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Learning to Trust the Body’s Ability to Heal

Do you believe that your body has the ability to heal itself? Or do you think that some things like age, chronic illness, and mental health problems are beyond any natural healing ability we may possess? Are some people naturally gifted with good health, whilst others suffer with no hope of a life beyond their limitations, or do we all have the opportunity to gain optimal health, whatever that may look like for each one of us?

learning to distrust the body

I’d love to say that there has always been a part of me that at some deep level believed in the body’s ability to heal, but to be honest with you that simply isn’t true. I have been sick, to some degree or another, for most of my life. I was diagnosed with Asthma aged 2, and so some of my earliest memories are of concern over my ability to breathe comfortably. Whilst I seemed to naturally outgrow this particular challenge, by the time I reached puberty other health issues had already stepped in to take their place.

My hypermobile form of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) had made me so clumsy I was regularly at A&E for an x-ray or because I’d got concussion or needed a wound cleaning. And once puberty arrived I was debilitated with crippling cramps, horrific nausea, and incredibly heavy and irregular periods. My teen years were spent trying to cope with these changes in my body, things I believed I had no control over, and I ended up heading into adulthood thinking that this was just my lot.

belief in others vs belief in self

As a result of this, I began to trust in doctors and medication as my only real option for any semblance of a “normal” life. And whilst there is nothing wrong with putting faith in modern medical science, there is a real danger in putting all of your hope into a medical system that still has no answers for many health conditions affecting the world today. If I had an accident and required emergency treatment, for instance, then I would seek out the help of a trained doctor. Likewise, if I developed an acute infection, I would visit my GP. These are areas in which modern medicine excel. But when it comes to chronic conditions, this is often far from the case.

My own experience has been one of seeking help from a variety of doctors and specialists over many years, always putting my hope in the chance that this doctor may finally have an answer for me, and almost always being highly disappointed. I was 17 when first diagnosed with Hypermobility, and 31 before anyone mentioned the term Ehlers Danlos Syndrome to me, explaining that my digestive health issues were probably connected to the same condition affecting my joints. But even with that explanation, there was no real helpful treatment options.

Endometriosis is another condition which has plagued my life, leading me to be on some form of contraceptive since I was 15 (most with very negative side effects), and going through no less than 4 pseudo-menopausal states in attempts to limit my symptoms. Yet you can imagine how many extra symptoms those brought up for me. So, you see, putting all of my trust in the doctors who have no real answers as to why these conditions occur nor how to adequately treat them, led to a deep distrust of my own body. If the doctors can’t even manage it, then how can I?

Image of a stethoscope with the words, "putting all of my trust in the doctors who have no real answers as to why these conditions occur nor how to adequately treat them, led to a deep distrust of my own body. If the doctors can't even manage it, then how can I?"

changing the dynamic

Which brings me to where I find myself today. After 3 decades of believing I was simply a “sick person”, whose lot in life was simply one of physical pain and discomfort, I am finally starting to challenge that belief. I’ve spent the past 3 years of my life becoming increasingly more and more debilitated, to the point where my body barely functions most days. I can trace the initial increase in symptoms to a very specific point in 2015, when a virus combined with a very busy period in my life led to a complete overwhelm of my system. And yet I know that whilst this was the tipping point, it wasn’t the start of this downfall.

A series of events following my pregnancy and becoming a parent to a child with additional needs, led me to disregarding my body’s own needs and placing everyone else’s first. This was a recipe for disaster, given my body’s natural disposition towards ill health. But I didn’t listen to my body’s needs, nor the messages it sent me through my intuition and increasing symptoms. Because I already believed that this was simply my lot in life, to suffer. And that belief goes right back to my childhood.

This ill health I have now is not a new thing, it is something that has developed over a lifetime of distrusting my body, and placing my belief in external sources rather than my internal ability to heal. And when I began to realise just how far back this goes, I realised that I had impossible expectations of what healing might look like. I was hoping for a “quick fix”, something which would take away the most unpleasant symptoms I have each day, rather than building up healing and resilience from my very core beliefs about myself. Those “quick fixes”, which are often medications to alleviate symptoms, are fine in and of themselves, but they won’t lead to long-term healing. That has to come from within.

