We talk a lot about our body, not always well… We rarely listen to what it has to tell us. Yet it knows us very well. It sends us signs that we do not listen to. We have not yet learned how to understand its language.
When I was a Butterfly Ranger, I taught English in the village of El Castillo. This class was totally unprepared. We were studying the body parts. I drew the best silhouette I could on the board. To have them practice the vocabulary, I suggested they say phrases like: « I like my eyes, but I do not like my fingers. I like my feet, but I don’t like my mouth. » Everyone took on the exercise dutifully, and I was proud to have them work on the negative form in the mean time. When it was the turn of a girl sited at the back of the room, she looked at me straight and said in perfect English:
« I love my whole body, because that’s the only one I have. »
BOOM. Her sentence resonates deeply inside me. It is so genuine. I feel stupid to have potentially fueled some of their body complexes. It is true: we only have one body. This body evolves and changes with us throughout our life. It is our only ship to navigate this world. Better treat it well and love it well because you won’t be given another one.
When the body speaks
A month earlier, I was leaving for Costa Rica. I was then covered with eczema, from head to toes. Dry, irritated and exhausted. It had been 2 years I was struggling with it night and day. I suffered irrational bursts. Red and dry patches bloomed everywhere on me. I was itching until it bled. This resulted from an explosive cocktail: a break-up both sudden and traumatic (from 7 years to nothing, it hurts) + a lot of stress and anxiety at work (cheers to deadlines and « charrette » in architecture firms) + a Parisian lifestyle totally out of sync with my biological rhythms.
I had tried everything: cortisone (as well as all the other creams and ointments you can find at CVS), acupuncture sessions, body workers-healers, milk-free and gluten-free diets, vegetable oils, omega 3 capsules… Nothing worked.
Disease (Synonyms): affection, morbid entity, syndrome, evil.
Eczema is one of the so-called psychosomatic diseases. They result from the interaction between the nervous system (our psyche) and the immune system (our body). When our nervous system experiences an emotional overflow, our body starts to produce hormones such as cortisol that lower our body’s immune defenses. Asthma, eczema, gastric reflux, constipation, hair loss, herpes, psoriasis are some of these diseases.
“Model of a Healthful Diet » by Inshoku Yōjō Kagami, 19th century
We often say that everyone has their own « weaknesses ». I think rather that each body has its own and recurrent way of expression. For some it is back pain, insomnia or panic attacks. For others, skin problems, migraines, stomachaches or constipation. The body expresses on the outside an inside ache.
For me, it has always been the skin. I have a very sensitive and reactive skin. Eczema chose me when I was a baby and accompanied me in the different stages of life. It had behaved well since then, only showing up on small parts of my body: elbows, eyelids, hands, neck. Cortisone worked just fine for small breakouts, and my skin always returned to normal after a week.
After the breakup, this mode of expression took on a whole new level. It was frightening and powerful. I did not control anything anymore. The creams stopped working (even the strongest ones) and I went twice to the ER for immediate dermatology treatment. I was condemned to be covered with dreadful dry and stinging patches.
For 6 months, I worked with a wonderful psychologist who helped me and guided me in this healing process. One of her very practical tips was to keep an « eczéma diary » to understand the links of cause and effect. I noted what had happened the day before a burst out and listed what might have influenced it. After a few weeks, the retro-active reading of this journal was already helping me to detect recurrences and interesting patterns.
What most clearly transformed me is meditation. I started to practice right after the love earthquake. I needed something to hold myself to, and to recover my balance. I started out of pure curiosity and without any great ambition, like a new shampoo you try because you read about it on a blog.
It’s been 3 years now that I practice mindfulness meditation, guided by Andy’s voice (I use the great Headspace app). The exercise of meditation is extremely simple and repetitive. There is nothing transcendental about it. It is the opposite of thinking. It’s about stopping everything you’re doing and connecting with your body experiences. Find 5 or 10 minutes a day to become aware of your breathing, your warmth, your weight, the surrounding noise and your internal fluids.
When at the end of each session, Andy’s voice said: « And now, let go of everything. Let go of your attention on the breathe. Let the mind be free. Let the mind do whatever it wants to do » … I released the intense concentration on my breathing and I systematically felt like my mind was opening on a vast horizon. I was transported in an open and bright landscape. A beach, a field of flowers, sunshine. My body seemed to know where it wanted to be.
