Welcome to my blog. It is a compilation of personal experience, observations and questions relating to embodiment and womb healing- what does it mean to be embodied? How does trauma affect our ability to be embodied and what is its impact on our womb health? What is ancestral/intergenerational trauma? What is the Sacred Feminine? How does oppression and social conditioning affect our relationship with our body? What about past lives? What does it mean to have ‘our issues in our tissues?’ Exploring the relationship between ourselves, our body and nature. The Sacred Feminine. Mother Earth and Patriarchy. My perspectives come from awareness of the interplay of mind, body, emotions, spirit, cosmos, society, oppression and The Great Mystery. Love and respect to All Our Relations.
Thanks for reading!
Back when I was about 22. I was on the subway, coming home from an astrology class, sitting next to a fellow student that I didn’t know very well. She was a Leo, I believe, which is my opposite, as an Aquarius. She radiated an over-compensating confidence and she had a knack for passive-aggressive comments. Conversation didn’t seem to naturally flow between us. I felt some anxiety sitting next to her.
Suddenly she asked me if she could tell me something about myself that she had observed about me. ‘Um, ok?’ I said.
‘Well, I noticed that your sensuality just like, oozes out of you. And you wear these shirts sometimes that show your belly, and well, most women wouldn’t wear that.’
‘Umm, ok… uh, thanks?’ I replied. It wasn’t a compliment. Or was it? I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to feel ashamed or brave. A part of me knew this was likely a passive-aggressive dig at me by a jealous woman, at least 10 years my senior, less secure with herself. I felt a mix of embarrassment, anger and compassion, but just didn’t know what to say after that.
Another time, shortly after that, I was dancing with my community theatre group. I always feel my best when I am dancing, and this was usually a welcoming, casual environment that helped me feel very free in my body and expression. But, one day, my movement bliss was interrupted by an older male actor’s comment:
‘Oh, Serena, you move so gracefully! Shame you have that belly’, which he proceeded to pat ‘lovingly’ like I was some Pillsbury Dough Girl. I looked in the mirror, trying to see what he saw- I could see that it wasn’t a flat washboard or 6 pack. It was natural. Real. But, a shame?
Being in acting training meant I was constantly being picked apart by critics- for the art, of course. I tried not to take the criticism personally, but to use it to improve. How I moved, how I spoke, every blink, breath, habit or emotion I showed was dissected under bright lights. I was told I would have to fix my teeth if I ever wanted a shot as a major character. My ‘look’ needed work. Well, I realised that I really didn’t care about my ‘look’ enough to go down that road. I left acting and chose instead to put my energies into the path of Yoga, as I knew this was where my spirit would grow best, and would help heal my relationship to my body.
Growing up, I was told all kinds of nasty remarks about my body and bullied. I was called Big Nose, Fat Legs, Triangle Legs, Big-head-little-body, Ugly, Fat, Slut, etc., made fun of by strangers and people I barely knew, peers and adults I respected.
I forgave my bullies. But it’s amazing how well I still remember all those moments and names. Because they made an impact. On my self-esteem and self-perception. I was good at ‘letting them roll off me’ a the time and acting as though I was fine. But I wasn’t, really. They stayed buried in my tissues, awaiting opportune moments to rise up.
At 24 I got married. As we were planning on starting a family, I went off the birth control pill I had been on for several years. This is when my endo symptoms started. Extremely painful menstrual cramps, heavy bleeding, getting increasingly worse over time. I also started bellydancing around this time. It helped me feel better, physically and emotionally. It became the healing antidote for my belly pain and body shame. Any body could do the dance. We were all different shapes and sizes. This was a safe space to reclaim our bellies as beautiful, abundant sources of life. I started to feel ‘whole’ again, like being a woman wasn’t a thing of shame. My belly was a thing of beauty. I was a Goddess.
Then a friend of mine commented at how grossed out she was by Egyptian style bellydancing, especially dancers of larger sizes. I was surprised at this friend’s fat-phobia, I thought she was much more accepting. My experience of bellydance as a whole was so body positive, and I wondered how many other people saw it the way she did. I realised just how deep in all of us this fat-phobic conditioning flows. But I also realised then just how much self-love and self-worth my bellydance and yoga practice had cultivated within me, and that no matter their opinions, I felt better about myself.
Fast forward to my pregnancy, shortly after. Any self-worth I had grown was now on shaky ground. My changing body, 40 lbs heavier, while beautiful, made my work teaching yoga and dancing difficult. I took out my belly button ring- a symbol of my youth and independence, which I got when I turned 18. Stretch marks loomed.
Giving birth was a life-changing event for me, as it is for every first-time mom. Birth was a freaking miracle! My belly is a bad-ass creatrix of life! Who cares what our belly looks like? Stretch marks, scars, warped tattoos and bellybutton ring holes, dough-y lumps and bumps—all soooo amazing. I was so impressed with what my body could do.
I continued bellydancing and my yoga. My post-birth belly inspired me to get a tattoo. To commemorate the life-giving power of my belly. But it took a while before I felt it was the right time.
It took me a long time to really embrace the new me. Now with more softness, width, and increasingly worse endometriosis symptoms. BUT, with a deepened respect for myself. I was still a Goddess! A Mama Goddess.
I was more shy changing in front of others since giving birth- which surprised me. I guess I felt that still maybe society wasn’t as ok with my mama-belly as much as I was.
