Expand Your Elixir Field
If you plant a garden, you know that August is your garden’s most bounteous month. Squash, eggplant, potatoes, onions, sweet corn, peppers, and of course, succulent tomatoes—an altogether different fruit from the mealy, pinkish orbs in the grocery store—are plentiful and at their juicy best. Late summer is the time we harvest and assimilate Earth’s bounty, the fruits of our labors.
It’s likely no coincidence then that Chinese medicine designates late summer as the time when the Earth element is predominant. It is also fitting that Earth is the element that governs the stomach and spleen—organs that assimilate and distribute nutrients in our bodies.
Taoists call the belly the “elixir field.” In addition to the belly’s role as assimilator of food, from before birth the navel contains a reservoir of life force, a gift from our mothers. According to Yoga teacher Cora Wen, the belly is a “source of deep power and the root of intuition.”
Positive emotional qualities of a balanced stomach-spleen include trust, honesty, acceptance, openness and equanimity, while an imbalance might engender anxiety, worry, excessive thinking, obsessiveness and doubt. The expression, “butterflies in your stomach,” perfectly describes the edgy agitation of anxiety and worry.
August’s pose is Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Belly Pose). Jathara Parivartanasana tones the organs of the upper abdominal quadrants, including the stomach, spleen, liver and pancreas, and relieves low back discomfort. Revolved Belly is a spinal twist, a class of poses generally considered to be soothing to the nervous system. Twists promote equanimity and balance, qualities that help dispel the negative consequences of an imbalanced stomach and spleen. In particular, lying-down twists are cooling, balancing our bodies’ tendency to overheat in late summer.
How to Practice
Begin by lying on your back on a mat or blanket with your knees bent and the soles of your feet resting on the floor. Extend your arms out at shoulder level so that they are at a 90-degree angle to the body. Turn your palms upward. For your first few breaths, relax your back body into the floor, allowing your feet, pelvis, shoulder blades, backs of your arms and back of your head to settle into gravity each time you exhale. Observe how these contact points connect with the floor.
Lift your feet off the floor drawing your knees toward your chest. If you feel your low back beginning to press down into the floor, release your legs away from you a bit so that your low back is curved slightly away from the floor. With your knees bent, swing your legs over to the right side until they come to rest on the floor with your thighs at a 90-degree angle to your torso. Do not try to line your knees up with each other. Let the left knee rest on your right inner thigh. Lengthen your arms out from your chest and widen the area between the shoulderblades. Turn your head gently to the left.
Relax here for a few breaths. You may stay in this pose with your knees bent and resting on the floor, or you may straighten the knees so that your legs are resting on the floor at a 90-degree angle to your body. In either case, extend through your arms, chest and upper back as you inhale generously into your belly. Breathe very deeply, but without strain. Imagine sending the breath out from the navel center into all the limbs—arms, legs, head and tailbone. Allow your body to relax around the movement of your breath. Stay for five to ten breaths.
To leave the pose, bend your knees and roll your legs and pelvis back to the center. Place your feet on the floor and rest. Feel your back body again resting on the floor. Has anything changed? How are the contact points in your back body connecting with the floor? After a few breaths, repeat the pose on your second side.
Like all twists, Jathara Parivartanasana brings the body to balance after practicing heating poses such as backbends. It is a great transition pose for the period in your practice when you move from heating to cooling postures. Revolved Belly Pose quietly nourishes the stomach and spleen, organs charged with nourishing the whole body. Remember to breathe deeply, letting the deep energy of the belly extend out into the far reaches of your body.