Treasure Inside You
How I Learned to Love My Belly
This Book Is Organized
How to Use This Book
What's in This for You?
Treasure Inside You
book is and isn't about your belly. It's about the life-giving, life-saving, life-affirming
power that already dwells within your body's center within your belly.
This magnificent power is the source of everything I imagine you desire in life:
good health, high energy, great sex, unflappable confidence, loving relationships,
infinite creativity, meaningful work, unfailing intuition, and an unshakable sense
power focused within your body's center is akin to the Power of Being that creates,
sustains, and renews the world. It's the power that, through your body, gives
birth to children, generating life itself. It is procreative power in a larger
sense as well. It is pro-creative, the power to promote creation in any dimension
you choose, according to your intention.
pro-creative life force is your connection to Source Energy. It's your soul in
action, your soul power. Where do you rendezvous with this power? In your body's
center, within your belly. Whatever your belly's shape or size, this soul power
is the priceless treasure inside. In essence, it's who you are.
you found a bowl. Maybe you unearthed it when you were digging in the garden.
Maybe it's something that caught your eye as you skimmed through a yard sale.
However it came to you, this bowl is not necessarily a pretty sight. Its lid is
stuck on tight you can't even open it. It may be scarred or tarnished.
It certainly isn't fashionable or stylish. What will people say if you put it
put the bowl away, in a dark corner of a closet. You're relieved to hide it and
forget about it.
pass. Then comes the day you're ready to move to a new place. You ask a friend
to help you pack. Out of the chaos of cartons, your friend comes to you holding
something in her hands. It's the bowl you stowed away all those years ago.
friend tells you something surprising. Given what she's learned about antiques,
and maybe even archeology, she knows that this bowl is very valuable indeed. What's
more, there's something inside. When she holds it up to your ear and gives it
a gentle shake, you can hear something rattle.
will you determine the bowl's true value? Are you going to open it and find out
friend keeps you company as you consider your options. She tells you what she
believes the bowl is worth and how to safely open its lid, if that's what you
want to do.
with this book, I am that friend. This bowl that you may have forgotten, that
you may have hidden with some degree of shame, is your belly. Now, holding this
book in your hands, you're on the verge of rediscovering the bowl, your belly,
and the priceless something the treasure inside.
I Learned to Love My Belly
book originated with my own need for healing. I've field-tested all the exercises
for deepening awareness and the belly-energizing moves you'll find here. I've
needed to they saved my life.
I was fourteen, my well-meaning mother presented me with a girdle, something to
trim my tummy and slim my thighs so I could wear the straight skirts that were
fashionable then. An artifact of the early sixties, this item was the Gestapo
of girdles. It was so stiff that, when I held it between my hands and tried to
pull, it wouldn't give an inch. When I packed myself into it, a diamond-shaped
reinforcement panel clamped itself over my tummy, and rectangular reinforcement
strips patrolled the outside of each thigh.
three or four times that I wore this contraption, stuffing my curvaceous belly
into this prison for wayward flesh, I could barely breathe. I felt like I was
suffocating the thing was killing me. So I hid it in the back of my bottom
drawer and never wore it again.
the girdle had already delivered an elaborate message: Your comfort doesn't matter,
whether you can breathe doesn't matter, whether you can live fully and freely
doesn't matter. What's important is that you look good. If your belly is too big,
if it doesn't fit in, you have to hide it, crush it. Your belly shouldn't be seen
it's embarrassing, shameful, wrong. You're a misfit by nature: there's
just too much of you. You have to hold yourself in; you don't deserve room to
breathe. Don't take up too much space. What's important is that you fit into the
very narrow definition of what's acceptable. Left to be yourself, unconstricted,
unrestrained, you'll stick out, bulge out, be totally inappropriate.
few years later, when I was seventeen, I appointed the stick-figured fashion model
Twiggy as my ideal of womanhood, my Goddess of Thin. I started dieting. I ate
nothing but cottage cheese and drank only water for weeks at a time.
first, dieting gave me a welcome sense of control. I'd finally found a way to
assert my will. When I was dieting I could say, "No, this will not go in my mouth."
