Belly Love

The roundness of my belly has nothing to do with being pregnant, at least not now. Two-and-a-half years have passed since I last carried a child that way. But when my attention drifts from my posture, or when my muscles fatigue as the day wears on, my shape is, ahem, pregnant with possibility. And so I’ve faced the question “Are you expecting?” and then fumbled with the admission that, actually no, I’m not expecting anything.

Recently, a few mama friends vented similar frustrations, and it was both helpful and healing to hear them share their stories. I’m beginning to believe that the roundness of my belly is—it still feels strange to say—normal.

A dear friend helpfully offered this: However rounded my belly is, it’s full of wisdom. The wisdom of birthing two babies, and beautifully so. The wisdom of sensing my intuition, my gut feeling. The wisdom of acting courageously, on tough things that took real guts. There’s beauty in honoring that wisdom in my own body. I’m starting to see that more clearly.

My ambivalence about my belly is not easy to sit with. I’ve never considered myself someone who struggles with body image, and yet, here I am. I don’t hate my belly, but it sure is a bummer that clothing doesn’t always fit comfortably. I’m a long way from accepting my shape with ease. And as a yoga teacher, that’s an uncomfortable place to be and a hard thing to say.

In yoga class, my round belly and I dare to teach agni sara, a strong core movement that is a clearing practice known as a kriya.

To demonstrate agni sara, I gather my shirt around my ribs. I take a wide, powerful stance, hands in hip creases, arms bearing the weight of my torso, and exhale strongly. Then, the pose. I lift my belly, flare my ribs, then let go. As my belly rises and releases, I feel the heat of the work deep in my body. Finally, belly soft, I breathe again. I draw my shirt down as I stand up, and invite everyone to try.

None of this is particularly comfortable. But it feels essential to show and to tell women, especially mothers, that here—in the concaveness of our bellies—we can find real strength. Cultivating and feeling that strength is more fascinating than the usual way we treat our middles. What good can come from ignoring or thinking badly of any part of ourselves?

I’m certain these are lessons I’ll be practicing and teaching for a lifetime, layering them with wisdom like that from Baraka Elihu, a gifted healer here in Athens, Ga., and a belly dancer. When she shared a bit of dancing wisdom, I breathed easier, and let my belly go a bit. She said:

In belly dancing, the round belly is a beautiful one, an aesthetic that is desired. And among some who revere the dance, it is downright erotic to be able to shimmy and shake the fat on the belly.

Now I’m a long way from feeling the least bit erotic about my belly. But I am giving it more thought and more attention, for the better. I’m doing a nutritional cleanse to help clear the sugar addiction that I know is harmful to my well-being and increasingly evident in my belly. If I lose a few pounds, of course I’ll be pleased. But what I really want to know is how I’ll feel, emotionally and physically. Will I be more in tune with my gut feelings, my intuition, as I eat healthier and cleaner? That’s a change that would bring the belly love!

I’m also looking with softer eyes at the contours and curves of my belly. Because those contours and curves aren’t just mine, they are me, one completely authentic expression of me. I deeply appreciate, too, the way The Belly Project puts our tummies in perspective, by acknowledging “perhaps nothing is as preoccupying to us as our bellies. Our bellies are intimately related to our sexuality and to our reproductive lives. It’s a complicated interaction, that confluence of sex and babies.” And they show, photo after anonymous photo, of what bellies look like at all ages and stages of life. How very normal—there’s that word again!

Encouraged by the round ease of belly dancers, the spirituality of Buddha bellies, and the femininity of wise women, I’m growing more comfortable with letting my belly hang loose as I sit and breathe and cherish words like those from Lara Owen’s classic work in women’s spirituality, Her Blood is Gold:

Let go into that softness and allow it to spread all over your body and feel the luscious loveliness of your whole being and the juicy delicious femaleness of having a soft and pliable, a warm and comfortable belly. A place for babies to grow, a place for feeling to develop, for ideas to gestate, for food to be digested and fully absorbed, a place for all your feelings to be worked on and out and through, a place for cozy late night suppers and happy active early morning breakfasts, a place for comfort, for solitude…

Relax more deeply into your belly now. Feel the goddess within you. She loves your round and full belly; she loves the femaleness of you, the fecund weightness of that full soft belly. Let it go even more. Softly, softly, your belly is rounding out, letting go, and you are coming home, more and more at home with yourself, as you release the images of a flat and masculine teenage nonbelly—for now you are a woman who has given or can give birth to another being, and to do that you need a belly. So let your belly be, be proud of it, wear it in the world along with your big heart and your shiny eyes; wear your round soft tender loving belly out into the world and soften all around you with the power of your soft and tender loving belly … the center of our being, the home of our womb, the center of gravity, the deepest place within.

And nurture that belly space, for within it is the treasure trove of your creativity and your gift for the world.”

Perhaps one gift is this: When I make peace with my belly, I make peace with all of me. Sure there are changes I aspire to make, in my belly and elsewhere in my life. But before I go stressing myself out over a long list of problems to fix, I’m going to spend a little more time indulging in self-acceptance. I’m learning that it makes everything easier to digest.

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  1. Rebecca Marshall says:

    Fabulous! and so timely as I look at my postpartum belly and wonder what shape it will take in the coming months/years.

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