I'm getting ready for a local workshop around how stress affects hormone balance, and I wrote this for the venue to promote the event. Thought you guys might like to read it too... :)
Hormones and Stress :: Chaos to Comfort
There are many different kinds of hormones in the body, and all are charged with our mental and physical balance. Ideally these hormones nourish and support body and mind.
Sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and the like) are probably what you think of when someone says “hormone”. But truly all of the hormones are connected in many ways, which is part of the reason that it seems that everyone has their own constellation of symptoms around hormone imbalance.
How do I know if I have a sex-hormone imbalance?
Common symptoms of imbalance in the sex hormones for women are: excessive bleeding, short cycles, bloating, cramping, hot flashes/night sweats, exhaustion, irritability, and anxiety.
There are less common symptoms like erratic cycles, insomnia, and migraines. Each woman seems to have her own set of symptoms, but despite the differences, there is a predictable set of experiences she is likely to have. And, that set of symptoms can tell her where the imbalances lie in the intricate web of hormones… if she knows what to look for.
What is going on to create these symptoms?
It might be more accurate to think of “hormone balance” as a harmony. There is not a constant level that is “right”… our hormones, particularly in women, are known for naturally fluctuating over the month. And the key to feeling good is that the hormones work together synergistically. When they are not in harmony they can cause chaos and discomfort in many different ways.
There are several things to consider about hormone harmony. It’s not just about getting the estrogen and progesterone into synchronicity with one another (although that’s part of it). It’s also about balancing the sex hormones that nourish and restore us, with the stress hormones that energize and focus us. Further, it’s about the whole body, the synergy of all of the hormones.
Unaddressed sex hormone imbalances often start to affect other organs and systems that are doing their own balancing act around blood sugar (insulin), metabolism (thyroid), and digestion.
The connections between all of the hormones can make imbalance feel like body breakdown, a “train wreck”, or like everything about you including your sense of yourself is falling apart. But you are not falling apart, and it can be corrected.
So what do I do to step into hormone harmony?
There’s the obvious: eat healthy whole foods, exercise, get enough sleep. But I suspect you know that.
The less obvious: Know how your sex hormones are changing, how stress affects them, and be honest with yourself about what you need to keep balance in your body and your life.
When we are young women we have abundant yin energy and abundant sex hormones. We are resilient to the stress hormones because we have a lot of nourishing energy. As we age, and our sex hormones decline overall, we become less resilient to the stress hormones, and therefore to the effects of stress. This often becomes noticeable in our late 30’s and early 40’s.
This is the body telling us that, as we age, our resilience needs to come from our wisdom rather than our sex hormones. We need to listen to our bodies, to notice our symptoms, and to be able to categorize them in such a way that we can clearly see our path to greater balance.
It’s time to listen to your body. Deeply. Whole-heartedly.
I call this listening to our Whole Body Wisdom. It’s time to hear the quiet voice of the body and we follow the path of the symptoms, and to take action to restore harmony.
I would like to invite you to the Hormones and Stress :: Chaos to Comfort workshop on Sunday, September 25th.
We will begin to hear and understand what the body is telling you about what in needs and wants in order to move toward hormone harmony. We will organize the symptoms you are experiencing and determine where you can most effectively begin to bring your body back toward balance. You will leave knowing the single most important action that you can take right away to begin to feel better. You’ll also leave with a way of thinking about your hormones that you can continue to use to determine each next step as you go through this journey to hormone harmony.
In the healing realms breath comes up in relation to meditation and relaxation. Mostly, I do think breath work is good for relaxation, but for some the breath is a trigger. I'm seeing this in some family members that I do healing work with, as well as a few clients... and I'm also thinking back to my own days in the throes of asthma.
So, what's up with breathing bringing up stress and tension?
The breath is the manifestation of our life force energy... simple... without it we die. It is the tangible expression of our lives. With asthma allergies, a habit of shallow breathing... or, really, any tension around the breath, our tendency is to energetically move away from our breath. Instead we turn our attention somewhere else that is more comfortable. This habit of moving away from difficult breath out of fear results in a connection between our own breath and a stress response in the body.
