Yoni Shakti

I was lucky enough to attend a workshop on Womb Yoga recently with Uma Dinsmore-Tuli and was inspired to write a post about it.

The Book

Uma is the author of the epic book Yoni Shakti, painstakingly researched, anchored in the ancient teachings and 700 pages long, it addresses the much ignored needs of the female body, mind and soul that pervades current traditions and lineages of modern yoga.

Image of the book cover

The Environment

As a yoga teacher since 2001, Uma observed an implicit disrespect or exclusion of menstruating, menopausal, premenstrual, pregnant or lactating women simply because their physical and emotional needs are disregarded, or seen to be inconvenient and disruptive to the general flow of teaching in many yoga environments.

 

The statement of inclusion given for the workshop sends a very really powerful to women at all stages of life who want to attend.  Uma makes it explicitly clear that “menstruating women are offered suitable practices to support their bleed time, menopausal woman are given opportunities to rest and/or adjust room temperature as necessary, and pregnant women are provided with the props and time and space they need to be at ease in the learning/retreat environment. Lactating women are welcome to express milk, and/or to feed their children in comfort in the main class space if they chose, or to be provided with an alternative comfortable and appropriate space to do so”.

The statement went on to say something that really resonated with me: “the cyclical fluxes of menstrual and menopausal experiences are neither recognised nor honoured by many yoga teaching approaches, and this disempowers women by encouraging a disconnection from their naturally arising flow and change at emotional and physical levels”.

Interestingly, my interest in conscious menstruality, which I discussed in a previous post, actually started because of this but not for the reason stated above.  I went through a short phase of practicing Ashtanga Yoga a few years ago.  This tradition prohibits women from practicing for the first three days of menstruation and on moon days.  It was the first time that I’ve ever stopped to honour my cycle and taking that time to rest and revitalise myself was a complete revelation.  Soon after I had to give up Ashtanga Yoga because I found it was too much of a yang practice and I needed to focus more on yin energy.

The Practice

Uma describes Womb Yoga is being “all about reconnecting with the deep blood wisdom of womb cycles throughout the whole of a woman’s life, from pre-menarche to post-menopause. The practice of Womb Yoga enables us to access the inner guidance of our source wisdom so that we may more readily reside in wellbeing and peace with our experiences as women”.  It includes breathing (pranayama) techniques, bandhas and mudras (energy locks and special gestures), practices to refresh and revitalize pelvic organs and sequences of postures to support self-discovery at all female life and menstrual cycles.  There are lots of resources on her website, book and YouTube for further details.

Shakti Power

However, what’s most interesting is the opportunity take this practice a step further and recognise our own wombs as a microcosm of the hiranya garbha, or the golden cosmic womb of universal consciousness, within which we are all safely held.  This re-connection with the profound power of Shakti, the feminine life force that animates the universe, offers a positive, empowering feminine approach to healing and support.

References

Featured image of Shakti by Romanus_too vis Flickr. Used under non-commercial Creative Commons license.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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10 things I learned by losing 40lbs

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates

A few years ago, my body wasn’t in great shape, so I embarked on my first ever diet. After gradually losing just under ~40lbs (17kg) over a two year period, and consistently keeping the weight off for more than 12 months, these are some of lessons that I learnt along the way.

1. Be very careful about what you read and who you listen to about food and nutrition. The whole sector is awash in fad dietspseudo-sciencebiased industry-funded research and fake experts.  Even qualified nutritionists or dieticians can sometimes fundamentally disagree on what constitutes a healthy diet. In this post, I’m speaking solely about my personal experience.

“When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need”. Ayurvedic proverb

2. The primary cause of my weight gain was sugar intake.  By sugar, I mean alcohol, simple carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, rice, cakes, biscuits, sweets etc), fruit juice (rather than whole fruit) and sugary drinks.  I highly recommend the book “Fat Chance” by  Dr Robert Lustig.  A lecture that he gave on his findings is available on YouTube. Breaking my sugar addiction was the hardest part of dieting and it was the first thing that I tackled.  It was tough…kind of like when you start doing exercise and the first ten minutes are always the worst.

