Menopause: Growing Young

July 10, 2012

A few years ago some of my friends and of course the media started scaring me with tales of how I’d be quickly turning into a saggy, wrinkled old crone now that I’m going through menopause. The common “wisdom” is that once your body stops producing so much estrogen you lose muscle, memory, well being, moisture in your skin and vagina, etc. That I was guaranteed to gain at least 15 lbs and nothing to be done about it. Enjoy the downhill slide.

I looked around, noticed that children and men (who don’t produce much estrogen) don’t have these issues, and realized this had to be a bunch of flying horseshit.

What I have learned is that estrogen does do is help maintain insulin balance, so if your stress levels are high and/or you eat a lot of sugars and grains, you’re going to lose the masking advantage of the estrogen, and may suffer the above consequences.

BUT. if your body makes enough Human Growth Hormone, testosterone, DHEA (they’re all related), and your insulin is in balance, you’ll look and feel young.

I’ve gotten younger looking since I started menopause. You can, too. Check out this article on how to raise your HGH levels. By the way, I don’t do any of the supplements – I just get enough sleep, exercise, meditate, eat low carb (not super low) and relatively high levels of proteins and good fats. I’m adding more high intensity to my workouts – easy to do, some research shows just doing a lunge until your legs burn a couple times a day is enough to make a big difference. I do it making breakfast and brushing my teeth!

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I like to think about what the evolutionary advantage/disadvantages might be of our biological responses to various environmental factors. Recently I’ve learned two bits of information that have given me pause when thinking about the state of the human species at this time. Both have to do with the overabundance of food and the resulting obesity and disease rates in modern society. The conclusions aren’t pleasant; read on if you have an open mind. 

One is that the cutting-edge researchers into cancer treatments and causes are discovering that pretty much, each different kind of cancer has a correlated set of molecules produced by mostly plants (some are found in animals that humans eat/have eaten in the past) that eradicates that cancer. Thus, a varied diet high in plant foods can guard against many different forms of cancer. 

Which made me think; in a population where the natural ecosystem has been stressed and there is less variety of foods available, the logic is that the environment is in an unsustainable state, thus it’s EVOLUTIONARILY ADAPTIVE for the population as a whole for some members to die off as a result of eating this limited diet. Thus the cancer that results from a limited diet 
is adaptive, in that way, for the species as a whole. 

Same for being overweight. If an animal has enough to eat such that it can even store fat, it goes into overdrive producing sex hormones, so it can reproduce while there’s an abundance and the reserves either in the woman’s body so that she can provide breast milk and/or there will be food around to get the babies started in life. But, in a world like this, you don’t have to live very long in order to reproduce, and if you do, you’re using up the resources in the environment. Thus, again, it’s evolutionarily adaptive for the species for those with extra weight to get diseases (like cancer and metabolic syndrome) and die young, leaving younger, healthier, more mobile members of society to keep things going. 

If you read this post from the point of view of population biology, thinking of the dynamics of “a group of animals,” not that I am talking about human populations, it makes sense. But rereading it from an anthropocentric point of view, one could assume that I’m a scary fattist bigot This is one of the central problems of science – it doesn’t always tell us what society dictates should be true.

Weight loss, Round 497

December 6, 2009

Cognitive/behavioral psychology teaches that changes are more likely to occur if they happen gradually and if there is a thoughtful sequence of gradual adjustments thought out ahead of time, and if there are rewards and punishments for behaviors accomplished. Over the past few months I have made positive changes in behavior as regards food and exercise, but in actuality have gained some weight, not lost any. This month I am trying a different tack; I have started a GoogleWave with my partner, who is cooking and doing the shopping and gradually shaping my diet into a super healthy one, and a friend, Mordechai, who is serving as a coach. I will be tracking what I eat for the next month and they will be offering comments and scheduled rewards/punishments. I will let all know how it goes.

Love and Immunity

October 24, 2009

People in my graduate school program have been having an online conversation about love. .They asked, is love possible?

