I stood frozen to the spot, in the apartment I rented with my then husband in Atlanta, Georgia, a dragging ache in my heart.
I recognised the truth that I did not belong there, that this life was eating away at me, that I barely recognised myself anymore. But, as I hunted through my mind, I could find no where that I did belong. There were places I had been, with people who I cared about, but I could not picture a future life that would play out in any of them. Not one I wanted. I had lost sight of what I wanted.
Like one of those dream sequences where you try to run and your legs don't work, every atom of my being screamed at me to leave but with no destination to navigate myself by, I stayed firmly rooted to the spot. I felt stuck. My life was so entwined with this man’s that I no longer knew where he ended and I began. My knees gave way in despair and I sank to the ground, my sobbing from somewhere deep and primal, escaping in long, strained guttural yelps.
I hadn't studied NLP or hypnotherapy at this point in my life, but, if I had, I would have done exactly the same thing as I did in that moment:
I asked myself where I would be and what I would be doing now, if I was just me?
The answer came back simply: I would be studying by the sea, in England!
With that, I created some momentum. A rope appeared over the edge of my pit.
Day by day, my dream grew and became clearer, more vivid. I would go to Brighton, a beautiful seaside town I had visited once with my family and had fond memories of. I would study for my MA in Philosophy.
I began saving and arranged a trip to the UK to check out the university. It turned out that a friend of mine had a connection to the head of philosophy so she was able to arrange for me to meet with him for a chat.
As my vision grew, everything fell so neatly into place.
That trip to Brighton was a huge turning point for me in so many ways. I travelled independently and relished, for the first time in a long time, the ease of my own company. Renting a room with a sea view and haggling for a good price, my confidence began to return to me. I spent time, buffered by the wind and gazing out into the expanse of unpredictable water. By absorbing myself in the changing moods and tempo of the sea, I somehow found peace with my own tempestuous emotions.
At the end of a very varied and fascinating conversation with the head of Philosophy, I asked, tentatively, whether I would be need to come for an interview.
'You already have.' came the reply.
Having visited my goal in person, momentum snowballed and in only a few more months I was unpacking my belongings in a flat with a sea view- for contortionists.
I found myself there. And, once I had, I vowed never to lose myself again. I decided that I could be happy alone; that I was certainly better off alone than with the wrong person.
But, of course, Brighton would, in time, bring me the right person...
For anyone reading this who is in despair right now, I recommend you too throw your thoughts to the future you want. I promise they will come back, like a rope, to rescue you from your pit. You don’t have to know exactly what’s at the end of the rope. You just need a direction and some momentum and, once you are out, you’ll see a whole world is waiting for you.
Whilst there is no known direct cause of PCOS, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that your mental, physical and emotional health plays a key part in managing the symptoms.
It is widely accepted that the best way to manage the symptoms of PCOS is to adopt a healthy lifestyle, incorporating beneficial dietary changes, exercise (particularly restorative forms such as qigong, yoga, pilates and tai chi) and addressing stress levels. However, when facing an increased risk of developing high cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, reduced fertility, miscarriage, preeclampsia, depression, weight problems, hair thinning, unwanted facial and body hair and eating disorders, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.
Hypnotherapy provides you with the tools and techniques you need to take back control of:
Whilst getting advice from a nutritionist is highly advisable here, hypnotherapy can help you by working with the unconscious mind to support weight loss, food cravings (particularly sugar) and sticking to your healthy choices.
Your stress levels:
The opposite of the stress response is the relaxation response. Hypnotherapists are great teachers of eliciting the relaxation response as hypnosis requires a state of relaxation. Studies have shown that hypnotherapy can increase fertility through relaxation techniques. It can teach you to listen to your body and understand your needs and, using a coaching framework, we can also look at the stressors in your life and make positive and realistic adjustments.
