On Healing: Knowing Yourself, Your History, and Your Body

By Sharon Elise. Photography By Deun Ivory.

The current popularity of holistic health and wellness is not a novice lifestyle and has in fact, been documented, studied, and practiced as a healing tradition for thousands of years. The holistic approach to health and wellness was prevalent among ancient African communities and continued to thrive across centuries. In these communities, the use of natural remedies to cure dis-ease and ailments were common practice. African communities relied solely on the forces of nature to provide healing and care through the use of plants, herbs, and tinctures. 

With the changing tides of our time, we’ve returned to the roots and practices of our ancestors through natural and holistic practices; however we’ve suffered gravely as a people disconnected from our natural tendency to rely on nature for healing. Present day, coupled with the inhumane and unjust treatment we’ve experienced across generations, we’re bearing witness to the impact trauma can have on our bodies, health, and well-being. It’s been 154 years since the legalized abolishment of slavery, yet the institutionalized and systemic structure of slavery still exists. While we’ve made great strides with implementations of public policies and are fighting injustices and inequalities with movements such as #muterkelly and #metoo, there’s much more to be done to take back ownership of our bodies. The historical context of the trauma experienced by our ancestors has had long-lasting effects across generations. The multigenerational effects of trauma experienced during slavery can be seen in the alarming increase of health disparities negatively affecting black women on far greater scales than any other race of women. 

The rate at which Black women experience higher propensities to infections such as HIV, HPV, and ovarian cancer is alarming and continues to increase despite the best efforts to increase health and wellness education. Additionally the quality of health care provided to black women is significantly poorer, which has contributed to the heightened sense of distrust for the health care system. The lack of care and concern for the bodies of black women dates back to slavery, where black slaves were viewed as property and therefore had no legal rights over their bodies. Many women were sold into slavery based on their ability to “breed” and have more children. Black slaves were raped and sexually assaulted by their slaveowners and comrades for pleasure and enjoyment. As we remained vigilant in our practice of natural remedies and healing, surviving through the abolishment of slavery, the trauma and mistreatment continued throughout the century. 

Surgical procedures were conducted on black women for the advancement of gynecology health during and post-slavery; most cases of which informed consent was not received. A woman is born with all the eggs she’ll ever have in her lifetime. As such, you were in your grandmothers’ womb with your mother as she was in her grandmother’s womb with her mother and so on and so forth. That’s centuries of trauma that has been passed down through our DNA. Studies have started to reveal evidence of this connection to the trauma of previous generations. As such, future generations can potentially be affected by our current trauma, dis-ease, and stress. Healing is not only significant for our wellbeing but also to that of our children, grandchildren and all future black women to be born into this world. 

More recently, we’ve witnessed courageous acts of healing through the storytelling of inspiring women like Serena Williams, Gabrielle Union, and Michelle Obama. It’s important that we educate ourselves on the historic trauma we’ve experienced to dispel the myths that exist and provide education to the youth that will soon follow behind; searching, yearning, and seeking answers for healing their bodies, minds, and spirits. We have to be torchbearers of healing through our wombs and womanhood to reclaim our bodies and take control over our reproductive health. It’s time we became experts of our bodies, health, and wellness. It’s up to us to hold the torch and say, “No more. Enough is enough. Ain’t I A Woman?” 

So if you want to get started (or continue) your practice towards holistic health and healing, begin with these 10 practices:  

  1. Heal from the past: We’ve carried the trauma of our ancestors’ experiences through our DNA. It’s time to relinquish ourselves from the hurt and pain that was never intended for us to carry. Cleanse yourself of the energy that’s weighed you down far into your adulthood from your own trauma and your ancestral lineage. Release it. Let it go. 

  2. Explore your body: Become an expert of your anatomy and physiology. Know the quirks and pains of your body as well as satisfactions and pleasures. Your body will reveal to you the spaces in need of healing.   

  3. Move your body: Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but it can be transmuted. Movement is a great way to release unhealthy energy stored in your body. Find a healthy movement practice like yoga, Zumba, or dance to start.

  4. Treat your body well: Consider what you are putting in your body, not just the foods you eat, but everything that you intake. Vitamins, medicines, alcohol, media, music, books etc. Give your body healthy nourishment to heighten your healing journey.  

  5. Trust your body: Your body is a vessel and will communicate it’s needs, if you focus on the signs. This comes with knowing your body. Once you developed the practice of exploration, you’ll trust your body when it tells you what it needs.

  6. Ask questions: It’s okay not to know. Ask a trusted healthcare provider, friend, or expert for insight. When you don’t know search for the answers you need. 

  7. Embrace your tribe: Go to your girls for support. We are our greatest support system and often a listening ear can provide the greatest sense of healing. 

  8. Make informed decisions: Never make a decision without all the facts. If you don’t know have all the information when something is being presented to you as it relates to your health, do research. Don’t make decisions under grave stress, haste, or with lack of information.  

  9. Be vulnerable: Storytelling is the one of the greatest healing traditions and best remedies to uplift, not only your soul but also the soul of others. Share your truth with others, you’ll not only be offering yourself healing, but giving it to those who connect with you through your story.

  10. Get back to your roots: Begin in the past and finish in the past. Not to due away with medicinal healing as there are benefits to modern day medicine; however connect with the ancestral traditions of natural healing remedies. Alternative medicines can be a great source of nourishment and healing for the body as well as providing the opportunity for the immune system to build up natural antibodies to ward off any illness or dis-ease. 

The process of healing is one that requires a great deal of self-exploration, self-discovery, and self-mastery, which can be achieved through knowing yourself, your history, and your body. Be committed to the healing process, trusting that everything will be provided to you as needed.  

As Black women, we're always given these seemingly devastating experiences—experiences that could absolutely break us. But what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly. What we do as Black women is take the worst situations and create from that point. ~Viola Davis~

Sharon Elise is a holistic wellness practitioner, writer, doula, and certified yoga instructor. Sharon is passionate about creating experiences for holistic health and wellness, inner peace, and the expansion of collective consciousness. She’s recently published her first book, a memoir, "I Don't Know How I Got Here But Here I Am." Sharon continues to strengthen her journey through her writing, workshops, and courses in the art of healing, finding purpose, and total body wellness. You can connect with Sharon at www.sharonelise.com or @sharonelise12 on Instagram.