One evening after dinner at a lovely restaurant, I was out clothing shopping with my then 2-y- old daughter in a stroller and my husband. The saleswoman who had limited command of English asked me ‘Are you looking for something to cover your belly?’ She thought I was pregnant. Sigh. I wasn’t pregnant. I told her I had just eaten some delicious Indian food and that’s all that was in my bloated belly. She looked a little embarrassed. I felt the familiar confused anger/compassion feeling again.
Belly love is truly a rollercoaster. Moving from shaming to reclaiming is not a linear healing process.
The tattoo I ended up getting was a snake with Egyptian lotus flowers. I had discovered this animal was a spirit helper of mine. It frequently showed up when I needed womb healing, sexual healing, or physical healing of any kind. The snake helped me a lot with my severe endo pain. Both the snake and the lotus were symbolic of my spiritual connection to Ancient Egypt, and the many rebirths through pain I had endured in my womb and belly.
I eventually also got surgery for my endo and re-pierced my belly-button. The scars are barely noticeable. My pain is mostly gone, physically, and emotionally I am more resilient. I still feel shame sometimes, and get really annoyed at how easily I bloat, due to endo. I can never wear jeans and need very stretchy, comfy waistbands. But now in my late thirties, I see more value in my belly’s journey than in her appearance.
I now see my belly as a story-keeper. Everything my belly has been through has left it’s mark. I am ok now with those stories and scars. Rude comments, endo pain, digestive issues, birthing, surgery, piercings and tattoos…all part of her luscious landscape. Sometimes as I breathe deeply, into her depths I like to let her expand big and round like the Earth, sensuality oozing out on all the land, like a pregnant mother goddess who can swallow all those belly-shamers and fat-phobia whole.
The womb space, like the rest of our body, acts as a messenger. It lets us know when it’s unhappy- when we’re unhappy. More than that, it lets us know if we feel safe- to express ourselves, to let go, to enjoy, or even to simply feel. It lets us know when there is an emotional conflict or imbalance within us. The womb space is an energetic bowl or container, and like these vessels, it holds the ‘water’ of our emotions. It holds imprints of our emotional and relational history- what I like to call ‘womb prints’.
The womb and heart are connected, in that they are emotional and relational energy centres in the body. But they have their differences. The womb centre is more connected to our sexual, sensual, ‘animal’ self. It is instinctive and develops at an earlier stage of childhood. One could say that the material stored here can be buried a bit deeper in the unconscious than our heart’s wounds, which could have to do with cultural biases. I think the material we carry here is often related to childhood trauma, early attachment, and/or sexual trauma. Also, when we carry a baby in our womb, epigenetic studies have shown that the mother’s emotions and traumas can leave an imprint on the baby.
In this post, we will go a little deeper into exploring possible scenarios and histories that can leave us with womb prints that can create unhealthy energy patterns and manifest as illness or physical symptoms. For me, this is an exploration, and an area of questioning and reflection. I am not an expert, just an observer and learner- from my own experience, those of others and books and articles on these topics.
I feel it’s important to note that my suggesting these correlations in the following scenarios does not mean that I believe every time we have a physical symptom or disease that a previous trauma or emotional wound is the cause. Even if it was, it should not negate the validity and physical nature of the illness- healing support must be accessible to patients. I don’t believe victim blaming does any good. Mental health and physical health should both be taken seriously. There are resonances, and observed connections between traumas, emotional pain and health. But do not misconstrue this with a victim blaming perspective that the physical pain or illness you experience is emotionally-driven hysteria, your fault for not being ‘well’ enough, nor that mental health is any less valid than physical health. It seems these days there is a lot of misunderstanding between all these things, but that could be whole other post.
What I am talking about here is possible emotional + physical resonances. Curiosity about the relationships between our emotional experiences. Intergenerational legacies, past life experiences and our embodied experience. I believe body, mind, emotion and spirit are all connected and influence each other. But I don’t think it’s that important to assign ‘cause’ to one level of being, and ignore the others, because usually there is something happening on all levels. Notice patterns, and let that inform the healing process.
For parents: we are human, and if we have passed down wounding to our offspring, guilt and shame are not very helpful. We must foremost take responsibility for our own healing and hold respect and love for our offspring. We do our best to take care of the next generation. We can only do our best in this moment. We take this awareness and decide what to do with it.
Now, let’s explore some possible scenarios that may resonate with the experience of pelvic pain, difficult periods, a womb health issue, or issues around fertility, pregnancy, birthing, sexual health issues or relationship issues.
Intergenerational womb trauma scenarios:
This can be something we experienced as a baby in our mother’s womb that left an imprint on us emotionally. So, it is intergenerational- passed down to us, ours through osmosis.
What if your mother suffered sexual assault or any type of abuse during her pregnancy? You may have absorbed the impact of this on her womb and internalised some of her fear and pain as your own. Now, perhaps you subconsciously fear men or sex. You may be unable to have your own fulfilling relationships due to mistrust. You begin to feel shame or guilt about this, and feel that something must be wrong with you. Nothing is wrong with you at all. You can’t help feeling this way, and it isn’t your fault. But there is a reason behind it and it had nothing to do with you. You picked it up in the womb from mom, and now experience life based on her trauma. This isn’t mom’s fault either, of course! It’s just the way that energy flows- like water, it flows downward until it is cleared.
