As promised here is the second half of my interview with the wise and wonderful Claudia Welch—along with a great video interview I found online. Loved reading everyone’s comments in Part 1, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you guys think of the book!
Since reading it I’ve been practicing many of the recommendations, and I honestly see a difference in how I feel. I don’t expect overnight miracles, but I’m hopeful that these practices are going to help regulate my periods and hormonal fluctuations. If anyone is interested in going deeper Dr. Welch is offering a live phone and online course in this stuff (that’s a link to sign up for a free call)—I’m going to try to sit in on a few if I can.
We’re curious: For those of you who have experienced imbalances, what—if anything—have you noticed affects this most? Is it stress, or food choices, or have you not made the connection? It’s so great to hear all your stories, and as Dr. Welch pointed out, we have such an intelligent and thoughtful community of readers here. The best!
Onto the interview…
Your prescriptions for rebalancing seem so simple, but they’re also quite specific. Tell us about a few that you’ve found very effective.
It is true that some of the prescriptions are simple. But simple can still be hard. If the prescription, for example, is: slow down, and we have been driving ourselves forward for too long, we may not know what “slow down” looks like, or how to get there from here. Sometimes “slow down” is the main prescription and it is often the most effective. But there are other, easier short term remedies that can be very effective.
When we have excess stress in our lives, our nervous systems become hyper sensitive. When they become hypersensitive, we are more likely to translate benign events as threatening ones. When we do that, more stress hormones are secreted, making our nervous systems even more hypersensitive. It is a downward cycle. If we could but calm down the nervous system, we could help break that cycle. And lo, there are ways and means to accomplish that very thing. And, behold, they are simple. Or can be.
One simple remedy is warm oil self-massage–called “Abhyanga” in Ayurveda. There are loads of nerve endings that enervate our skin–the largest organ of our bodies. In essence, we can calm the nervous system through the skin. It works. It is a bit too much to explain here, but it is described in an Appendix in Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life.
I also love 15 minutes of gentle Alternate Nostril Breathing practice, daily. I find it to be one of the most powerful remedies for hot flashes and hormonal imbalance in general.
High-intensity workouts are all the rage right now, but you warn that this type of exercise can be detrimental to some women—when do you recommend against it?
Eastern medicine recognizes that different constitutions require different amounts and types of exercise to maintain optimal health. Stronger, sturdier constitutions do well to engage in longer, harder workouts, while women with slight or delicate frames, do better with slower, er, less sweaty workouts.
There can be many signs that a woman is over exercising. When a woman, for example, is underweight or her periods are scanty, absent or irregular, these are some signs she is either under-nourished, over-exercising or simply outspending her resources in other arenas. In other words, even if she is consuming a healthy diet and getting regular and good sleep–both activities that serve to nourish yin in her body–her output may be exceeding her input. The energy she commits to exercise, work, run errands, etc. may be greater than energy she receives from food, sleep, sweet relationships and down time. In these situations, it would be much better for a woman to engage in gentle yoga, walking, tai qi or qi gong, than weight lifting, running, vigorous yoga or rigorous workouts.
Our bodies prioritize survival over reproduction so they will–100% of the time–allocate whatever nourishment we are receiving, first to our survival and to the organs and tissues that are crucial to survival. If there are resources left over, then they can go to nourish a healthy reproductive system.
Many of us in our forties and older, will remember Jane Fonda’s “make it burn” video workouts and feel like we are being lazy if we do anything less, but there are entire exercise forms in the East that focus more on moving qi or prana–our life force–internally, with gentle, minimal or even no physical movement. When we look at masters of those forms, they may barely move and never break a sweat, but are in incredible shape. These masters understand the value of irrigating our internal organs with energy, rather than simply our muscles, and we can see the results.
You devote a chapter in the book to endocrine disruptors in our environment, including the presence of pthalates in personal care products. When you were researching this topic, what surprised you the most?
That every single person–including infants– tested now hosts an impressive profile of synthetic chemical pollutants.
And that it can take very small amounts of this stuff to do significant damage.
It is also surprising to me how many women are slow—or even unwilling—to give up personal care or household products that contain these chemicals. Honestly, I don’t see how the risk could be worth it.
Paying a little extra sometimes for products that have ingredients that we recognize—or can at least pronounce… isn’t that worth it for the health of ourselves and our families? And our planet? This stuff is getting into our water supplies and polluting our land, air, fish, and animals.
With that in mind, what does your beauty routine look like?
I wash my hair a couple times a week and shake my head. I like Weleda Rosemary shampoo the most, but it’s hard to find. Shikai Gold will do. I use Sarada Ayurvedic Remedies Clarifying Masque overnight if I feel a pimple coming on. Amazing. I use Four Elements Rose Comfrey moisture cream, when I need it, on my face, neck and hands. It has such a wonderful fragrance. And seven decent ingredients. Only. I use unscented Crystalux crystal deoderant body powder, which consists of two safe ingredients: natural mineral salts and corn starch. I love Floracopeia’s essential oils, as perfumes or oils that simply have a good effect on me. Which ones I use varies with the weather, season, and my mood. These days, when it is hot out I like their Rose-Vetiver Attar, but the second it becomes cooler, I prefer Neroli.
This is one of our favorite questions: When do you feel most beautiful?
