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Consciously Female - Healthier Living


kamurj

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Excerpted from
Consciously Female: How to Listen to Your Body and Your Soul for a Lifetime of Healthier Living
By Tracey W. Gaudet, M.D., Paula Spencer

What if you woke up every morning feeling that your body and soul were centered, rather than scattered? What if you viewed each menstrual period as an opportunity instead of a curse? What if instead of simply getting through tumultuous phases of your reproductive life such as pregnancy and menopause, you found a deeper way to get into them-and get more out of them? What if you could make decisions about your health and healing that were uniquely suited to your physical and emotional needs, your place in life, and your very sense of yourself?

What if you could work with your female physiology instead of feeling that your physiology is working against you?

To be Consciously Female is to be and to do all of these things. To be Consciously Female is to live your life in tune with the realities of your woman's body and all that it entails-its reproductive system, its hormonal shifts, its menstrual cycles, its seasons of fertility, and the changes it undergoes when fertility ends. To be Consciously Female is to actively access what's happening to you, body and soul, and to nourish yourself accordingly.

It sounds straightforward, and it is. Yet women today are often checked out of this level of intimacy with themselves. We're unconsciously female. And we pay a high price for our obliviousness.

My goal is to show you a process by which you can reframe and reclaim what it means to live in your female body, and to be conscious of all that means for you on a daily basis. Living a Consciously Female life means constructing a personal framework for your health and healing that can change and evolve through all the cycles and seasons of your life. Any woman can learn these techniques and apply them to her own unique situation. All it takes is a willingness to open up to a new way of thinking.

Personally Conscious

I didn't set out to develop a process for women to reclaim their consciousness about themselves and their wellness. Initially, I did it just for me.

I used to be as out of touch with my body as any woman. But a series of personal experiences led me to transform the way I regarded my own well-being. As I combined these new insights with what I knew from my medical training, I began to see that an entirely new approach to my health was in order. Later I shared these insights with colleagues and patients. That's how the Consciously Female way of life evolved.

Two women, in particular, started me on this journey. The first was a nurse working in Student Health when I was a first-year medical student. She found me in the examining room doubled over with horrific menstrual cramps. I'd suffered from them for years. Each period was so bad that, without prescription-strength pain relievers, I literally would take to my room for two days until the pain and resulting nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea faded. To cope, I had learned it was best to pop something like Motrin at the first twinge-my idea of preventative medicine! But that particular month I'd been so caught up in med school, studying for a big exam, that I completely lost track of my cycle. The first pains struck as I was heading to the exam. By the time I finished the test, things were so bad that I went straight for the clinic.

The nurse I saw dispensed pain medicine. As it began to take effect, the nurse surprised me by settling by my side instead of dismissively shooing me off. Gently she began asking questions: Was I under a lot of stress, and did that seem to make my cramps worse? Or was I in more pain when I was really tired? Did eating certain foods seem to make a difference? Did exercise? Were my cramps always bad at the same point in my cycle?

Sheepishly I answered over and over, "I don't know." I had never observed a single thing. I had never even thought about it! All my focus had always been on just getting through those two days of misery.

The irony wasn't lost on me: After four years of college and almost a year of medical school, all I had learned to do for my major menstrual discomfort was to take a pill. I had never been taught anything about how diet, exercise, sleep, or my mental state could affect what was happening to my body. I simply thought of the cramps as if they were some nasty invasive force, quite apart from me, to be endured for a few days every four weeks until they retreated.

The next month, not sure what I was looking for, I began jotting down my eating and exercise habits and what was going on in my life when the cramps struck. Nothing revealed itself. Not yet. I kept at it, though-and within several cycles, sure enough, the interplay between my lifestyle and my periods became very clear. When I was either emotionally or physically depleted-before exams or in the middle of a particularly demanding rotation, when sleep was erratic or just plain hard to come by-my cramps were most severe. When I was able to take better care of myself-say, thanks to a break between rotations-my periods seemed less painful.

I know it sounds basic. Nevertheless, it had taken me more than a decade to notice this connection. What else, I wondered, was my body telling me that I had not been attuned to hearing?

A few years later, near the end of my residency at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, San Antonio, I decided to attend a conference being offered by Dr. Christiane Northrup at a coastal island retreat in Canada. Because she was a pioneering ob-gyn who specialized in holistic medicine, I figured she could bring some cutting-edge insights into my chosen field. But to tell you the truth, I was so burned out that I was mainly thrilled with the prospect of going to a remote and beautiful place to unwind. So I was in more of a vacation mode than a learning one as Chris clicked through her carousel of colorful slides.

Then one image grabbed me. It was a circular chart showing the concurrence of the menstrual period within the lunar cycle. Chris described the first half of the cycle-from the first day of menstruation until ovulation, also known as the follicular phase-as a time when women are more energetic and upbeat. We're more receptive then to others and to new ideas, she said, more "fertile" in every sense of the word. In contrast, she characterized the second half of the cycle (from ovulation to the start of your period, the luteal phase) as a more personal and reflective time, a time of looking back on what's come before and determining what needs to be readjusted. We turn inward.

In other words, during our menstrual cycles we wax and wane, like the moon. What a revelation! (She went on to explain how the moon and the tides are thought to be connected to other biological and emotional rhythms as well.) It made perfect sense to me. As Chris details in her book Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, "When we routinely block the information that is coming to us in the second half of our menstrual cycles, it has no choice but to come back as PMS or menopausal madness, in the same way our other feelings and bodily symptoms, if ignored, often result in illness."

Or to come back as wrenching menstrual cramps, I realized. I had never thought of the second half of my cycle as a time when I had access to my inner voice, the insistent whisperings about the difficult issues of my life, from my stressful medical training to my relationships and dreams. Like most women, I had always dismissed such restless ruminations as just the moodiness wrought by my period. Now I wondered if, rather than sitting out a few days of my life until the gloom passed, I shouldn't be listening more carefully. Maybe my menstrual "moodiness" was actually my opportunity for greater emotional honesty.

After that conference, I tried to fold this new perspective into my ongoing observations about my cycle. How did I feel just as my period hit? Did my energy level change throughout my cycle? What was on my mind? It was true, I observed, that I felt more depressed and overwhelmed by the circumstances of my life in the week or so preceding my period. Always an introspective person, I found that I wrestled even more with my thoughts as P-day neared.

Dr. Northrap's presentation and my own experience taught me that my menstrual cycle offered a time of heightened access to the very heart of my life. I learned not to dismiss the moodiness, not to wait out the sadness and the irritation, but to value these bleaker moods as authentic messages from my unconscious. Gaining that insight was an extraordinary turning point in the development of my consciousness as a female. If I listen carefully, I've learned, I can hear my inner self. Since then I've rarely experienced a cycle without being at least somewhat eager to learn where my thoughts will take me during that phase.

As I continued to observe my own menstrual cycle from every angle-physically, hormonally, behaviorally, emotionally-it was like watching a thousand seemingly random pointillist dots swim into focus as a beautiful Impressionist painting. It wasn't me vs. my menstrual cycle anymore, or me vs. the pain. It was all me.

From that kind nurse at Student Health, I learned to better read the interface between my body and my outer life. From Chris Northrup, I learned how to better read the interface between my body and my inner life-something I've come to think of as my female soul.

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