Belly button, navel, umbilicus. This little knot of sorts seems to be just a reminder of our origin. Once attached to the life-giving placenta in the womb, at first glance it doesn’t really serve any purpose. But recently I’ve noticed a lot of articles about the Ayurvedic practice of belly button healing. Is there really anything special about the belly button that give it healing powers?
The practice of belly button healing involves the application of therapeutic oils inside and around the belly button. Supporters claim that the navel is the body’s focal point for the health of the physical body, mind, and spirit. Some practitioners claim that you can access and treat just about any physical or emotional ailment through this “reset button”.
The Premise of Belly Button Healing
Many of the claims about belly button healing have to do with the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves that emanate from the brain. It runs from the brain to the abdomen, with branches to several major organs along the way. Your vagus nerve is responsible for many important functions including:
- Sends and receives sensory information from the throat, heart, lungs, and abdomen, as well as taste sensation from the tongue.
- Provides motor functions for the muscles responsible for swallowing and speech.
- Responsible for function of the digestive tract, respiration, and heart rate.
- Delivers information between the gut and the brain.
- Plays a part in fear management and dealing with stress and anxiety.
Stimulating the Vagus Nerve
It seems there may be some truth to the validity of stimulating this nerve. One study shows that stimulating the vagus nerve may help some people dealing with depression and other psychological disorders. However, this study involved the use of a battery-powered generator implanted in the chest wall. This generator connects to a wire wrapped around the vagus nerve in the neck, and sends intermittent pulses of electricity along the nerve directly into the brain.
Another study employed a similar mechanism to decrease symptoms of epilepsy. Additional studies demonstrate that vagus nerve stimulation may help with arthritis, headache, memory improvement, Crohn’s disease, PTSD, and more.
It is important to note that none of these studies cite the belly button as a connection to the vagus nerve. The methods vary, but most of them employ an electrode or other stimulatory device attached directly to the nerve, parts of the ear, or neck.
Another reason supporters claim the validity of belly button healing is because it is situated over many of our vital organs, such as the stomach (or gut), intestines, kidneys, spleen, etc. Most important here is the gut. The gut is responsible for producing up to 90% of our serotonin (the happiness hormone) and 50% of our dopamine (the joy hormone). This, as well as the natural flora of microbes in the gut, make it an essential organ for regulation of mood and emotions. (Check out this post for more on that.) Not only that, but the umbilicus sits over some pretty major arteries as well.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) believes that the navel plays a significant role in overall health. The acupuncture point in the center of the navel is called “shen que” or Spirit Gate. According to TCM, this point is the focal point of all the body’s meridians, or network of energy pathways.
TCM practitioners claim that naval stimulation can help with digestion, clear meridians, promote blood flow, regulate organ functions, and stimulate the immune system. They believe that drugs administered through the navel quickly spread to all the meridians and internal organs. I found one study to back this notion, in which patients with Crohn’s disease reported a reduction of sysmtoms.
Ilchi Lee, founder of Change Your Energy, wrote a book about belly button healing and even designed a device to stimulate the navel. He refers to the navel as the body’s reset button and calls it a gateway to this second brain. He claims a daily practice of navel stimulation gives internal organs a workout and pumps vitality back into your life.
What the Skeptics Say
There is no question that the bely button is situated over some pretty major organs, arteries, nerves, and energy flow. The questions remain though: Does putting oil into the belly button penetrate to the gut or other organs more effectively than other application sites? Does the navel’s proximity to vasculature make it a quicker means of getting therapeutic oils and medicines to the bloodstream? Can stimulating the belly button offer true medically-relevant stimulation of the vagus nerve or manipulate the body’s energy? The truth is, there are no studies to support or refute these questions.
Due to the lack of scientific studies regarding belly button healing, many people claim belly button healing is just pseudoscience. Critics claim there is no scientific reason to make a connection between the intestines, the enteric nervous system, or nearby organs with the navel any more so than anywhere else on the abdomen. Furthermore, they say there is no reason to believe that manipulation of the belly button would yield systemic benefits.
Where Does this Leave Us?
We all know the critics are often wrong. The scientific community is reluctant to accept many natural therapies, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work. So what do you do?
For starters, you can try it. Next time you feel down, try putting your therapeutic essential oil inside your navel. If you overindulge at a meal, see if a few drops of oil in the belly button alleviate your discomfort. Overheating? Try a few drops of a cooling oil in your navel and take note of whether or not it brings relief.
When you do, drop me a comment below and let me know your thoughts. How did it work for you?
Love learning about natural therapies and want to learn more about how to use essential oils? Check out this post to get started today!