I feel most physically beautiful when I get to have simple, nourishing, whole food, and regular exercise—either brisk walks or hikes—in beautiful places with clean air. I feel more vibrant, my skin is softer and rosier and I smell better. No kidding.
Amen! And happy Friday everyone. We hope you can get into a little bit of nourishment this weekend, whatever that looks like for you.
Yep, we’re talking hormones again.
Has anyone here ever stopped getting their period for seemingly no reason? Suffered from chronic cystic acne, or had the kind of PMS where you just want to cry all the time and can’t get out of bed? Have you been told to go on the pill by a doctor for something other than contraception?
In western medicine, hormone imbalances are often said to be unexplainable—or at least that’s been my personal experience. You shift this perception by bucketing hormones into two categories: yin and yang. Can you briefly expand on this for readers?
Eastern medicine is not reductionist medicine. We don’t usually look for the individual substances or things going on or going wrong. We tend to look more at patterns. Even though the ancient Eastern medical classics never name or discuss hormones per se, they do give us—both in the Chinese and Ayurvedic systems—fundamental ways of looking at phenomena and explaining them. One of these fundamental views is that of duality: how opposite forces tend to relate to each other. In TCM, they call these forces “yin” and “yang.” In Ayurveda the names are more complicated, but they are there and describe these forces in the same way.
Once we understand the principle of duality, it lends itself very easily to the discussion of women’s hormones.
Basically it goes like this: pure yin is substance, nourishment, yumminess, gooey, stabilizing, grounding, building and cooling. Pure yang is motivating, stimulating, drying, heating and lightening. However, nothing that exists is either pure yin or pure yang. There’s just stuff that is more yin or yang in relationship to other stuff.
A woman’s sex hormones are very yin in nature and stress hormones are very yang in nature. Sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone build and nourish a woman, her fetus, her tissues—including her breasts and uterus—while her stress hormones simulate her, motivate her to get out of the way of danger, and can be both a cause and a result of ambition and drive.
When yin and yang, and the hormones that represent them, are out of balance, our organisms suffer, in the same way that adding or subtracting even a few degrees to our normal body temperature causes problems.
How did you come to this theory? Was it a sudden epiphany, or did it grow slowly out of your practice?
It was a bit of both. It was an understanding that was won very slowly, but was so clear when it dawned. I’d been through some pretty hefty education in both the fields of TCM and Ayurveda and learned my way around Western medicine well enough for jazz, and I never became clear on the whole hormonal picture.
Not surprising, really, since our collective conversation about hormones is relatively new, no matter what medical paradigm we’re talking about. The first hormone wasn’t “discovered” until 1902 and, as I mentioned before, they really aren’t talked about in the ancient Eastern medical texts. Nor, for that matter, in the modern ones—not very much anyway. Physicians in any of these traditions are often about as confused as their patients when it comes to understanding the “why?” behind the “what” of hormones. In other words, they might be able to say, “your progesterone level is low,” but not explain why.
I was in private practice and was teaching women’s health at an acupuncture college. I was trying to make sense of hormones so that I could explain them to a classroom and so I could better understand what I was seeing in my patients. I read everything I could find. At the time, the internet was just becoming a valuable tool, so I searched there as well. For a long time, the more I studied, and the more I tried to categorize information, the more confused I got.
I don’t recall the moment it all came together, but there must have been one. I do remember the broad strokes though. You know those paintings that consist of repeated patterns, like fish or something, that you can stare at for a long time, softening your gaze, and then, all of a sudden, you see another image that the pattern creates? Like a unicorn or something? Until you see it you can’t even imagine it and then, once you do, it is clear as day and you can’t not see it. It was something like that.
I remember thinking, “Really? Is it really this simple?” I think the reason I don’t remember a particular moment where that happened is that, once I saw that these categories are easily described using the yin/yang system, I felt I needed to go back and check my research to see that it fit and, at least as importantly, to see how it played out clinically. I was in private practice at the time and, at least in the field of complementary medicine, most patients are women. So I got to see, over and over again, how this view applied to women’s daily lives, concerns and issues, and to the hormones that served them—or not. The view held up so well that I started thinking of it as very simplistic and I began to write. And it is simplistic. But it is a way of understanding them that has worked quite well for me.
What’s the most common health complaint you’ve heard from women over the years?
There are so many complaints. I know that sounds funny…but it is true. And the dominant ones depend on a woman’s stage of life. Think about it, from puberty to death, we have issues. From late menarche, to painful periods, absent periods, scanty or irregular ones, infertility, breast health, hot flashes, mood swings, menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, heart disease, etc. etc. etc.
But most problems—I’ll make up a statistic here—I would guess 70% of them, if not more, arise from women outspending their emotional, physical, financial, and spiritual resources. I know that sounds rather vague, but I think it is true.
We drive ourselves so hard that we sacrifice the yin—the grounding, nourishing aspects of our lives. This leaves yang to be the dominant force for many of us and we wind up panicked, sleepless and generally anxiety-ridden. These chronically high levels of stress hormones results in imbalance and, subsequently, disease.
Sound like anyone you know? In part 2, Dr. Welch will tell us some of her favorite easy prescriptions, talk about exercise (and how there is such a thing as too much), hormone disruptors, and her own beauty regimen. Stay tuned!
You can find more Dr. Welch on her website.