Journeys

Healthy-living, Wellness and Dance Africa-style: Awakening to African-American Identity

Wellness African dance

For more than 10 years, I took about 12 pills per day. I was diagnosed with everything from Fibromyalgia, the trash-bucket diagnosis given when illnesses are ruled out, which is the confirmation that my doctor was clueless as to my condition. Then, there was the opposite end of the spectrum, Lupus, which is a very serious and sometimes deadly disorder of the autoimmune system. It causes your body to fight against its own healthy cells. None were good. I was a medical mess.

However, along the way, I was required to take remedies to do all the things one’s body should do naturally. I took pills for pain, sleep, inflammation, indigestion — and I still felt terrible. Additionally, since I had so much going on physically, of course, doctors prescribed anti-depressants. Admittedly, I felt bad because I hurt all the time, but, I was never clinically depressed, at least, I didn’t think so.

When I look back now, I question, who wouldn’t be depressed under those circumstances. Secretly, while alone I thought to myself, “I must be dying of some terrible disease.”

There was no end to my suffering.

“My legs are stiff and painful,” I told one doctor. “I can’t bend my legs.”

“Stop eating French Fries,” he said. That was his advice. I’m surprised he didn’t give me a medication to offset potatoes. I was furious… and although a German-speaker, he said this in English. I’m sure he was being sarcastic. I was an outsider to their system and using their resources. Although I was paying a hefty price in euros for the services. I’m certain he had no intention of really helping me. There was a preconceived notion that Americans and probably Blacks have certain ailments, why bother?

Fast-forward to the healthcare system here in the U.S. I wish I could say I’d had better luck. I’ve suffered consistently since 1997, and only began to heal myself after my trip to Africa in 2013. Before that, I’d achieved some minor successes, but in 2013, my discoveries and my practitioners made huge strides in my wellness.

I think this is important for our community and people of color because as an American I never anticipated medical racism in Europe. I was certainly a paying customer. I’d had more than three surgeries while there. I can only imagine what happens when someone comes here (to the United States) from another country and they don’t speak English well, or are learning English, and they don’t have high-option medical insurance, as I do. I wonder what kind of treatment my brothers and sisters get as they navigate the medical system here and abroad. I was inspired to create my own health strategies after understanding my DNA, genetic composition and ancestry.

The human body is a magnificent machine. According to Dr. Bruce Lipton, geneticist; cells respond to the environment in which they are placed. He says an unhealthy cell will respond when placed in a healthy environment. When I provided a healthy environment for my cells through healthy nutrition, diet, exercise, positive thoughts and life engineering, my pain subsided, and there is no detectable sign of illness – not heart disease, high-blood pressure, diabetes or Lupus. Nothing!

I believe God provides experiences and lessons to learn from through our relationships good and bad. Together, we are all part of the solution. As an African-American, who has traveled abroad, as if in a play, mama in the market carrying the mat-full of sandwich meats and beverages in Ghana became a model of health and wellness for me. I wanted and needed to know what she ate and how she stayed energetic and youthful despite a physically taxing lifestyle. My health strategy incorporated those observations from the continent.

French Fry man, the doctor, was not on my team. Not only did I never return to him for help, I also found other compassionate professionals, who would listen to my health concerns and take me seriously. I believe we people of color have to create our own networks and teams. We have to take care of one another. We understand our own challenges and we must work together to create wellness and economic, physical and spiritual growth and wellness within our community.

I believe that specialist, Dr. French Fry man, looked at me as a fat American because I was living in Europe at the time. His perception of me was based on the idea that all Americans enjoy fast food and some Americans are unhealthy. Further, since I am also black, I’m certain he must have thought I had fat-back seasoning and chitterlings in my future. Therefore, it was a waste of time to help me. He saw no chance of healing me from myself. Although, in my case, he was wrong. His ill-perceptions were the farthest thing from the truth. I rarely eat fast food. Soul food, including chitterlings and pig’s feet, have become a delicacy for me. I only allow myself to eat them on special occasions. Additionally, I’m convinced fast food isn’t really food. It’s processed food stuff. And Soul Food, is tough because historically, the ancestors made it good food, although it was the master’s scraps. When I’m stressed, I don’t reach for sweets. I crave the love of the ancestors in my chitterlings and pickled sausages. It’s not all the time, but it’s the love connection I crave. It’s my grandmother’s touch that fills the void.

