Last week Siobhan shared an article from Prevention with our dear friend Anna and me. It was written by Dr Christiane Northrup, a woman who has been a teacher to all three of us at different times in our lives, and for different reasons. If you have yet to read Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, you’re in for an eye-opening treat. This woman gets women.
And while it’s not exactly news, it always bears repeating: Real beauty is the hard-won result of self-love and self-care. Sure, it’s clean products, lots of veggies, yoga and piloxing (still my fave!)… But how many of us truly take care of ourselves in a deeper, holistic (and consistent) way? Yeah.
“Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that consistent, thoughtful self-care is the single most important aspect of our health, period, ” says Northrup in the piece. Below are highlights from her recommended ways to care for yourself. How many of them do you practice?
1. Express your needs.
So many people I know, myself included, have a really hard time asking for help and support. I don’t think this is exclusive to women, but we certainly live with the perception that we should be able to handle everything and execute without a glitch. According to Northrup: “Unmet needs create stress, and stress produces toxic hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, that cause inflammation and suppress our immune systems. So it’s vital to learn to ask for what we need.”
2. Listen to your body
When you’re hungry do you eat? When you’re tired do you rest? Do you do things because they feel good or because you think that you should? Here Northrup tells a great personal story about growing up in a family of athletes: “They were fabulous role models for physical health, but that go-go-go approach was not my style. It wiped me out and drained my energy. I felt guilty about that for years, until I discovered activities that work for my body. I fell in love with Pilates, a stretching-and-strengthening program that has made me stronger, thinner, and even taller. That kind of exercise fuels rather than drains me.”
3. Face uncomfortable feelings
This one’s a toughie, but a goodie because we believe in these parts that unexpressed feelings have a way of staying in the body and wreaking havoc. Northrup agrees: “Facing your emotions helps you process them and get rid of them. Ignoring them, on the other hand, keeps you stuck emotionally and can contribute to physical problems, from fatigue to migraines. So pummel a pillow, cry, shout, throw things. Movement, tears, and making sounds are all nature’s way of moving your emotions up and out of the body.”
She also advises to see age simply as a number, and to live life by your values. You can read the entire wonderful article here. Does her advice ring true for you?
I just finished reading Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, by Dr. Christiane Northrup. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get to it—it’s been on my list for at least half a decade. My best guess is that I thought it would feel like homework, or I thought I already knew everything there is to know about my body, or I thought it would be some earnest Our Bodies, Ourselves-type book, which I read over and over again as a teenager and have not felt the need to revisit as a grownup.
But about the latter. I’ll go on record saying I love Our Bodies, Ourselves—for what it taught me, sure, and also for what it meant for women (and men) when it first came out, in 1971. If you compare what was in that book with, for instance, what they taught us in school about our bodies and about sex, or what our mothers, bless their hearts, taught us, or what we learned from our similarly inexperienced and confused friends? We’re talking about a no-contest fight there. That book has a whole section teaching women how to masturbate, for crying out loud! And there was that awkward bit about, um, examining your, ah, self in the mirror!
To that last point, the fact that the idea of this still makes me squirm (and no, I never did it) tells me I might have some more reading to do. Which is where Northrup’s book comes in.
Last month I was gabbing with a girlfriend about cervixes (cervices?) and she told me she wasn’t sure what hers was, what it looked or felt like, and she didn’t know that it moved around depending on where she was in her cycle. I don’t think it’s weird that she didn’t know these things, and that’s sort of the point. The fact that the inner workings of this thing we call home are so mysterious to us is a problem. And when I read Northrup’s book, I realized there’s a whole lot I don’t know, too.
Here I am, 33 and working at a health magazine for women. I read about women’s health all day long, at work and in my spare time. When I go to the doctor, I ask questions to the point where I’m pretty sure I’m being annoying. I’m also at ease in my own skin, am what some people might call “sex-positive” by nature, and I’m pretty unflappable when it comes to most things body-related (even the objectively gross stuff).
And yet as I was reading this book (on my Kindle, thank God, because that thing is a brick) it seemed like every few pages I was taking notes or slamming the thing into my lap and interrupting my boyfriend’s reading to share my latest discovery.
This was humbling and exciting all at once. There’s so much to know! But the main point of her book, from what I can tell, is that women’s bodies contain information and wisdom both about our health but also the health of our relationships. These are things that can’t always be proven by science—though some of it can—but should always be listened to.
The book is exhaustive. There’s an entire section devoted to UTIs, another just about ovaries, another only about recurring infections—and then she presents available research and data about treatment, as well as alternative treatment options, where appropriate. She also suggests, ever so gently, that if you’re getting recurring infections, as one example, you might also want to take a closer look at your marriage—not in lieu of treatment, but when you take a whole-person approach to health, mind-body connections have to be front and center, too.
Some of the book can get a little out-there—for instance, I’m now convinced that every woman I know, myself included, has a second- or fourth-chakra imbalance, and I’m only half kidding when I say that. She’s a holistic MD, after all, so the science is there, and it’s well researched and footnoted and whatnot. But she also talks about chakras and energy and alternative and complimentary medicine too.
What else can I say? I think the book should be required reading, maybe, but that makes it sound like, as I’d feared, homework. Actually, reading the book is a total treat, full of “holy crap” moments and epiphanies, and leaving me with the feeling that women’s bodies are so, so cool, and that my health and my happiness is in my hands (minus pesky genes, of course).
Have you read this book? What other books taught you the most about your body and your sexuality? I’ve already named two, but I’d like to add “every book by Judy Blume” to my list. Now it’s your turn.