There is only one moment in the womb-healing workshop where I really, truly think I might start laughing and never stop.
I won’t go into too much detail because we have all agreed upon a confidentiality clause to ensure the creation of a “safe space” during the session. But let’s just say it involves someone appearing to enquire whether we can use the essential oils we’ve had dripped onto our open palms to masturbate with. The answer, as you might expect, is a resounding “no”. The oil is for massaging into our “womb space only, not your yoni”, workshop leader Nathalie Carden asserts firmly, demonstrating how to rub it into the skin of the lower belly. Roger that.
I came to this “sacral healing” workshop – the sacral chakra being the one related to the womb and sexual organs – at the invitation of a friend, in an effort to banish my inner cynic, embrace new experiences and say “yes” to more things outside my comfort zone. At the age of 36, I’ve already started on a different path to many of my peers: I’m partnerless, childless, and a year ago moved to a seaside town where I knew no one to start a new life. Compared to that, what’s a little woo-woo womb workshop between friends?
I didn’t know what to expect, but the first thing I’m struck by when we pull up to The Quiet View, a retreat space near Canterbury in Kent, is a deep sense of peace. It helps that the small but beautifully kept grounds are bleached by September sunshine, the eye-watering blue of sky throwing the chlorophyll green of wild gardens and yellow of nodding sunflowers into sharper focus.
And then there is Emma Hewitt, a reiki master, tarot card reader and drumming circle leader who’s the primary facilitator for today’s workshop. It is hard to describe the effect of her presence as she steps out of the yurt where we’ll be based, hugging me in greeting and offering to cleanse me with sage before I step inside. “Grounding” is possibly the closest I’ll come. As she embraces me in her soft, strong arms, my breathing slows and I feel my muscles, tissues, heck, my bones, relax. (I briefly consider asking her to adopt me before thankfully getting a grip on myself.)
Inside the bell tent, we roll out yoga mats around the “altar” (a mat with various tarot cards, flowers and crystals on) and shyly glance around at each other: eight participants in total, all different ages and nationalities of women. We start by awkwardly introducing ourselves and sharing the reasons each of us is here. Considering we “met”, if you can call it that, not 10 minutes ago, I am strangely touched by the openness and rawness of my fellow participants’ motivations: big, powerful incentives around trauma, childbirth experiences, a lack of connection with our bodies, confusion and grief around whether motherhood will be part of our stories.
With that icebreaker, I already feel an inexplicable, unspoken bond with every woman sitting in the circle. It remains unbroken for the next six hours – even when it becomes clear that a communal w*** is out of the question. This bond, education worker and fellow workshop participant Kat Vallely tells me, is what first drew her to “alternative” spirituality practices.
“Drifting through my twenties, I had a yearning to be part of a community, and couldn’t find it anywhere,” she says. Brought up a strict Catholic, Kat turned away from the church when she was 17 after the congregation was asked to sign a petition against gay marriage. But she still longed for connection; searching for meaning, she dabbled in star sign readings, astrology, moon patterns, mediums, reiki and then discovered women’s circles.
“I went to my first one and it felt like everything I’d been doing – reiki, healing, journalling – was culminating in this safe space, where you can be yourself, express what you want, share experiences and do it in harmony with other women. It empowers me to use my voice and purge emotions: I can howl, scream, laugh, knowing it’s all OK and I won’t be judged. I don’t connect with everything in the workshops, but certainly parts, and I feel privileged to connect with those parts.”
I, too, struggle to connect with all of the exercises, such as coming up with a vision of our inner goddess and then creating a picture of her – I’ve never been one for craft and, brandishing Pritt stick and spangly bits of card, feel like I’m on a New Age hen do – but others unexpectedly strike a nerve deep within.
One of the most powerful is the womb singing; in partners, we take it in turns to release our womb’s “inner voice” (stay with me here), making an “ooh” sound as Emma rhythmically hits a calfskin drum. I initially feel my British reserve clamping down, hard, on my vocal cords. “Don’t you dare,” I hear my inner sceptic hiss, with a voice that sounds remarkably like Hyacinth Bucket. But it’s hard to stay inhibited when surrounded by courageous women making noises ranging from high-pitched squeals to deep, animalistic growls along to the pulsating beat of the drum. I start off quietly, tentatively; but the “oohs” get louder and longer, stronger and more sustained. Within a few minutes, I feel bizarrely as if I’m in labour, and a real power emanating from… down there. As if it’s full of energy, and light, and potential. Blimey.
Emma is clear that, while these workshops can lead to revelations, they should be viewed as one step in a continuous healing journey. “It’s incremental – no one’s going to go to one workshop and sort everything out,” she says. “But each piece of work we do is part of the jigsaw, allowing more movement and a shift in the right direction.” The “right” direction will be different for everyone – whether it’s moving past the trauma of a difficult childbirth experience, or simply feeling more in tune with our bodies and femininity.
She sees a big part of her role as creating a safe space where connections can form between women. “Women’s circles allow us to show up as ourselves and feel the things we’re feeling without any shame, just by being witnesses to each other,” she says. “I’ve realised how powerful it is to really be seen in a healing process and to really see someone else. I’ve done some trauma training – and one of the things about healing trauma is that you do it in connection with others. There are golden threads that connect us all as human beings; in sacred spaces, we can acknowledge each other’s humanity and recognise we’re part of something much bigger.”
Previously a youth theatre worker, Emma only started her business two years ago, having realised she had a gift for helping people: “I don’t hold the answers for anyone else, only myself, but I can help provide guiding lights and different perspectives on life and our potential.”
And, as much as I may have been tempted to roll my eyes at the idea of “reiki healing” before the session, something truly weird and moving happens to me when Emma leads us through a visualisation. She speaks some calming words about imagining a landscape, but I honestly couldn’t tell you much more than that, because the next moment I’m experiencing the most vivid, lucid daydream of my life. It involves being underwater in a clear sea flooded with sunlight, my movements pleasingly fluid, and hearing the sound of children’s laughter – but they’re always out of view. And then I’m suddenly back on land – wait, I’m a tree! My roots are plunged deep into the earth and two children are with me, wrapped safely into my trunk.
Sounds pretty trippy, right? And indeed it is. But when Emma brings us “back” to reality, I’m hit with an instant clarity: that there are two possibilities in my future. In one, I won’t have children and, while there’ll be sadness in that, I’ll get to keep my freedom. In the other, I’ll have children and be rooted – but in order to gain a family, I’ll have to give up my flexibility. Either path involves sacrifice; either path contains abundant but different joys. But the main sense I’m left with is this: whichever one happens, I’ll be OK.
Confusedly blinking back tears, I’m somewhat relieved to feel the mood shift, courtesy of being encouraged to whisper declarations into a bowl of water before drinking it. (I keep getting distracted by the fact the bowl I’ve brought from home was clearly full of lint, all of which is now floating on the surface. It’s hard to maintain the whole mystical, cleansing vibe while sipping a mouthful of my own hair.)
After ending the session with a bang, quite literally, courtesy of a drumming workshop, I roll out of the yurt imbued with an undeniable sense of calm and contentment. Kat and I look at each other, both palpably relaxed. “Would you come to the next workshop, then?” she asks. Yes, if it’s a yoni-healing one and someone will be asking to play fast and loose with the essential oils, I momentarily think. But then I did have the most intense epiphany of my life regarding potential future children and get to make some terrible goddess craft. So I opt for something simpler: yes.
Emma Hewitt runs workshops in London, Kent and online; for more information visit salamay.co.uk
Nathalie Carden runs workshops in Kent and online; visit zensoundhealing.business.site