3. Learning to manage my blood sugar was the key to breaking my sugar addiction.  I started having 5 small meals a day (all of them including a portion of protein). Avoiding getting too hungry helped  me to wean myself off the mid-afternoon munchies and now I don’t need to do this anymore.

4. The high protein, low GI diet worked.  I lost half of my weight on this diet, paired with high intensity interval training.

5. The 5:2 diet also worked.  I lost the other half of my weight by intermittent fasting.  This means eating a “normal” amount of calories five days a week and then reducing to 500 calories two days a week.  On the “diet days” I typically had a dinner of stir-fried vegetables and protein.  Interestingly during this period, I wasn’t doing any intensive exercise, so I definitely found that it was possible to lose weight through diet rather than exercise.

 

6. Some of my weight retention was for reasons entirely unrelated to diet and exercise. For several months, I reached a plateau and was struggling to lose weight below a certain level.  I talk extensively about repressed emotions on this blog, but yet again one of the reasons for my weight gain was accumulated stress from repressed emotions.  Meditation, yoga, exercise, breathing exercises all helped, but it was only after a soul retrieval, that my body released the final 3kg/6.6lbs.

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7. I still weigh myself every day. Peter Drucker was right “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”.

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8. For the past year, I’ve settled on a whole food plant based diet.  This is a diet centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants ie fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and excludes or minimizes meat, fish, dairy products and eggs.

“Real food doesn’t ‘have’ ingredients. Real food IS ingredients”Jamie Oliver

9. Somewhere along the way, my irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) disappeared.  IBS is thought to affect 1 in 5 people at some point in their life.  Dealing with the symptoms was one of the triggers to change my lifestyle.  The exact cause of IBS is unknown and women are twice as likely to suffer from IBS than men.

10. You are what you eat. Gaining and shedding weight and finding the diet that suited my body in the process was definitely a foundation for seeking a broader balance between mind, body and spirit.

“And I said to my body. Softly. ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath. And replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this’.  – Nayyirah Waheed.

References

Featured image by Paola Kizette Cimenti via Flickr, published under non-commercial creative commons license.

Are you holding your breath?

We breathe approximately 18 times per minute, 1,080 times an hour and 25,920 times a day. Breath is fundamental to being alive and yet, often unknowingly, on average, we use [just] “30 per cent of our respiratory system, sometimes even less”.

Many of us suffer from shallow breathing, which is the “drawing of minimal breath into the lungs, usually by drawing air into the chest area using the intercostal muscles rather than throughout the lungs via the diaphragm“.

Shallow breathing or “under-breathing” is a symptom of anxiety.  When our fight or flight system activates, many of us have developed a habit of not breathing deeply enough, and unknowingly we hold our breath for short periods when under stress.  According to Dr. Margaret Chesney, a breathing researcher at UC San Francisco, both of these unconscious practices can raise carbon dioxide levels in our blood, which can be harmful over the long term.

Another way of looking at this, is that the way we breathe reflects our body’s memories of all of our previous stressful experiences.  If, for some reason, we haven’t fully processed or released some of these emotions and traumas, they remain stored within our bodies.  By restricting our breath, not only are we holding onto these suppressed patterns, but we’re also restricting a significant part of our vitality, the flow of positive energies and our subtle power.

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I’ve been aware of this broad concept for a while and have been practising various forms of yoga pranayama for many years, but still felt as though I could work with my breath at a deeper level.  I stumbled across Transformational Breath ® in a newspaper article about the benefits of the technique and was inspired to attend an introductory workshop. I was genuinely surprised and amazed by the profound impact of actually experiencing the practice.

This YouTube clip offers an illustration of how the session works.

In essence, Transformational Breath® is a conscious diaphragmatic breathing technique, combining acupressure and affirmation with healing sound and movement.  Unlike other techniques such as integrative breathwork or yoga pranayama, Transformational Breath® demands no pause between the inhale and exhale. A rough time ratio for the inhale:exhale should be 3:1.