Just one example of the way in which hypnotherapy can help you balance your hormones is with a key player in PCOS: progesterone. Low levels of progesterone are characteristic of PCOS and progesterone is crucial for regulating of our menstrual cycle and balancing the effects of oestrogen. Symptoms such as difficulty in losing weight, conceiving and maintaining pregnancy, skin and hair problems, acne, tiredness and mood swings can all be triggered by low progesterone. Cortisol, a stress hormone, is known to exhaust our supplies of progesterone. Not only that, excessive stress exhausts our adrenal glands, a key producer of progesterone in our body. With visualisations and relaxation techniques, you can assist your body in balancing crucial hormones.
Your self esteem
Looking at the list of the symptoms of PCOS, it is not difficult to see why many sufferers have issues with low self-esteem, low confidence and depression. Hypnotherapy works directly with your unconscious mind where negative thoughts and behaviours lurk. Tapping into the unconscious mind allows us to address the root cause and make positive changes to your ways of thinking and your instinctive behaviours.
To find out more about how hypnotherapy could help you take back control, contact me for a free phone consultation.
Gazing, from my kitchen window, onto the summer tableau outside, my attention is drawn to the damson tree. Its branches bow under the weight of its jewel like fruit, dripping like juicy pendants from every limb. I ponder the miracle that allowed this tree to nourish and nurture this bounty.
It is the cyclical nature of the tree that provides it with the resources to bare fruit.
We women are also cyclical in our nature. Hormones ebb and flow in our bodies from puberty to menopause, causing powerful shifts in our energy, our focus, our needs and our skills.
Just as a tree experiences the four seasons of the year, we experience four seasons every cycle. Often a health issue in a woman’s body can be eased by addressing a neglected season. And, after menopause, it is as though the training wheels come off allowing us to access all the seasons and trusting us to find the balance in our own lives.
With summer comes ovulation, a season epitomised by the mother. You are gregarious, sociable, giving your fruits freely and generously. Like the tree, this is the time of your outward glory. Your energy is magnetic and attractive. Your focus is outward and you have lots of energy and love for others. Like the tree, this is a time when you can give your all. You feel grounded and connected. Summer is a time when estrogen levels are high and the multitasking we women are famous for is really possible.
Take a moment to reflect on how you meet this need in your own life, at ovulation or at other times. Do you really go for it? Do you spend time with the people who matter to you? Do you take care of them? For some of us, a more important question to ask is: do you try to keep this up all the time?
Autumn, or pre-menstruation tends to be the most well known or notorious season of our cycle. As the tree gives away the last of its fruits and its leaves wither and die, it begins to withdraw from the harshening conditions, its energies spent. This is a crucial and misunderstood time in our cycle. It is important that we retreat and begin to say no. We can't possibly be expected to keep going at the speed of summer, bearing fruit indefinitely. This is a time for editing. For contemplation, for getting real. If there are situations in your life that need addressing, it will be difficult to ignore them now and if you try to ignore them, they will shout louder. Any needs you have neglected, any feelings you have supressed, any gifts you haven't used will break to the surface. As the tree sheds its leaves in autumn, so you must face the harsh truths of your life and shed anything that no longer serves you. This is a time to tie up loose ends ready for the winter. If you can face yourself now and confront your truths, you are in for a restful winter.
Take a moment to reflect on how you meet this need in your own life, pre-menstrually or at other times. Do you really face yourself, do you allow difficult emotions to surface and acknowledge them, along with the message they bring? Are you prepared to make changes to address needs that you are not currently meeting?
Picture yourself now as a tree in winter. Your roots spread deep into the earth, grounding, securing, nourishing you. Your bare branches outstretched, but, like the tree, you have withdrawn into yourself, from the outside, there is little sign of life, your energy is drawn inward, you are passive, intuitive, creative. This is a time of renewal, of rest and regeneration. A time for you to retreat from the world in any way you can. You bear no fruit or foliage and, instead spread your roots deeper and wider. Letting go of responsibility (as far as possible), letting go of any negativity that has built up over the month. A time for forgiveness for yourself and others. A time for taking nourishment from the earth. This is, arguably, the most crucial part of your preparation for pregnancy. Without taking the time to stock up on your reserves and to nourish yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually, you cannot support new life.
Take a moment to reflect on how you meet this need in your own life, at menstruation or at other times. Is there an allowance for your need to let go of anything that no longer serves you and to regenerate?