That sense of control came at a cost, though. In order to restrict my intake of
food, I had to override the sensations arising in my belly not only hunger
but also anger, fear, grief, desire, pleasure, and joy.
delivered this message: You don't deserve nourishment. Food is bad, wrong, dangerous.
Your appetites are by definition dangerous. Don't notice what's happening in your
belly; those sensations are dangerous and should be ignored. Erase sensation.
Empty yourself out. If you feel empty and hollow in your belly, you're doing something
body naturally reacted to such deprivation with an uncontrollable craving for
food. Weeks of dieting alternated with weeks of binge eating. If I ate one cookie,
I'd eat the whole bag.
the years that followed, I tried one kind of diet after another. The scope of
my life narrowed to what I could and couldn't eat, my weight, my shape, what size
pants I could squeeze into. I was always on edge, always policing myself.
the time I was twenty-four, I knew I was losing the war I'd been waging against
my belly. It was becoming obvious that I would never find lasting happiness either
in consuming another bag of cookies or in squeezing myself into size 7 jeans.
I remembered a yoga demonstration I had witnessed as a teenager. Not knowing how
else to help myself, I began taking classes in Kripalu yoga kripalu
meaning "compassion" in Sanskrit, the traditional language of yoga. Practicing
yoga nurtured my body, eased my mind, and attended to my spirit in ways that food
couldn't do. I began to live beyond obsession with my weight and shape.
in love with yoga, I trained as a yoga instructor in 1979 and later as a yoga
therapist. As part of my continuing training, I learned movement and breathing
exercises derived from a Japanese style of yoga developed by Masahiro Oki. This
approach to yoga focused on developing hara the Japanese word for
the belly as the body's physical and spiritual center, the source of our spiritual
belly as the source of our spiritual power? Who knew? Here was a totally new take
on the belly.
I continued to practice yoga, my eating behavior evened out quite a bit. I'd still
go through periods of bingeing, though, when my emotions threatened to overwhelm
me. My eating was nowhere near as frantic as it had been in the past, but there
were still times when I felt hopeless. Would this pattern ever change?
night, I woke up from a sound sleep when, apparently, someone turned the light
on in my room. Brilliant light filled the space but, as I quickly learned,
my bedside lamp was off. I don't ordinarily receive visits from the supernatural.
In fact, although I keep an open mind, I'm relatively skeptical about paranormal
happenings. But I knew that I was dealing with something here, and that I had
better sit up and pay attention. I heard a message; a transmission came to me
from this blazing light, not so much in words but as knowledge directly conveyed.
The message was "Clean up your act with food, or you're going to die."
noted this instruction, lay back down, and returned to sleep. In the days that
followed, I didn't dismiss the message I'd received it would have been
hard to ignore such a wake-up call. But I didn't know what to do with it. I can't
say my behavior changed in any way.
two weeks later, again a bright, blazing light woke me from a sound sleep. Sitting
up, I listened for a message. I didn't hear words this time. Instead, I sensed
a gesture the kind of gesture a person makes when she's standing in front
of you with her arms crossed over her chest, weight on one foot, tapping the toes
of the other foot against the floor. The kind of gesture that says, "Well, we're
waiting. We haven't forgotten you. We're watching to see whether you'll ante up."
I understood that they (whoever they were) were waiting to see whether I'd do
something with myself, rise to the challenge, take charge.