The emotional effect of this breathing pattern seems to be to allow us to access and clear emotions or behavioural patterns that have been suppressed or repressed, within a gentle and safe environment.  The session is profoundly healing and offers the opportunity to return our body to its natural state of breathing freely and deeply without restrictions. At the end of a session there is time for relaxation and reflection, similar to a meditation session.

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The good thing about this technique is that you can practice it yourself anytime, anywhere after only a couple of sessions, so it’s definitely something that I’m going pursue further.

Breathing properly has a host of health benefits including: reducing stress and anxiety, improving mental focus and athletic performance, helping control high blood pressure and mending other health problems.

However, beyond the physical benefits, I was struck by the connection between the breath and the essence of who we are.  Apparently everyone has a unique breath signature, which reveals a lot about their personality and spirit.  This is touched on in the YouTube clip mentioned above.  The greater the connection that we have with ourselves, the more we learn to trust and feel safe to express who we truly are.

It’s deeply empowering to become aware of such a simple foundational tool – breathing – that can be used for: self-healing; a more profound body-mind-spirit connection; and to move forward in life with greater awareness and ease.

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Featured image “Breathing Fire” by Jeremy Brooks via Flickr, used under Creative Commons License.
[Note: This is a personal reflection on my experience of a Transformational Breath® session and is not a sponsored post.]

 

 

River deep, mountain high

Dr. Bairavee Balasubramaniam (The Sky Priestess) asked me this week:

“Who wins: the Ganges or the Himalayas?”

Both the Himalayan mountain range and the Ganges river were formed as a result of the collision between the Indian Plate and Eurasian Plate which began 50 million years ago and continues today.

Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the Himalayas and on Earth rises to 8,848 metres above sea level.  The Ganges flows 2,700 km from her source in the Himalaya mountains to the Bay of Bengal in northern India and Bangladesh.

Regarded as the most sacred river by Hindus, the Ganges is personified as the goddess Ganga. Ganga’s mother is Mena and her father is Himavat, the personification of the Himalaya mountains.  Ganga is a central figure in sacred Hindu texts.

The Sky Priestess’ point was that the erosion of the Himalayas by the Ganges is a metaphor for the under-valued power of feminine energy against the seemingly impenetrable and stable masculine energy.

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The Sky Priestess advised that individually we need to be more aware of and respond to the flow of our emotions, because they are also a source of power, which is something I’ve already written about a few times.

..but can the metaphor be taken any further?

Perhaps some of the environmental issues that are being faced in the Ganges basin, in Flint, Michigan, the Standing Rock reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, in Mexico and elsewhere all over the world, offer a wider metaphor for the imbalances in our collective relationship with feminine energies and our lifesource from mother earth.  Perhaps part of the healing for this needs to take place on a spiritual or emotional level, in addition to the physical cleanup.  This is something that Jez Hughes covers incredibly eloquently in his book “The Heart of Life Shamanic Initiation & Healing in the Modern World“.

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Sources:

Featured Image “Tranquility” by Travayegeur (Sahil Lodha) from Flickr.com used under Creative Commons License.

Mark Cartwright, “Ganges,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, last modified May 27, 2015, http://www.ancient.eu /Ganges/.

 

Forest bathing

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” – Lao Tzu

I’ve been feeling slightly overwhelmed, and one of the reasons for this is that I haven’t been spending as much time in nature, as I usually would, in recent weeks.

I love the term “shinrin-yoku” (森林浴) in Japanese which translates as “forest bathing”, which a term popularised in the 1980s to describe the healing benefits of mindfully visiting a forest, walking slowly, breathing and opening the senses.  This is now one of the cornerstones of preventative healthcare and healing.  Whilst this type of healing has deep roots in many cultures throughout history, what’s interesting is the burgeoning and robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of shinrin-yoku to back up the intuitive benefits of spending time immersed in nature.

In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks”  – John Muir

One example is a study released by the University of Kyoto and published in Public Health, entitled, ‘Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction‘ which describes a link between walking in forests and reducing chronic stress.