After menstruation, comes spring. Your energy begins to rise, tentatively pushing tender green buds through your bark. The environment doesn’t yet feel entirely welcoming, but you are keen to emerge to explore to ideas. You are curious and playful, a little naïve even. You begin to feel more sociable. You resurface innocent and pure with a clean slate.
Like tiny delicate buds, you begin to unfurl your newly hatched ideas and plans, nurturing and protecting them. Seeing how they fare in the light of day.
Take a moment to reflect on how you meet this need in your own life, after menstruation or at other times. Do you make time to explore to try new ideas, to be playful and take risks?
In this busy, modern world, it’s easy to live from the neck up, paying attention to your body only when something goes wrong. Many of us have lost the art of listening to our bodies, or, more accurately, interpreting their message. Rarely, for example, is a headache a sign that of a nurofen deficiency! Paying attention to and honouring our cycles and their impact on our moods, drives and energy levels (not only with the intention of finding our most fertile days) is a great way to connect with and support our reproductive system.
To find out more about cycle awareness, I thoroughly recommend Lucy Pearce, ‘Reaching For The Moon’ and Sjanie Wurlitzer and Alexander Pope’s ‘Wild Power’
There is also a guided meditation version of this blog on my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMXJJONh1AA
In the recent storms our rose arch collapsed and we mounted an effort to rescue the roses that lazily embraced it. The rescue attempt was more poignant because of one rose in particular, which was planted there before my fingers became green enough to know that a rose bush does not climb. This one holds a special place in my heart: nine years ago, I buried my baby beneath it in a tiny match box. I buried the hopes and dreams and future memories for a life that was never meant to be.
Though I was ten weeks pregnant, the tiny heartbeat inside me had stopped at six weeks. In medical terms, it was never truly human. I knew that there were tragedies in the world far greater than this but this was my tragedy.
I decided not to measure my grief but to feel it.
I cried. I cried a lot. I felt the dragging ache of sadness deep inside me and I allowed it.
The day that I held that positive test in my hand was the day I headed to Brighton for a dear friend’s hen weekend so I had dared to whisper this precious secret aloud. Dared to name my hopes and dreams for this child, a mix of tiny cells and miracles and moonbeams.
The day my baby came away from me, I lost a whole lifetime of future memories: of rushing to the hospital on a crisp February morning; of gazing into the soft face of a nursing baby; of grazed knees and magic kisses; of bedtime stories and precious cuddles; of my proud tears; my child filing away from me for their first day of school; a lifetime of moments, some fleeting, some fateful. All would have woven together a beautiful tapestry of this particular child’s life. All lost.
In the end, I was glad that everyone knew. My grief was open and unfettered and I learned that, probably, the taboo of talking about pregnancy before 12 weeks serves better to protect those around you from the awkwardness of not knowing what to say than the woman who mourns a lost life of possibility. I did find incredible support among my family and friends though and, ultimately, I was glad that my world knew of this fleeting life that had graced us.
At times, as I grieved, I berated myself for my indulgence. Hadn't I already been blessed with a beautiful child who filled me with love and pride and wonder and hope? Wasn’t it selfish to want more? Didn’t others have more to grieve? Deeper wounds? Longer, harder journeys? Weren’t there others with more right to grieve?
I chose not to measure or judge my grief but to feel it.
I felt it as I dragged my heavy soul through the day to day life of a mother. I felt it on a visit to my mother-in-law in France. I felt it flying to Israel for the wedding of my husband’s sister. The heavy cloud of grief hovered over me in every interaction. Then one day, briefly, in the lead up to my sister-in-law’s wedding I felt the fluttering of joy again. I expressed this joy with my husband not knowing at the time that this first ray of sunshine cutting through the gloom would turn out to be my rainbow baby.
In my work with fertility, I have met many women who did not feel they had the space, freedom or the right to grieve their loss. They buried it deeply, carried it privately. But rainbows don’t occur in clear skies.
My rainbow child burst through a tiny gap in my cloudy sky as she continues to do, a child with the capacity for so much joy.