What about our mothers or grandmothers who were pregnant during a war or political upheaval? Perhaps she didn’t know if she or the baby would survive, and lived in constant fear and anxiety. She may have not felt that it’s a good idea to bring a baby into the world. Maybe she gave birth in a very traumatic way or unsafe conditions. The impact of that leaves an imprint on baby. Baby grows up and is afraid of loud noises, lives in anxiety and doesn’t know why. As a grown-up they are experiencing infertility or are unable to carry a baby to term. There is an underlying trauma passed down affecting their life today. Again, not mom’s fault, or anyone’s. But the originating trauma creates a cascade effect that can go all the way down to great grandchildren and needs addressing in order for the pain to be healed.
Present-day womb trauma scenarios:
If intergenerational effects weren’t enough, we have plenty of ways our womb may be carrying pain from our own experiences in life. Rape-culture, oppression and governmental control over abortion rights are examples of social stresses that we may carry in our womb space. If we can’t feel free to dress or express ourselves without threat, live in a culture that normalises objectification of our bodies, or don’t feel we have the rights over our own bodies, how can we not have a womb space imbalance or womb health issues?
Our tender sensuality, sexuality and sense of body-sovereignty are contained within our womb-space- if that feels under threat in any way, it will recoil, contract, rebel or yell for our attention through symptoms of pain, illness or imbalance.
One more example of womb prints includes loss- Perhaps you have had a miscarriage or multiple miscarriages or a child loss in the past. You are actively trying to get pregnant and having difficulty. The imprint of your past losses is still being held energetically in your womb space, blocking the possibility of new life, because the pain isn’t fully processed yet. The grief may need to be processed, cleared and the womb space renewed before conception can occur. A pregnancy following such loss can feel challenging. You may not readily want to bond with the baby for fear of losing them. This can affect your relationship with them through life. It is important to be compassionate towards yourself, and perhaps seek support from a therapist in conjunction with embodiment work when there is trauma history such as this.
Childhood trauma scenario:
A childhood trauma can affect us in present-day intimacy issues in relationships. For example, a parent may have abandoned you and your family, leaving you to wonder if perhaps you are unlovable or it was somehow your fault? Perhaps you now attract partners who are emotionally unavailable or non-committal, triggering your abandonment fears. You crave a secure, loving attachment, but instead keep attracting abandonment, triggering your past trauma. There is an underlying feeling of shame and guilt inside you that manifests as perhaps low self-esteem and so you seek pleasure through casual sex to fill the void. It feels safer because it doesn’t go deep enough to trigger your abandonment. But it isn’t truly what you desire, so this conflict between wanting commitment and getting short term pleasure may try to get your attention through contracting STI’s or experiencing pain during sex. Your womb stores this deep desire, and lets you know through various symptoms that there’s a disconnect between what you really want and what you are seeking to fill the void.
As I explored in my previous post “Ancestral Trauma, Gifts & Wisdom- Healing Our Tree“, I feel that my endometriosis is at least in part a manifestation of an energetic imprint from my family lines of women who suppressed their creativity, true desires and child-loss grief for too long, over too many generations, in the name of duty, the work that needed to be done, and to remain ‘good’ in the eyes of the church. Hard-working, faithful, ‘good catholic women’ who had many children, but didn’t have the freedom to live their truth. Perhaps I was one of them in a past life, or lived similarly. And now it’s time to change the pattern.
The symptoms, illness and the pain, are messengers of your deeper truth, which is longing for expression. Your unhealed wounds. Your inner child. The womb centre’s energy needs to flow. It needs to move. Its job is to help you process and release the past, and birth new ideas and creations into the world.
The examples above are just possibilities and there are a myriad of other scenarios of womb prints that block us from our flow.
I feel like there is a Part 3 coming on this subject, specifically to address healing, so I will leave this here for now and see what wants to be expressed on this topic later…
If you are reading this and interested in healing your womb space, please check out my offerings at Willowroot Healing Arts!
It took about 10 years to get a proper diagnosis and treatment of my disease. That’s because it is not taken seriously enough. It’s been around since Ancient Egypt and affects 1 in 10 women. There are records of women (and even a few men) having this life-eating disease for thousands of years, and yet because it is a ‘women’s disease’- it doesn’t warrant too much investment.
I find it interesting in hindsight how the lack of seriousness and attention Endometriosis(http://endometriosisnetwork.com/information/understanding-endometriosis/)and Adenomyosis (https://www.vitalhealth.com/endometriosis-specialty-center/learn-about-endometriosis/what-is-endometriosis/) are given has made me think I was crazy. I thought I was just over-sensitive, or just deeply flawed and needed to just ‘suck it up’ and be quiet about the intense pain I was in. At first it was just during my period. I thought it was ‘normal’ to faint, to scream, cry and writhe through the night, to feel like a a man with steel toe boots was kicking my womb and back repeatedly for 2 days with 3 days of burning afterward, like a forest fire had just ravaged my insides. After pregnancy and lactation with my daughter was over, things got much worse. This is where the suspected adenomyosis kicked in, and the endo spread. Those few days extended into 3-5 more days of pain during ovulation, then 2-3 more days leading up to my period, then I had about 1 pain-free week a month. During my period I passed huge amounts of blood and clots, I could not leave the house for 2 days a month. Many times I was writhe in pain worse than childbirth and consider calling an ambulance but held back because I thought I was being ‘too dramatic’. Later I found out, many people go to emergency for much less.
