June 23, 2010

Healing Breast Pain: A Holistic Approach

Do you ignore physical problems such as pain while plodding through life? Nagging symptoms come with messages to be aware of what is happening within and around you, but in our fast-paced culture, few take the time to hear them. Breast pain is one of these messages that many women ignore, believing little can be done about it.

If you have achy, sore breasts a week or more out of every month, you’re not alone. This is a frequent complaint heard by doctors. Many women have bothersome, persistent pain and heaviness daily. Often they suffer in silence, assuming it goes with territory of being a woman. Fluctuating estrogen levels, emotions, and stress contribute to breast pain as does food the body doesn’t process well such as chocolate, sugar, dairy products, and caffeine. Along with these contributing factors, breast pain is a signal to slow down, relax your lifestyle, and adopt a more supportive way of life for yourself.

I am certain you won’t find a woman with breast pain who lounges around making sure she is properly nourished and nurtured. No, those women would not have breast pain. This discomfort belongs to women who do too much. Nowadays, this seems to be every woman.

I, myself, had constant breast pain for several years. I wasn’t a coffee drinker or chocolate eater, but I did live on stress. In those days as soon as I woke up in the morning I was off and running. My days were filled with self-made busy work. I had an oh-so important endless to-do list. I was under the assumption that being busy was part of being successful.

Later, as I learned about the true causes of breast dis-ease and began to unravel this “busy addiction” I discovered that busy-ness wasn’t a factor in my success at all. It was a hindrance I call “the hamster wheel.” Like many of us, I had an overdeveloped sense of doing and a vague sense of anxiety when not occupied. As I pried my fingers (and ego) off the to-do list, I began reconciling doing with being. As I deepened a practice of cultivating inner quiet and slowness the anxiety around downshifting began to subside – along with the breast pain. I began to understand that this drive to go-go-go was not natural for me. In fact it bordered on self-abuse. My years of breast pain tried to get me to see this.

Breast pain - like all pain - is a holistic issue. It affects the physical body, emotions, mind, and spirit. Conversely, the body, emotions, mind, and spirit affect the pain. On a deeper level, it is a valuable clue that you aren’t paying attention to your needs. Are you running amok, taking care of everyone else? Then you are given an opportunity to harmonize your life before it’s too late and something more serious comes along with an even louder message.

According to ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine, pain indicates stagnation which can then lead to more serious disease. Stagnation can occur when the normal flow of fluid, including blood and lymph, slows down and becomes sluggish. Given our high rates of breast cancer, it makes sense to get plenty of movement through your breast tissue. Take steps to prevent your clothing or bras from cutting off your natural circulation while adding exercise, yoga, massage, qi gong, or even the application of castor oil packs to help bring movement to your breast tissue. All of these can help decrease breast pain.

The following steps will help you to reduce or eliminate breast pain. In some cases pain can indicate a deeper health issue, including cancer, so it is wise to see your health practitioner to be sure. While you take steps to heal the root cause of breast pain, you will be taking valuable steps toward cancer prevention.

• Experiment with different food and beverage choices to reduce caffeine.

• Be certain your hormones are balanced. Hormones gone wild can contribute to breast pain. See my article “Feel Better and Be Healthier by Balancing Your Hormones.”

• Wear properly fitted bras and avoid tight clothing that put pressure on your breasts. Go without a bra when you can. Ill-fitted bras and constrictive clothing can compress your lymphatic system and cut off healthy circulation. A poorly-fitted bra or top leaves marks on your skin, indicating poor circulation.

• Process your emotions in healthy ways. Research indicates a strong link between emotions and breast dis-ease.

• Become more self-nurturing. Look at your own “hamster wheel” and see what it would take to step off.

June 17, 2010

Balancing Your Hormones to Feel Better and Be Healthier

Fluctuations, deficiencies, and excesses in hormones create changes in the mind, emotions, and physical body. When your hormones are in balance you feel good, sleep well, think clearly, are emotionally steady, and your chances of being healthy are greatly increased. When they are not in balance any number of symptoms can arise: low energy, rage, depression, fibroids, weight gain, loss of sex drive, hair loss, even cancer.

We often hear that hormones are difficult to keep in balance, but when you take a holistic approach and heal from the inside, hormones can work together as nature intended. One reason for the general belief that hormones are difficult to balance is because many different factors affect them. Sometimes it is hard to pinpoint what exactly is affecting your hormones. It is often a combination of things.

Exposure to sunlight and moonlight, food, emotions, stress, and environmental pollutants affect hormone levels. The amount of time spent indoors under artificial lighting in relation to being outdoors in nature and fresh air can affect hormones. Then for women, nature herself causes fluctuations: the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause.