My story is not your story. My grief is not your grief but my advice is the same: do not measure or judge your grief but feel it. Move through it in whatever way and whatever speed is right for you. Allow the clouds and I hope that, like me, one day you will find a rainbow bursting through them.
photo credit: grimeshome <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/73653333@N05/9267662070">Rainbow Across Yellowstone Lake</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>
I once had a hypnobirthing client who was vehemently against hypnosis though he had dutifully accompanied his pregnant wife to classes as was her wish.
His words stuck with me: he didn’t like the idea that you could programme the mind.
I see his point.
However, the truth is we are programmed from birth (and arguably before) by our parents, our friends, our teachers, by TV, by magazines and by the wealth of our experience which shape our actions, our beliefs, our values, our desires, our dreams and our fears. In response to these relentless influences, we develop a conscious mind around the age of eight which serves as a firewall of sorts. Though, by this time, much of our programming is already in place, the software has been installed.
Over the years, we constantly evolve, updating our software. Sometimes we programme ourselves consciously and sometimes things slip through the firewall. Our minds are complex. The very nature of our unconscious mind is that it is not easily accessed through conscious thinking and often there is software still running that's outdated and clashing with the latest version.
For example, many women spend a good portion of their lives trying not to get pregnant. That software is securely installed through our families, through society, through our own will and often we further reinforce this priming by suppressing our reproductive system with the contraceptive pill.
When we make the conscious decision that we are ready to have children, we install new software, in favour of pregnancy however it is important to ensure that we have overridden our previous programming.
A hypnotherapist is an expert guide in the workings of your unconscious minds and can teach you the skills you need to access and prepare your mind and body for pregnancy and for any other goal you may wish to achieve.
Contact me to find out how I can help you.
1950s American classic cars are thriving on Cuban streets. Long after their disappearance elsewhere, necessity has fostered a nation of innovative and dedicated mechanics. These beauties in chrome are cherished and lovingly maintained and, while the rest of us have moved on to newer, flimsier models, we are still captivated by their character and grace.
Like cars, at a certain age our bodies begin to show signs of wear and tear. Bad habits that we previously ‘got away with’ begin to reap penalties, showing up as a range of symptoms, particularly around peri-menopause and menopause. But, before you reach for the medicine cabinet, perhaps it’s time to renegotiate the terms of your tenancy agreement with your body. After all, a headache is rarely a sign of a deficiency in paracetamol.
Hypnosis can provide a space to communicate with your body, a place to brush up on your own skills as a mechanic with a vested interest in maintaining your own, unique and characterful classic.
Top Tips for maintaining a classic:
Finding the gaps between thoughts, the silence between sounds and the stillness between movements.
On my journey to work this morning, a single poppy quivered implausibly above the pavement, its delicate and transient beauty unexpectedly bursting through a crack in the pavement. Observing the tiny gap between paving slabs, this splash of vivacious colour seemed unlikely and miraculous.
Typically, in a culture which values what can be seen, proven and documented scientifically, we are all too ready to dismiss what is concealed. The poppy seems unsupported, but only because we don’t perceive the vast network of roots and nutrients spreading out beneath the crack.
Our intuition, like the poppy, seems unsupported and therefore unreliable because we cannot see that its strong roots are tapping into a vast and intelligent unconscious mind.
Unfortunately, we are in the habit of plugging gaps. We lead busy lives and any spare moment becomes an opportunity to squeeze in another activity/another thought. Our Smartphones have eradicated boredom and the gaps, the natural springs of our mind, have become clogged with more and more conscious thought, leaving little or no room for poppies to sprout.
Our lack of connection to this vast resource leads us further from understanding and respecting it and we plunge forwards without respite. Paving the surfaces of our minds, limiting discourse between our conscious and unconscious mind.
Seeds slip through the gaps and germinate but are trodden underfoot as they unfurl their delicate foliage.
We need only locate these tiny fissures to avoid stamping out this precious contact with our deeper selves, allowing our unconscious wisdom to cascade through, enriching our daily lives with poppies.