Image of two women doing yoga with the words, " I will always have a genetic condition that affects the connective tissue in my body, and so I will always have to adapt what I do to support that rather than aggravate it. Yoga postures must be adapted, diet must nourish without irritating, adequate rest must be incorporated into my day, and some days I'll just have to accept that it's a bad day"

healing to your optimal version of health

Now, before I go any further I want to make something abundantly clear. I am not proposing the idea that the body can heal from anything and everything. This isn’t some ‘miracle cure-all’. Neither am I suggesting that it is our own beliefs that cause illness. Such thinking is overly simplistic and, quite frankly, dangerous. It suggests that those with serious health conditions can simply will themselves to be better through the power of positive thinking. And that’s bullshit.

Too often those of us in the chronic health community are told that if only we did this, or changed that, we’d miraculously heal. Such recommendations, no matter how lovingly given, are dis-empowering at best and damaging at worst. People need to be believed, they need to have their symptoms respected, and their daily efforts recognised. Life is hard for all of us, and for some people that is most profoundly felt through their physical and/or mental health.

But that doesn’t mean that those of us who do struggle with our health cannot aim for our own personal version of optimal health. And that will look different for everybody. For me it means that I will always have a genetic condition that affects the connective tissue in my body, and so I will always have to adapt what I do to support that rather than aggravate it. Yoga postures must be adapted, diet must nourish without irritating, adequate rest must be incorporated into my day, and some days I’ll just have to accept that it’s a bad day and in order for my body to heal I need to honour what it’s telling me in that moment.

The same goes for my anxiety and the pain felt regarding certain events that have happened in my life. No amount of positive thinking and lifestyle changes will affect my ability to have more children. But I can work on honouring the fact that my body carried and gave birth to this beautiful child of mine, and that my love for him is enough. I can stop beating myself up for not doing more, and cherish what I can do.

Image of a woman looking out to sea with the words, "Sacred work is beautiful, but it isn't easy. It means facing those parts of yourself that you hate the most. It means working with your limitations, rather than trying to work despite them. And it means knowing that it took you a lifetime to get to the place you are right now, so it's going to take you a lifetime of learning to trust yourself and your body."

healing work is sacred work

Over on instagram, my profile says that I am on a “sacred healing journey”. This is something I came up with last year, and it has stuck. Healing requires going into the very depths of your being, having the courage to face the darkest parts of your soul, and learning to trust in your body’s ability to heal. If that isn’t sacred work, then I don’t know what is.

But it’s hard to recognise the power and impact of what you’re doing, when it feels like you’re simply lying in bed,  or battling through your inner demons just to make it through the day. Some days it feels like you’ve done nothing but simply survive – and that’s sometimes exactly how it is. You need to acknowledge these days as a part of your journey, but don’t let them define you. Because those days are the ones which remind you of your feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness. Those are the days which whisper that you aren’t enough, and that this is simply how it is. Those are the days you simply have to survive, knowing that a new day will come.

And when that new day finally comes, you do the sacred work. You go within, you trust yourself, and you learn to find a new way of living. Sacred work is beautiful, but it isn’t easy. It means facing those parts of yourself that you hate the most. It means working with your limitations, rather than trying to work despite them. And it means knowing that it took you a lifetime to get to the place you are right now, so it’s going to take you a lifetime of learning to trust yourself and your body. This isn’t a quick fix. This isn’t a cure. This is life.

image of a woman using her laptop whilst sitting in bed with the words, "we need friends who understand where we're coming from and will walk with us. In the past this was often limited to what was available in your local area, but nowadays you can easily connect with people from across the globe via the internet too."

trust your intuition, choose your tools, and find your community

Because sacred work is so hard, you need to surround yourself with the tools and community to support you along the way. Nobody can hope to do this alone. There is a reason that humanity has long sought community with those who are also on the same path – we need friends who understand where we’re coming from and will walk with us. In the past this was often limited to what was available in your local area, but nowadays you can easily connect with people from across the globe via the internet too.

Of course, the problem with this is that there can often be too much information and too many options to choose from. How do you know what will work for you? Well, I’ve found that the best way is to try out a few things and see what your gut instinct is telling you. If something feels right, go with it. But if something feels wrong, drop it, even if everyone around you thinks it is the best thing ever. It is only the best thing if it feels right to you.

I experienced this recently quite significantly. During meditative time (which I have always resisted), I felt an overwhelming rush of love, and realised I was far from alone. From that experience, I began to realise areas where I had been trying to control the uncontrollable. For me, this was most pronounced in my diet. Because of my digestive issues I had gradually restricted my diet more and more over many years, and I had ended up surviving on mostly dry carbs (jacket potatoes, oatcakes etc) and snacking rather than eating proper meals. I was missing out on so much protein and fat, and not allowing my digestive system the power to work effectively (and it’s a sluggish system, so it needs all the help it can get!)

