At my UW Health Mindfulness sangha a couple weeks ago, the teacher shared a passage from Steven Levine’s 1995 book, Guided Meditations, Explorations and Healings, on what he called “soft belly meditation.” Here’s a sample:
The belly is an extraordinary diagnostic instrument. It displays the armoring of the heart as a tension in the belly. The deeper our relationship to the belly, the sooner we discover whether we are holding in the mind or opening into the heart. Trying tightens the belly. Trying stimulates judgement. Hard belly is often judging belly . . .
Again and again, the belly needs to be reminded that it has unconsciously tightened to that which we wish to remain unconscious of. So you inhale down into the belly. And you exhale out past the heart. And the belly softens, and you find room in your body for healing, for being, for liberation. The softer the belly, the greater the capacity to stay present and awake during the dense dream of heavy mental states. Soft belly encourages exploration of the body-patterning that accompanies such states. It allows exploration without getting drawn into their familiar, seductive thought patterns. We cannot overestimate the importance of softening.
This teaching really resonated with me. I usually experience some kind of tightening of my gut, and it can become quite painful during stressful times. When I have sat with these feelings, they often resolve into other emotions –sadness, fear, shame — that manifest as sensations in other parts of my body, such as my chest or my throat. I have often had the impression that these feelings were somehow hiding for protection behind this rock in my belly. Hearing the above passage for the first time made my jaw drop in recognition.
I have been practicing soft belly meditation ever since, and I want to share it with you. One great thing about it is that you can practice it as a formal meditation, or at any time of the day you notice your belly tightening. When I practice, often the hardness in my belly doesn’t seem to soften much. And yet, I notice that I have a greater emotional resilience throughout the day.
When Practice Circle meets again this Sunday evening, December 22, at 8 p.m. Central, we’ll share a soft belly meditation. Practice Circle is the SBA’s online meditation and discussion community. We meet via video conference on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Practice Circle is free to attend, and everyone is welcome. Just click this link on Sunday evening to attend.