So what happens when we connect our breath with stress and danger? It means we will habitually minimize the breath in order to stay away from fear. That's why breath work can ping people. It can bump us into our own avoidance mechanisms... our deep fears... and it can make us feel panicky.
Solution? Awareness. We can release this erroneous (and paradoxical!) association between the breath and danger. How? Try this...
Direct your awareness to your breathing. I do not mean that I want you to sit and think about your breath. I do mean that I want you to sense your breath. This is different than thinking. Sensing happens from the inside. Sensing is noticing the stretching of muscles, the opening of the ribs, the release of the muscles on the exhale.
NOTE: Awareness, or sensing, is passive. It’s just noticing what happens, without judging it, without changing it, allowing it to just be. Awareness sets the stage for a different kind of relationship, one in which you are both sensing AND listening to the response the body gives. When you are breathing easily, notice the tiny sensations of the expansion of the chest cavity. Allow your breath to be deep just to the point that you begin to sense stretching or tension. Don't go into the tension... but right up to it. Where that is may change with each breath. Just notice.
The premise here is that you're building a new kind of relationship with your body. You are shifting from having expectations of the body to perform as a machine to a true relationship that is based in awareness. You are noticing your body, and it is able to let you know what it needs. This is Body Wisdom.
Feeling is the language of the body. The body communicates in the realm of the sensual. Not purely sexual... although that too... but in the sensations. I notice this most purely when I walk into the forest.
I walk into the forest and I feel the difference in the air... sometimes cooler, but always crisper, clearer than in town or in my house or in my car. The sounds of the air moving through the trees, the birds, buzzing of insects. My body instantly reacts to the sense of time that is in a forest... I feel it on my skin... though I don't have words for it.
This is the subtle language the body speaks in. And though it's subtle, it's not unimportant. This is the sensory ability that we want to cultivate in order to hear the guidance of the body wisdom. It is in the senses that we find the answers for which we often spend our time searching. They are already within you.
When and how do you experience the subtle information? The knowledge that isn't knowing? What helps you get there?
Before I knew that Earth was my mother…
Before I knew that I belonged…
I lived on a tiny island.
I saw seals and turtles entangled in fishing nets…
caught and trapped in a situation they moved into innocently
I knew the binding in my own life
And I felt their struggle to breathe against the compression
I was able to cut some of them lose.
There were thousands of birds
With every voice you could imagine.
The albatross danced and mated and fed their young plastic
Because they didn’t understand the world man had made.
I felt the pain in their bellies
I too had been fed things that did not nourish me
…and I did not fully understand the world I lived in.
I watched the seals give birth
Nurse their babies laying belly to the sky on the beach
I felt the possibility course through my veins
And I wondered at it… because in my mind
Possibility was bound tight… but... I also found it wasn’t
I learned on that island that I am a wild being
Often caught up in things I do not understand.
I learned on that island, of compassion, of wildness constricted,
Of the truth that some things must die
And some must persist to bring new life into the world
I began to feel the mother earth, and the warm salty waters
I began to feel my own life force… and to feed it.
I learned to forage for nourishment rather than emptiness
And I learned that life and death are all part of the mother.
In March, by telling my story of adoption at the YoniVerse Monologues, I completed a story on which I had based so much of my “not enoughness”. I am left without a huge part of who I used to be.
The Threshold is the space between releasing and rebuilding. It is the destruction of all that was built on that old story. In fact, sometimes I feel like pieces of it are still falling and letting go and dropping away.
From my body’s perspective that looks like getting sick multiple times in the last month. Full body breakdown... stomach bug, two week virus with coughing fits... it's been awful.
Oh… and to top off the destruction, the dis-memberment, inherent in The Threshold, both times I’ve been sick I’ve also been on my moon cycle. That’s the "over the top" part of purging that lets me know that this is The Threshold. Bleeding is the cleansing, releasing, that is inherent with my body each month. When it coincides with being sick… I feel like The Tower card in the tarot… everything is reordering.
It means my emotions usually follow suit… as they are today. I wonder about who I am in the world, what my value is, why I should try so hard to get my voice heard above the screaming din. When I am sick and on my moon I find that I wonder more about what I’m meant to be doing… why am I here?