According to Shinrin-yoku.org, the scientifically-proven benefits of forest bathing include:

  • Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved mood
  • Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
  • Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
  • Increased energy level
  • Improved sleep

This is in addition to anecdotal improvements in intuition; energy flow, sense of connection, communication and happiness.

Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better” – Albert Einstein

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the concept of “nature deprivation,” a lack of time in the natural world, largely due to hours spent in front of TV or computer screens, which has been associated with depression and isolation. A 2011 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, concluded “there is an independent, deleterious relationship” between “screen-based recreational sitting time” and not only cardiovascular disease “events” but “all-cause mortality.”  However, for many of us, “screen-based occupational sitting time” is part of our daily reality, so it’s more a question of finding creative ways to weave nature a deeper connection to nature into our daily lives.

To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles” – Mary Davis

Featured image “Forest Walk” by CSeeby from Flickr.com. Used under Creative Commons license. 

 

Black history is everybody’s history

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”. – Marcus Garvey, influential Jamaican thinker

February marks Black History Month in the USA and Canada, which was created to “signify and remember important people and events in the history of the African diaspora” [Source: Wikipedia].   Although it is formally celebrated in October in the UK, this blogpost primarily focuses on the history of slavery in a UK context and is inspired by a recent visit to the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool.

Every time Black History Month comes around, it sparks a debate on the “usefulness and fairness of a designated month dedicated to the history of one race” [Source: Wikipedia]. I’ve learnt a lot from information circulated during Black history month that I’d been never taught in school or learned elsewhere, but I strongly believe that a) black history didn’t start with slavery, b) black history isn’t somehow separate from the rest of history and c) we’re all still experiencing the resonance from the trauma past in the present.

Black history didn’t start with slavery

“Slavery is not African history. Slavery interrupted African history”.  – Mutabaruka, Jamaican Rastafari dub poet 

The section of the International Slavery Museum on “Africa before European slavery” is vitally important.  As is the research by Afrocentric historians such as Cheikh Anta Diop, Chancellor Williams and John G. Jackson.  The recent exchange between Dr Sally-Ann Ashton, who founded Kemet Expert, a blog dedicated to African-centred Egyptology, and the British Museum illustrates the conventional approach to including Africans in their interpretation of history.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” ― George Orwell, 1984

Black history isn’t separate from the rest of history

Another powerful aspect of the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool is the way that the exhibition explicitly links the profits that were derived from the slave trade to the economic growth of western Europe.  “Much of the social life of Western Europe in the 18th century depended on the products of slave labour. In homes and coffee houses, people met over coffee, chocolate or tea, sweetened with Caribbean sugar. They wore clothes made from American cotton and smoked pipes filled with Virginian tobacco. They used furniture made from mahogany and other tropical woods” [Source: International Slavery Museum].

The infrastructure of the modern banking, insurance and investment sectors were developed to fund the slave trade.  Major charities, schools, universitiescultural institutions, stately homes and large infrastructure projects such as railways, that exist to this day, were all built from the profits of slavery and from the huge payouts that were given to slave owners in the UK as compensation for abolition.  The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 formally freed 800,000 Africans who were at that time considered to be the legal property of Britain’s slave owners.  The act made a provision for a total of £20 million financial compensation to be paid to the 46,000 slave owners, funded by the British taxpayer, for the loss of their “property”.  This represented 40% of the total government expenditure in 1834 and is equivalent to ~£17billion in modern times.  The same act compelled the people who had been enslaved to provide 45 hours of unpaid labour to their former masters each week, for a further four years after their “so-called” liberation.

So, what is conventionally referred to as black history, is intrinsically linked to the very fabric and structure of modern society and industry.

It’s also important to note that black people aren’t completely separate from others, some of my ancestors were enslaved people, but other ancestors were overseers, ship’s captains, slave owners and indentured workers who emigrated to Jamaica to fill the labour gap after slavery ended, so within one example of a family constellation, all facets of slavery exist.

We’re still experiencing the resonance of this history

Those who benefited from slavery and set out to defend it, codified and disseminated a propaganda campaign through books, pamphlets, cartoons and speeches.  This campaign sought to legitimize slavery by claiming that enslaved African were inferior, backwards and barbaric.