As I began to consider changing my diet, bringing in foods I’d have never eaten before through fear, I started out on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). However a week into it I realised that it was not healthy for me. I was beginning to fear eating the wrong things, and my body was wanting less meat and a few more carbs. So I followed my gut (pun intended) and dropped the AIP diet in favour of trusting what my body was specifically asking me for. I had begun to recognise the difference between a craving (chocolate) and an actual need (carbs), as well as recognising that my body was happier eating stews and soups rather than roast dinners.

Image of someone eating soup with the words, "My intuition, once I actually tuned in and listened, had told me the same thing an ancient medical practice was also suggesting. By learning to trust my body's ability to heal, I had tapped into what I needed."

About a week later I stumbled across an Ayurveda dosha quiz, and discovered that my constitution is strongly Vata (air). The description of Vata not only perfectly described my natural characteristics, but it also explained many of my current symptoms. It even recommended eating soups and stews, to avoid food that was too “dry”. My intuition, once I actually tuned in and listened, had told me the same thing an ancient medical practice was also suggesting. By learning to trust my body’s ability to heal, I had tapped into what I needed.

Whatever tools you choose to use, and whichever community you choose to join, remember always that flexibility is the most important thing you can ever embrace. Your needs and preferences will change over time, both as you age and as the circumstances in your life ebb and flow. What works for you now will be completely different to what worked for you last year. So don’t feel as if you have to stick to something long-term if it isn’t working for you anymore. Try new things and go with the flow.

belief is everything

More than anything else, healing is only possible when you believe it is. This has been shown countless times within studies using placebos, for example. That’s not to say that the things you do or take, be that lifestyle choices or pharmaceutical medication, have no effect. Of course they do. Exercise has an impact on the body. Meditation has an impact on the body. Diet has an impact on the body. Medication has an impact on the body. It all does. What I mean is that it is your belief in the possibility of healing that amplifies the effect.

For instance, I have been seeing the herbal medicine team at my local college for about 18 months now. I have a review with them every 4-6 weeks, and we tweak the tincture accordingly. And whilst there was a small, immediate effect from taking the tinctures, it was only once I truly began to believe that this medicine had the power to change my life that I started to see real effects. And, interestingly, most of the effects have been psychological rather than physiological so far.

I’ve begun to trust in my body’s ability to heal itself, and been making changes accordingly. I removed my Mirena and became contraceptive free for the first time since my teens last Summer. And over time I have started to understand and accept that some of the very physical challenges right now are not going to vanish overnight, because my body has to rebalance itself after years and years of neglect and abuse on my part. I have hated on my body for such a long time, learning to love and trust it is a huge thing. And I truly believe therein lies my ability to heal.

Lady standing in summer dress with arms wide dancing as the sun goes down in the distance

what others think of me really doesn't matter, as long as I am happy with what I know to be true of myself.

Finding Time to Find Peace

We all want peace, don’t we? By that I mean we want to feel at peace with ourselves and our lives rather than World Peace (although, I’m sure many of us would like that too!) We want to feel that quiet confidence in our lives, that the things we do are “just right” for us, that life is unfolding as it should, and that we are “on the right track”. At least, that is what I think of when I think of peace, a quiet knowing that life is okay, we’re okay, no matter what.

But as much as I strive for this sense of peace, I find it so difficult to catch hold of. It feels like something I am chasing, constantly, as I battle one difficulty after the next. And no matter how hard I try, that peace continues to elude me. Or at least it did, until recently…

Finding Time to Find PeaceThis past year has been a major learning curve for me, and despite making huge leaps forward in many ways, I have felt myself dragged down by circumstance and a fear of the way the world looks at me. I’ve put far more stock in what has happened to me, rather than focusing on what is happening inside of me. And that has led me to chasing after things that do not make me happy, but instead make me jealous and bitter.

I could look at the blessings in my life – my little family, my home, the food on our table – and instead of seeing them for what they truly are, I focused on what they weren’t. I didn’t have the larger family I had dreamed of. Our home was not a place of refuge, but rather a jumble of boxes and piles of “stuff” we had to sort through. And the food on our table was hard won, a constant battle to balance healthy-eating with budget living.

And no matter how hard I tried to see the blessings, I just couldn’t feel them. Gratitude isn’t something you can force yourself to feel. No matter how many ways I went about thinking about it, I just couldn’t get my heart to embrace it.