These are good questions for The Threshold time… as we’re deciding AT THIS MOMENT where our next step is. However, I don’t know about you, but I feel like those questions are too big to answer easily.
So, what it takes to move through The Threshold is baby steps. Part of me would love to take a big leap either back to where I started from (and decide never to do this again) or to just leap forward and hope I land somewhere good.
Option #1: Go back and stop trying to change things… it’s too hard, too uncertain, too scary. Yup. I’ve done this hundreds of times in small and large ways. It’s a perfectly acceptable decision to make. No shame. It often means we don’t quite have all the tools we need to make the change we want. If we still really want change, but aren’t prepared for the journey, maybe it’s time to quest for the tools we need to be successful when we do embark on the journey.
Option #2: Leap of faith… I think that’s the Hero’s Journey (regardless of your gender identification… it’s just the Hero’s way). The Hero is committed to the end point of the journey (even if he’s not clear on what it is) and so he just keeps going and readjusting his path as he finds he needs to.
But I think that there’s a #3: Lingering on The Threshold. This may be a uniquely feminine way… part of the Heroine’s Journey (again, regardless of gender identification).
Here we are at The Threshold, and things are going crazy. We thought (hoped) it was going to be all roses and cake and an easy paved path, but we are standing amidst destruction and no path. What are we supposed to do here?
Likely the tools we brought in our pack are all metric and everything here is measured in inches (damn!). Our rope is too fine or too coarse, there was a hole in the bottom of the sack and we lost the nails even though we still have the hammer, and now we have to figure out how to MacGuyver our way out of this… but even the duct tape is missing.
First, take a deep breath. You can do this. I can do this. We can do this.
Let’s start by assuming that Who-You-Are and What-You-Are-Doing-In-This-World are ultimately the same thing.
That makes life easier… as you don’t have to play multiple roles in order to be You and to Get Things Done.
Whew. That one makes me feel better already.
Let that flow through your body. Let each cell take in the idea that by expressing itself, being alive and vital, is all it takes to fulfill its greatest purpose.
This is a chance to come back to our bodies then… to reclaim the physical of who we are. To find within our bodies the touchstones… to find in our bones the essence, in our muscles the action, in the connection between cells and tissues we find our community, and at the center we find our life force that keeps all of it in motion.
I then wonder… what does my body do when all hell breaks lose? It takes massive steps toward containment of infection and repair processes. My immune system is activated, moving out to take corrective action, and I slow down, so that once the infection is contained my cells can repair or rebuild.
In fact, this is what all of nature does. It restores after destruction. It may not regrow into the same environment if the destruction has been too great… but at The Threshold… we’re looking for change, so this is good news. It means that the devastation is a ripe environment for something new to be built… something different, more in alignment with our true selves, more in touch with our own desire.
I think this "body breakdown" is an invitation to the feminine gesture... of sitting in the chaos of the Threshold and committing to our own regeneration and re-membering. It is restoring and cultivating within us the energy to sustain us on our journey.
This... it is the clarion call for self-care. For doing what is restorative and will keep our endurance up as we move through new territory toward what we desire.
I've been getting instructions on my own tending from my dreamtime. Every once in awhile I have a dream that is so completely different in feeling and character, that I know it's a message that I need to understand. Last night I had one of those dreams.
I dreamed that I was in a physical education class (never my best subject, though I do love moving my body) and I was doing the convoluted and strange exercises I was being asked to do. I just moved slowly through them. My PE teacher in the dream kept telling me how I wasn't doing it right, even though I was doing what she asked. And she kept telling me it wasn't fast enough... in effect... she kept up a stream of messages about how I wasn't good enough.
I wanted so much for her to see that her story about me... that I couldn't do it... was wrong. I wanted her to admit that I did something... anything... right. But she would not.
On waking, I realized that the PE teacher was really the younger me. I spent years with an internal voice that constantly told me I wasn't good enough. And here I was now, telling the PE teacher (or my younger self) that I wasn't motivated by being torn down, held as not good enough. Instead, that leaves me feeling depleted and unmotivated.
So, today, I'm recommitting to a practice I learned from a friend a few years ago. I learned the art of self-appreciation. It's crazy hard most of the time, because we're told that it leads to a big head, or thinking too much of ourselves, thinking we're better than others. But I don't think so.
