Touch… for Your Health

As the weather begins to cool, it becomes easy to retreat into our caves. Hibernation syndrome starts to kick in (particularly amongst those of us who live in pedestrian or bike culture), we crave more sleep as the sun sets earlier and earlier, or we start to feel that change of season cold and stay inside to rest. While listening to our bodies is important, various medical practices believe that going the route of the hermit may not always serve us, especially if we are not feeling well or if we are low energy. In fact, safe touch with another human being in sexual or non-sexual ways can heal various physical and mental ailments.

A recent articleHolding hands on wooden background in Women’s Health magazine, “The Amazing, Beautiful Power of Touch,” discusses new studies about the many ways non-sexual touch can help cure physical and emotional ailments. [1] Massage, for example, has been shown to trigger immune-building cells. In addition, it stimulates the brain to release hormones that relieve stress, reduce pain, create a sense of peace, and sometimes even happiness. [2] Even a soft touch on the arm or back when you’re not feeling well… Perhaps it depends on who is doing the touching but in situations that feel safe, how do you feel when someone you trust makes even that small gesture? If you’re not sure, notice your body’s response the next time someone touches you in a platonic way.

Safe sexual touch can trigger similar responses according to many schools of thought. As my acupuncturist said to me the other day (and as if we need another reason), Marvin Gaye had it right: sex can be healing. This is a core tenant of ancient Indian Tantric philosophy as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine. Tantric beliefs posit that deep healing can result from sexual acts that stem from spiritual connection (as opposed to ego, pleasure-driven motivations). See for example, Dr. Rafe Biggs’ writings about the ways Tantric practices have enabled him to heal parts of his body and sexuality following a severe accident that left him quadriplegic. [3] Even WebMD asserts that doing the deed can cure the sneezes and a recent story published on CNN’s website claims that kissing can HELP migraines and cramps. (There goes the ol’, “I have a headache excuse…”) [4]

Whether we are in the mood to connect with other humans or not, platonically or sexually, if the opportunity arises and you are considering it, or you are craving connection, know that this can be a gift that you give to yourself. Ya know, for your health…

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[1]  Sushma Subramanian, “The Amazing, Beautiful Power of Touch,” Women’s Health magazine, March 7, 2014. See also Norine Dworkin-McDaniel. “Touching Makes Your Happier,” CNN Health.com, January 5, 2011.

[2]  See Ironson, G., Field, T.M., Scafidi, F., Hashimoto, M., Kumar, M., Kumar, A., Price, A., Goncalves, A., Burman, I. , Tetenman, C., Patarca, R. & Fletcher, M.A. (1996). “Massage therapy is associated with enhancement of the immune system’s cytotoxic capacity.” International Journal of Neuroscience, 84, 205-217; Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2008 May; 42(5):414-22. “Pilot study evaluating the effect of massage therapy on stress, anxiety and aggression in a young adult psychiatric inpatient unit.” Garner B1, Phillips LJ, Schmidt HM, Markulev C, O’Connor J, Wood SJ, Berger GE, Burnett P, McGorry PD.

[3] Dr. Rafe Biggs, “Tantra as a Healing Modality.” AwakeningBody.com, August 2008.

[4] Kara Meyer Robinson, “10 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex.” WedMD; Valerie Reiss, “8 Health Benefits of Kissing.” CNN Health, February 7, 2014.

In-vitro Fertilization: Take One, Take Two….

thoughtful business woman(Guest blog by Anonymous in Brooklyn)

Nearly a third of all cases of infertility are unexplained. For many women, this diagnosis can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you’re the kind of person that’s accustomed to knuckling down and getting sh*t done. There’s no “solution” to find—just a whole lot of hope. This was just the first of many things I had to learn to surrender to during my 5-year journey to attain the seemingly elusive and miraculous gift of pregnancy.

My partner and I eventually arrived at a point where IVF was our only remaining option. Again, this can be a very fraught decision for many couples: it’s taxing physically, emotionally and financially, and, you’re taking a huge leap of faith that all of this will result in an entirely new life. For me, the scariest part was investing all this money and failing (me, personally, disappointing my husband, my family, myself). When you do IVF, you feel like everything is riding on whether or not your body does what it’s “supposed” to do, which it hasn’t done up to this point. It’s far more complicated than that, of course, but it’s hard not to feel the weight of this venture on your shoulders.

Our first attempt, which fell over the December holidays, resulted in an ectopic pregnancy. I was devastated, and as much as my partner wanted to support me, I think it’s a difficult thing for a man to relate to, especially a loss early in the pregnancy. I didn’t know it intellectually at the time, but instinctively I sought out the support of other women – my mother, my sister, but also women who had the resources and knowledge to help me heal and prepare for my next try. This is what brought me to Rachel.