My response is, I have found love. When it happened it just did not seem hard, more like an extension of the willingness to be helpful and serving which becomes a habit of heart and life. The experience that we call “finding love” came in the form of developing a relationship with a life mate who I can be genuinely useful to. It’s the kind of love that seems more like a habit or lifestyle choice than a discovery.

But love is like an onion and our relationship to it, or not, pervades all quarters.

The experience of being loved has helped me to move through some surface layers of fear of never being loved and understood and bonded in a deeply connected way. 

But I still find that I have a kind of pervasive layer of protective anxiety. I think it manifests chronic allergies, chronic allergic rhinitis, chronic sinusitis (as I am home sick with a nasty sinus/cold thing).

From an ecosomatic perspective, allergies are the physical equivalent of chronic underlying anxiety.

Anxiety is caused by fear – fear of what? Fear is the antithesis of love. So what am I “defending” against with an overactive immune system? What am I afraid of that causes chronic anxiety?

I am contemplating that maybe, as Einstein says, our fundamental question that we all need to answer, is whether or not we believe the universe is benevolent or indifferent?

What would my whole existence be like if I could relax into a belief that the universe is a benevolent place? What would I manifest in my life? How would I show up, and how would the Universe respond?

It feels like a huge question. But I have proven to myself over and over that change always proceeds from intention.

I live not 10 miles from the Garchen Institute Tibetan Buddhist center. I have met quite a few people there who focus in the intention to be in a space of openness, of trusting love, because they fundamentally have accepted that the only thing that makes sense to them is to act as if the Universe is just and compassionate, whether they are certain that it is or not.

They have accepted that being loving, kind, and compassionate is simply the only sensible choice. They’re also some of the happiest people I have ever met.

Okay, it looks like I have convinced myself that acting “as if” the Universe is a benevolent place is the only logical course of action for me.

So what next? ????

Dancing after 50

October 12, 2009

I’ve begged Be Sa to please help me to re-establish habits of dance, walking, and yoga, and he is helping. We walk nearly every day after work, at his insistence, and I have started doing yoga and dancing in the house again. If he drums and practices bellydance rhythms, I bellydance. If we do yoga, which we have committed to doing together “for ten minutes” after walking, – it’s never ten minutes of yoga and you know it!-  then I invariably end up doing a modern dance session.

I feel younger than I did at 30. I don’t know that I have lost any weight or belly fat with the new diet and pill regime, but my joints definitely feel really good and I am strong and flexible and coordinated. I am not quite as flexible as I was then but definitely have a stronger and more organized wrap of muscles around the joints and much greater awareness of the flow of intention from one set of muscles and part of body to another. I feel I could be as flexible as I was then but will not push it to get there. I’ve virtually eliminated wheat and sugar and added  Curcumin (tumeric), cayenne, SAMe, and soy/estrosoy and I don’t know what is the magic pill, or if its really a synergy, but I am amazed at what I can do, well, now! I love modern dancing and ballroom and want to do them again. I would like to find a good dance partner and a group to do modern dance with.

I had some knee pain in the right knee and in the right hip area during and just after my period and now I have some pain in the upper back but basically no pain seems to stick – they seem to be amenable to soaks in magnesium sulfate and stretching and just go away after a few days.

I don’t like having so much pain in my upper back. I have in the past gotten frustrated with the chronic pain and stopped dancing after a very short period of time. Also the pain in the knees, and then traveling to the hip and ankles, shoulders, etc. But I don’t feel the chronic fatigue that has gone with all this in the past and have a sense that dialogueing with the pain in the back will have good results! Will try that and come back to blogging. See you here.

P.S. I also have to deal with the persistent issue of feeling like my options for dance are incredibly limited becasue of my age, weight, ability and time to organize people, level of skill, biology, where I live (limited access to dancers.) It is really time I dealt with all these. It would be a very cool demonstration to the WORLD to be at my peak and performing well and with joy as a dancer at the age of 50! Yet one more meaningful contribution I can make through my lifetime of art. Okay, going to dialogue with back. See you in a few mins.

