Abdominal Massage: A Maya Technique for Balancing a Woman’s Center

In many cultures around the world, ancient healing traditions such as those used to support pregnancy and birth are passed down through generations of shamans. The Maya tradition of abdominal massage is an age-old technique that has become a well-respected method for adjusting and balancing a woman’s uterus, maximizing its ability to function. In this piece, Rosita Arvigo, an accomplished naprapathic physician, herbalist, and teacher of Maya medicine, shares pieces of wisdom she gained during her years studying these techniques with Maya healers in Belize. Rosita has combined this wisdom with her own research and experience, developing it into the Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy.

The uterus is a woman’s center. If it is out of balance, everything in her life will be physically, emotionally and spiritually out of balance.” ~ Don Elijio Panti

Maya abdominal massage for balancing a woman’s center

The Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy (ATMAT) is based on an ancient Maya abdominal massage that, among other things, corrects mal-position of the uterus by returning its many ligaments to normal tensility. Uterine ligaments become overstretched or buckled for a variety of reasons, including impact on the sacrum, car accidents, running on hard surfaces and even wearing high-heeled shoes. Injured uterine ligaments can cause the organ to shift to the right, left, backward, forward or to drop too low in the pelvis, causing improper pressure against arteries, veins and nerves which, in turn, eventually malfunction. Once the uterus has shifted, its arterial blood supply, veins, and nerve functions are compromised, leading to painful or irregular menses, amenorrhea, and failure to conceive.

I learned the techniques to correct mal-position of the uterus from traditional healers in Central America. The Maya’s early medicine originated thousands of years ago, at the age of the first built temples. The knowledge was passed on orally from generation to generation, or as part of an intense training in the case of the traditional healers. With the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, inevitably the Maya assimilated some cultural and religious aspects into their belief system, including into their healing traditions, yet much remained unchanged.

For thirteen years, I apprenticed with Don Elijio Panti, a Maya doctor-priest, or h’men who lived to be 103. Don Elijio, a Mopan Maya, was born in Petén, Guatemala in 1893 and died in Belize in 1996, never having traveled further than the road between his home town in Belize and his birthplace in Guatemala. He learned his trade in only one month during the 1930’s from “a Carib Indian” while they worked in the old chicle camps as a collectors of the zapote resin used to make chewing gum. For the rest of his life, like other gifted healers, Don Elijio continued to learn from the Maya spirits through dream visions. Don Elijio never learned to read and write, yet I saw a gifted genius in him.

We met in 1982 when I moved to San Ignacio, Belize with my family to start a tropical homestead on thirty acres of un-cleared jungle on the Macal River. During my thirteen-year apprenticeship I learned a great deal, but was most impressed with his ancient mayan massage techniques for women’s ailments, and his spiritual healing with prayers, copal and herbal baths. From all over Central America, women came to his humble clinic in San Antonio, Cayo by the truckload to have their uteri lifted by the old maestro.  He was also the funniest man I ever knew.  He called himself a doctor-clown. “Most people think too much,” he said. “Get them to laugh, and half their trouble and sickness will go away and the blessed herbs will do the rest.” Wise words.

My second mentor was Hortence Robinson, herbal midwife and granny healer of Belize.  Hortence, who was born and raised on Cozumel Island in a family of midwives, never went to school.  At the age of only thirteen she delivered a baby in the Belize City Hospital while she was being treated for asthma. She told me that two men dropped a cot in the hallway of the hospital and left. The woman on the cot was in labor, so when Hortence came out of the washroom, the woman cried out “Come here child and catch this baby!” She helped the baby out, waited for the placenta, and then wrapped them both in her own hospital gown. Shortly afterward, the nurses came running in and told her not to tell the doctor. To calm her nerves, one of them gave her a cigarette, which turned into a life-long habit. Hortence had eight children of her own, and adopted fourteen babies delivered at her modest home.

Both Hortence and Elijio loved plants and especially those with medicinal qualities. “They are my best friends,” said Don Elijio. “I adore them.”

To dispel a retained placenta, for example, Hortence used a poultice of warmed aloe vera leaves over the pelvis. Hortence also recommended strong basil tea, a traditional favorite for easing childbirth by improving effectiveness of uterine contractions.  She suggested a quart of tea be drunk in one day as soon as contractions begin.

Complementary herbal medicine

To prepare this natural remedy, simmer two ounces of dried basil or 2 cups of fresh basil leaves in one quart of water, covered, for 10 minutes. Then steep for twenty minutes. Drink all day long in ½ cup doses every hour or take constantly in sips.

Don Elijio recommended pre-menstrual vaginal steams with oregano to cleanse the uterus of accumulated debris from previous months – even years of sluggish menstruation.  The next menses may be heavier with darker, thicker blood, which we recognize as a cleansing.

Round ligament pain, inability to conceive, menstrual cramps, pre-menstural syndrome, backache, and irregular menses make up only a short list of common female complaints. Yet women don’t have to suffer. There is a way to help them, by balancing their uterus using traditional techniques and herbal remedies.

During my courses, I and my assistants, midwives Trish De Tura and Abigail Adams, teach abdominal  techniques for first, second and third trimesters as well as our unique “Ready, Set, Go” technique that eases labor and delivery.  Midwives who have taken the course, report that using these therapies relieves many of the common complaints during pregnancy, including round ligament pain, pelvic floor discomfort, back ache, headache and sciatic pain.  I am gratified that, in most cases, labor is reduced by many hours even with primips.  Because ATMAT improves uterine homeostasis and blood supply, the uterus can take care of its ligaments, maintain proper position and nourish the fetus it is growing.

To learn more about the Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy (ATMAT), and to find out about upcoming courses and workshops, please visit www.arvigotherapy.com.

Rosita Arvigo, DN is a naprapathic physician, herbalist, international lecturer, author and teacher of Maya medicine. She has lived in Belize for thirty years where she studied with more than a dozen traditional healers. Dr. Arvigo is the director of The Arvigo Institute, Rainforest Remedies, The Traditional Healers Foundation and founding member of the Belize Ethnobotany Project. She is dedicated to the preservation of the science and art of traditional Maya herbal healing for the benefit of the people of Belize and the world.

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