Last week I was vacationing in Mexico which is home of the ancient Mayan civilization. The Mayans were ahead of their time and pretty damn impressive in quite a few areas. They had a rich and vibrant culture with art, architecture, mathematics, an astronomical system and the only fully developed writing system of the pre-Columbus Americas. They had an accurate calendar that lasted centuries after their civilization's heyday. They made sutures out of human hair, prosthetics out of jade, and dental fillings out of pyrite. They even invented Chocolate - for goodness sake! They also, apparently, knew that the gut was a very important part of the human body and the human state of being.
As I spent time in Mexico last week, I struggled to balance between the adventurer with no reservation to try everything and the concerted health advocate who doesn't eat dairy, grain, refined-sugar or soy. My health goals at times conflicted with my desire to eat local cuisine. And then there's the small fact that this trip was for a bachelorette party at an all-inclusive resort, so perfect health isn't exactly the goal or expected outcome of the weekend.
Which brings us to the Mayans... I did make time for a traditional Mayan massage (Hunan Ku Ritual o Masaje tradicional Maya.) The Mayans believed that the heartbeat of your stomach must be centered just below your belly button. An off-centered beat either leads to or indicates disease. They aim to center the heartbeat through abdominal massage techniques handed down for thousands of years by generation after generation of healers and shamans. Massage + ancient alternative medicine + a possible cure for my digestive woes = right up my alley!
I started my massage experience soaking in the Jacuzzi, peering through a window towards the sun setting over the horizon. Before the massage started, a cold cloth and cucumbers covered my eyes within the eucalyptus scented steam room. I was, to say the least, relaxed and open for the Hunab Ku Ritual ⇒ the traditional massage focusing on abdominal techniques meant to balance flow and reposition your beat back in its rightful home: your center.
The ritual itself was more spiritual than I ever expected. I sensed true calm and an overall feeling of peacefulness throughout the experience. I was also surprised that certain pressure points in my abdomen triggered sensation in my back and shoulders. I'm used to trigger points in a typical shoulder massage causing sensation down through my fingertips but it had never occurred to me that the same type of pressure points exist in the belly. When the therapist pressed on my imbalanced beat, I could feel it in my trouble spots in my right hip and near my left shoulder blade. It was eerie that it caused sensation in the 2 places that typically bother me most, and it almost felt like those places were getting massaged themselves! My experience makes sense considering the new biological discoveries of the gut as the second brain, which has a large impact on the first brain. (The Second Brain by Dr. Michael Gershon- anyone?) It looks like our science is finally catching up to 3rd century mythology.
After the experience I spun down an internet rabbit-hole looking into the massage techniques and any modern validation of them (and scheduled a second session ;)). Don Elijio, a great Maya Shaman from Belize, quoted "If a woman's uterus is out of balance, so is she." That mantra remains at the center of the traditional Mayan massage. In her Huffington Post write-up, Monique Minahan explains that the Mayans believe many human emotions are stored in the abdomen. They aren’t alone in that belief, as many cultures focus on the abdomen as a source of healing and power. Three of the six main chakras reside in the abdomen in Kundalini Yoga: Mooladhara, Swadhisthana, and Manipura. Additionally, specific treatments for the abdomen are found in Thai massage and Chinese medicine. The Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy® adopt these ancient massage techniques to address position and health of the pelvic and abdominal organs. Through external non-invasive massage they reposition shifted and out of place organs freeing previously restricted flow of blood, lymph, nerve and chi. The work, centered on the idea that the uterus is the women's center, is best known for the correction of the prolapsed, fallen, or tilted uterus and for relief of many common digestive disorders and frequent bathroom trips. They also help with the prevention and treatment of benign prostate enlargement in men.
Through this I realized that despite all of my concern for the gut itself, I unfortunately neglect my belly as a whole in most parts of life. The only attention it receives is when I do abs work and the brief stretching I rarely do after a particularly rare strenuous set. I also can't help thinking that maybe my bladder is normal sized after all and the real problem is that my uterus is tilted on top of it! This could be life-changing 🙂 After learning about the Mayan beliefs and techniques, I committed mentally to paying more attention to the core of my being that holds most of my critical organs.
Besides the links above, here are some fact checking sites. I can practically see my college professors cringing at the wiki links. 😉
Mayan medicine: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_medicine