Back – had a very interesting session with my back. I laid down on the carpet on two of the decorative gemstone eggs that live in the pottery bowl on my coffee table, and worked them gingerly but with a lot of bloodful wiggling, into the worst trigger points, which are at the inside lower corners of the scapulae. I would guess they are in the rhomboids as they feel deeper than the trapezius. The anterior serratus, levator scapula, subscapularis, and various parts fo the trapezius, and – OMG – the teres major! – are usually very sensitive as well in certain chronic trigger point areas. This is typical on both sides with the left side having more pain in general in various areas.  I also rolled into these some, too.

In any case, as I rolled around on the eggs the trapezius did some fairly involuntary (in that I did not suppress them) deep contractions which were mirrored by and stimulated some contractions in the muscles deep in the pelvis, which felt really really good  – a good arching stretch, down into the quadratus lumborum and whatever that/those muscles are that go down over the back of the sacrum. I also felt a lot of popping of ligaments as bones in the spine and neck moved around. I bet my spine is really out of alignment. that’s probaby what is causing a lot of the chronic pain. Now after having done that the pain has moved into primarily the left side of my back, radiating around to the lats and teres.

I have read various studies and literature reviews re: the fact that people are much more successful in healing emotinoal pain if they pay attention to their somatic responses when talking about traumatic emotional experiences. This is connected to the effectiveness of EMDR, in which the therapist instructs the client to observe how/what they feel in various parts of the body when re-living old traumas and when the traumas have been released. It only makes sense that paying attention to a pain in the body and asking it what it feels emotionally would be the corresponding approach from a body-based healing strategy.

As I was lying on the eggs I paid attention to the thoughts I was having related to each point, and sort of what the points “felt” like. The really hot points under the inside edge of the trapezius felt anxious, really irritated, like they were tired to having to deal with the same shit over and over again. The points out around the edges in the teres and the lats felt almost panicky, they were so hot – like their issue was almost entirely emotional or referred, had nothign to do with actual use of those muscles. As I am writing this I realized I am taking deeper breaths and those points are warming up in that way that happens when a trigger point is releasing and going into healing mode. I had the sense as I was lying there that the issues in those muscles were related to breathing and lungs and allergies. In fact, as I write this, I feel motivated to tap my sternum, thus stimulating the thymus gland. I just did it and felt even more of the muscles in my back release. The thoughts come in that a lot of the issues i have in my back are becasue of my lungs. My lungs are in distress becasue of allergies.  I have allergies because my immune system is hyper facilitated due to continual hypervigilance – “stress” – due to having PTSD.

My only conclusion is, once again, that if I can deal with the chronic PTSD and the underlying thoughts that go with it, my whole system will calm down and my immune system will stop feeling like it needs to be so defensive against every little thing that comes towards it.

Funny, as I think this, I realize that the underlying part of my personality that is hypervigilant “feels” like the points out there in the teres, lats, and rhomboids that are in emergency panic state because of holding the hypervigilance for so long feel, is really very very very exhausted. I suddenly feel genuine tiredness. I wonder what it woudl feel like to actually be able to rest my whole body, to not hold this any more. My psyche shakes its head at that – impossible – and the thought occurs to me that I would need to set up very specific circumstances in which to unravel this- maybe a hot tub and Be Sa holding me, maybe moving me in the water, for a long time as various waves of things came up and I consciously let them go. I wonder if flotation tank or watsu would be good.

Also interesting to note that as I was wiggling on the trigger points the thought occurred to me that these points would be worked out through the fluid system, which is almost always easiest for me to access via the arterial flow of blood. Now I am seeing that a lot of what I seek is the safe, womblike state of warm water and a loving connection to another person.

My mother was suicidally depressed when I was born and her doctor gave her  amphetamines to deal with it. I am sure my time in the womb was less than a happy one. Maybe what I am getting from this whole session is that I need to go back there with someone who really deeply loves me and feel it through.