Minding the gap:
2. Focus on the punctuation in your day: As an English teacher, I am constantly reminding my students to use punctuation and as a therapist my advice is similar. Like a long-winded sentence with no punctuation, a long to do list with no commas will leave you feeling breathless and overwhelmed. Look for the natural punctuation points in your day and enjoy them. Focus on the time between meetings, your coffee breaks and your journey to work. Allow yourself to be present in those moments, don’t let your mind go galloping forward to the next thing.
3. Enjoy mundane tasks: Long before meditating was fashionable, people daydreamed: allowing their gaze to rest softly on the view from the window, while washing up; staring absently into space whilst waiting for the kettle to boil or zoning out to the white noise of the hoover. Embrace these simple, mundane tasks.
4. Be bored: We are so quick to plug and gaps in our day with phones, thoughts or tasks. Boredom is a prelude to peace. Once you get used to the idea that not every gap should be filled you will learn to appreciate the silence, the stillness and the spaces.
I arrive in cold drizzle having rushed from my duties. The door is opened by a smiling stranger who welcomes me like a treasured friend. I step through the portal from grey to warm technicolour. The room is assuaged with soft, vibrant, red hued fabrics. A ring of cushions and blankets blurs the hard edges.
A gentle heartbeat of women’s chatter and laughter soothes my ears as a mother’s heart beat might reassure a baby in the womb. The kettle has boiled. I plump for a Womankind teabag. It seems appropriate.
I join the circle. I am home.
Only now do I look at the faces of the women who will share this evening with me. Some I have circled with before, some I recognise from other contexts, some are new to me. We range in age, in interest and in background but everyone shares the look of a person who has just released a huge sigh.
The notion of a space where women would come together to menstruate and birth was first introduced to me at university when I read ‘The Golden Bough’ by James Frazer. There he documented many cultures which banished women, particularly at first blood and often in horrific circumstances, to cages or small darkened rooms, suspended between heaven and earth, in an attempt to insulate the mysterious, powerful and spiritual force that charges them at this time. Later, reading ‘The Red Tent’, I was offered a more appealing version: a haven where women were freed from the taboos that surround their bodies, where they could celebrate and explore their cyclical nature. Anita Diamant’s vivid creation clearly invoked a need for such a space and Red Tents began to surface all over the world, like poppies on a battlefield.
The opening of the circle happens organically. There is no set agenda and ideas are shared and ultimately amalgamated. We settle on introducing ourselves and naming our female heritage as far back as we can remember; I’m ashamed that I can’t remember my Grandma Ackerman’s first name and make a mental note to check. We welcome each member in turn, along with her female energy- her shakti. I feel cherished in this space. This time we have all set aside to spend in the company and manner of women is sacred.
Here, women are free from duty, from expectations, from goals and deadlines, from imposed structure (one woman spends time reclining on the cushions, clearly soaking up the restorative power of the female collective). Whether your contribution is traumatic, trivial or triumphant, every voice is heard, every silence respected. Whether the earth is moving for you or crumbling beneath you, you are held.
There are few rules but one of the most challenging and powerful is that we do not try to fix each other's problems. We do not step into the sacred space of another woman’s words with our own. If we feel a resonance with her words, we say ’Ahhh mama’ This simple protocol frees each woman to say whatever she needs without judgement or the guilt of burdening the listener, who is free to hold space without the need to rescue. It is a powerful tool for healing as well as a catalyst for finding your voice.
There is singing. I have to confess: this was a challenge for me in my first couple of circles. I shaped the words silently, afraid of the strangled noises that might escape but now, having learned that each song contains only a few words and a narrow range of attainable notes, I throw myself in with the full gusto of a shower performance, finding in my voice, cushioned by my sisters, a soothing and solid companion. I float peacefully on a gentle tide of voices, allowing them, along with their sentiment to rock me.
Later, with peaceful hearts, we share food, more tea and company. This time has been a balm for our busy lives, an opportunity to recalibrate with our female energy.
I step back from technicolour into the darkness. I feel both grounded and lifted and I trail vibrancy in my wake.
For Norwich Red Tent, check out this link: http://www.sacredsisterhood.co.uk/
or to find your local red tent: https://redtentdirectory.com/
As I write, the chorus of White Stripes still roars in my ears like the sound of the ocean echoes in a shell.