My mantra to myself was always ‘I am fine’, ‘I am fine’, ‘I am fine’. Lies I told myself to get through that maybe helped in the short term but became harmful in the long term.
I was a yoga instructor for goodness sake. I thought ‘I know my body. I can handle this. I can breathe through it… calm thoughts. Affirmations: ‘I embrace my feminine nature’ ‘My womb is a sacred space of light and wellness’. Visualise the color blue. White light. The ocean.’ I drank raspberry leaf tea and other infusions every day. Ate a low-glycemic-vegan-gluten free diet for a year, got regular massages, took a ton of supplements, regular castor oil packs, meditation, shamanic healing, therapy, homeopathy, naturopaths, did all the natural stuff- you name it, I did it. And I did it with commitment and faith for 7 years.
But it wasn’t enough.
It helped. I had some successes from each thing. I heard many other women attest to the effectiveness of diet changes, herbs, etc. But for me, with severe, stage 4 disease, it was like pouring buckets of water on a raging forest fire. For a very structural disease, I needed structural help. I needed surgery. And I needed pharmaceutical support too.
I basically felt like an idiot for having un-realisitc beliefs and ideals about natural medicine. For having too much holistic pride and idealism to admit I needed mainstream medicine, and that surgery and birth control pills are the things I needed to give me my life back. I bought into the holistic health prophets with their miracle stories and overzealous notions. The notion that our body will always heal itself. That if it isn’t working, it’s because you aren’t doing it right. That my own negative thoughts and false beliefs caused my disease. But this isn’t true. I just was not one of the miracle stories. I had to admit and accept that NATURE IS NOT PERFECT, and that’s ok. Our bodies sometimes need ‘un-natural’ help, and that’s ok. Evolution has had only half as much time to perfect our reproductive organs as it has the rest of them. And for women, this complex system will take a long time to adapt and figure out how to keep the human race going. One would think that would warrant a further investment on the part of medicine. But I digress…
Back to my story…
Eventually my organs became so contorted and stuck together that I could not urinate or go to the bathroom without intense cramping and shooting pain, could not have intercourse without pain, could not even sit or walk or carry groceries anymore without pain. My relationship with my daughter and husband suffered, because I could not be my best self. My mental health was suffering. I could no longer do my favourite activities, one of which is bellydancing. I pushed through it sometimes, because I loved it so much. But at one point, I realised I had to stop, and finally take my body’s troubles seriously.
I was seeing my family doctor for ovarian cysts, which she was monitoring. She suspected endometriosis, but did not refer me to a specialist until it got really bad. I didn’t really like to complain about all I was going though. She offered me birth control pills, but I refused because the holistic health community I was a part of would unleash typical fear-mongering of all things unnatural and tell me it was a bad idea.
Basically, for 10 years, my pain and anguish was minimised, normalised, thought to be all in my head. Part of this is lack of information, lack of understanding and society’s perception of women. Part of this, I believe stems from women and the christian concept ‘original sin’ that permeates our culture. Women are meant to suffer. This belief pervades our culture and also the religion my family was brought up in, and therefore I internalised the message that:
And we make it ok by saying “I am fine”.
To ourselves, to others. So much that we believe it when it just isn’t so.
This is what I want to abolish. The message that patriarchy has given us- that we must suffer because we are women.
This messages has pervaded so much of the fabric of our lives that it has become completely normal. Invisible. Unnamed.
Welcome to my blog. It will be a compilation of personal experience, observations and questions relating to feminine embodiment- what does it mean to be embodied? What is the Sacred Feminine and how does it apply to me? What does my womb have to do with it? How does the experience of childbirth, motherhood, and pelvic/reproductive disease change my experience of being a woman in this world? What about sexual assault and trauma? My perspectives come from awareness of the interplay of mind, body, emotions, spirit, cosmos, society, oppression and The Great Mystery.
The origin of the word ‘pelvis’ comes from the words: basin, container, goblet, vessel, bowl and cup in various languages. The pelvis contains our pelvic organs and has a bowl-like appearance. It holds, contains, carries and protects the tender organs inside, including the womb, and our other reproductive/sexual organs.
The ‘womb space’ is another way I refer to the womb and pelvic area in general- in an energetic sense. Not all of us have uteruses and ovaries, but we all have an energy centre here. Like the pelvic bowl holding and containing our tender organs, the womb space holds and contains our tender feelings, creativity and sexual urges. If we are pregnant, it holds, protects and interacts with the baby. In relationships, it holds the energy of the bond and its intimacy..
What I call the ‘womb space’ is akin to the Sacral Chakra in Yoga. In sanskrit, it’s called Svadhisthana, meaning ‘in one’s abode’. The element of this pelvic energy centre is water. The emotions and sexuality are synonymous with water, as fluids are released when we cry, give birth, menstruate, make love or orgasm.
So, our pelvic bowl/womb space are essentially holding ‘water’ energetically. This begs the question:What is the quality of this energetic ‘water’ we are holding? Is it murky, sludgy and in need of release? Is it hot, boiling and frustrated? Is it warm, luscious and sensual? Is it cold or frozen? Stagnant or flowing?