Strange after doing all this and writing all this I feel kind of in an altered state, and genuinely tired. Think I will go lie down and rest a bit.

Dream Journaling

September 27, 2009

I have been trying create threads for all the different threads of consciousness that I return to as I am going through this process of journaling out my life. One of the things I have been told to do a great deal in my life is to dream journal. I have always been skeptical about the value of this. But last night I had an interesting one.

I lived in a house for six years once (the longest time anywhere since I was 14 years old and moved from the childhood home we lived in for 13 years) and it became in my psyche my “house.” It is a tiny hand built stone house with magnificent view of the national forest, with a sloping yard and a dozen juniper trees, including one that grew out of the patio.

The kitchen floor was started by stained glass artists who lived there before me, an intricate tiling pattern, which I completed.  The kitchen table was an antiqued greenish bar held up by juniper trunks, and the entrance to the livingroom from the kitchen was graced by a whitewashed thick old juniper trunk. Open beamed cieling, fire place, door handles made from various things – big bones, wrought metal work. There was tiny stained glass window insets in the back door. All the windows and doors were crazy and leaky, either old French doors locked by skeleton key or slabs of rough wood bolted together medieval style. I absolutely loved that house, even though it had one frustrating plumbing or heating or sewage or window leaking problem after another, nearly continuously for the time I lived there.

My bedroom was a tower with giant steel framed window, accessible by an oak library ladder. The house had open beams, tall cielings, rough whitewashed (okay,painted) interior walls. My best friend for life lived across the street.

Well, I still have dreams about that house. In last night’s, the yard had finally been fenced as I had imagined years ago, but in a cheap roll wire with a design on it that faked the wrought iron spired Victorian fence that I always imagined putting in, and there were goats being kept by the Afghani family, a father and some small boys, that lived there. I of course did not know that they lived there in the dream – in the dream I had just talked to best friend Sandra’s husband on the phone and he had told me that she was home, and I was all excited that I would be able to see her, so I was sneaking into the house when I realized that not only did she not live there any more (although she never did, she actually had lived across the street) but that there was another family there.

I went out and met the family  in the yard, where the boys were making incredible sculptural fire dancing equipment with lots of intricate Steampunk moving parts. I wanted to give them a card for Cabflam, my fire dancing troupe, but I did not have one and while i was searching around for the card they stripped my truck clean and stole my purse. That’s when I remembered that they had been stealing from me for a long time.

I did a ritual, drawing a circle in the air around the father’s deeply tanned and toothless face, closing it with a popping sound, and said that when he returned everything he and his boys had stolen then his good karma would return to him, adn I wanted every single thing back, including my bellydancing veils. As I said it I felt that everything was indeed returned to me. I ended by saying that I wanted to ask his boys to dance with Cab Flam, but that I wouldn’t surround myself with petty thieves. He seemed to get the message, and I left feeling like the deed was done.

Whatever it was! I hardly feel that Afghanistan or Afghanistanis are stealing from the US – eesh, can’t possibly go into how I feel about that one  and how ironic the dream was in that regards. But I do still love the way that house was then, and goats, and if I had the chance to buy it I would consider it deeply. Maybe some part of me wonders if I am stealing from Afghani culture by being a belly dancer and wearing Kuchi jewelry in my costumes?

In any case I will be performing today wearing a bra and belt set made in Afghanistan or Pakistan that incorporates Kutchi antique elements. It is a silly “American Tribal” style costume but it has the dangling coins that match my dancing partners, and I have never worn it since I left the Tribal dance troupe – in large part because I think the costumes are pretty tacky.  I don’t know what dance styles are like in Afghanistan but i do feel that a lot of the ornamentation they wear is very beautiful and it feels right on me- heavy and silver and shiny and grounded – and that such ornamentation and decoration is pretty common all over the world for various ceremonial and celebratory occasions, but much less so in the Europeanized, “Western” world.

