For decades, women have been encouraged to examine their breasts regularly as a way to find breast cancer at the earliest possible stage, get it treated early, and thus save their lives. This has led to a “search-and-destroy” approach to breast exams that encourages you to make your hands into mine sweepers in search of something that may kill you. No wonder so many women skip this routine but end up feeling guilty as a result. As Dr. Francis Moore of Harvard Medical School wrote, “What man would enjoy lowering his trousers in front of a mirror once a month and examining his testicles carefully, by rigorous palpation, looking for testicular tumors?”
There is a healthy alternative, however. You can get to know your breasts in a healthy, loving way that enhances your health on all levels. A good time to change how you think about and do your breast exams is right after you’ve had a normal exam with your health care practitioner and you know that everything is currently normal. If you don’t know what “normal” feels like, here’s what to do. When having your breasts examined by your doctor, ask her (or him) to tell you exactly what she is feeling. Then repeat the exam yourself so you know what “normal” feels like in your breasts. From then on, whenever you touch your breasts, do so with loving kindness. Rub your hands together until they are warm. Then cover your breasts with them, visualizing your hands transferring love and care to your breasts. You may well feel a tingling in your breasts from increased circulation when you do this.
Approach your breasts with respect. If you are currently afraid of your breasts and find them “too lumpy,” start changing your attitude toward them by paying special attention to them during your daily bath or shower. When you wash this area of your body, pay attention to how the skin feels under your fingers. Imagine that you have healing power in your hands (which you actually do). As you wash your breasts and under your arms, do so in the spirit of blessing this area of your body. As you do so, you will be learning the basic contours and feel of your own breasts. Do this daily as part of your bathing until you have reclaimed some respect for your breasts as an important part of your anatomy. Your breast tissue will respond positively to your intent!
Once you are completely comfortable with this exercise, proceed with learning how your breast tissue feels when you use deeper pressure. You might approach this step in a spirit of curiosity, the same way you might examine your own hand or the sole of your foot. Your breasts are a vital part of your woman’s wisdom, and you want to learn to listen to them. Lie on your back with one hand behind your head. This will flatten your breast tissue against your chest wall and make it easier for you to feel and appreciate your breast tissue as it lies on top of the underlying muscles and ribs. With your right hand, using the flat part of your fingers, not your fingertips, explore your left breast. Fingertips are so sensitive that they pick up the little ductules. You may find this frightening until you know what is normal for you, so use your fingertips to explore your breast tissue only after you have become completely comfortable with your breast anatomy and trust yourself. Repeat the exercise, using your left hand to explore your right breast. It is initially helpful to divide your breast into four quadrants and examine each one separately. Then move up to your armpit and back to your nipple so that you can feel the differences in the different breast areas. Breast tissue tends to be the densest in the upper, outer quadrants of the breast. Eventually you will be able to feel the difference between this area and others and to know that these differences are all normal for you.
You can get to know your breasts by understanding their anatomy, feeling your breasts (both from within and without), and looking at them. Your breasts are a normal part of the body and they deserve as much or more loving attention than your hair or complexion. If you approach your breasts in this way, to get to know them, to consciously and lovingly care for them (and not just find lumps), you’ll be surrounding them with a much more positive energy field than the usual energy engendered by the breast self-exam, in which you examine to find what you don’t want to find. Examining your breasts in a spirit of fear simply increases the fear and is the opposite of what you need to create healthy breast tissue. One of my former patients who had had a lumpectomy for breast cancer embodied this healthy way of examining her breasts. She felt her breasts regularly and knew their anatomy well. And every morning, before she got up, she said to them, “Girls you’re safe with me!”
Learn More — Additional Resources
- The Wisdom of Menopause, by Christiane Northrup, M.D., Chapter 13, “Creating Breast Health”
- Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, by Christiane Northrup, M.D., Chapter 10, “Breasts”
Both books contain a description of self chest and breast massage methods, and offer more information on breast anatomy.