But, since I also believe that everything happens for a reason, the lesson-learned from Dr. French Fry is that the medical racism is real. Some de-value the medical conditions of others based on their color and race. Having a preconceived idea about my race, culture, and eating habits might negatively impact and affect the level of care I receive. What an important lesson! It’s certainly something to think about. It’s funny, but I’ve had more than one physician tell me that I was suffering because it might be in my genetics.

So, when I went to Africa, I wanted to see what others who looked like me do. I was looking at the puffiness I had around my ankles, eyes and general fluffiness and pitting in my skin, which made me appear to be fatter than usual. I needed to prove the doctor right, or wrong. Again, the connotation of black means a lot of things around the world. I wanted to understand my genetics in the context of my people and my heredity. I wanted to understand what they were talking about, why I’d be genetically pre-disposed to illness. This was a new concept. This was one occasion where my light skin didn’t grant me a pass. I thought the genetics referred to was squarely-based in my African ancestry. It was trivial and demeaning to think he wanted me to believe I was fat because I ate too many French Fries. It was like saying I had bad blood or bad genes. I was offended and sure he was blaming me for feeling bad and being sick. However, in all fairness, since then I’ve had to also understand that my trace Scandinavian DNA brings Celiac disease and gluten intolerance into the picture, so I may have been hasty in my anger. All of one’s DNA matters when it comes to health and wellness. This is a good reason to be tested, if you haven’t been.

I couldn’t give up. My health counted on it. I was very ill. I was willing to try just about anything to get better. It wasn’t hard for me to look towards natural remedies, while working with my doctors. They provided alternative pain relief that didn’t involve drugs. Additionally, I liked the caring and compassion nature of the practitioners, who were also medical doctors.

In Europe, I found therapists in massage, acupuncture, nutrition and physical therapy, as well as, Reiki and spiritual healing. In fact, after only 30-days in Germany in 2008, a friend prayed for me. She asked God to heal my body.

Shortly after, my body started to reject the medications, the daily 12-pills. When I took my medication my skin burned, and I itched. It was a sure sign that I was rejecting the regime that had been my lifeline for so many years. I also learned that in Europe it is illegal to put chemical products in food sources. The food spoils much faster; in about two-days, salad veggies are mush, but it’s truly fresh, with no preservatives, fillers and insecticides. This was also huge to my healing process.

I ate healthier due to my location, and I also discontinued the use of the medication and sought the help of a competent physician. I haven’t had any of those pills since. This was the beginning of the next chapter of my life. I was to experience life without mind-altering drugs and pain. I was beginning my journey towards joy. I found the next steps to my healing in Ghana and Benin during 2013.

Wellness and African dance

I believe the ancestors also passed down natural remedies through oral history. My grandmother would carefully employ creams, ointments and healing methods from natural ingredients. For example, fever would require pulling-together some cheese cloth, chopped onion and garlic for a strategically placed poultice that could be tied around one’s head or neck. It worked, I think, none of us suffered ill effects of fever. But, I think it’s important to preserve our heritage and the knowledge and discoveries of our ancestors.

I’m not discouraging the use of doctors or any medical professional’s advice. I’m just saying that we have to educate ourselves and think out the box. Further, as consumers, we each have a responsibility to interview, check credentials, select and fire those individuals – doctors and practitioners – that don’t meet our medical needs. We should be seeking individuals with common healing goals and interests, and those with a cooperative attitude and belief and desire for a patient’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health and wellness. We need to work toward prevention of disease in our community.

All centers within the human body work hand in hand, and no remedy or modality should be discounted until tried, but it is our responsibility to do the work towards total healing. If you are fat and don’t like it change it. If you do, live it and do it well. I’ve had to incorporate all of Western and Eastern concepts and homeopathic practices to find my way. I also rely on the divine inspiration, prayer and meditation too to provide me guidance in my healing process.

Further, I believe it’s important to want to heal and to get better.

I was tired of looking at my body in its illness. I didn’t want to feel bad, and I needed more energy. I didn’t recognize myself and I wasn’t living up to my highest potential. Certainly, not those standards set by my ancestors. Because by the time I’d traveled to the continent, I knew I’d come from strong people and good stock. I felt like I’d wasted time and was missing opportunities because of my health. I had to remember that I’d come from survivors. Strong backs and hands, who had built America. I was reminded, while moving through the many villages and markets in West Africa of that legacy. I rested and trusted that the ancestors had some of the answers to my questions. I believed they would give me a cure.