“For they cannot be justified, unless they shall be able to prove, that a Negro slave is neither man, woman nor child” – Granville Sharp, abolitionist, 1769

Firstly, these stereotypes still cast a shadow in overt  and more subtle forms of mental slavery today.

Secondly, the unremitting trauma endured those who lived through capture, the Middle Passage and then misery of life under slavery, together with resilience and survival skills, was passed down to their descendants.   Dr. Rachel Yehuda, a neuroscientist and the director of the traumatic stress studies division at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York has published recent research demonstrating epigenetic inheritance.  The sociologist Dr. Joy DeGruy coined the term Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome to describe the residual impacts of generations of slavery after twelve years of quantitative and qualitative research.  This fascinating research by a team at Pennslyvania State University suggests that ancestral memory is more important than lived experience in adult physiological stress response.

Thirdly, the long-term impact of the African diaspora on countries in Africa, in terms of depopulation and under development and the perpetuation of unbalanced global trade relationships.

There are people who respond to Black History Month complaining that we should forget about the past, perhaps through shame or fears of further calls for reparations.  As I’ve shown in this post, I believe that the past is very much alive in the present and available for us to learn from.  As an endnote, recent advances in quantum theory substantiate the theory that time is an illusion where the the past, present and future exist together and are all equally “real”.

Featured image published under Creative Commons license

 

 

The future isn’t only female

In recent a video message (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6q1hfXgocQ8) for the 2017 MAKERS Conference, Hillary Clinton stated:

“Despite all the challenges we face, I remain convinced that yes, the future is female.”

In recent months, “the future is female” has became something of a rallying cry, a hashtag and an advertising handle among women and feminists.

This is a slogan that was originally invented in the 1970s as a reaction to misogynist, racist and patriarchal culture.

Although we all owe the feminist movement a huge amount of gratitude for many of the rights and freedoms that we enjoy today, I believe that in order to achieve a shift in society, we (men and women) need to go a step further and work within ourselves towards seeking a balance between and appreciation of our male and female aspects.

Regardless of our gender, we all have male and female energy, yin and yang.  Both energies are essential and neither is better than the other.  Given the greater emphasis on male energy in modern society, balance requires developing the female side.

The future is more female, not only female.  The future is balance.

Some techniques that I have found useful in searching for this are:

  1. Yoga & Meditation – The philosophy of yoga, as expounded in “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali“, is a science “dedicated to creating union between body, mind and spirit… making balance and creating equanimity so as to live in peace, good health and harmony with the greater whole“.
  2. Dance – The practice of 5Rhythms (Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness) is the map that enables us to explore these polarities within the container of the dancefloor.
  3. Tantra – I did a really interesting exercise called the “Dance of Shakti and Shiva” at a tantra festival a couple of years ago, where we – fully clothed and on an individual basis – tuned in to the sensation of the linear male energy flowing vertically through our own bodies from the ground up to the sky.  Then we switched and spent some time feeling the waves of female energy pulsing around our bodies.  Then we spent time feeling both of the energies modulating within ourselves at the same time.  I found that building a conscious somatic connection helped me to appreciate this much more tangibly.

 

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Featured Image “Looking forward/ Regard vers l avenir” by alain tremblay via Flickr and used under non-commercial Creative Commons license.

 

 

 

How to go to sleep and stay asleep

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In these troubling times, many people are struggling to wind down in the evening and get a decent night’s sleep.  Without the foundation of a solid night’s sleep, it’s very difficult to function optimally during the day.

