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Belly Button Bathing with Essential Oils: Does This Ancient Healing Practice Work?

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Your belly button, which seems to do little more than collect fluff, was once the spot of a vital connection between you and your mother, the place where your umbilical cord once was. This tube-like structure connected to the placenta carries nutrients and oxygen from the placenta to the baby while exporting waste materials out. Once you entered the world, this cord was cut, leaving behind a scar – AKA, your belly button.

If you have never put much thought into your belly button, let me introduce you to Ayurvedic medicine – the world’s oldest medical system and one of India’s traditional health care systems. According to this practice, stimulation of the belly button can act as a reset of your entire body. This is because the belly button is anchored in the abdomen – the mighty “second brain” of the human body.

What is belly button bathing?

Belly button bathing is an ancient practice that helps remove toxins, nourish organs, and pump nutrients throughout the body. Therapeutic oils are poured inside and rubbed around the belly button. Supporters of this practice claim that you can access and treat a wide range of physical and emotional ailments through this “reset” portal, so to speak.

Vagus nerve connection

Many of the claims surrounding belly button bathing have to do with the vagus nerve. This nerve is the longest and most complex of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves that start in the brain. The nerve runs to the abdomen with branches to several major organs. The vagus nerve is responsible for.

  • Sending and receiving sensory information from the heart, lungs, throat, abdomen, and taste sensation from the tongue.
  • Providing motor functions to the muscles responsible for speech and swallowing.
  • Delivering critical information between the gut and the brain.
  • Playing a critical role in fear management by dealing with stress and anxiety.
  • The function of the digestive tract, respiration, and heart rate.

What does research say about stimulating the vagus nerve?

There is some research supporting the benefits of stimulating the vagus nerve. In one study, it was found that stimulating the vagus nerve can positively impact people dealing with depression and other psychological disorders. Another study found that vagus nerve stimulation decreased symptoms of epilepsy. Additional research shows that stimulating the vagus nerve may help with headaches, memory improvement, PTSD, arthritis, and Crohn’s disease, among other conditions.

Note: Although these studies do show that stimulation of the vagus nerve can have a positive impact, it does not show a relationship between the vagus nerve and the belly button.

Vital organ connection

Supporters of belly button bathing also claim that much of the healing benefits happen because of where the navel is in relation to vital organs such as the stomach, intestines, spleen, kidneys, etc. According to proponents of the practice, navel chakra, known as the source of energy and connection to the rest of the body, contains one-third of the body’s blood supply and 90 percent of the “happy” hormone serotonin along with 50 percent of the “joy” hormone known as dopamine. Additionally, we know that the gut has natural microbes that make it a vital organ regulating mood and emotions. Additionally, the umbilicus sits over some major arteries.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) supports the fact that the navel is critical to overall health and wellbeing. The “shen que” or the Spirit Gate, is the acupuncture point that is in the center of the belly button. According to TCM, this is the place where energy pathways in the body meet.

According to TCM practitioners, stimulating the belly button can improve digestion, promote blood flow, regulate organ functions, stimulate the immune system, and clear meridians. It is believed that drugs administered through the navel can migrate rapidly to all meridians and internal organs. There is some research to support this.

Questions remain

There is no doubt that the belly button is positioned on top of major organs, nerves, arteries, and energy flow. However, the question is, does putting oil in the belly button actually penetrate the gut or other organs more effectively than applying it elsewhere? Additionally, does the belly button’s location – close to vasculature – make it a more efficient way of getting therapeutic oils into the bloodstream? Can stimulating the belly button manipulate body energy or positive outcomes ushered in by the vagus nerve. It is difficult to find anything to answer these questions scientifically; however, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence in favor of the practice.

Because of the lack of hard scientific evidence, critics claim there is no reason to make a healing connection or believe that manipulating the belly button could produce systematic benefits.

There is truly only one way to find out if this ancient healing practice has benefits – you need to try it for yourself.

We know that essential plant oils are highly therapeutic, containing powerful properties found in science to bring about positive healing results. Here is how to see for yourself if belly button bathing is an effective healing therapy.

Belly button bathing 101

  • Thoroughly clean your belly button, using a cotton swab to eliminate trapped dirt and debris.
  • Never put essential oils in the belly button without diluting them with a carrier oil first.
  • Always test a patch of skin with the carrier oil and essential oil first before putting it into your belly button.
  • Warm oil solutions slightly before use.
  • Never belly bathe on a full stomach.
  • A few drops are all that is needed, followed by a light massage
  • Always belly bathe while lying down.
  • Do not belly bathe if you are pregnant or nursing.
  • Do not belly bathe if you have major health conditions.
  • Use only high-quality therapeutic grade essential plant oils
  • Excellent carrier oils include sweet almond oil, ghee, coconut oil, organic virgin olive oil, apricot kernel oil, argan oil, and jojoba oil

Formulations to try

Want to see if belly bathing works for you? Here are some simple formulations you can try. Once you become familiar with the properties of essential plant oils, you can make up your own solutions.

  • Ease anxiety: Ease anxiety by adding a few drops each of lavender and chamomile oil to your choice of carrier oil. Warm oil and massage in and around the belly button for 15 minutes. This is also great to do before bedtime to let down and prepare the body for sleep.
  • Stiff joints: Lubricate stiff joints by adding a few drops of ginger oil to some olive oil. Warm and place in the belly button overnight. Do this three times a week.
  • Uneven facial skin tone: Even out uneven skin tone by adding a few drops of lemon oil to some almond oil. Warm and place in the belly button, leave in for 15 minutes, and wipe it out with a soft cloth.
  • Skin spots and eczema:  Mix several drops of neem oil with coconut oil. Warm and massage in and around the belly button for 15 minutes. Repeat a few times a week.

Happy belly bathing!

-Susan Patterson, CBHC and Master Gardener

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