Simple tests are available to you to have your hormone levels tested. For example, hormones in your saliva can give an overview of your levels of estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, cortisol, and DHEA. Saliva tests can help evaluate how your body metabolizes estrogen, an important issue for both men and women, and particularly for women with problems associated with the reproductive system. Saliva tests are easy and noninvasive, performed at home by putting your saliva into small vials that are labeled and shipped for testing.

Common sense tells us it is better to heal the root cause of an imbalance, in ways that support the body. However, many people take estrogen-blocking drugs, synthetic hormones, or the popular bioidentical hormones without any idea of what the drugs are doing to their bodies. It’s best to be informed and know your alternatives. If you want to see how your body metabolizes estrogen and other hormones, request the tests from your doctor. Do-it-yourself test kits are available online, but it is wise to work with a natural health practitioner to translate your results. You can then be guided to your unique personal plan to harmonize your hormone levels.

There are many ways to bring hormones into balance. One supplement your practitioner might recommend is diindolylmethane (DIM) known to stimulate natural detoxification enzymes and hormone metabolism. Derived from indole-3-carbinole and cruciferous vegetables, DIM has been shown to assist with estrogen metabolism and promote hormonal balance.

Your diet and food choices will help balance your hormones. Avoid foods and products that increase xenoestrogens (fake estrogens). These lead to estrogen dominance, a modern malady due in part to chemicals and pollutants in our environment that create an estrogenic effect in the body. Minimize and/or eliminate your exposure to synthetic products and harmful chemicals, including plastics that touch your water or food.

We are rarely advised to strengthen our endocrine system when we have symptoms of hormonal imbalance. But the adrenals, thyroid, and pituitary glands play important roles. A competent holistic doctor or naturopath can advise you on how to best proceed with supporting your endocrine system based on your hormone test results.

While there are many things you can do to bring your body into balance, having some knowledge of where to begin and why is helpful. It’s certainly time to stop accepting the prevailing viewpoint that some of life’s natural processes, such as menopause, are diseases that need to be treated with drugs. For most people, the body, mind, and emotions can achieve greater wellness with food, gentle supplements, and lifestyle adjustments.

June 10, 2010

How to Hold Your Balance in Unusual Times

We've finally arrived at the threshold of the long-awaited Summer of 2010. Stargazers have been wondering what this particular summer might bring because there is a rare alignment of planets in the sky. The last time they danced together was during the revolutionary mid-60's when the unexpected coincided with social unrest and an unraveling of oppression. Many people are wondering what these next few months have in store for us.

We seem to be perched on the edge of a new evolutionary leap. We are witnessing intense times, not unlike what many of our ancestors saw, but more troubling because of the 24-hour news cycle which keeps us continually abreast of worldwide details. We all know how jarring and upsetting the news can be, especially lately with the added feelings of helplessness around the oil "spill." Now devastating our ecosystem, we aren't quite certain what to make of it.

Feelings of helplessness can cause high levels of stress. People feel better when they can take action to make a change or at least feel they are doing something, anything, to exert control over a difficult situation.

It is wise to convert feelings of helplessness into something less stressful. One way is to explore how you can make a positive difference in your own community. By taking small steps, for example by doing something as simple as donating old towels to your local animal shelter, you can feel better about not being able to do much on the bigger scale. Your action doesn't have to be huge to relieve a sense of helplessness in the face of a difficult situation. It will help to just do something to benefit your small corner of the planet.

When you are under higher stress than normal due to outside circumstances you can’t control, it is important to take a holistic approach to feel stronger, more serene, and balanced. This means paying attention to your physical body - and also your mental state, your emotions, and your spirit.

Let’s look at a situation that affects your mind and emotions. Questions and concerns are swirling around in the minds of almost everyone, and we have multiple situations where we are more easily affected by what I call the "group think."

The "group think" is powerful because you can be swept into it without realizing it. It occurs when many people begin feeling or believing in the same way until the power of the belief or feeling expands to the point of becoming very influential. Just consider mass hysteria and how it spreads like wildfire and you’ll get the picture. When you are aware of this phenomenon and how it can affect your perceptions, you can begin to separate your own thoughts and feelings from that of the mass consciousness.

There are good reasons why it is wise to know when your thoughts belong to you or to the group. Mass consciousness, at least up to now, has been tightly woven with fear. Anytime you are swept into a tide that is based on fear, you lose sight of your higher perspective, the quality of your life is diminished, and you are not living from your own centered place.

These are times to maintain perspective, to be centered, and to be aware when you are caught up in a stream of fear-based reactions. What can you actually do to keep your balance or regain it once it's lost? There are some simple steps you can take.

