Navel gazing

Smile at your belly, and your friends will smile with you.

“We’re in this together,” insists Lisa Sarasohn, the local author behind The Woman’s Belly Book: Finding Your Treasure Within (Self-Health Education, 2003). As a yoga teacher and health educator, Sarasohn speaks out against unhealthy rivalry and self-defeating body images.

“Women are sometimes set against each other, competitive in how we look,” she explained in a recent interview.

The middle-aged author battled her own bulge for years, admitting in her book, “When I was seventeen, I made the stick-figured fashion model Twiggy my ideal of womanhood.” Attempting to force her abs into pancake flatness, Sarasohn swung between starving and bingeing, till she realized that something had to change — her attitude.

“I gained and lost twenty pounds several times a year — at least two thousand pounds in total,” she writes.

Then she discovered yoga as a way to nurture her body.

It happened while Sarasohn was working as a staff member at Kripalu, a yoga-and-healing institute in Lennox, Mass. One of her great pleasures during her seven-and-a-half years, she recalls, was interacting with people who taught different approaches to yoga — like a disciple of Japanese yoga master Masahiro Oki, from whom she learned what’s known as Zen yoga therapy.

“Japanese and Chinese cultures, more so even than the Indian culture we associate yoga with, focus on the body center,” Sarasohn notes. “So, when a student of Masahiro came to give us training, I learned many of these more dynamic yoga poses.”

And those became the framework for the belly exercises she’s put into print. “Bright Blessings” involves combining a simple stretch series with the “Energizing Breath” taught earlier in the book. Then the reader is asked to focus on this image: “You’re gathering blessings from the earth, the trees, the sky … [and] you’re receiving these blessings into your body’s center.”

Once you get past your self-consciousness, the routine is both calming and energizing. I again felt my blood flowing — it’s a good rejuvenator for anyone stuck at the computer all day.

Each of Sarasohn’s seven exercises corresponds to a specific chakra, or energy center, in the body. By simultaneously moving, breathing deeply and following a guided image, you have the opportunity to tap into those centers, creating the possibility for interesting, real-life results.

“In the book, I speak of seven jewels in the belly, linking the benefit of energizing the body center with seven ways the power shows up in our lives,” Sarasohn explains. Like maintaining your attractive sparkle, increasing your confidence and intensifying sexual pleasure.

When have endless sets of crunches promised anything this good?

That particular exercise-class staple and its ilk are moves you definitely won’t find in the Belly Book. From the beginning, the author’s coaching is gentle: “Give yourself room to breathe … your physical and emotional health depend on your capacity to breathe deeply. And breathing deeply depends on letting your belly move in and out with each cycle of breath.”

Most of the movement sequences open with the “Centering Breath,” a calming meditation that involves deepening the breath, using the entire lung capacity to draw oxygen into the body. I found that centering means not only being aware of my gut — the storehouse of intuition and personal strength — but also feeling at peace, free of nagging worries.

The Belly Book‘s spiritual vibe notwithstanding, Sarasohn offers a practical, workshop-style approach to creating a rapport with that controversial feminine pooch. She chooses to keep her writing simple and to the point; most lessons and activities are repetitive, establishing a groove that’s easy to follow.

Others, however, require some emotional investment. In one self-exploratory exercise, women are asked to jot down when they were first made aware of their bellies — including both positive and negative experiences. At the end, readers try to identify a theme that links their gut-oriented memories.

When I began to consider the biography of my own belly, I remembered that even when I felt positive about my form, I was aware of the struggles my close friends were enduring, from eating disorders to pregnancy. For me, the thread was sisterhood.

“This book is for you and your friends to support each other,” confirms Sarasohn.

“We really have to face up to human life on this planet,” she adds. “Our days may be numbered, and if there is any chance for us, women have to step forward.”


Lisa Sarasohn will discuss The Woman’s Belly Book at Malaprop’s Bookstore (55 Haywood St.; 254-6734) at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 8. The event is free.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs.

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