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`WOMEN’S BODIES’ EXPLORES MIND-BODY LINK

SHARE `WOMEN’S BODIES’ EXPLORES MIND-BODY LINK

Here's a sentence you won't find in most medical texts: "When you become willing to be in relationship with your uterus by letting its messages speak to you, you have taken the first steps toward healing. . . ."

Certainly when gynecologist Christiane Northrup got her medical education at Dartmouth in the 1970s, this wasn't the standard advice she was taught. Like medical students everywhere in the United States, Northrup was taught about surgery and drugs and, occasionally, diet.But medicine has changed since then, at least among doctors like Northrup who consider themselves holistic physicians. This is the era now of "mind-body" medicine, sometimes also known as psychoneuroimmunology - the notion that what we think and feel affects us down to the cellular level.

Or as Northrup says in her new book, "Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom," beliefs become biology.

The book's New Age tone is tempered by Northrup's years of experience in private practice at the Women to Women clinic in Yarmouth, Maine, and in the book she talks about traditional treatments and surgeries that may be useful. What her patients have taught her, she says, is that many health problems are a result of the culture and the personal lives that women lead. What her patients have taught her, she says, is that women can listen to their own bodies and can learn to heal.

When we're sick, she says, "our bodies are trying to tell us something," often about emotions we haven't effectively dealt with. "The immune system has a very long memory," says Northrup, former president of the American Holistic Medical Association. She was in Salt Lake City this week promoting her book.

While there are other mind-body books on the market, this is the first to deal exclusively with female organs and what used to be called "female complaints." There are chapters on breasts, ovaries, fertility and menopause. And in all of them there are startling sentences such as "The major emotion behind breast lumps and breast cancer is hurt, sorrow and unfinished emotional business generally related to nurturance."

Even the messages women unwittingly send to themselves during breast self-exams may be harmful, says Northrup. Most women approach these self-exams fearfully, afraid of finding a lump. This, she says, creates negative energy. The more healing approach, she says, is to do the exam by sending "energies of caring and respect," which will "create healthy breast tissue."

When a patient comes to her with a breast lump or a with a fibroid tumor in her uterus, Northrup doesn't just do a standard medical history and an exam. "What's going on in your life?" she wants to know.

What is often going on with fibroid patients, she has discovered, is a feeling that their creativity is being squelched. Often, she says, they feel that they are not appreciated at work or in a relationship.

Northrup herself recently discovered she had a benign fibroid. After she got over her initial "shame and blame," she says, she began to look for the metaphor behind the growth. "That's what's been fun about it," she says.

"For me, the tumor is about being chained to the approval of others." She says that she has noticed that when she pays more attention to her own needs, the tumor shrinks in size.

"There will be people who hate me for this," she says about these non-traditional ideas. "We don't want to hear how much responsibility we have for our health."

Being responsible for one's own health doesn't mean, though, that people should blame themselves for their illnesses, she says. Genetics, communicable ailments and environmental factors all play major roles. The trick is to examine the emotional component of disease, says Norhtrup, and then to use that information to help the body heal.