Four days ago, I walked into a stadium of almost 10,000. Strobe lights sought me out in the darkened room and huge screens beckoned me in with their colourful Catherine wheels. I had watched ‘I Am Not Your Guru’ and I’m an experienced hypnotherapist and NLP Master Practitioner but nothing had quite prepared me for this.
Whatever your views on Tony Robbins, you would have to agree that he has created for himself an extraordinary life and many that come to his events credit him with their own extraordinary lives. I myself have gleaned many a gem from the pages of ‘Awaken the Giant Within’ and I had come to ‘play full out’ and see what the big man could unleash in me.
Naturally reserved, perhaps even ‘uptight’, I was immediately out of my comfort zone. Within seconds of his arrival, he was demanding a high energy; people pogoed vigorously whilst sandwiched firmly between the slim rows of plastic seating. I threw in some half-hearted knee bends like a badly faked orgasm and cringed inwardly. Whilst I truly wanted to create the high-energy state that would propel me forward, I wondered whether, perhaps, a more sedate, more English energy would suit me better.
Next came the hugging. In an attempt to reinvigorate the masses, we were sent on frequent quests for seven hugs; high fives; massages from random neighbours. We yelled ‘You Rock!’ and ‘I own you!’ into the strobe-lit faces of excitable strangers. It all felt very superficial, cheesy and cultish.
I sat back. I observed. I judged.
And then I began to question myself: why was I here? What had I come for? Why did this bother me so much?
We have all used the phrase ‘don’t get yourself in a state’. We know that if we focus on things that create negative emotions the results will be destructive. Yet we seem less aware of the possibility of creating good states, great states even and less rehearsed at doing that. I decided that I would let go of my judgement and let this charismatic man guide me into an outstanding state.
At first, I had to fake it. I must admit, I felt self-conscious and a bit ridiculous but, clearly these feelings were getting in my way. I had come with the full intention of completing the fire-walk. As a hypnobirthing practitioner, well-being teacher and mother, I knew how powerful this anecdote would be. I felt confident that Tony could get me through it and I knew that I would have to let go and offer myself up, fully, unfettered, unreserved and open to the experience and so I did.
Tony kept a room full of people buzzing with energy for the next nine and a half hours. The man is a machine. There were no breaks. He didn’t even leave the stage to pee. He used the full gamut of hypnotic and NLP tools and their effects were amplified by the remarkable dynamism of 10,000 positively charged people on the crest of a decision, like a colossal wave about to break. Cities could be powered on this kind of energy.
We were guided through mass visualisations, we danced, we chanted, we high fived and weren’t given a moment to reflect on the possibility that placing the bare and tender flesh of the soles of your feet onto smouldering coals might not be the most sensible action of a rational adult.
And then came the moment where we took off our shoes and socks and were decanted from the stadium, unfurling like a triumphant crowd. Intermittently, we roared the opening notes of White stripes and chanted ‘Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!’ I registered my own excitement and chose to ignore the inner voice that wanted to play out the many scenarios which concluded with me faceplanting in the coals or immobilised by sheer terror as my toes bubbled and spat like sausages on a summer BBQ. These thoughts, I decided, were not my allies on this particular quest. I punched my fist in the air and chanted again, ‘YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!’
Funnelling out of Excel onto the concrete plains, I felt the bite of the cold, hard surface beneath my feet and imagined, for just a moment, the contrasting sensation of burning coals…’YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!’ We inched forward in the dark. The crowd, like dense fog obscured my view until, suddenly, it thinned and I was watching my friend as she stepped into the coals. And, then, fixing my eyes firmly on the London skyline, an authoritative voice proclaimed me ‘ready’ and I strode forwards, noticing only the change in sensation from hard to soft. And then I was being told to wipe my feet and celebrate. My celebratory roar was fully, unfettered and unreserved. I was elated.