I took this event at face value, lay back down, and returned to sleep.
long afterward, I picked up a book I'd been avoiding for a while, Susan Kano's
Making Peace with Food. The author herself had struggled with the self-starving
eating disorder called anorexia. Without mincing words, she pointed out the futile
self-absorption of my situation. I heard her saying to me, "How much time and
attention are you devoting to worrying about your weight and shape? Why don't
you devote that energy and attention to your life purpose instead?"
life purpose? My life has a purpose? Until that moment I hadn't considered
that my life had a purpose other than to avoid punishment and please the authorities
in their external and internalized forms my parents, my older sister, my
employer, my supervisors. The notion that I had a life purpose was so exhilarating
that I didn't care whether I ever found my purpose. It was enough to know that,
by birthright, I had one.
days, though, a purpose did reveal itself bright, shining, and clear: I
resolved to practice the hara-strengthening exercises I was learning on
a regular basis. With regular practice, I began to experience the benefits of
developing hara that I craved such as more confidence, creativity,
energy, and sense of connection. (See chapter 4 for more on the experience of
a few weeks of the practice, though, I started feeling a certain nameless dread.
So I stopped for a few weeks. Then I took the practice up again for a few weeks.
I continued like this, starting the practice and then stopping again. I was running
up to the edge of the ocean, sticking a toe in, getting scared, running back to
dry land. What was wrong with me?
my belly was stirring up more than nameless dread, though. One morning, in a room
full of seasoned and sober yoga practitioners who, like me, were engaging in this
hara-strengthening practice, I began to giggle. And I giggled and laughed
for half an hour or more, for no reason at all. I began to suspect that whatever
feelings were lurking in my belly, they might not all be dreadful. Those feelings
hidden deep down in my belly might also include joy.
1988, I fully committed myself to the study and practice of hara. I made
it my purpose to plunge full-body, full-being right into the ocean
I had been skirting. In the context of this intention, my previous stop-and-start
pattern of practicing the belly-energizing exercises was no longer a personal
failing. Instead, it became something interesting to investigate. And the nameless
dread became nothing more than a clue that something significant was going on
under the surface.
also set my intention to make practical information on developing hara,
a relatively obscure subject, available in contemporary terms. I resolved to share
the good news about our bellies' splendid treasure with a wide audience of women.
here we are.
the years, I've developed a hara-strengthening practice that draws not
only on yoga but also on movement traditions such as qigong and tai chi. The sequence
of twenty-three belly-energizing exercises begins with warm-up stretches that
prepare the body for the vigorous moves that follow. The sequence concludes with
other stretches for focusing and balancing body and mind. I've been teaching this
practice for more than fifteen years, sharing the related insights and skills
with hundreds, if not thousands, of women.
this sequence, along with the exercises for deepening awareness presented throughout
this book, I entered into a whole new experience of my body's center. I no longer
felt compelled to stuff or starve myself. The eating disorder gradually diminished
the initial version of this practice included twenty-three moves, I've created
a short form for your convenience in using this book. I've selected seven moves
from the original practice and present them here as The Gutsy Women's Workout.
Even with this abbreviated sequence you can easily practice it in five
to seven minutes you'll be reaping the benefits of honoring and energizing
my decades of bingeing and dieting, I gained and lost twenty pounds several times
each year at least two thousand pounds in total. I'm sure this repeated
weight gain and loss took a physical toll. But even more destructive, my obsession
with banishing my belly was dissipating my spirit and unraveling my soul. Discovering
my belly as the site of my soul power, my connection to Source Energy, essentially
saved my life.
this process of discovery with you is my greatest joy.
This Book Is Organized
book enables you to cultivate the deep wisdom and creative power concentrated
in your body's core.
the plan? First, you'll learn five core principles and practices central to reclaiming
your pro-creative power. Next, you'll identify the cultural misconceptions that
shame women's bellies, preparing you to revalue your belly on your own terms.
also discover that Western culture originally revered the pro-creative power centered
in a woman's belly. If in this twenty-first century we choose to honor rather
than shame our bellies, we're actually reviving a respectable tradition.
then meet and greet your belly in terms of the many ways it serves you. Taking
a tour of the interior, you'll get an insider's view of your belly's physical,
emotional, and energetic landscape. You may well discover that your belly is your
best friend for your health and happiness in every dimension that it's
literally central to your well-being.