I ask myself these questions on a near daily basis- when I do my regular womb check-ins and my yoga practice. In the span of one day, I may get different feedback. I may have weeks or months of general stagnation, or frequent bouts of hot and boiling. Like the ocean, my womb flows in waves and cycles. And it definitely is attuned to the moon. If you menstruate, you may find your cyclical patterns to be more attuned to your hormones than the moon- everyone is different.
At some point in time, many of us may experience symptoms related to an imbalance or blocked energy in our womb space.This may manifest as:
Lack of inspiration/creativity
Sexual frustration or overdrive
Sexual disinterest or shutdown
Issues with emotional or sexual boundaries
Repeated toxic relationships
Guilt or shame around sexual orientation, gender, identity
Pelvic pain, cysts, disease
Painful, irregular or heavy periods
Sexually transmitted infections
Infertility, issues with pregnancy and birth
Frequent financial issues
Lower back pain
Unable to receive pleasure/ excessive pleasure-seeking
When we have symptoms of imbalance, we are likely carrying energetic ‘water’ that needs to flow or be cleared. We may have attachments to others that are toxic or unhealthy, or grief to let go of. We may have had traumatic or negative experiences that left an energetic imprint on our womb (we will explore this in an upcoming blog on womb trauma), that we have yet to work through. We also may have an inner conflict that causes stress.
How can we heal the womb space?
Each individual’s womb space is completely unique and requires a personalised approach to healing. There is no ‘one size fits all’ method. This is why I like to focus on one-on-one healing sessions.
But for starters, we can begin to just give ourselves the time and space on a regular basis to ‘check-in’ with ourselves. If we have any of those symptoms listed above, our womb has already been trying to get our attention.
The best thing for it, it to give it that attention. I like to do a little check-in I call ‘Womb Listening’ as part of my practice, and with clients.
How to do ‘Womb Listening’:
Take a moment alone, in a peaceful environment. Lie down or sit comfortably, place your hands on your lower belly, and just breathe.
Slow down your mind, and just tune into your womb space. Some people like to play relaxing music in the background, or light incense or a candle. Do whatever makes you feel relaxed, calm and focused.
Feel your hands resting on your belly, gently moving with the flow of your breath. It can be very subtle. Let your thoughts quiet. Think of your womb space as a wise, truthful, living entity of its own, that really wants to communicate with you. Then ask your womb ‘what do you need right now?’
If you feel pain, allow for the pain to ‘speak’ and listen for an answer.
The womb space may not communicate through words, although you may ‘hear’ words- it also likes to move, bring an image to your mind, sing, or make sounds. Allow for it to communicate however it wishes to. Just be open to receiving it. Give it expression.
Take in a deep breath and let whatever sounds that needs to come out, to come out on the exhale. Maybe it’s a big sigh, or an ‘ahhhh’ sound, or a grunt, yell or even a scream.
Maybe it wants a massage. Maybe it wants to shake, dance or to be completely still. Do you best to give it what it needs in the moment. Notice how doing that changes how you feel.
Some people find automatic writing revealing. Hold a pen in one hand, and place the other on your womb, and let it speak through whatever words flow through you.
It may not happen right away. It may take days or weeks of practice, but eventually, it will speak and you will hear what it is trying to say. This is where the healing begins!
Our relationship with our body is a complex thing. A lot of us doing embodiment work use the word ‘embodied’ without much thought- as though the meaning is obvious. It’s the opposite of being ‘disconnected from our body’. But what does that mean? I like to say that my services teach ‘embodied self-care’. Ways that people can get in touch with their inner needs, take care of their body’s needs and live in a way that is empowering and honoring of themselves as a whole. But what does that look like in real life?
Embodiment is about our mind, body and feelings being in an ongoing conversation, and attempting to work together. Kind of like being in a band- each musician works in harmony with one another- contributing to the whole. Likewise, In order to be embodied, there must be a balance and harmony between mind, heart and body. It’s about developing an awareness and curiosity about our experience while allowing ourselves to be in the experience at the same time.
I could be doing a yoga class or a heavy workout and still be mentally disconnected from my body throughout it! If I’m doingsomething physical, but my mind is busy replaying a conversation from yesterday, I am anxiously thinking about an interview tomorrow, or I am forcing a mental ideal that my body cannot safely do, I am not fully present in my current physical or emotional experience, and therefore not moving in an embodied way. In this state, I can miss cues from my body, and may move in a way that causes injury or strain.
It’s not about your mind calling all the shots, but it’s also not about your physical desires or discomfort calling them all, either. It’s about learning to differentiate between pain and discomfort, and being curious about the feedback your body is giving. Being a witness to your physical experience.
I often used to say to students ‘listen to your body’- which is a bit overly simplistic and doesn’t take into account the complexity of the feedback our body can give us. We don’t necessarily need to avoid things things the body feels a resistance to, nor is it necessarily healthy to always do what the body wants, or else I would probably try to live off of chocolate and spend 15 hours a day in bed. Being embodied can mean to just take in the feedback the body is giving us, and be curious about it and experiment . So I now often say to students now “get curious about…”
Notice the sensations and adjust when necessary. Sometimes we need to just move into that comfy, familiar place. Sometimes we need to step out of it. It’s about presence and awareness of the here and now- and keeping an open conversation between mind, heart and body.
This is easier said than done. To help the mind and body to communicate, we often need to slow down and get curious.