More and more studies are measuring the benefits of this simple practice on our brain, our hormones, our immune system and our genes.
There is evidence that meditation literally increases the amount of concentration-related gray matter, reduces hyperactivity and attention-deficit problems. This daily exercise also paces the heart rate, the breathing rate, and prevents the risk of stroke. But the craziest in my opinion: it relieves inflammatory symptoms and acts upon the genes of our immunity! Cherry on the cake, it improves our emotional, cognitive and social behaviors.
In the documentary « Les étonnants bienfaits de la méditation (The amazing benefits of meditation) », one of the doctors, who is fully convinced by the key impact this practice has on our health, tells the audience: « You do take the time to brush your teeth every day? Why don’t you give your brain the same day-to-day care? »
In a more esoteric register, Barbara Wren explains that « our experiences of health, wholeness and joy are connected with what happens to us at the cellular level. Each one of the numerous cells found in the body has the potential to retain and generate light. Stressful conditions such as problems in a relationship or on the job, bad economy, impatience, anger, or anxiety affect us not only mentally, but also creates a particular type of dehydration in the body. The cells are thus less able to keep their temperature and convert light to vitamins. »
This desire for landscape dwelled on me and the idea of Costa Rica grew on organically. My body kept telling me it wanted beach, sand, ocean, jungle and vegetation. I needed sun and fruits in large quantities! It felt obvious to me, but very sudden for the people around me. I quit my job, took a plane ticket and gave myself 6 months there. 6 months to slow down, to listen and to regenerate. I wanted to be alone, in nature, with no job and no itinerary.
When I got there, I experienced every moment mindfully. I worked as a volunteer in projects that made sense, and tuned my five senses to the environment. I carefully peeled Sacha Inchi. I watched a turtle lay eggs. I breathed the smell of Reinas de la Noche at dusk. I recorded frog croaking in the night. Clear from societal attributes and constant stress of urban life, I connected with myself to a deeper level. I finally had time to sleep A LOT (from 8pm to 7 am). I ate mostly vegetables, fruits, rice and beans (almost no meat, bread or cheese). I worked out almost every day and intensely absorbed the local climate: sun, sea spray, wind, smells, humidity… It is clear that I have a vital need for natural light. I am a solar-powered human. I felt gratitude and appreciation for everything around me, and listened kindly to my body.
Just 2 months later, the eczema had disappeared as if by magic. As if it never existed. As if it had not ruined my life for those 2 years. I barely had time to say goodbye… and to thank it for taking me to this country!
Definition of Health by WHO – 1946: « Health is a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being, and not just the absence of disease or infirmity.«
During my stay, I met Diamante, a dog inflicted with fleas and skin irritations. She kept scratching day and night releasing little cries of pain and pleasure. In scratching like this, she entered this trance that I knew so well (but that seemed already so far …) halfway between ecstasy, desperation, extreme nervousness and need for contact. I sympathized helplessly with her. She was there to make me realize the road I had traveled. I finally felt good in my SKIN, and in everything else.
Lessons for later
- Health and well-being are key topics for sustainable lifestyles. This implies a more holistic vision of health correlated with food, environment, activities and feelings.
- Meditation opens a space of calm and clarity within our mind. It frees us from everything for a few minutes each day. It helps us experience a beneficial distance with our thoughts, while reconnecting ourselves to our breathing body, the first vehicle of our experience in the world.
- Our instinct knows what is good for us (for me it was to leave my overbooked Parisian life to volunteer in Costa Rica). Our body knows how to heal itself if we feed it in a healthy way and respect its rhythms.
- The body lives happily in a specific climate. And everyone is different … My body definitely needs sun, fruits and heat more than cold and rain. To be happy, let’s live in balance with our body.
–« All it takes is 10 mindful minutes » : the TED Talk of Headspace’s founder
–« Les étonnants bienfaits de la méditation » : documentary, ARTE, 2017
–« La santé c’est la vie dans le silence des organes », article d’Olivier Bézy, 2010
–« Mindfulness on the go. Simple meditations practice you can do anywhere » by Jan Chozen Bays, Shambhala Editions. A series of very simple little exercises to be more present in everyday life.
-The article (very esoteric) : « Healing on a cellular level »