I offer you the possibility that we don't think enough of ourselves. That we don't think highly enough of our abilities, our strengths, and our gifts. We don't claim what we're really truly good at... or the things we accomplished during the day.
So, here's my commitment... for at least one week, I'm going to begin my morning with one appreciation related to how I approach each new opportunity. And at night, I'm going to appreciate something that I did that day. I'm going to post on Facebook... you can follow me there if you want to join in... or let me know here what you're committing to do in the name of your own tending!
I knew when I signed up for YoniVerse that I was going to dig deep with a story that had been with me for 27 years. I knew that it was going to tap into old grief and loneliness.
I did not know that I would find in it what I’d been wishing had been there for so long… love. I did not know that I would find triumph and fortitude.
It’s been a five-month journey into one of my defining stories. I figure I have spent about 80% of my energy in the last 27 years fighting, contradicting, or otherwise doing hand-to-hand combat with this story.
We have two more performances. And then I’m done. I have mined and found the gold, I have spent time in the grief and transformed some of it, I have cleared the shame and much of the fear… I am done.
My story will be with me always. It is part of who I am. It has left a legacy… but now that legacy is made of strength and love instead of shame and fear.
It has been very healing for me that audiences receive my story with compassion, they see in me the strength and triumph. Many people have talked to me after the performance, but the one who stands out… is the 20-something guy who told me that he was leaving with more compassion than he came with. THAT, my friends, is the power of story.
I now find myself with a huge energy surplus (not the doing kind… I’m still exhausted!)… but the creative, living-life, being-present kind of energy. What shall I do with it? I don’t know yet.
Sure, my monkey mind has a list of all kinds of things I could do with this attention-energy. I have more stories I could delve into, I have work I could do, websites to remake, etc.
But I have decided to sit in this beginning space and drink it in. I’m not sure what will come from here. I have lots of dreams I’d love to start working on… but there’s a sacred quiet here. It’s a little like being in the womb. I don’t know, and in the not knowing, there is nothing to do.
And yet, there’s a tending going on. It doesn’t look like much at face value… but it’s like singing over the seeds. It’s a prayer and an honoring.
Sure, I’m over here judging myself like mad… shoulds flying like confetti… but a wise part of me knows that even though I can’t capture it with words… something is happening. The tending.
Are you tending something? How are you sitting with it? Really… I’m curious to know. I’ve been noticing a lot about the “tending” as I think it will relate to upcoming Virtual Retreats. So, I really am interested in your experience.
I'm starting to get nervous. I go on stage in four days (YoniVerse Monologues) to tell a story that has held me captive for almost 30 years.
In the years that I unquestioningly believed that story, I also ran from it and all of the emotions that went with it... primarily grief, shame (is that an emotion?), and fear.
These emotions have come up to be healed in the four months that I've been crafting this story... I've done lots of crying and speaking truth in this last four months.
I've had a chance to be honest about who I believed myself to be then... and who I believe myself to be now.
I've been given the gift of having to condense such a long story into seven short minutes... because it made me get out of the details to find the theme.
I realized that what I'd always longed for had been there all along... I just hadn't been able to see it because it didn't look like I expected or wanted.
I have been able to look back and see the strength, imperfection, fortitude, and triumphs that I have never seen before. I have felt compassion for my younger self.
I have been transformed by the deep listening of my sister storytellers... and by the development of their stories.
I am not who I was before I wrote this story. I will never be the same again.
I believe that women telling their own stories takes steps toward liberating women everywhere.
I've been hearing the term Body Wisdom around more and more. It's a compelling term because it implies both what we do know and what we don't know. It suggests that we are more powerful than we believe, and yet we need to go to previously unexplored places to find it.
Body Wisdom indicates something innate... that we have something simply by virtue of the fact that we have a body. It also points to the chasm between how we're taught to use our bodies, and the potential the body has to guide us through our lives. The "wisdom" is stated outright... but how many of us think that we are wise? My experience is... very few. But the concept of Body Wisdom holds the promise of a knowing that is important, yet largely untapped.
