Having spent most of my life in households with other mammals, dogs and cats, I have come to realize how abdomens are sensitive body parts for mammals. Currently, my family and I share our household with our cat, Ayla. Like most cats, she has very clear boundaries about when or who is allowed to pet her. She is not a lap-cat; she seldom, if ever, comes on her own to sit on our laps. What she does do, when she feels comfortable, is to reveal her belly to those she trusts, but even this does not mean that it is an invitation to rub her belly; if you make this mistake with a cat, you will be shown the sharpness of its claws or teeth. Most mammals, especially 4-legged ones where the abdomen is protected by its position facing the earth, do not bear their bellies willingly to everyone. The abdomen is a place of vulnerability and as such, requires trust that it be revealed or given to be touched willingly. This includes humans.
Since I began my training in Abdominal Therapy just a few months ago, I have become in-touch with many people's bellies. When we, therapists in any form of bodywork, are trained, we are warned to be mindful of people's abdomens, which is understandable. Very often though, we are even told to just avoid this area completely, for fear of triggering some discomfort physically or emotionally, as humans store many tensions and emotions within this area. So far, when I have offered to work with my patients on their abdomens with Abdominal Therapy, they have reported to me very positive experiences. I almost feel like it's an extension of my Chinese Medical treatments but stemming from a tradition thousands of miles (kilometers) away in another continent.
As with Chinese Medicine, Abdominal Therapy has its root in a traditional culture, the Maya culture of Central America; hence, sometimes known as Maya Abdominal Therapy. The Mayans of Mesoamerica were an ancient civilization that appears to have had cities that date back to ca. 750 BCE. Dr. Rosita Arvigo, an American who moved to Mexico and then to Belize in the 1970s developed what is now called Abdominal Therapy, after she apprenticed for 13 years with Don Elijio Panti, a Mayan Medicine Man H'men, and Ms. Hortense Robinson, a traditional Mayan Midwife. Abdominal Therapy is a system of medicine that incorporates hands-on massage, herbal medicine from the Central American jungles and spiritual healing. The Abdominal Therapy Collective was set up in 2020 by practitioners of the work from multiple places in the world, i.e. USA, Europe and Belize, as a way to pass on the traditional healing methods together with a modern, medical perspective. My experience as a member of the collective has so far been a positive, nurturing, inclusive and supportive organization, whose main goal is to share this therapy with the same intent with the receivers of Abdominal Therapy. I find this refreshing in a world where so many try to forward their own personal ambitions by engaging in dominance and exclusivity. Till now, I find there is an openness in this organization to spread the work and a sensitivity to address many imbalances that pervade our modern society.
Abdominal Therapy begins with us learning to do self-care on our own bellies. I begin by teaching my patients to do Your Abdominal Therapy YAM. With YAM, we learn to reconnect to our abdomens, to feel which parts of it holds tension, to help the tension release with regular self-massage and to respect this part of our body as the center of energy or Qi. The lower abdomen is after all where both females and males hold organs that are able to create life. As we connect to our abdomens, we connect also with the inner structures and substances; the skin, connective tissue, muscle, organs, blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves and our energetic core.
When you receive treatment regularly from a practitioner, certain adjustive techniques will be included to aid tension release, increase blood circulation and strengthens the body's ability to self-repair through homeostasis restoration. As these occur, abdominal breathing becomes deeper, digestion improves, organ function is maximized and for women, menstrual flow becomes smoother. When we breathe deeper, we get more oxygen and Qi into our bodies from the environment, to allow our organs to do the work as they were made to do. When our blood and lymph flow better to get rid of toxins from the body, we feel more vital and are more resistant to dis-ease. As our digestion works well to digest and transform the food we eat into energy, we feel energized and resilient.
I am still exploring and continuing my education in Abdominal Therapy but I appreciate the holistic view of the body that this method promotes. It seems to me to have many similarities and parallels to Chinese Medicine; stemming from a culture in a different continent but having similar ideas towards healing the bodymind.
Image by Louise Crockart