pro-creative power concentrated in your belly is your soul power, shining through
your life as the qualities of vitality, pleasure, confidence, compassion, creativity,
intuition, and sense of purpose. Attending to these seven soul qualities in turn,
you'll learn specific ways to enhance each one in your life with opportunities
for reflection, journal writing, and art making as well as with belly-energizing
breathing and movement exercises. (If you're familiar with yoga, you'll recognize
that these seven qualities correspond to the capacities developed through the
seven major chakras spinning wheels of vital energy aligned along your
body's vertical axis.)
also find images of seven aspects of your pro-creative power your powers
of cycling, holding space, nourishing, regenerating, expressing, connecting, and
13 provides a guide for designing your own belly-energizing practice and incorporating
The Gutsy Women's Workout into your life. In this way, the workout becomes a comprehensive
exercise in self-respect that empowers you in body, mind, and spirit.
does our belly-centered soul power relate to the world at large? I'll invite you
to consider that humankind's success in surviving on this planet depends on the
wise application of our pro-creative power.
these pages you'll find women's words about their own experiences, reports on
the process of becoming belly-proud. These words come from women who have participated
in my workshops or who have written to me in response to magazine articles or
postings on my website. Consider their voices to be your personal chorus of support.
to Use This Book
suggest you start this book by reading through chapter 1 and becoming familiar
with the five core practices: Giving Yourself Room to Breathe, Locating Your Center,
Centering the Breath, Naming Your Feelings,
and Setting Your Intention. These practices will serve you well as you work with
the material in the rest of the book. Having them under your belt, so to speak,
equips you to get the most out of the text that follows. Bookmark the pages so
you can come back and refer to them at your convenience.
done, let your intuition your body knowledge lead the way. You might,
for example, first want to skim the book all the way to the end and get a quick
overview, and then start again at the beginning and proceed through the chapters
as they're ordered. Or you might want to jump right to chapter 5 and start learning
the belly-energizing moves.
say this now and repeat it in chapter 5: As with any other exercise program, before
embarking on The Gutsy Women's Workout, check with your health care provider to
ensure that the belly-energizing exercises are appropriate for you. Ask your health
care provider (and also a seasoned movement instructor) to help you adapt the
moves as necessary to accommodate your particular conditions and capacities.
you're pregnant, be sure to discuss the suitability of The Gutsy Women's Workout
for you with your health care provider and childbirth educator. Several of the
exercises and some of the breathing patterns include contracting the abdomen.
Depending on the stage of your pregnancy, you might want to save the workout for
the time after childbirth. But you can still make good use of the Perineal Squeeze
in chapter 3 and the gentle breathing patterns offered throughout the book.
you're not interested in developing a movement practice at this point, that's
fine. You might browse through the cultural exposé in chapter 2 and take
the belly tour as you read chapter 3. Then you may find yourself curious about
some of the breathing patterns in part 2. Several of the exercises for deepening
awareness in that part of the book may appeal to you as well.
sequenced the awareness and breathing exercises and the belly-energizing movement
patterns in order of increasing complexity. If you do pick and choose among them,
be sure to observe the guidelines that will enhance your comfort and pleasure
as you experiment with them.
aware that the awareness exercises playful ways to begin loving your belly
can also be provocative. They aren't substitutes for professional medical
or psychotherapeutic attention. If you become emotionally or physically distressed
while doing any of these activities, stop and consult with your health care provider
to address your individual needs.
in This for You?
book is your invitation to reshape the way you think about, experience, and value
your body, your belly, and yourself. You'll discover practical skills for developing
the pro-creative power you shelter within your body's center. You'll learn how
to direct this power as you choose for your personal healing as well as
for the well-being of your family, your community, and the world.
this very moment, you're part of a globally expanding circle of women who share
this belly-celebrating adventure with you.
2006 Self-Health Education