I was riding my bike uphill in the humid heat and a yellow school bus engaged the engines. In my spooked state I felt my abdomen lift in a perfect illustration of natures fear mechanism, healthy and well inside my body. I was happy to realize that I had been relaxed prior to the intrusion of the roaring bus engines. It wasn't always the case with my body. I had to learn to relax. I came into adulthood feeling afraid, and my body was hard with fear. But today when I felt the classical fear response flexing my muscles and lifting my belly, I realized that I had actually been relaxed--how cool. I took it to mean that I am traveling with an increased sense of well-being which I also know to be true. I got a shot of fear juice when I heard the loud noise coming from the giant bus that was right next to me.
Then I remembered how, just moments earlier, I had been having some difficulty passing this bus that had been stopped at a red light or something. The bus was taking up half of the bike lane, so it was hard. I had to really slow down because I just fit. And right about when I was in line with the door my frustration erupted into me yelling out, "Fuck!" It wasn't intended as a provocation. In fact, it wasn't something I had intended at all--I was on my way to teach a yoga class, after all... This bus wasn't the only vehicle ignoring the lines that designate the bike lane, so there would be no reason to single this vehicle out, anyway. But, I wondered if that bus gunning the engines the way it had was some kind of communication from that driver, that translated would say something like, "I heard that."
The way I understand it, when the body is in fear the belly lifts, preparing the body to run. The same is true for other furry creatures, too. When the belly lifts, the spine is supported and the body can move fast without harm. Also any blood that was digesting food gets rerouted towards the arms and legs to aid the fight-or-flight moment.
Conversely, when a healthy body is relaxed, the belly can rest supporting deep breathing and healthy belly blood flow for digestion. For correct digestion and a calm nervous system the belly needs to relax, but many of us are chronically, as well as unconsciously tightening our bellies. And we need to teach our bellies to relax. Thus, one of the important reasons to do yoga. I felt by belly relax as an adult for the first time in a yoga class, I was about 30. It was a wonderful feeling. I think I had been holding my belly in since I was 8 or 9 years old (or earlier). This is not healthy.
It's great to have strong abs, and it's important to be able to soften the belly. Both are true. If I were to walk around all the time, tightening my belly, I wouldn't be relaxed and my digestive health would be stressed. And if my abdomen is weak, it might contribute to back pain or weakness. So the healthy choice is to try to have it all: both a strong belly, and the ability to relax. May it be so.
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