These are some practices that I’ve found to help me to go to sleep and stay asleep:

  1. Hydration. Dehydration is my number 1 reason for insomnia and restless nights  Drinking at least 1.2 litres of water a day helps to avoid this.
  2. Meditation.  I have a twice daily meditation practice (15-20 minutes) at the start and end of the day.  Meditation is sometimes described as a “shower for your brain” and helps to calm the nervous system before bed.
  3. Windows open.  The optimal ambient temperature for a good night’s sleep is 65ºF or 18.3ºC.  Recent research suggests that body temperature is actually even more important for improving and maintaining sleep than either light or time.
  4. Curtains open. Although I live in an urban area, I’m lucky that I don’t have a lot of artificial light outside of my bedroom window at the moment, so my preference is to sleep with the curtains open. Some people believe that moonlight can help to regulate the menstrual cycle.  I also enjoy waking up to natural daylight so that I feel refreshed and ready to go in the morning.
  5. Sleeping on my right side.  A tip from yoga is to induce the body to switch to dominant left nostril breathing.  The nasal cycle refers to the phenomenon that at any given moment you are breathing through one dominant nostril; then some time later (usually every 2-2.5 hours) you switch to the other one and this continues in a rhythmical fashion.  When we breathe through the left nostril, we relax and calm down because the left side of the body represents the moon, feminine channel (Ida, luna nadi). When we breathe through the right nostril, we are energized and stimulated because the right side is the sun or masculine channel (Pingala, the solar nadi). To switch to the left side, lie on your right side, block off the right nostril and breathe long and deeply through the left nostril for a minute or so. Slowing down the breath to 4 or less breaths per minute also facilitates sleep.
  6. Ignoring the usual tips. Personally, I use my e-reader until the minute I’m ready to go to sleep.
  7. Bonus tips.  If I’m really struggling to get to sleep or have woken up in the middle of the night. Moving around, Yoga Nidra and bedtime yoga sequences can all help, but a failsafe is sex or masturbation.

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Featured image by Kristina Kuncevich via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/fvNNnr) and used under non-commercial Creative Commons license.

Natural hair without self-acceptance can lead to burnout

In the last 10 years, the natural hair movement within the black community has exploded in popularity. Around the world, millions of people are learning about the traumatic history of the black hair. They’re ditching damaging chemical hair treatments in droves and shifting towards a plethora of beautiful natural hair options. But like many social movements, there are a few weird things about the natural hair movement that still need to change.

  • Ending texture discrimination

Texture discrimination has long roots deep in the depths of slavery.For example, in Jamaica, mixed race slaves were sometimes given privileges and social status. After the end of slavery, this type of discrimination continued and perpetuates to this day.  The Perception Institute recently launched a Hair Implicit Association Test which confirmed that irrespective of race, the majority of participants show implicit bias against Black women’s textured hair.  I believe this warped perception of darker skin and kinkier hair as being inferior to lighter skin and looser curls is an example of residual post-traumatic slavery syndrome.  Nevertheless, it’s a real problem when women struggle to accept their own hair because they’ve internalised subliminal messages on what constitutes “acceptable” beauty from society.   

Sadly there are no quick fixes to engrained problems that have evolved over 400 years, just the long hard road to internal validation and genuine self-acceptance.

  • Embracing science instead of misinformation

After a lifetime of miserable and expensive visits to hairdressers around the world. I’ve experienced hair damage from perms, overuse of heat, poorly applied relaxers, scalp burns, wonky hair cuts, too-tight braiding, traction alopecia, rudeness, lateness..you name it…Many other have similar hair stories. So it’s understandable that many black people are reluctant to continue to put their trust and faith in so-called “hair care professionals”.

In this vacuum, along came YouTube and the bloggers, a few of whom amassed huge followings of hundreds of thousands of people as they imparted their experiences of their transition to natural hair. This in turn inspired more and more people to become natural, which is a great feedback loop.  However, the dark side of this has been a growth of misinformation, “Chinese whispers” and the natural haircare equivalent of “fake news”. People were told that moisture comes from applying layers and layers of products, that you should never shampoo your hair because it strips the hair, finger detangling is a “thing” and henna can be used to colour hair without causing damage. Assertions that are all completely false, unsupported by the Science of Black Hair and can actually cause considerable harm to the health of your hair.

This is why initiatives such as the #30dayhairdetox are so important (Note: this is not sponsored) because it’s teaching women to embrace their natural hair in a way that is supported by science, so that they can embark on natural hair journey that is healthy and sustainable.