What do we get when we do put in the effort, the attention, the time to get to know this Body Wisdom? We gain a mentor... a guide through the world in touch with our own sensations of it. It is possible to allow ourselves to tap into our deepest resources... to know what we need... to begin to live our true glorious lives.
Sound dreamy? Yeah... but it's also real. Which means that some things are wildly unpleasant. Some feelings are inconvenient at best. It can still be hard to bring back to this moment the mind that is worried about the future. Some moments are so full it's almost hard to describe. But, I'll tell you... dreamy + real = present.
Like any relationship mine with my Body Wisdom has required time and space... to develop trust and lines of communication. It also requires compassion, care, and devotion. It really isn't so different from any relationship. I'd say the first step was trust... I had to believe that I could relate to myself differently than I ever had before... and I had to trust that I could handle what came forward.
Again, like any relationship, there were times I had to slow down, communicate with meticulous care. There were times I got frustrated and called the whole thing off. There were times I fell so deeply in love that I was never able to stop reaching out.
My relationship with my Body Wisdom is not without hard times. It probably never will be. It's like other relationships. It can be easy to take for granted and always requires a recommitment in those moments.
Do you know your Whole Body Wisdom? How do you interact with it or know it?
For me... my Body Wisdom is where I can say things that are true to me... I can give myself acknowledgements for a job well done... I can say that I love who I am... I can be honest with myself about what was uncomfortable. It's also the place where I'm able to name my most true feelings without judgment... without hearing another voice say "but you shouldn't/don't have any right/can't...".
It took a long time... and a lot of doubt assessments... a lot of dedication...to come to this place. But it was worth it. Because it feels now like I am my own ally, not my own worst enemy. I have more energy because I'm not wasting it on cutting myself down. I'm still a bit afraid of putting myself out there in the world... but I'm certain I can hold my own... knowing what I want... and asking for what I need.
This month's Body Wisdom Healing Circle is Meeting The Mentor. It's the 4th call in the Hero(ine)'s Journey series. Unsurprisingly our "mentor" is the Body Wisdom. So... if you're curious about how to connect with yours... to initiate or develop that relationship... I'd love to see you on the call. If you're already on my email list you'll receive the invitation. If you want on the list you can go here to sign in for the call number.
Since October I've been working on a personal and deeply vulnerable story about my life. I've been held in this process by a group of nine other women... all doing similar work. We're writing our stories of being women... of our own little slice of what it means to be born female. It's called the YoniVerse Monologue project.
My story is finally written and I'm beginning to memorize it. And then... when I thought I'd done the hard work... and that I was at the easy part... the resistance set in. I felt like I didn't like the story anymore. It had been through so many iterations... and I was feeling sad to edit certain parts out in the interested of condensing a story that took 27 years to unfold, down into 7 minutes of dialogue.
And there... wriggling at the end of the rope that resistance handed me... I realized that I had an opportunity. I am at a choice point. I get to recommit or give up. And hell no I'm not giving up! So... the resistance became my invitation to find within me what I REALLY want... to find my direction... to rely on my own wisdom...
Where to look for the wisdom? My body. Resistance is too much holding... too much tension... not enough flow. So I looked to my body to show me where things were tight, sore, slow. And I began to move them, to pay attention to these places, asking them what information they had for me.
And my heel, where I tore ligaments recently... told me about foundations... and being true to myself as I edited my story. It spoke of feeling solid and grounded in my story. And my lower back reminded me to get support, to not do it alone... as that had been one of my deepest wounds in this story... trying to do this alone when I had no idea what to do. They reminded me to address these things every day.
My Body Wisdom is my mentor. It is the structure, the framework, by which I understand meaning in my life.
If you'd like to feel more connected to your Body Wisdom, this is a perfect time to join us in the Body Wisdom Healing Circle. It's a monthly (totally free) call-in gathering for turning toward ourselves to find the answers that we seek. In fact, we've modeled this year of calls on the Hero(ine)'s Journey. March's call will be all about locating our Body Wisdom, what it means to cultivate that relationship, and to begin to reorient our physiological pathways toward connection and sensation of our selves as we prepare to Meet Your Mentor!
I'm an explorer of inner realms, a pattern observer, and an invitation maker. I believe that healing the world starts within.
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