An excerpt from “Kundalini Yoga for Evolving People: Empowering Yourself in a World of Constant Change“, by MutShat Shemsut
There’s no doubt about it: people of the African diaspora are resilient. In our historical times, in our homelands, in antiquity and beyond—before enslavement—our spirituality, sense of community, and purpose were what made and kept us strong. Today, despite the best efforts of the colonizers to break our spirit, we thrive.
But the constant, systemic racism has torn a hole in our society that we need to fix right away because it hurts our women and children and, by extension, may hurt our future generations if we don’t deal with it and turn things around. Dr. Arline Geronimus, a professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, has linked stress to high African American maternal and infant mortality. She calls her theory “weathering.” She believes that a kind of toxic stress triggers the premature deterioration of the bodies of African American women as a consequence of repeated exposure to a climate of racism and a variety of repeated slights and insults. The weathering of the black mother’s body, she theorized, could lead to poor pregnancy outcomes, including the death of her infant.
Dr. Geronimus’ research has shown that the societal and systemic racism faced by black women creates a toxic stress, leading to higher rates of infant and maternal death, which are worsened by a pervasive racial bias in the healthcare system. This bias can result in dismissed concerns and symptoms. Even black women with advanced degrees are more likely to lose their babies, demonstrating that this disparity is not only based on income or education. Today, black infants are still more likely to die than white infants, with black women being three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes. A 2017 report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that pre-eclampsia and eclampsia are 60% more common and severe in African-American women.¹ This is a disparity that has persisted throughout history and was also highlighted by W.E.B. Du Bois in his 1899 book, “The Philadelphia Negro.” Du Bois discussed the tragedy of black infant death and persistent racial disparities and even shared the death of his own son in “The Souls of Black Folk.”
In 1997, researchers from Boston and Howard universities working on the Black Women’s Health Study indicated that women who reported the highest experiences of racism had higher rates of preterm birth. This confirms that the level of stress that Black women face on a daily basis is similar to the bone-deep, triggering experience of trauma. “When a person is faced with a threat, the brain responds to the stress by releasing a flood of hormones, which allow the body to adapt and respond to the challenge. When stress is sustained, long-term exposure to stress hormones can lead to wear and tear on the cardiovascular, metabolic, and immune systems, making the body vulnerable to illness and even early death,” writes Linda Villarosa in an extensive article on the subject for The New York Times Magazine.²
According to an article by Geronimus and her colleagues for The American Journal of Public Health, African-American women have higher allostatic load scores compared to white women and black men, even after adjusting for factors such as income and education. Allostatic load scores are a measurement of stress-related chemicals in the body and their impact on the body’s systems. “These effects may be felt particularly by black women because of [the] double jeopardy of gender and racial discrimination.”³
Let us focus on using every tool at our disposal to turn this situation around. Kundalini Yoga and meditation are two tools that anyone can use, from birth to the last breath.
¹ For more, see Hunter, Purvis Lashieka, “The Womb Whisperers: Why More Pregnant Women Are Hiring Doulas”, in: Essence. Retrieved October 24, 2019 from https://www.essence.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/doulas-why-more-pregnant-women-hiring- womb-whisperer/
² Villarosa, Linda. “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis”, in The New York Times Magazine. April 11, 2018. For more, see “Black Mothers Respond to Our Cover Story on Maternal Mortality”, in: The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2019 from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/19/magazine/black-mothers-respond-to-our-cover-story-on-maternal-mortality.html
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