  • Loving your own hair instead of your neighbour’s “unicorn hair”

I love Jess @Mahogany Curls but her hair is “unicorn hair” because she appears to be able to use any product combination and they all result in a flawless look.

Every natural hair group, blog, magazine, article can pretty much be rewritten and summarised as “what product can I use to get ‘unicorn hair’, please?” ….but clearly, this is the wrong question.

A better question would be to ask about the fundamentals of hair health (cleanse-condition-style), the products that work for us (and this does not require a cupboard full of products).

Rather than getting stuck at the first step of deciding to go natural, we need to consciously take the second step of the natural hair journey, which is to learn to love ourselves, our own individual hair, the styles work for us and forge our own paths.

Learning to love and accept ourselves, can be the hardest part of the journey.

[Featured Image by Devin Trent via Flickr.  Used under Creative Commons license]

How do you find balance as a Strong Black Woman?

Earlier this week, Vegan Sista posted a short video on YouTube about a typical experience of micro-aggression in the workplace and ended by asking how other black women find balance in such situations.

As I’ve said before and I’m sure I’ll say again, the whole Strong Black Woman archetype is a myth.  It’s true that we’re often brought up to take pride in our strength and resilience in the face of adversity, but without balance, this can lead to the manifestation of complex forms of depression in black women.

This is an except from Black Pain: It Just looks Like we’re not hurting by Terrie M. Williams “African American leaders in particular face tremendous obstacles rising to the top and even greater challenges staying there….And being a Black woman, you have to fight four times harder to succeed…We are the face of the struggle and are expected to always show strength, grit, determination and confidence. Depression looks like the corporate executive who wears and airtight game face all day and collapses at home every night, so tired of acting the part that [s]he can’t enjoy h[er] own life”.

Terrie M.Williams interviewed hundreds of women of colour on their experience of dealing with race and gender bias in workplaces that are largely dominated by white, male culture. In the course of these interviews, she identified several survival strategies that many of these women were using and which I can identify with:

  • “Shifting” speech, appearance and/or behaviour according to the situation, in order to navigate racial and gender bigotry, at the expense of their authenticity.
  • Diassociation from emotions and lack of self-nurturing, which she dubbed the “Sisterella Complex”.  Women who were working very hard, but seem quite disconnected from their own needs.
  • Remaining silent about their problems and not letting stress show, which is a legacy of how black families evolved to cope with slavery.  In Power Choices: Seven signposts on your journey to wholeness, love, joy and peace, Dr Brenda Wade writes “Generations ago ….the luxury of being depressed or taking a day off didn’t exist. So we’ve incorporated it into our own mentality today that no matter how tired I am, no matter how bad I feel, no matter how much pain I’m in, I will keep moving, keep performing, keep working”.

The problem with all of these coping strategies is, if practiced long-term, they all lead to various forms of depression.

So how to find balance?  For me, I’ve found the following helpful.

1. Getting back in touch with my body through yoga, meditation and menstruality.

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2. Listening to and responding to my own emotions & intuition.

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3. Recognising the primacy of selfcare

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4. Living by The Four Agreements, which is such a valuable gift from Don Miguel Ruiz.

In this context of seeking balance in the face of adversity, Agreement 2 “Do not take anything personally” was particularly transformational for me and Agreement 3 “Don’t make assumptions”.

When I practice them faithfully, all Four Agreements help me achieve a deeper level of self-mastery in any situation, whilst remembering Agreement 4, there is no such thing as perfection so all you can do is your best.

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Sources:

Featured image by Rikard Elofsson via Flickr under Creative Commons license
The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris (2015)
Black Pain: It Just looks Like we’re not hurting by Terrie M. Williams (2008).
Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America by Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden (2004)
Radical Honesty: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth by Brad Blanton and Marilyn Ferguson (1994)
Power Choices: Seven signposts on your journey to wholeness, love, joy and peace by Dr Brenda Wade (2005)
The Four Agreements: Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (Toltec Wisdom) by Don Miguel Ruiz (1997)