I love that the medieval paintings by Hildegard and others, and in her own musical plays/rituals (I’m thinking here of the Ordo Virtutum) she bedecked and ornamented her nuns and saints alike with jewels and headdresses, and all the evidence that I’ve been finding with Be Sa that this so called “oriental” style of dress and ornamentation was widespread across Europe even in the Middle Ages, at least for those who could afford it.

I realize more and more the deep wound that I feel that Charlemagne raped the cultures of Europe and burned the holy books, and that the Church then took away the earthy, sensual ornamentation of women and reserved it for the statues and paintings of the Holy Virgin.

Maybe it’s I who feels robbed. I want it back. I want to be able to feel comfortable and authentic as an ornamented representative of the sacred Feminine. To get my veils back and to have the circle be complete. To not feel that my art is compromised by petty thieves.

Body Dialogues – part 7

September 26, 2009

I went to the Doctor on Thursday for my annual physical and pap. The visit went well, I got a script for fexofenadine, which is a good thing, since having to take benedryl for hives and then be asleep at my desk is not fun. It works great for clearing a big allergic reaction.

The appointment did not reveal anything new. I still have a low level of excema on my feet, although it is pretty low at this point, and the lingering usual suspects related to allergies; chronic allergic rhinitis, water in my right ear (although it does not seem infected and the water is less,) relatively low lung volume on the blow test, I mentioned the recurring sinus headaches, etc. I am still overweight, although I got a base line weight to start from.

Blood pressure is normal,  not as ridiculously low as it was for my dentist appointment a couple weeks ago, whcih was 90 over 68 or something like that. I did request a metabolic panel as the heavy menstrual flow could be causing me to be really anemic, again. I also want to make sure that my sugars are normal as last year they were slightly elevated, and I need to be getting the LDL under control as it was a tiny bit elevated last year. If I keep up this course of walking and yoga on a daily basis it will eventually help. I also need to check into rice bran or whatever that supplement is that people take to regulate their LDL – naturopaths recommend it.

I am a little bit scared to have the blood drawn, maybe a little afraid to face that maybe I have metabolic syndrome due to the excess weight around my middle and less than perfect diet, not enough exercise, etc. But nonetheless I will deal with it next week. I no longer eat wheat, refined carbs, or sugar, and eat veggies and fruits every day, and not that much dairy or meat products. I need more cooked vegetable and will ask Be Sa to help make that happen.

I also keep forgetting to use the Neti pot. I know that it will deal really effectively with the rhinitis issue – it has in the past and is highly recommended by even allopathic docs for allergic rhinitis business.

Well I just started feeling itchy – the hives are back this morning. Guess it’s an antihistamine and back to bed for me.

Still, I am normally active and not on any daily drugs, and don’t have any chronic pains and injuries that I am nursing, so I am probably still way ahead of the game as far as health goes in the US for 50 year old people.

Body Dialogues, day 6

September 26, 2009

Last night Be Sa and I went walking when I got home. I stopped after work and had a drink with my friend James and then did some shopping. It felt good to walk but it did not feel connected all the way through the leg and pelvis like the night before. I really wanted to do yoga first. By the time we got back to the house it was late and I felt too tired to do yoga.

I wonder if it ‘s a good idea for anyone to drink. I woke up this morning soaked in sweat with hot flashes, which always happens day after I drink, and I ate greasy chicken wings for dinner, and too many of them, because my inhibitions were lessened by the alcohol.

After I got home we had what might be called a heated discussion. I headed off to the bathtub to soak for a while before going to bed, and as soon as I hit the water I realized I was covered with hives, not the tiny itchy things but big welts.

I climbed out and took a Benedryl, then took a fexofenadine.

I wouldn’t be surprised that the hives which happened later were from corn vinegar or corn syrup in the wings; I did not think to ask my regular list of things because I was having fun and a glass of wine. I am sure that the sulfur in the wine and our argument did not help at all.

I used to think that I could be happy and peaceful with a life of yoga and vegetarian food and meditation. I am not living that way now.