Take a deep inhale.. Exhale.. Now get curious about the sensations in your left foot. Is it cool or warm? Wriggle your toes. Alternate between pointing and flexing. How does your ankle feel? Try rotating it, make a few circles with your foot. Now try flexing the foot as your inhale, and pointing your toes as your exhale. Notice how your left foot feels different from your right foot.
Even now you are a bit more embodied than a few seconds ago! And maybe you feel like moving your right foot now, for balance.
Take a moment to reflect on your daily routines. How often are you curious about what your body is saying? Do you take time to fully feel your emotions? Do you allow time and space for that? Why or why not?
Why is embodied self-care important?
We can miss important cuesfrom our body or feelings that are informing us to make a shift in our lifestyle to preserve our health and well-being. Maybe we haven’t processed some old grief or allowed our anger to be expressed. This can be stored in our body, and subsequently limit us from moving forward in our lives. We feel blocked. Maybe we develop pain. Embodied practices can help move that emotional energy locked in our body, and ease pain. Embodied practice can alert us to imbalances we have and prevent them from becoming worse or manifesting illness.
Trauma may be stored in the body: Perhaps we feel ‘numb’, depressed or anxious. We may ‘space out’ doing certain activities, or generally feel disengaged from things we used to enjoy. We may feel our body is not a safe place to reside, due to previous trauma or unresolved emotions. Embodied practices such as yoga and mindful movement in conjunction with talk therapy can do wonders for healing trauma. But it does not happen overnight and should be facilitated by a trauma-informed practitioner. Being embodied with trauma history can take a lot of practice and require an extra dose of self-compassion and support from others.
What can I do to live in a more embodied way?
One thing to remember is that no one is living in an embodied way 24/7!
It is normal and natural to be in a dynamic relationship with the present moment- we often vacillate between pain & pleasure, numbness & feeling, attraction & repulsion, and in between. This is normal.
Some easy practices you can take into your day:
Notice the Breath: A basic way to become more embodied is through becoming more aware of your breath. During the day, if you are waiting in line, or sitting on a bus, or reading an email, try taking a moment to just bring your awareness to all the sensations of the inhale and the exhale. What parts of your body expand as you inhale? What happens in your shoulders as you exhale? Try with your mouth open. And then try with your mouth closed. How do they feel different? Don’t overthink it. Just be curious.
The Feet. Our feet are most often touching the ground. But how often do we really get curious about that sensation? Wiggle your toes, get the blood flowing. Feel the floor or ground underneath. If you sit a lot, a hard ball or foot roller or squishy mat can help you stay grounded and connected to your body through your feet. Give your feet massage breaks. They will thank you!
Mindful eating: Mindful eating is incredibly simple and yet, many of us don’t habitually do it. Next time you are eating something- slow the process way down. Take a very small, intentional bite. Bring all of your attention to the sensation of lifting the food to your mouth, the sensation of it hitting your tongue, the taste buds activating, saliva, the reaction in your stomach, overall body, emotions. Put off chewing as long as you can. Take your time just feeling it in your mouth. Then make each chew very slow and fully experience it! Notice your feelings and emotions in relation to your experience of eating different foods.
The more curious you get about what is going on in your body, the more ‘in tune’ your mind and body will be. The less stress you will feel, the more accepting of yourself you will be. The more you will have a deepened sense of ease and flow in your daily life.
The most common and unfortunate story I hear from my fellow endo warriors it is that they were dismissed by doctors when expressing the excruciating pain they were in. They were told that it’s ‘all in their head’, or ‘it’s just part of being a woman’.
While, I am very lucky to have not had this exact experience, I still have absorbed this messaging through our culture.
Women with endometriosis historically been told that we have this disease because we are too ‘career driven’ and ‘need to stay home and have babies’. Well, having had a baby myself and not being able to be career-driven, because my pain made that impossible, I can attest to the falseness and insult of this statement. Sure, pregnancy can reduce symptoms temporarily, but they almost always return with a vengeance afterward. And, what about the 30-50% percent of us who have infertility? To say this to someone with infertility is a slap in the face.
A Reader’s Digest article I was just reading about dismissal of women’s pain mentioned a woman with vulvodynia (a pain condition of the vulva causing painful sex) was told ‘You must be having marital problems. Have a glass of wine before sex- it’ll be better’. It also mentioned that women with migraines were routinely perceived as ‘Type A upper-middle class women who just can’t relax.’ A woman with endo with recurring ruptured cysts (talk about severe pain!) was told ‘not to worry, it’s normal’.
Dismissal can lead to normalising pathology. Many of us are walking around with serious ailments, and are dismissed as ‘drug seeking’ or ‘crazy’ if we reach out for relief. And this is not just limited to women. I found an interesting study which showed that this is a routine perception of people who possess ‘feminine personality traits’ across genders.
There clearly exists a bias perceiving ‘feminine’ with being weak, moody, hysterical, and over-dramatic- which is another word that too many endo sufferers hear.
Despite being feminine-appearing and emotionally sensitive, I consider myself to have a high tolerance for physical pain. Having endo got me used to a certain level of pain, so when I went through drug-free childbirth with back labor, to an 8 lbs 8oz baby, I found that to be less painful than many of my periods.