Rachel came to our meeting armed with bags of raspberry leaf tea (good for toning the uterus and balancing hormones) and an informational packet on other herbal and foods that would be helpful during this restoration period. She also strongly recommended that I seek out an acupuncturist who specializes in fertility and could treat me for three months or so before I tried again. At the time, the suggestion that I needed to slow down and wait was difficult to hear, but she helped me see that this time could be a blessing in disguise if I fully embraced it.

I followed all of Rachel’s advice, taking the space I needed to recover and build my confidence in my ability to get pregnant. I visited a fertility acupuncturist weekly, improved my diet by adding more greens and reducing sugar and gluten, and made time for yoga, running and mediation. I also focused on trying to kick ass at work, since I hadn’t been at my level best during the pregnancy loss. I actually ended up pushing my next fertility treatment back an additional month so I could take a trip with friends to Puerto Rico. The sunshine and warm seawater was the perfect, final preparation for my second try (which was a frozen embryo cycle, not full IVF).

I’m happy to report that this cycle was successful. All mothers-to-be face the uncertainty that the first trimester inherently brings, but now I feel l have the tools to sit with my anxiety (thank you, Pema Chodron) and take positive steps toward maintaining my health and, hopefully, the pregnancy.

I’m sharing this story because I know from my visits to the clinic that there are so many women struggling with infertility and finding the right resources and support is essential to maintaining your wellness and sanity. Truly, there is a good bit of magic to how this baby thing happens, for every woman who tries, and learning to let go, in whatever form that manifests, can be an enormous help.

 

From the Garden: Dandelion Greens

Foraged edible dandelion flowers and greens in bowlMay marks the beginning of fresh greens season in the Northeast, and top on the list of nutrient-rich, super foods are dandelion greens. Rich in calcium and iron, Vitamins A & K, amongst many other nutrients, they can be helpful for restoring minerals during and after your period. Herbalists recommend drinking an infusion of dandelion greens starting in the third trimester of pregnancy to increase milk production. Dandelion greens also deep clean the liver, they are a diuretic and are used to break up kidney stones, and they regulate blood sugar so they are great additions to a spring detox.

This super food has a bitter bite that can be mellowed by combining the leaves with something a bit richer, like nuts, or something sweeter, like beets.

To eat, wash the leaves and cut off the bottom stems, then mix some of them raw into a rich basil pesto or your favorite salad mix, sauté them lightly with your favorite healthy oil and garlic, use them instead of spinach in cooked dishes, or incorporate them into your morning juice.

 

 

Nurturing New Mamas So They Can Nurture Their Babies

cooking grandmaThose of you who are pregnant are each doing something that to me is the most powerful, magical thing a human being can possibly do. You are making another human being!! That is mind blowing. It takes blood, water, hormones, minerals of all kinds, and just the right mix of environmental and psychological efforts to make that happen. Everything your body has to give is given to this project—to grow the human and then birth it… Amazing!

Whether you have a Cesarean or a vaginal birth, your body is at its most powerful when you birth that baby. And like many superheroes, after you do that, your body is incredibly depleted. It has just been through a tsunami on top of a hurricane on top of a tidal wave. Your nutrients are depleted, hormones and organs are all over the place, you’re exhausted not just from that but from the new little one who’s now out in the world, completely reliant on you, and on its own, unpredictable schedule. But there is a huge gaping hole in the American medical community and in our culture for new mama support during this time. It is shocking to me how little we do as a society to nurture these superheroes amongst us.

In many communities around the world, new mothers are taken care of by the community. The pregnant woman moves into her mother’s house during her last trimester, or vice versa, or elders and other people in the community create a bubble around the women: they simmer bone broths for days on end, give oil massages to help expel remaining fluid and stimulate circulation, they clean the new mother’s home, watch her other children… A new mother’s body, home, and spirit are cared for so that she can care for her baby and ride the inherently bumpy waves that come with the transition from pregnancy to motherhood.

The American medical industry however has become a factory and even doctors who are interested in supporting women during the postpartum period are not taught these tools in medical school. In addition, people are no longer taught the traditions of their ancestors, family members live far away or have work obligations or too few resources to step up in the way that people in other parts of the world do. One of the primary reasons I founded Wooden Spoon Wellness is to fill this gap through one-on-one coaching, Healthy Mama Baby Showers, cooking classes, health food market tours, and, when necessary, personal catering. My aim however is to put myself out of this business and equip communities with time-tested, natural tools that people around the world have used for generations to better support new mamas. This will require radical cultural shifts but I believe it is possible.