I want to be healthy, be fit and at a healthy weight, and I would hope that being that way can include an occasional glass of wine. This morning I wonder. Maybe all of us, when it comes right down to it, have to make stringent decisions and sacrifices in order to acheive what we want. Maybe I need to give up animal products and alcohol. A vegan diet that’s sugar, alcohol, corn, and corn product-free diet, not to mention limits exposure to other foods that bother me, including wheat and sulfur and peanuts, sounds not only kind of impossible but depressingly limited. I’ve already given up the sugar and the corn products and am limiting the animal proteins and fats.

Maybe I am lucky that I’m so sensitive, because it makes me pay attention in a way that people who aren’t as sensitive do not, until their health is significantly compromised. If I knew that I would feel good and be thinner, lose at least 15 lbs eating this way, and not feel spaced out and irritable andhungry and deprived, I would start on it. Getting to a space where I feel like it’s worth it to try and I can imagine a good outcome is an important step.

In any case writing meditating and writing in the mornings feels like an incredibly important thing to do and I will continue on this course.

Yesterday, instead of heading out the door for our walk after dinner, Be Sa and I did some yoga first. We both went immediately into our own spaces, moving intuitively from vertical to horizontal, exploring the diagonal planes of the body, reachning from our cores. Although Be Sa does not have formal schooling in somatic awareness like mine, I find that the group mind definitely translates, and have observed changes in his yoga abilities when we do it together. It’s great to teach by existence, not formal pedagogy!

When doing yoga, it’s becoming  easier and easier to just let the body do what it wants to do. In this case it was to move from flexion to extension through the Sun Salutation and intuitive variations of that, and to find all the isolated ways in which one can spiral around the torso. I am glad that I was able to follow the reach from tailbone out of top of head, the line down from fingertips to tailbone, to find initiation both distally and proximally (from my center and from the periphery.) I found myself  moving naturally into some  combinations of fluid dance movement and strong shapes – from container to contents, from bone to fluids to organ to fluids to wrapping spirallic musculoskelal.

 I am intruiged by the idea that artists notate the patterns of life, of living things, and capture the sequences of things in ways that other scientists have not yet done. Just as there are underlying sequences of emotions in story telling, there are certain patterns in the ways we open or close ourselves, and which systems of the bodies we delve into in what order.

Half an hour of joyous-, strong-,  and fluid -space-filling yoga seemed just perfect. Then I changed into my Birkenstocks and we headed out for our walk. I felt expanded, fluid, springy in my step, as if I could reach and reach and reach from my insides out through that foot, and really felt the rocking flexion and extension in my pelvis with each step.

Pleased to report that today I have no pain or soreness anywhere and am very excited to do the same thing again this evening. I need to guard against my sanguinity -“bloodful” over-enthusiasm – which can get fibromyalgia stirred up again and put me in a depressed and sore condition.

So far, so good.

It’s time for our walk. Be Sa drops the keys to the house in his pocket, steps out to the street, and offers me the crook of his arm. The late afternoon sun is just tipping the blue-violet Mingus Mountain, the Bradshaws to the South, and Granite Mountain to the west, with golden grassy fields running up to them flecked with houses. As usual, it’s a beautiful day in Chino Valley. We live in a beautiful place, and it’s a pleasure to take Be Sa’s arm and walk with him through our quiet neigbhorhood.

Reach out and through the foot, rolling up from heel through knee, and pelvis. Feel the flexing front and back. I’m wearing my periwinkle blue flowered Birkenstocks that I changed into after work. Be Sa has a longer stride than I do, so I need to work to match him. So I change the way I initiate each step, reaching out from the pelvis, rolling forward from the pelvic floor muscles, reaching down with the psoas, gathering up the leg from the iliopsoas and the iliacus. Or is it the other way around? I need to review the pelvic floor. For now, I notice that by extending down through the pelvis and lifting up through the leg, foot follows. I wonder if I am placing my heel to emphatically. I feel the thud, the vibration in the pelvis and the way the adductors complete their external rotation.

-to be continued-