When breastfeeding, I had a yeast infection in my milk ducts which created hot stabbing knife-like pains through my heart every time I breastfed. I bit my lip, in tears every time, worried my daughter would absorb my emotional pain through the milk. But, I continued to breastfeed instead of bottle feed because of the prevalent ‘breast is best’ messaging of the time. I was suffering in order to do the ‘right thing’ for my child, but I was depressed and in misery. After 2 months of failed topical treatments by an ill-informed and rude male doctor, I finally got proper medication from an empathetic female OBGYN and decided to incorporate some bottle feeding. Despite the judge-y guilt-trips of parenting culture at that time, I knew I had to bottle feed in order to preserve my sanity and for my daughter’s benefit. I didn’t want her to associate eating with guilt or misery. I wanted our feeding time to be a positive, bonding time. I finally listened to my instincts, and was glad I did. I had to push for medication, deal with a doctor’s dismissal, ineptitude and rudeness, I had to face my self-doubt and shut out the naysayers. But thankfully, in the end, I got what I needed.
As for period pain- what is ‘normal’ anyway?
If over-the-counter pain meds and heating pads do little to quell your pain- or you faint, vomit or find yourself unable to get out of bed and do your normal routine, you may have an underlying pelvic health issue and should bring it to your doctor. Other symptoms to watch out for can be: Painful intercourse, painful bowel movements or urination, infertility or very heavy periods. But, even if you don’t have these symptoms and feel something is ‘off’, it may be worth visiting your doctor- or more than one, as many women have to do before getting a diagnosis.
I often had to take Advil for days before my periods began and through them, in order to still be somewhat functional. Even then, it sometimes barely took the edge off, and just getting to the bathroom was hard. I would either be bed-ridden, pass out, vomit or shake from head to toe for hours. That is definitely not normal. But, I ‘sucked it up’ and dealt with it, incapacitated for several days a month because in my mind, this suffering was just ‘part of being a woman’ and seeking stronger pain meds would either be futile or proof of my inherent weakness.
I didn’t take my own pain seriously because I was encouraged not to. There is a cultural bias that keeps us from believing women- in medical settings just as much as in court rooms. So much so that sometimes we believe that perhaps, it is all in our head. We lose trust in ourselves, and put the power in others’ hands. What a convenient way for patriarchy to stay strong.
Endo is not considered a fatal disease, as it cannot usually kill someone on its own- but the chronic pain can become so severe that suicide is far too often seen as the way out. I know what that dark space feels like. This alone is a crucial reason for prioritising early diagnosis and proper care.
We should not be normalising a state of being that leads to suicide.
If I could share one piece of advice, it would be- trust yourself. You know your body best. Keep seeking help and answers. Don’t give up. If your periods are debilitating, heavy, so painful that you are vomiting, fainting, or not able to get out of bed, seek out help! Demand a referral to an OBGYN. You are not alone. There are options. Even if you are dismissed by doctors, don’t dismiss yourself. You are the expert on your pain.
My Memere passed away this past fall, just shy of her 99th birthday. She was my last living grandparent. Born in October 1919 in St.Leon, Manitoba, she gave birth to 6 children, one of which died as a baby. Her and my Pepere worked hard, making a life out of a stubborn plot of land through the harsh prairie winters. They hunted, fished, trapped and farmed more or less their whole lives, raised their kids, made the best life they could with what they had. They faced life’s challenges with a buoyant sense of humour, and devoted spiritual faith. They gave my mom life, and therefore made it possible for me to be here, and therefore my daughter, and so on.
When my grandma passed, I got a bunch of her old photographs, genealogical records, and some funny collages she put together. She was quite the scrap-booker. She was very thorough with recording every birth and important life details of her life, her ancestors and her descendants. On top of that, the church also has kept excellent records so I have a lot of info about my mother’s lineage. More on that later.
One of her writings I came upon made me think about a subject that is often on my mind, part of my own healing journey and the work I do. Intergenerational trauma, healing- and the sacred feminine.
I am not the best at french-english translation, but roughly, she speaks about how important recording our geneaology is. Because how else would we be able to know about our ancestors’ accomplishments, or their struggles? It also keeps us accountable. Once we have children, our name is remembered, and with that so are our faults and good qualities. Our actions have repercussions; You never know how your bad behaviours can manifest or what repercussions they may have; and equally, you never know just how far the good work you do will reach down the generations- all the work you did to make the leaves on the family tree beautiful to be enjoyed by those down the line.
You may have read the articles floating around about how on a biological level, we hold imprints of the memories of our grandmother simply from living in her womb. Our mother carried us as an egg in her ovaries while developing in grandma’s womb, and so, we were in grandma’s womb too. Our genes can mutate based on our foremothers’ experiences.
And so, we must ask ourselves, what are those imprints? What traumas and gifts are being passed down to us? And, are we making the family tree more beautiful and healthy with our actions in this life? Or are we weakening it?
The legacy of our ancestors includes traumas, but it also brings us gifts, and wisdom. We need to use the gifts we were passed down and the ones we cultivated ourselves, to heal ourselves and our line.
I have seen spiritual healers about my endometriosis and done my own spiritual investigations on it. For me, it’s a lot of past life imprinting and generational stuff passed down, rather than events from this life. There are studies that show that women with endometriosis often have a history of sexual abuse or assault. One could argue that most women have this in their history- either their own or in their lineage, yet they don’t all have endo. Endo also begins in utero, long before birth. There’s more to it than what happened to us in childhood.
