‘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.