I am standing up and breathing deeply into my belly, letting all cares and worries go. Just below my diaphragm is my abdomen, the center of gravity for me and, according to Hindu and Buddhist yogic systems, the sacred energy center that sends chi flowing throughout the rest of my body. This fire in the belly enables me to nurture myself and take care of others. It is also the place in the body that activates my deepest emotions and truest intentions.

Years ago, the spiritual woman who gave me shiatsu every week said that I had incredible energy in my abdomen. I told her that I was grateful to God for this gift. But just talking about it took me back to childhood when bullies at the school I attended used to derive great pleasure out of holding me down and giving me a pink belly with a series of sharp open-handed slaps.

Memories of regular persecution did not stop my adult delight in watching the shaking and undulating stomachs of belly dancers in New York City. One of my favorite films is Satin Rouge, an ebullient Tunisian film about the startling transformation of a tradition-bound widow when she is drawn into the exotic world of belly dancing. The sacred energy which pulsates through our bodies can be cultivated through meditation, massage, shiatsu, and dance.

There was a time when a pot belly was seen as a sign of success. That body reading is long gone: now the dreaded beer belly is an indication of over-eating and a failure to control one's appetite. Most of my male friends speak with disgust about their protruding stomachs and their endless battle to achieve washboard abs like those of many youthful movie stars. This adversarial role pitting us against belly fat usually leads to great disappointment. Far better to look with gratitude upon our tummies for all the complex and splendid work they do for us every day in the digestion of food and the overall functioning of our bodies.

One of the best things coming from our abdomens is laughter. Here is a morning prayer by the inimitable Edward Hays that is animated by three good belly laughs:

"At the beginning of a new day, your first prayer laugh would be in gratitude for all the gifts of yesterday and a good night's sleep. Your second laugh could be for the wondrous gift of a new day of life overflowing with opportunities to enjoy it fully. The third and boisterous laugh would be to blow the dust off your soul so it and your heart can glisten like the rising sun."

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