Sign up now for Yoga Journal’s new online course Inclusivity Training for Yoga: Building Community with Compassion for an introduction to the skills and tools you need as a teacher and as a student. In this class, you’ll learn how to better identify student needs, make compassionate and inclusive language choices, gracefully offer pose alternatives, give appropriate assists, reach out to neighboring communities, and expand and diversify your classes.
Yoga can be a wonderful way to connect with, learn from, and appreciate your body as it is today. That’s really only possible, though, when poses make sense and work for all of your body—not just the muscles and bones.
One of the ways we can support ourselves (or, for teachers, our students) is to acknowledge that body parts, such as the belly, exist and affect yoga poses. Here, we’ll focus on making space for the belly, one of the parts of the body that people are often most uncomfortable with. Of course, that’s not too surprising given all of the messages we receive telling us to get rid of, disguise, restrict with clothing, or otherwise reject our bellies.
Making space for your belly in yoga poses is a way to both welcome your whole body into your experience as well as make your poses more comfortable. We’ll explore three key ways to do that. The following principles can apply to other poses in the same category, too, so add these tools to your toolbox to support yourself in any class.
1. Move around your belly.
The general principle here is to make space for your belly so that you can find more space in the pose. Depending on the type of pose, you can do this in different ways.
- In prone poses (where you lie on the belly) tuck your toes under first and walk your legs back. This gives space for the skin of the thighs and belly to rest more comfortably, which also creates more room for your low back.
- In lunges (particularly when transitioning into them from Down Dog), try stepping your foot a little wider to make space for your belly.
- In seated poses like Marichyasana III, instead of hooking your elbow outside your knee, use your hand on the knee for a similar benefit without the belly compression—or the frustration of not being able to do it at all.
2. Move your belly down, up, or in.
Guess what? It’s okay to touch your belly! You might not be used to it (yet), but it can be so helpful. Manually moving your belly can create all kinds of space and make coming into poses like twists and forward bends more comfortable and, sometimes, deep. There are a few different ways to do this, and I encourage you to experiment with them to see what works best for you.
- Move your belly down: In seated poses, bring your hands to either side of your low belly. Move the belly in and down toward the pelvis any amount.
- Move your belly up: In seated poses, bring your hands to either side of your low belly. Use your hands to lift the belly up any amount as you move where you’re going, then release your hands.
- Move your belly in: In standing forward bends, bring your hands to either side of your low belly. Press the belly in toward your pelvis as you fold forward, then release your hands once you’re down.
3. Move your belly to the middle.
In some poses your belly can feel a little stuck on or between other parts of the body. This is particularly the case in poses that involve side bending or twisting. To move the belly here, simply move your hand to the relevant side of the body (e.g., the right side if you’re bending or twisting to the right) and move your belly to the middle as you go. Once you’re there, release your hand.
About Our Expert
Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga, an online yoga studio and teacher training center that helps people of all sizes find true acceptance and freedom, both on and off the mat. She is also the author of Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day and the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body. Learn more at CurvyYoga.com