Reclaiming our Right to Heal

*originally written for/posted on SisterDiaspora.com*

To familiarize ourselves with our primordial healing powers
is to reclaim that which was stolen from us

I’m a big believer in earth-based medicine and connection to Spirit allowing us to heal naturally. I strongly advocate for the need for us all, but very specifically women of color; women of the Diaspora to remember that our mind, body and spirit are interconnected and we cannot tend to one and forget the others. Bri Maya Tiwari says “the key to freeing ourselves from the chains of unconscious, troubled memories that keep us from our path is the cultivation of an awareness of the individual links of those chains.” She’s referring to recovering our ancestral memories but it’s a beautiful way to express the grounding principles of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is the ancient Indian science of preventative health and healing. According to Ayurveda, we are health (versus the dominate narrative of being unhealthy) and when we’re in rhythm with both our internal and external elements, we operate at our optimum health.

On the path of practice, we adopt the belief that disease happens from within, and so must any cure. We decide that any lack of peace or dis-ease or illness becomes an occasion to go deeper into ourselves, to examine where we must make changes in order to heal our bodies, feelings or lives. We accept that our ailment is an assignment, and that to complete it satisfactorily, we must do research into it and into ourselves…. On our individual path on the human journey, each of us is meant to learn the truths of our physical, mental, and spiritual lives that are particular to us and shared by others. These truths unite us to our families, our tribe, the entire human race and the universe as a whole.

In the United States, women are more prone than men to suffer from Major Depression Disorder, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) with rape being the most likely trigger, and twice as likely to suffer from Generalized Anxiety disorder, Panic disorder and eating disorders.[i] According to the National Institute for Health, 1 in 4 women die from heart disease – coronary heart disease (the most common), coronary microvascular disease and broken heart syndrome – yes you read that right, broken heart syndrome. For Black and Latina women, the numbers are even grimmer. Factors such as high blood pressure, being overweight, and diabetes contribute to the high prevalence of heart disease among Black women. Among Latinas, diabetes, obesity and physical inactivity are factors for high rates of heart disease. Keep in mind that more than 45% of Latinas have been diagnosed with diabetes, 83% of midlife Black women are overweight or obese, and 53% have high blood pressure.[ii] According to Ayurveda, the primary causes of diabetes are an unhealthy diet, which aggravates the earth and water elements in our body, lack of exercise, excessive sleep and stress.

Now let’s add stress factors to the equation. Stress and a lack of coping mechanisms are contributors to the onset of chronic disease.[iii] The layers of stress women of color carry on the daily are real: racism, sexism, lower wages, social microaggression, the second shift (taking care of the home), being mothers to children of color in this militarized and trigger happy nation and let’s not forget living with 45 in charge. It’s no surprise that women of color are more likely to suffer from a range of health issues.

Digest that shit

Ayurveda says you aren’t what you eat but rather what you digest. It doesn’t take a scientist to tell us that when we are under stress, our relationship to food changes therefore impacting our ability to digest properly. Food nourishes the multiple layers of our bodies – physical, mental and spiritual. Therefore, when there’s an interruption anywhere along these processes, it impacts our entire system.

Many times, those interruptions are external and systematically intentional, like food deserts. According to tolerance.org, 23.5 million people who live in low-income areas are more than a mile away from a supermarket. Low-income census tracks have half as many supermarkets as wealthy ones – only 8 percent of Blacks live in a census tract with a supermarket versus 31 percent of whites. Many of us are left to shop for unhealthy food choices in corner stores and bodegas.  Statistically, low-income districts have 30 percent more convenience stores; stores that serve as nothing more than processed food, alcohol-serving, sugar pushing agents of our corrupt and tainted food industry.  Without access to wholesome, healthy food choices, low-income residents are left with limited options and ultimately become addicted to sugar, fat and chemically altered food substitutes.

However, this does not mean that we cannot dismantle from our psyche and purge from our spirit the unhealthy relationship to food this system has created for us women of color.

March is also nutrition month, and it was important for us sisters of SDL to highlight the interconnectedness of our heart, mind, body, spirit health to our relationship with food and the stresses of oppression. “Slave traders who swept into Africa brought with them the concept of human alienation – the separation of [wo]man from his spirit, and [wo]man from his environment.”[iv] While we continue to organize against the external interruptions, there are ways for us to reconnect and reclaim that, which was always ours – our divine health.

Our breath. There is an urgent need for us to reconnect to our breath. Too many of us are ‘breath grabbers’ meaning we don’t experience the fullness of our breath and its magic. Besides bringing more oxygen to the brain, deep and slow breathing improves blood flow in small blood vessels, regulates heart rate, which leads to blood pressure reduction. This, inevitably, prevents our brains from keeping us in a state of stress! By controlling our breathing, it also triggers our parasympathetic nervous system (our ‘rest & digest system’, which activates the more tranquil functions of the body; those that help maintain a healthy, long-term balance). This allows for increased focus and calmness, and plays a role in decreased feelings of anxiety and depression.

The breath is one form in which prana is carried. Prana is a subtle form of energy that is also carried through water, food, emotions and thoughts. It is the vital link between physical, subtle and casual body. Incorporating pranayama practices into our daily lives is a powerful way to clear the oppression junk that runs ramped in our systems from the space it occupies in our minds, the ways we hold it in our bodies and the ways we take it in through our food. We can create a lot more space and freedom through our breath than we think.

While there are still lots of barriers (lack of access – physically and economically) to fresh food, there are ways to change our relationship with the food we put in our bodies. We can start with honoring the food we eat. Bringing back practices of our ancestors to give reverence to Mama Earth for her bounties that allow us to stay nourished. Then give thanks to all the hands that made your meal possible – from the people who planted the seeds; to those who break their backs harvesting it; to the ones who see it from the fields into the markets and finally, to the cook who prepares our meal for sustenance and enjoyment.

We can begin to change our daily habits and eat with the cycles of the earth so that we can optimize our internal systems.  Then and only then can we digest all of it properly! Ideally, breakfast should be eaten between 7-730am. Lunch should be our biggest meal of the day eaten between 11am-1pm while dinner should be consumed between 6-7:30pm. Giving up ice and drinking room temperature water to keep the flames of our digestive system burning right. This way, we can break down not only our food, but our thoughts and emotions, too. Other small ways to reclaim our digestive health is to lay off the processed foods, foods treated with chemicals and not eating refined foods. In the process of creating refined foods, the fibrous cover is separated from the food and by doing so diminishes its holistic benefits. Fiber is essential for the colon as it helps with our bowel movements.  The most common result of eating too much refined food (like refined sugar in candy, chocolates, etc) is constipation and too much of the air quality in our bodies (which leads to things like hyperactivity, nervousness, worrying).

Layer by layer we can begin to break the chains of oppression and reclaim our right to be in our bodies, to connect with our spirit and to honor what was stolen from us – our intuitive way of living. Harvesting #ALoveEthic is done on a daily in our journey of healing individually and collectively. To understand the ways in which the system was set up to keep us distanced from our own healing and our health is the first step. Next is incorporating small steps daily, which makes the process manageable.

From our healing hearts to yours: Happy Women’s HerStory Month & Nutrition Month. Remember to incorporate JOY into your life every day. This doesn’t mean to brush over and ignore the realities of this life, to pretend that your sadness or ailments don’t exist but simply a call to remember your JOY as well.

[i] https://www.adaa.org

[ii]https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/hearttruth/partners/women-of-color-partners.htm

[iii] http://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1071&context=mcnair_posters

[iv] the core of fire by aina olomo