected from my embodied experience (I usually notice this because I’m stressed out – a good clue!) I pause and say to myself “Down, girl!” A dear German friend has often puzzled at my use of this phrase – What do you mean? It’s something that in North America we might say to a dog when we want them to calm down or sit down or stop jumping on us. My inner life has a good sense of humor and so I get a little chuckle when I remind myself “Down, girl!” I say this when I’d like my thinking mind to sit down or stop jumping on me. I say this to myself when I want to offer a good-humored and gentle invitation to come home to my body, my belly.  It’s a reminder to drop my attention down down down into my belly and pelvis, this essential root of embodied presence. Haaaaaaaaah. (I call it being embellied and empelvised.) When I do drop my attention down there, I experience my own grounded presence. Underneath whatever is going on in my thoughts, emotions, or outer experiences, internally I can have this experience that Thich Nhat Hanh refers to as the cream of his practice. It’s this: “I’m home. I have arrived.” Good belly helps us realize this. It’s like having an anchor in the deeper waters that keeps you steady despite the surface chop.

Let’s practice again: Pause for a moment to feel your presence in your lower belly, deep inside, right in front of your sacrum and lower back. Relax your pelvic floor, your belly. Even more. Now exhale, hum a low tone as you gently expand your lower belly. Then say it with me. “I am home. I have arrived.” Breathe. Breathe again. Let it be true. You are home. You have arrived. With good belly, no one can take that from you.

There’s so much more I could write about this important cultivation, but today I want to keep it simple. I believe the world needs much more good belly from its human inhabitants. Let’s bring it!

When reflecting on the intense reactivity on display in the utterly awful “presidential” debate in the US earlier this week, I can say that we got to see on full display someone whose belly rises very very easily. Total reactivity. No root. No grounded presence. We did not see good belly. (Can you imagine how different it might have gone with good belly?! Someone who could internally keep their center?!)

Let’s be the ones to bring it. Our collective nervous system needs it, desperately.

Can you imagine growing such a steady presence in your lower belly that your belly doesn’t rise easily, but stays rooted, underneath your thoughts and feelings?

It is totally doable to nurture and grow this capacity. It’s right there inside you. A seed you can water and nurture. I believe it’s absolutely vital. In the embodiment work that Carl and I share with students and clients (and ourselves!) we work with this cultivation often and have dozens of potent somatic lessons to invite and nurture “good belly.”

Please note – this is not about suppressing any thoughts or emotions or feelings – but simply giving them a foundation. Stressful thoughts experienced with a good belly underneath them are experienced so differently than when no one is home down there and our thoughts and feelings are running rampant without any anchor.

 

If you’d like to go deeper into exploring “good belly,” and more, please join us for Grounded & Spacious: A retreat in Movement & Stillness at the end of the month. We’ll also work with this as a foundation for our practice in my Bearing Witness: Digesting 2020 course that starts on the 19th. In the meantime, I hope you experiment on your own. We all benefit from your good belly! We really do.

Want to read a bit more about the belly? Here is an article I wrote a few years back and which I still agree with. :) I love it when that happens.  https://embodimentmatters.com/what-should-i-do-with-my-belly/

 

Wishing you and your beautiful belly well in every single way,
xo
Erin

Here’s a beloved poem gifted to me on a piece of paper years ago – I don’t know where it comes from other than that. To me, it speaks to good belly quite beautifully.

There is a place in your body
that beckons to you
Through this one-point
you enter into all the worlds
Deeper than thinking,
deeper than feeling,
alive with the breath
it tells you of your deepest dreaming
echoes ancient drumming
attends to your truth
There is a place in your body
that gives birth to stars
that is the end of all longing,
repletion of every emptiness,
the pivot around which
all your worlds are turning
There is a place in your body
where you are born
where you belong
where you are welcomed
with all-encompassing love
Imagine that!

Aida Mysan

A few upcoming events: 

Community Grief Tending will happen on Saturday, October 3rd on zoom. (You can register by making a donation of any amount.)

My beloved is part of a stellar lineup of 1000 incredible presenters for the upcoming free Embodiment Conference.  Sign up to join in!

My new fall course Bearing Witness: Digesting 2020 with Embodied Listening and Compassion Practice will meet online on Mondays 10/19-12/7. Registration is now open.

We have a weekend retreat coming up October 24-25 online: Grounded & Spacious: A Retreat in Movement & Stillness.  We’re so looking forward to it!
And we would love to invite you to join us in our beloved Embodiment Lab! It’s soooo good! After years of teaching in person, we’re thrilled to say that after one year of teaching the Embodiment Lab online, it works just as powerfully as when we’re together in person! We begin on Monday our exploration of Youthening Movements. Who doesn’t need that? We have some spectacular lessons to share.  The Lab includes weekly 30-minute Feldenkrais lessons along with a weekly 30-minute video lesson exploring embodiment practice in our lives. The community of folks in the lab is simply stellar(!) and the learning is so profound!! Join our wonderful learning community. $50/month, cancel anytime.



Here’s a taste:
Click here to experience Carl teaching a lesson that explores softening rigidity through the breath. It’s a good one. Also at this link:
https://soundcloud.com/erin-la/releasing-rigidity-with-the-breath-with-carl-rabke/s-m4tBcYIjJp5

 

Thanks for reading, friends,
and thanks for making the world more embodied and more kind.
We’re grateful for you!
I’m sending this email along with my deep heart wish for your wellbeing and a fierce wish for a thriving life for all,
Erin

p.s. Here are a few links just for fun. (These are not affiliate links, just good stuff.) 

 

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Erin

By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.