Until I realised what the problem was – I wasn’t giving myself time. I needed time to stop everything and just focus on being. I needed to step away from all the pressures that wore me down and take some time out to simply be. And I definitely needed to cut down on the amount of time I spent looking at other people’s lives and yearning for things that were never meant to be for me.

The internet and social media can be a wonderful thing. It has brought me a lot of peace lately, but it can also be a dangerous trap to fall into, if you’re not careful (or should I say “mindful”) in how you use it. Not only does it bombard you with “edited” images of other people’s lives (by that I mean most people tend to show more of the “good” in their lives than the bad, giving us a skewed impression of what a “good life” looks like), but it also feeds us with ideas of all the things we need to do to be happy.

We need to have a perfectly pristine home. The food we cook should be ever more adventurous. We should be doing everything to make our kids’ childhoods perfect for them. And we definitely need to be “seen” in a certain light by not only our close friends and family, but also friends of friends and even perfect strangers we have only just met.

The latter is a lesson I am learning gradually. I put far too much stock into how others see me, I have done so for many years, but it has been brought into a whole new light of late. It is only recently, through quiet meditation and taking time out, that I have realised just why I have been so bothered by events over the past year – I am worried about what others must think of me, rather than realising that what others think of me really doesn’t matter, as long as I am happy with what I know to be true of myself.

what others think of me really doesn't matter, as long as I am happy with what I know to be true of myself.

Which brings me back to the good in the internet and social media. You see, the internet has given me access to things I may never have found without it, especially when it comes to the more “unusual” areas of my life. Most recently this has included online kundalini yoga classes (via youtube) that have brought a real peace into my life. I’ve tried yoga before, attending my first classes with my dad in my late teens, but I’ve never felt so empowered by it.

TJ and I started practising with this video just last week, and already I can feel the difference. I felt it from the very first moment we tried it. It wasn’t even that I was doing anything different, simply that I have found something I really enjoy which makes me take half an hour out of my day that is just for me. The benefit of that alone is immense, but combining it with the energising power of kundalini yoga leaves me feeling far more at peace and in control than I ever have. And the reality is that I’m not in control at all, I am simply riding the waves rather than trying (hopelessly) to tame them. And the relief of that is wonderful.

Suddenly I am aware of self-damaging behaviours – comparing myself (and my life) to others, constantly craving for more (or to achieve the next big thing), and feeling the need to justify my life (and my decisions). Those behaviours haven’t just disappeared, they are still there, but I am no longer oblivious to their effect on my well-being and through recognising this I am able to create change. Because I make time for it.

If there’s one thing I have learnt recently, it’s that no matter what you do, no matter how much you learn and how far you go in life, there is one thing that will never fail to assist you and that’s time. In a society where we are obsessed with squeezing every last drop of life out of every single second, it can feel counter-intuitive to stop and simply be. I know, I’ve been driven by both fear and ambition for far too long. But I also know, now, that taking that time is the most beautiful gift we can ever give to ourselves.

In a society where we are obsessed with squeezing every last drop of life out of every single second, it can feel counter-intuitive to stop and simply be. I know, I've been driven by both fear and ambition for far too long. But I also know, now, that taking that time is the most beautiful gift we can ever give to ourselves.

A Journey Through Prayer

Today I want to write about the journey I have been on recently, which in many ways is deeply personal and therefore rather scary to blog about. And yet it is having such a beautifully positive effect on my life, I feel like I need to share it.

How prayer, meditation and journalling have helped me in uncertain times

It all began at the very end of last year. 2014 was a hellish year for us. It followed several difficult years we had already survived and seemed to push us beyond our limits in a way nothing else had ever done. And I was broken. I have touched on this previously, but a lot of it never actually made it onto the blog at all. Needless to say, it was a very dark period in our lives.

I was so caught up in simply surviving that I couldn’t even enjoy the publication of the book, despite knowing what a massive achievement it was. Most days I felt like I was living on an endless spin cycle, dizzy with the inability to ground myself as I desperately gave absolutely everything I had to the many, many responsibilities I had upon my shoulders.

When I finally did ask for help, and things became immeasurably more stressful as a result, I found myself balancing precariously on the edge of reason, unable to eat or sleep, and obsessing over things I couldn’t change. I was lost and I couldn’t see a way to find myself again…

Until I prayed.

