The abdomen is an amazing enterprise, with its complex food-processing plant (the stomach), several subsidiary operations (liver, spleen, kidneys, and so on), and a 25-foot-long sewer system (the intestines). Poor diets and eating habits lead to annoying and sometimes deadly serious digestive and elimination problems, including constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and colon cancer. Regular Yoga practice can help you take care of your abdominal organs so they can function well and take care of you without the aid of antacids, digestive enzyme supplements, or laxatives.
In the following section, we describe exercises that work with three sets of abdominal muscles:
✓ The rectus abdominis, which is strung vertically along the front of the belly from the bottom of the sternum to the pubis
✓ The internal and external obliques, which, as their name suggests, take an "oblique" course along the side of the belly from the lower ribs to the top rim of the pelvis
✓ The transversalis abdominis, which lies behind the internal obliques
You may hear these three abdominals called the "stomach muscles," which is really a misnomer. The actual stomach muscles line the baglike stomach and are active only during digestion. Of course, the yogic exercises also positively affect the abdominal organs (stomach, spleen, liver, and intestines). If you take care of your abdominal muscles and the organs they protect — through exercise and proper diet — you have accomplished 90 percent of the work to stay healthy.
Navel secrets, declassified
After a doctor severs a child's umbilical cord, thus creating his navel, no one pays much attention to this birth socket. Yet the navel is a very important feature of your anatomy. According to Yoga, a special psychoenergetic center is located at the navel. This center is known as the manipura-cakra (pronounced mah-nee-poo-rah-chuk-rah), which means literally "center of the jeweled city." The center corresponds to
(but isn't identical with) the solar plexus, which is a large network of nerves that has been called the body's second brain. The manipura-cakra controls the abdominal organs and regulates the flow of energy through the entire body. The navel center is associated with emotions and the will. You can have "too much navel" (be pushy) or "not enough navel" (be a pushover).
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