There are many health issues that are more likely to manifest when there is trauma history. As the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) test scores show, common illnesses we experience today are traced back to how many of these childhood traumas are in your background. My ACE score is fortunately, pretty low. But ACE tests don’t factor in past life stuff, nor intergenerational or collective wounds.
Most women struggle with their relationship with their femininity, or their reproductive organs in general, so perhaps not only personal trauma, but the collective feminine wound can manifest through illness in many of us.
To be clear: I don’t support the mindset of there being a spiritual cause of disease- because it does more damage than good to a lot of us- it negates the very structural, biological nature of the disease which is laid down in utero. We do not choose, or cause disease to happen. It happens to us, but our work is to heal it through whatever means we choose or have available.
Some schools of thought in our victim-blaming culture like to take these resonances between trauma and disease- which aren’t our fault, and assign them as emotional or spiritual causes which then puts shame and pressure on individual women to fix their ‘issues’ and ‘emotional problems’ because that’s the root of why they are sick. But blaming young women (endo shows up at puberty for many) for the personal traumas or collective wounds they may carry, or for simply having a physical disease does not help anything, in fact it does more harm. It gives the already patriarchal medical system an excuse to not take our disease seriously enough to invest in it, and feeds into the archaic yet common ‘female hysteria’ notions that I do not support in any way.
Trauma and illness are often connected, and I believe past lives and heritage can also be involved. But sometimes they aren’t and self-blame doesn’t do any good. Personal responsibility for taking steps towards healing ourselves, and social & governmental responsibility for doing the research, funding, and giving us the supports and medicines required is key. We’re all in this together.
Trauma and illness are things we must accept, and work through for those we leave the planet to after us- whether they are our blood descendants or the next generation. Because what we don’t heal, we pass down. And, if you believe in re-incarnation, you just might end up paying for your mistakes in your next life as your own great-granddaughter!
Healing ourselves heals those who came before and those who come after us.
Collectively, women are suffering. But they are also healing and shaking things up. Women are working together, now and through time, working on our own healing, and that of our foremothers. We are collectively nourishing our trees by waking up to our own self-worth. We can’t spend our time blaming others, or blaming trauma as something outside ourselves. We need to take what we are given and work through it. We can only do our best with what we have at any given time. We need to be compassionate to ourselves, find the right supports and remember that our foremothers were resilient as f*ck and that’s why we are here!
I think about my great-grandmother- my memere’s mom- who had 16 children and several did not make it to adulthood. I think about the losses she felt and how that was imprinted on her womb, and on my memere’s, my mom’s, mine.
I think about her grandmother, who was of Ojibway-Scottish descent, born in Michigan, first married a Metis man and then a voyageur, and moved to LaFontaine on Georgian Bay, Ontario. She and her husband were part of a Metis settlement there. She later in old age picked up her life and moved to St.Leon Manitoba with one of her sons and died there in her 80s. She spoke french, english, cree and michif. Her son continued to raise his children in Manitoba, a devout catholic, musician, a man with hope for the future. I think about colonisation, and how it lives in my blood. Cultural and spiritual suppression and erasure, white-passing, internalised guilt and shame. My settler history- Scottish, English and French, their struggles, their ignorance, their racism (internalised and externalised), the things they did to survive. I have so many questions for them.
I think about the mothers fleeing war-torn countries while pregnant, and grandmothers who survived the Holocaust. Mothers who took their own lives, mothers and grandmothers’ silent struggles that we now can put a name to, and recognise.
I think about my Scottish great-grandma (pic below) on my dad’s side, born in Glengarry, ON. who died of Spanish flu at the age of 24, the very day her husband came back from the war, leaving their two young sons motherless. Her husband put his sons in an orphanage, because that’s what fathers did. He too, was raised in an orphanage with his brother because he lost his mother. Suspiciously, both his mother and his stepmother mysteriously disappeared. They have no death certificates. What kind of imprints did that leave on our tree?
Nobody’s family tree is all light and love and thriving. We’ve all got some nasties eating away at the leaves, rotten roots, old, broken branches and maybe a parasite or two. Whatever tree we are part of, we can only do our best with the branches and roots we are given. How much energy we give is up to us. Some of us may feel the weight of a sick tree more than others. But we must remember that we are all connected- here and through time. And all our trees eventually connect, somewhere.
As for the Sacred Feminine, I feel that my body, my womb and my heart, holds grief that isn’t even mine. I feel the lost babies and supressed dreams of my foremothers- who were creative, wild, and spiritual, having to make the necessary sacrifices to survive in a patriarchal world and make it possible for me to be here. They obeyed their husbands, accepted their limitations, paid homage to God, the priest, the church, the establishment. They did what they had to do, and their faith got them through. They found things that brought them joy, levity, laughter and strength. I am grateful to their sacrifices which brought me life, and for their resourcefulness, independence, devotion and resilience too.
But my healing lies in reclaiming the wild, creative and spiritual lifeline that they left un-tended. Moving through the constricting pain, guilt, and shame that was passed down helped me very clearly know and appreciate my freedom, my sensuality and my shamanic, direct-to-source spiritual inclinations. I am pruning the tree, to create pathways of freedom where there weren’t before. And I don’t do this alone. My whole generation does this with me.
There are roots I need to tend and cut, re-direct, water, and nourish. Over time, the tree may, hopefully change, so it’s healthier for my daughter, my nephews and all those of the generations to come.