1. Nourish your body with whole, real food. Make yourself a few of your favorite comfort foods.
2. Limit your sugar intake, as it is directly linked with anxiety and mood swings.
3. Re-evaluate your need to be busy, busy, busy. Sit back and relax a little. Enjoy the warmth of the sun.
4. Take a 2-day news break once a week. No TV, newspaper, or internet news. Let your mind be free from the onslaught.
5. Relax your shoulders and breathe slowly, regularly, more deeply.
6. Turn off the computer in the early evening. To help relax your mind, meditate or read a good novel before bed.
7. Pray, visualize, or otherwise request what you would like to see in the world.
8. Have a bottle of Bach Rescue Remedy handy - a natural stress-reliever.
9. Get connected with the earth by going out into nature. This will balance your energy.
10. Surround yourself with positive, uplifting people.

June 3, 2010

The Universe: Modern-Era God?

My friend John asked me to write about the universe. I mentioned this to another friend, a fellow writer, and she said, “Oh my God. That is such a huge topic.” She thought my friend asked me to talk about the whole universe. Actually, he meant for me to discuss what I think about the usage of the term in daily conversation.

This word “universe” is now in ordinary speech in a way it wasn’t just a few years ago. It turns up in this way: “The universe didn’t want me to have that house.” Or, “Apparently the universe wants me to go to Maui instead of Arizona.” It is used in relationship talk as in, “The universe will send you the right partner when you’re ready.” It’s used in job conversations, too: “Dan was fired because the universe didn’t want him in that position. It wasn’t right for him.”

We now talk about The Universe as if it is an all-powerful being, capable of running our lives. We have elevated it to more than mere matter, energy, planetary configurations, black holes, the Milky Way, and vast space. It is now… get ready… God.

Perhaps many people have become more comfortable in this day of church-and-state correctness to use a term that doesn’t exclude, turn off, or aggravate anyone. I believe “the universe” is this term. Who can be offended by it?

To answer my own question, someone like my mother. Raised by a Southern woman who was proud to have a PTL Club bumper sticker on her Pontiac, she would be offended or at least annoyed if I said, “Mom, the universe must not want you to have perfect vision anymore.” Or, “The universe obviously doesn’t want you to run on the treadmill, otherwise your foot wouldn’t hurt when you do it.” She would be certain I’d gone off the deep end.

Just the same, in this bubble we call California, I hear phrases such as these as a matter of course. Wondering whether it was primarily “new thought” communities using the term, I got my answer just yesterday when reading about retirement in an ordinary New York Times bestseller. I saw “The Universe” has its hands in that field too, right there in the practical, no-nonsense advice pages of what to do with your money.

So has God become The Universe? Or did The Universe become God, which now is reverting back to itself? I don’t have this answer, but I do have a sense of what the term implies.

If The Universe is an active participant in our lives, our worldview includes the idea that conscious and unconscious forces play a role in ultimate order. One assumes circumstances play out for a reason. From this perspective, giving some responsibility to the all-powerful Universe for the way things turn out is a relief. It’s not entirely our fault when plans go awry and we make messes. Even catastrophes might have a higher purpose.

Last week an environmental group spokesperson said perhaps the oil devastation in the Gulf of Mexico is yet another sign from The Universe that we must develop alternative energy. Many people agree. However, to see it conveyed on national news indicates people believe things happen for a reason. The notion has slipped into the national psyche without the “God” terminology that seems to separate people.

People want to believe that the worst of circumstances are not just random and their suffering isn’t for nothing. We look for signs showing whether some good might result from the terrible situations we humans can find ourselves in. This is one of the roles belief in God plays in the lives of humans. But to discuss God in mixed company is awkward. Unless you are in a fairly homogenous community, religion is best not broached if one wants to keep the peace. Perhaps this is why “The Universe” term was birthed.

Beyond explaining the unknowable, The Universe might have further practical use. If we adopt the idea that all things happen for the best and highest good of all, we foster faith that The Universe does not conspire against us, but actually causes and prohibits things from happening in order to keep us on our right path.

For example, I remember stories just after the attacks on September 11th. People said they were meant to be on one of the airplanes or in their office but something odd prevented them from actually getting there. “The Universe stopped me from being there because it wasn’t my time to go.” It is given the same meaning as, “God wasn’t ready for me yet.”

Maybe when we use “The Universe” to talk about our lives, we get to have a little faith in a Higher Power without the added discomfort around revealing religious beliefs. I don’t have the answers to this, but I do find humanity’s dance with religion and faith an interesting one to consider.