Did I perform a miracle? I doubt it. Apparently, coal is a poor conductor of heat and there are a number of theories which claim to explain how a person can walk, unharmed, through hot coals. But that isn’t the point. To quote Oprah: ‘All animals know to run from fire!’ Hypnosis and NLP can eradicate the fears, doubts and beliefs that prevent us from achieving what IS possible and to harness the strength and courage to make it happen.
So now, with a spring in my step and a fire-walker metaphor in my pocket, I step back into my own extraordinary life, where I have the privilege of guiding others to find THEIR possibilities.
Thanks to Alix at Vanity Van for having me on her team for the event:
‘The body is a multilingual being. It speaks through its colour and its temperature, the flush of recognition, the glow of love, the ash of pain, the heat of arousal, the coldness of nonconviction. It speaks through its constant tiny dance, sometimes swaying, sometimes a-jitter, sometimes trembling. It speaks through the leaping of the heart, the falling of the spirit, the pit at the center, and rising hope.’
Clarissa Pinkola Estes - ‘Women Who Run With Wolves’
I am 1200 metres above sea level and I have trekked for four hours in the Moroccan sun in the mountains outside Marrakesh when I awaken to the strength and power of the body that has carried me here.
As I approach the Berber village of Ouirgane, my breaths are deep and rounded; my pace unapologetically steady. ‘Mixy mixy’ (take your time) our guide urges, as he leads us along a snaking mountain path through veiled, yet animated, villages. I feel an effervescent energy orbiting my body. In short, I feel alive.
Entranced by the beauty and otherworldliness of my surroundings, my feet plant assuredly one in front of the other, the rest of my body stacking fluidly above. I am drawn inward to an overwhelming appreciation of my physical presence; not a peripheral appraisal of its form as one might judge a well-sculpted piece of art, but a deep resonance with the spring of life inside me.
Ahead of me a steadfast mule led by his master, carries my three young children in turn. Like me, they are mesmerised by the majesty and treachery of the mountainscape and the vignettes of village life.
Taking their turns to walk, I notice the impulsive, carefree way they move: never taking the well-trodden paths (much to the consternation of our guide) instead scaling walls and skimming the crests of rocky verges. Their movements a primal dance upon the landscape; an exploration and celebration both of it and of themselves. My children live inside their bodies while I live inside my head, a habit I am slowly unlearning.
I remember this congruous sense of self from my own childhood when my mind and body were one and provided me with all I needed to playfully explore. Somewhere between childhood and womanhood, I learned to judge and mistrust my body. Instead of marvelling at its changes, I was disgusted by my bodily emissions and critiqued its changing landscape: my boobs were too small, I was too tall, too skinny. I looked enviously at friends with burgeoning soft round curves and wondered why they were not delighted with their bodies. I stooped and my shoulders collapsed inwards, like a turtle retreating into its shell.
Over time, I found small fragments of my terrain that measured up to the illusory ideal and learned to frame them with skimpy garments or heavy make-up. I lived on, not in my body. An invisible line was drawn and crossed, only rarely, in moments of bliss where the delights of the flesh would drown out the whirring of my mind for a moment or two.
This estrangement from my body made me deaf to its needs, its wisdoms and its joys. I muted its voice further with the pill, coming home to it only many years later when I needed something: a baby. For many women the story of disconnection continues here, with the struggle to conceive, difficult pregnancies and traumatic births. I was lucky: for me it was a kind of homecoming. I learned to care for my body as I would care for a child because my body and my baby were one. Through hypnobirthing, I found strength and harmony in my mind and body and an overwhelming reverence for my flesh in all its glorious animated form. I exulted in the powers of my miraculous frame and began to appreciate the smaller miracles that it performs daily.
Like any precarious relationship, I dedicate time to healing the rift between my mind and body. Meditation and yoga are the cornerstones of this healing for me. Meditation has tamed and quietened my mind and yoga takes me back to an age where my body was my playground: where I can do handstands up against a wall and experience my body’s possibilities; where I can giggle with friends at its limitations and glory in its triumphs. In the sacred space of the studio, all judgement is suspended.
So, today, 1200 meters up a mountain in Morocco, as I marvel at this majestic congregation of craggy crests, I take a moment to pay homage to the body that has served me so well these forty-three years.