One of the central outmoded ideas governing our health care system is the notion that the processes of a woman’s body are designed to cause suffering and pain, and that women require a great deal of medical care and testing to stay healthy. Though this is certainly the experience of countless women, there is another way—a better way. In fact, the female body was designed by our creator to be a source of pleasure, fertility, movement, strength, and well-being. Our bodies connect us with the moon, the tides, and the seasons. We are meant to flourish. We, the human race, have come to a crossroads, a turning point when old, unsustainable ideas and behaviors are breaking down all over the planet. The current health care crisis is just one example of this breakdown—an example with which I’m intimately familiar. There is no need to fear the crumbling of the old, for it opens a space for new, more sustainable, and healthier systems and ideas to be created in all aspects of the human experience on earth, including how we handle the experience of living in a female body.
Over the past three decades, my experiences as an ob-gyn physician, new mother, and midlife woman have led me to a revolutionary new approach to women’s health and wellness that acknowledges the seamless unity of our bodies, minds, and spirits. Though this wasn’t obvious to the mainstream medical community back in the 1980s and ’90s when I was first field-testing the approaches outlined in this book, it is now abundantly clear to us all that a woman’s state of health is highly influenced by the culture in which she lives, her position within it, her experiences, and her day-to-day thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.
It is possible to thrive in a female body instead of simply waiting for disease to happen. It boils down to this: Regardless of our individual circumstances, our pasts, or our ages, each of us has inner guidance available that we can tune in to in order to create vibrant health—now. We are born with this inner guidance, which comes in the form of the emotions and desires that lead us toward things (including thoughts) that feel good and are good for us, and away from things that feel bad and are bad for us. It’s that simple. We are hard-wired to seek love, joy, fulfillment—and health. Though we’ve too often been talked out of our desires as children, I’ve learned that we can trust those feelings that make us want to get up in the morning. Our desires are the way that the healing life force comes through us and replenishes our bodies. They are what make life worth living. They make up our hopes and dreams. And they invariably hold the keys to healing not only our bodies but our entire lives.
As a physician, I’ve seen time and time again how our inner guidance also comes in the form of bodily symptoms and illnesses—especially when we are living lives devoid of pleasure, joy, and hope. Our illnesses are designed to stop us in our tracks, make us rest, and bring our attention back to the things that are really important and that give our lives meaning and joy— aspects of life that we often put on the back burner until “someday.” The insights catalyzed by decades of medical practice as well as my own health problems challenged everything I learned in medical school and residency training about women’s health. Over the years, it became abundantly clear to me that premenstrual syndrome (PMS), pelvic pain, fibroid tumors, chronic vaginitis, breast problems, and menstrual cramps were related to the contexts of an individual woman’s life and her beliefs about herself and what she thought was possible in her life. All of these factors are associated with very real biochemical changes in our cells. Learning about their diets, work situations, and relationships often provided me with clues to the source of women’s distress—and, more important, what steps needed to be taken to relieve that distress. Over the years, I have learned to appreciate the thoughts, beliefs, and behavioral patterns behind medical conditions in ways that simply aren’t addressed in medical training. These insights are the missing link to optimal health on all levels.
As I have developed more sensitivity to these patterns of health and illness, I have come to the conclusion that without a commitment to looking at all aspects of our lives and accessing our power to change them, improving habits and diet alone is not enough to effect a permanent cure for conditions that have been present for a long time. I’ve worked with many women whose illnesses could not be ascribed simply to what they eat and could not be cured solely through medication or surgery. Following a special diet or running three miles a day won’t make a woman feel well if her health is being adversely influenced by a subconscious belief that she isn’t good enough, or that she is the wrong gender, or that it’s a woman’s lot in life to suffer. If she has experienced incest and hasn’t allowed herself to feel the emotions that are often associated with that history, or if she was unwanted or abused as a child, then no prescription drugs exist that will heal that wound and the physical aftereffects that often result.
Much of the degradation of the feminine, however, is far more subtle and pervasive than outright abuse. Examples include being made to feel uncomfortable breast-feeding your baby in public, being afraid to look and feel sensual for fear that you will attract unwanted attention (and then be blamed for it), and feeling the need to hide any evidence of your menstrual period and its effects. This is why feminist writer Adrienne Rich wrote, “I know of no woman…for whom the body is not a fundamental problem.” Having internalized our bodies as a problem is at the heart of women’s health. Changing our perception of this, one woman at a time, is, therefore, at the heart of the healing process. Still, trying dietary changes and alternatives to drugs and surgery for problems whose origins begin with our perceptions is often a very powerful, nontoxic, and health-enhancing first step—a step that opens us up to new, more holistic ways of addressing our symptoms. The secret to thriving is the knowledge that we are never simply victims of our bodies. It’s very reassuring to know that we all have within us the ability to heal from anything and go on to live joy-filled lives.
My new edition of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom is designed to help you not only stay healthy but also thrive mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well as physically. I want you to know that it is pleasure, not pain, that is your birthright. When we finally make the connection between our thoughts, our beliefs, and our physical health and life circumstances, we find that we are in the driver’s seat of our lives and can make profound changes. Nothing is more exhilarating or empowering. Stories of such healings and awakenings are found throughout this book.
One of my readers once wrote, “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom is a love letter to women and their bodies.” I love that. And it’s true. When you read the new edition, please know that it is designed to help you fall in love with your own body and to awaken to its divine processes. Let it help you become the physical embodiment of your soul so that you discover the woman you were always meant to be. Let it help you find the best possible solutions for your individual situation. But above all, let it fill you with the courage necessary to make radical and life-giving changes in your mind and body that will allow you to flourish on all levels. And remember, the most fundamental and radical of these changes is learning how to love and accept your precious body right now. It is, after all, the temple that houses your soul. This is the path not only for our individual healing but for the healing of the planet and humankind as well.
Adapted with permission from Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, Bantam, 2010.
Learn More — Additional Resources
- Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, M.D.