Those answers came in a subtle and unexpected way. I looked around and saw my family on the continent walking 12-15 hours a day or more. So I knew I had to do better. Some days I was lucky to get 200 steps a day because my commute is almost 2 hours daily. Additionally, I had to learn to eat more chicken and fish than red meat. I made the changes because I had to, I wanted to take the stress out of the digestive process and put some life into my living. Eating smaller, lighter meals made me feel better. I also had to change my perceptions about myself. I had to see my beauty within and then allow that to resonate externally.

African American wellness

What’s one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, I’m told. I had to get over my divorces, single-parent apologies, and get back to being me. And, I’d spent my whole life trying to cover up my behind, my asset—my butt. People call it different things, my mother used to call it a curse. But the truth is she didn’t have one quite like mine, so I had to overcome the negative self-talk. Being confident and impeccably dressed means sometime tailoring my clothes and not buying clothes off the shelf. Instead of hiding it, I just dress it up. No more avoiding the attention, it’s mine. It takes up several zip codes and it’s ok, finally.

In plain sight and beneath bright, colorful patterns and light-cotton fabrics, big, round butts, like mine, were everywhere in Ghana and Benin. I appreciated that when I sauntered through the market I was easily identified as ‘sister’.

Throughout the healing process I recognized this as ‘good’ fat or ‘unused energy’, in cases of extreme illness this can sustain a body. It’s indeed a blessing made for harsh conditions – hot sun, tropical and desert landscape – you realize having this extra fat helps to sustain the body during drought, famine and starvation. What a blessing! I was freed to challenge my body to use this energy and it provided the next clue to my exercise plan.

Once, I wondered why God would give me big thighs and a big butt, now I just look for ways to improve it and to improve my overall fitness.

African Dance Workout

I found the Performing Arts Center for African Cultures in Laurel, Md., by accident. I was at an African festival learning about my culture when I realized dancing could promote fitness. I’d done Latin, and classic European dances before, but had never considered African dance. I’d tried the gym and weights, but nothing stuck. First, it looked very hard and physically demanding. Second, for many years, I was unable to muster the energy to do basic life skills and here I was contemplating a very strenuous workout.

At the festival, I saw people dancing and smiling. I wanted joy and happiness in addition to health and wellness. I wanted something that would also provide a spiritual connection.

“They look like me,” I thought. “African dance, why not try.”

I thought to myself again, “what do I have to lose?”

Today, I have been dancing for almost three years. When I started, I couldn’t even lift my legs. Dr. French Fry is a joke and a catalyst for my healing. Today, I’ve lost 50-pounds and I’ve danced on stage, and expect to do more soon. Dancing big and with wild abandon feels good. There is nothing that brings me more joy or that brings me closer to roots.

african-dance-and-wellness

I’ve come a long way. By understanding my culture and ancestry. I’ve learned to feed my body what it needs. Once again, I can be proud of myself, my teasingly tan skin and my curves and beautiful contours. I’m resilient and intact. Disease and illness has been replaced by happiness. The secret was once again in my ancestry. I vowed to return to Europe and America with the lessons from Ghana and Benin. It was my saving grace.

I understood how I found myself on 12-pills a day. In America, it’s big business, marketing and advertising often drives use of these drugs. Whenever one turns on the TV, he or she is sure to discover a health problem and the company’s cure.

I encourage you to look beyond your ailments and seek physical fitness, wellness and joy.

When I dance to the drum and I escape into the music. I feel a connection to my ancestral roots, but I also believe the vibration and energy has made it impossible for disease to exist within me. I am not limited to dancing in small, erect posture, as I was in the Latin and European tradition. I can move my core, lift my legs and shake my hips in ways unimaginable before. I’ve become healthy, vibrant and youthful. The best thing is that I’m slowly shaking loose the toxins that were poisoning my system. Those silent killers of my energy are struggling to find new places to hide. I’m giving them a run for their money because 12-pills a day was certainly too much. No pills is always best if possible. I ’m sure, I’ve added years to my life, and every day is full of joy.

Denver Beaulieu-Hains is a writer, speaker and public relations professional with more than 20 years of experience working as a spokesperson, media consultant and planner for the Department of Defense and the federal government. She is a survivor of both sexual abuse and domestic violence. As a writer, she is thoughtful, honest and direct. At times the raw emotion of her experience leaps off the page. Beaulieu-Hains has a Master of Science in Administration with an emphasis on organizational development and leadership, and a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communications and Journalism. Beaulieu-Hains is a native of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area and has three adult children.

Read | Chance Meeting and Ethnic Shift: Awakening to my African-American Identity

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1 Comment

  • Thank you all for providing warm and accepting comments to this article. I pray you too can find a space that allows you to experiment with habits that promote health, happiness and prosperity. I believe these virtues are all tied together.