It was the third time in a month I’d been asked this. The question wasn’t entirely out of place: It was always in a nice spa, and always before starting a massage.
Massages are a semi-regular thing for me, thanks to my work as a travel writer. They’re also among the few times in my on-the-go life when I really let down my guard, immerse myself in an experience, and let someone care for me–with zero pangs of guilt. But something about the therapist touching my belly–no matter how extensive their training or swanky the spa setting–made me pause. Did I really want someone putting his or hands on my soft belly? More importantly: what good (if any) would the motions do?
To find out, I contactedRamesh Tarun Narine, a 3,000-hour trained massage therapist and yoga teacher based in Vancouver. Narine is particularly known for manual therapy, a hands-on practice that, as he explains, uses “similar techniques but, unlike massage, oil isn’t necessary
Narine is an advocate of abdomen massage because, as he says, “Touch is just good for us. All of our systems respond to it, and it encourages the whole individual to calm down. Massaging the abdomen does the same thing.”
It may also aid digestion. According to Narine, when you massage your belly (or have someone do it for you), “it signals the nervous system to engage a state of relaxation. The body responds accordingly by bringing blood to the digestive system, allowing you to rest and digest the food you’ve eaten. You then absorb nutrients better, and make better use of them.”
I reached out to Austin-based holistic health coachJennifer Hall Taylorfor her take. While there isn’t medically backed research on the topic to date, Taylor told me that believes there’s a correlation between abdominal massage and nutrient absorption. “Many of us hold tension all day long in the belly. We do exercises to tone them into ‘six packs,’ or we’re ‘sucking in’ to maintain the look of a flat belly,” says Taylor. “No muscle in your body wants to be in a constant state of tension. Digestive function and comfort is a great reason to try abdominal massage.”
I thought about the places I love to be massaged, those stress-prone areas that go the extra mile in my everyday life—my neck, shoulders, lower back, and feet. Then I thought about my belly. When was the last time I considered how hard it works for me? As Narine wisely noted, “Everyone has a relationship to their abdomen. For the first nine months of your life, it’s the source of your life.”
So, whatever your reason for not getting in touch with your core—insecurity, shame, embarrassment—maybe it’s time to start. If you’re not ready to let a stranger touch your underside, you can practice on yourself, in the comfort of your own bed. According to Narine, the following steps for massaging the internal organs— which he calls “The Sun and the Moon”—will help prepare the body for restful sleep:
With coconut or sesame oil, draw the right hand up the right side abdomen from the hip, then cross beneath the ribs.
Continue down the left side of the abdomen, a little bit wider than you did on the right side.
Move the right hand across the body, below the navel and above the pubic bone. Then, travel up the right side in a clockwise fashion. Steps one through three collectively is “The Sun.”
Use the left hand to follow the right hand throughout. It acts as “The Moon,” supporting and encouraging movement and elimination.