It’s not that I haven’t prayed before, but instead of a hasty “please help me” prayer, I sat down and really opened my heart. Beaten by life itself, I took a moment and let out a heartfelt prayer:

“Okay… I’ve tried it my way, and it isn’t working. I don’t know anymore what I want, let alone what I should do. I’m ready for you to show me the way forward, wherever that takes me…”

It is a prayer that I have never dared to say, because by surrendering so completely there is the possibility that something could come along that I do not want to face. But it felt like I had nothing to lose. My way really wasn’t working, in fact it was positively damaging me, so it couldn’t get any worse. What I didn’t expect, of course, was for things to get a whole lot better, almost overnight!

Within moments of saying those words, I felt the tears I had held inside come pouring out. The release was incredible, and I felt a warmth and calm wash over me. Nothing really changed that day, the circumstances that had led me to such despair were still there, but something had shifted inside my heart. I had opened up to the idea of being guided and supported – for the first time in a long, long time I didn’t feel the almighty weight of trying to make sense of everything on my own.

2 Corinthians 12:8-9

Over the next few days I began writing a journal, reading books and blogs online, and simply allowing myself to feel what I needed to feel. And I began to feel that things would be okay. I didn’t have to feel alone, even when I was alone, and that helped me immensely. I knew I had some difficult times ahead (although I had no idea just how shaken up my life was about to become) but I would be okay because I didn’t have to face them alone. I’d always have a quiet space to return to in prayer.

This led me to choosing Surrender as my Word of the Year. It also heavily influenced my goals for 2015. And all of it was perfectly timed because a few days later my whole world turned upside down. I returned to work after a month off sick, to find out that changes to the organisation meant I was facing possible redundancy.

As the higher earner in our family, redundancy is quite a scary prospect, however my reaction was incredibly calm. It just made sense – I had prayed for direction and direction was what I was been given. It was making me close the door on an area of my life that I had poured my heart and soul into, which I would normally have fought against. But instead, I chose to surrender to it, trusting that the closing of this door was to free me up for the place I now needed to be.

Let me stop here for a moment to really emphasise this point… at the end of 2014 I was on the edge of despair, and yet just a few weeks later, when my entire life became ultimately more stressful thanks to redundancy and all that this entails, I was so much calmer than I had been in a long, long time. This, more than anything else, proved to me the power of prayer!

Things seemed to happen really quickly after that – we found a new house to rent, far closer to my parents, and I attended two interviews for new jobs. And I really, honestly felt like everything was being perfectly orchestrated to lead me into the place I needed to be.

But it wasn’t quite that simple. The house fell through, the job interviews were unsuccessful, and I find myself at the beginning of March with no job and a house full of boxes but no new home to move to. That stress level just cranked up another notch.

I feel exhausted from multiple journeys to and from our new home town, calls and emails chasing people regarding paperwork and payments, and multiple hospital visits thrown into the mix, just to make things extra interesting of course! And my faith began to waiver that little bit once more… until I made the time to sit and pray again.

Looking in my journal, I realised it had been more than a month since I had really made the time and space to sit and be with my thoughts. I had neglected to devote time to prayer and meditation, which in turn had a knock-on effect on my ability to cope with what was happening. That’s not to say I was super stressed again (far from it), but I began to question what it was all about. Until I prayed…

Commit to the Lord whatever you do and he will establish your path proverbs 16:3

In the midst of my prayer asking for guidance and comfort, I felt a very distinct response as if someone were saying to me, “why do you think it isn’t working, just because it isn’t already sorted?” And I knew, right then, that my impatience was getting the better of me. Instead of trusting in the process, allowing myself to be guided even when I couldn’t see the way forward, I was trying to force things to happen in my own time – a sure way to stress myself out!

Patience isn’t a virtue I really possess. I want everything to be sorted now. It’s most certainly a big learning curve for me, this trusting process. And yet, it seems so easy when I remember to take the time out to simply sit in prayer and reflect upon how this makes me feel. I cram so much meaningless stuff into my day, and yet the thing that makes me feel the best so often gets left out. Why is that?

I don’t actually know the answer to that one, but I do know it is worth continuing to try and make it a priority in my day because when I do I feel so much better. My life is currently as crazy as it has ever been (crazier even) and yet I feel as if everything is going to be okay. And that is why prayer is becoming an important part of my life.

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I really want to write a quick note here to say thanks to the amazing team at Thrive Moms. It is through rewatching their Fall Retreat (which I initially wrote about here) that I began to pray in earnest. Whilst still not really knowing where I fit in when it comes to faith and religion, I do love getting their weekly newsletters and seeing the wonderful supportive work they do to help mums do more than simply survive motherhood (because, we all know, that some days that’s what it feels like!)