In the Orient, and particularly in Japan, the belly is very important to our overall physical and emotional health. Even in the West we recognize this to a certain extent. Emotionally, many people recognize that they hold tension in their belly. Some people get constipated when they are stressed or anxious, while some get diarrhea. Also, people talk about having a gut feeling about something or hating someone's guts. Those kinds of phrases are much more common in the Orient.
On a physical level, most of the body's organs are in the abdomen. A large percentage of the immune system is there as well. From an acupuncture point of view, all of the energy channels flow through the abdomen. There are special reflex points in the abdomen that reflect the health of the various internal organs.
Through abdominal breathing and abdominal self-massage, you can keep your internal organs healthy, your immune system strong, and your emotional state calm and uplifted.
Caution: Do not massage your abdomen if you have cancer, an ulcer, a heart condition, high blood pressure, or if you are pregnant.
The first few times you massage your abdomen it may take 20 to 30 minutes, but if you get into a daily habit you can do it in about 5 minutes. After the first couple of times you massage your belly, you may find an increase in symptoms, or some abdominal discomfort. This is normal and will pass quickly.
How a healthy abdomen feels
As you lightly touch your belly, it should be the same temperature everywhere or slightly warmer below the navel. Above the navel should have a looser, softer feeling, while below should be more resilient and springy. The entire abdomen should feel elastic, not tight or tense. There should be a slight dip around the navel, and another about midway between the navel and the breast bone. The navel should have a uniform shape and indent smoothly into the abdomen. There should not be any hardness, puffiness, or pain when pressing, even relatively deeply. With deeper pressure, you will feel a pulse around the navel. The pulse should not be too strong, or over a large area; and it should not be visible. If you find any imbalances, then focus on massaging those areas of your abdomen. Pay particular attention to the areas that cause pain elsewhere in the body, especially where you have a symptom already.
The Method of Abdomen Massage
- Lie on your back with a pillow under your knees, if that is more comfortable.
- Very lightly, feel the skin of your belly, and notice any temperature variations. Particularly remember any areas that are significantly cooler than the rest.
- Spend a few minutes doing deep abdominal breathing. As you inhale, feel your belly expanding, and as you exhale feel it fall. Every time you exhale, allow your whole body to relax more and more deeply.
- After a few minutes, check the temperature and notice if it has changed. Then put one hand on top of the other, with the palms on the navel, and make clockwise circles, lightly chafing the skin.
- Use your palms to apply gentle pressure all around your abdomen, circling clockwise.
The next section uses finger pressure on the abdomen. Hold the fingers back to back, with all eight fingers pressing straight into the abdomen. Press in as you exhale, release as you inhale and move to the next spot. The first time through, use gentle pressure, then do it again, using deeper pressure.
The fingers and palm movements
Take note of areas that are puffy, tight, or tender.
1. Start on the midline, just below the breastbone. Press all the way down the midline to the pubic bone, skipping the navel.
2. Move your fingers half an inch to the right of the midline and press all the way up to the ribs.
3. Move just to the left of the midline, and press all the way down to the pubic bone.
4. Back to the right, press your way up, along the ridge of the rectus abdominus muscle. If you can't feel the ridge of the muscle, go about one and a half inches from the midline.
5. Again, go down the same line on the left.
6. Next go just outside the muscle, or about three inches from the midline, up the right and down the left.
6. Next press just under the rib cage, from right to left.
7. Finally press just inside the left pelvic bone down to the pubic bone, then up the inside of the right pelvic bone.
8. After you have done that twice, go back to areas that were puffy, tight, or tender. Starting just outside of the area gently press in a spiral toward the center of the area. If there is pain, press just so deeply that you begin to feel the pain.
Finally, just relax and breathe for a few minutes. You may want to feel the temperature of the skin again, and notice any changes.