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Reclaiming the Belly

To any woman who found herself reading this right now, ask yourself, "How many hours a day do I spend sucking my lower abdomen in?"

I remember the first time someone told me to "stand up straight and suck in." I can see the clothes I was wearing, the time of day, the time of year, the location at the mall when it happened. I was 12yrs old at the time - and it completely changed the way I felt in my skin.

In that moment a seed of imperfection was planted. It was continually watered by me comparing my body to others, of looking in the mirror and only seeing what was wrong based on conditioning from outside my own center. My posture changed as a result of this zipping up of my belly, lifting my chest up and pinching my shoulders back giving me the appearance of having a proud chest and strong walk. My late grandfather used to tell me "You walk heavy, Mary Claire! Just like the women in my family!"

That statement always made me feel both proud and perplexed, because my gait didn't match what I was feeling on the inside. Over time my personality evolved to match that proud gait, loud and wee bit pushy (although quick to make a joke, which is a gift) - I developed a bit armor to protect myself from judgment. I would chest bump and throw judgement back with my voice, all the while inwardly spinning in confusion around my tense, sucked in belly.

In most ancient wisdom traditions, the location of our womb/lower belly is the energetic center of our sexual energy, creative expression, governs how we deal with emotions, and is associated with the element of water. It's our source of "flow." As an adult exploring Eastern and Shamanic traditions for the last 14 years, intellectually this made sense to me. But it wasn't until the first time I was led/compelled/truly guided to try Qigong that I found myself in direct communion with this part of my body - in this practice and tradition, it is called the Lower Dantin.

{SIDE NOTE: If you've never heard of Qigong, I encourage you to take a quick dive down the rabbit hole and look it up. It's physical, energetic practices (Qi means energy, Gong means work) that mimic the forms+elements of nature and put you in direct contact and relationship with your own energetic system. It's at the heart of Traditional Chinese Medicine and gloriously Shamanic in it's roots, which go back to atleast 2500BC}

The Lower Dantin is the considered the seat of the Physical Body as well as your reservoir of energy. By breathing into it, allowing the lower belly to expand, you can increase the energy at your disposal. This got me thinking - where in my life is my posture of sucking in my belly DEPLETING my energy?

In that very first session I did, the teacher asked us to place our hands on our lower belly right below the navel - and in that moment I felt an incredibly intense current of electricity, my Qi, pulsating from that lower seat in my abdomen. Extending the abdomen on the inhale, pulling it in gently towards the spine on the exhale.

I found myself in that moment feeling two things:

  1. Utterly EXHILIRATED to have such a direct connection with my life force.

  2. Struggling to allow my belly to soften into my own hands without judgement, to extend on an inhale rather than hold it in.

It seemed such a simple thing to do - breathe into your hands - yet the gift in allowing the belly to move forward is something that I am still unwrapping.

For the greater part of 26 years I have been SUCKING IN MY BELLY (minus the gift of 2 pregnancies where you simply cannot suck in your belly, thank all things holy). This realization had me wondering what I had been holding myself back from, where the tension in my belly might be creating tension somewhere else in my system, where energetic blockages in my womb are affecting other aspects of my evolution as a human.

Again - big questions for something that seems as small as simply sucking in or not sucking in your belly. But by now you might be thinking to yourself "Holy belly, what I have been doing to you??"

I looked at myself in the mirror naked and willed my belly to come into her natural form.

I saw my shoulders soften down and relax as my belly was allowed to release tension.

I saw my chest find ease after soo many years of walking with the proud, puffed up chest.

As I continue learning about and practicing Qigong daily, my body is falling into the deepest states of "naturalness" that I have EVER felt. I am a person naturally filled with a lot (maybe even excessive...) Fire. I never want to dampen my fire, by that excessive heat often gets in the way of tapping into flow, into the ground, and into calm. Without proper channeling, those flames can keep me feeling disorientated and COMPLETELY self obsessed.

Qigong heals you from the inside out by putting your body into harmony with all of the elements of nature - for the first time in my 38years I can feel the flow of a river in me, the heaviness of Bear, the playfulness of Monkey, the fierceness of the Tiger that acts when it needs to and then lounges when it's done. It puts you into the most magical collaboration with your organs, your energetic pathways, your limbs, your playfulness, and your connection to Nature versus our conditioned feeling of being separate.

I consciously practice placing my hands on my lower belly and breathing into them, feeling the natural shape of my womb without judgment. This desire to LIBERATE my belly so that I can fully LAND into my physical form has me changing the way I wear clothes (enter in the moo moo, you're welcome), wanting to free my form from constriction, free myself from constantly checking my side profile for a quick "suck in" reminder, and to soften my chest so that my heart stays open instead of puffed up in protection.

For the last few years I have been exploring ways to be in closer communion with Nature - I have explored Shamanic journeying and rituals, working with spirit animals in my artwork, tried desperately to be vegan in a household of die-hard meat eaters, etc. Qigong has become my daily practice of remembering that I have never been separate Nature - I AM NATURE. My bones, my blood, my organs, each relate to an aspect of the natural world.

We are natural.

We are spiritual.

We are physical.

We are ethereal.

So today I imagine a layer of my being to be part Bear, part Bird, and part amphibian - because the amphibian bit makes me laugh. Most importantly, I am consciously practicing loving my belly, filling her with energy with my breath, and relaxing my chest so that my heart is an open door.

Much love xoxo.


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