Hot flashes, weight gain, and sleepless nights are all signs that our hormones may be tipped to one side or the other. As a society, we are looking to balance those hormones back, but what if what needs to be balanced is not our hormones?
Earlier this summer, I was on the tail end of a family vacation, and I experienced a major shift in my health. I gained ten pounds in two weeks, I was short-tempered and I woke up every night at 2 a.m., unable to get back to sleep. I’m fairly in tune with my body, and I had this sense that my hormones were out of balance. This led me to Claudia Welch, a Doctor of Chinese Medicine, and an Ayurvedic practitioner and educator. She wrote Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life, which felt like a perfect fit. The title, she insists, is actually backwards. Welch teaches that in order to balance your hormones, you must first look at how you are living your life.
Welch recently spoke at the Ayurveda and Women’s Health Conference presented by Yoga International. Though classic Ayurveda does not speak directly to the subject of hormones, there is an ayurvedic lens she uses when looking at hormonal issues. According to Welch, all hormones can be classified as having the predominant qualities of either langhana or brahmana.
Brmhana and langhana represents the ayurvedic system of duality similar to the Chinese systems of yin and yang. Brmhana has the qualities of grounding, cooling and nourishing, and includes the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. Langhana qualities are stimulating, motivating, goal oriented, and hot, and includes the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Essentially they ready the body to take quick action. Welch says that in order to bring balance to our hormones, we need to create balance between these two qualities in our lives.
“In our healthy, natural state, our hormones are constantly changing”, says Welch. It is therefore very difficult to determine what hormone would be needed at any given moment in order to balance our hormones. “Our hormones change in response to the context of our lives, our thoughts, emotions, actions, what we are doing, how we’re doing it, and how we’re feeling while we are doing it.” Rather than asking the question of how do we know if our hormones are out of balance, she suggests asking, “how do we know when our life is out balance?”
From a broad perspective, Welch invites women to look at the substance of their lives, because this is what creates our hormonal makeup at any given moment. Our thoughts affect our biology, so if we change our thoughts, our hormones will change in response. “Hormones don’t go out of whack in a vacuum,” she says. It’s not possible to find hormonal balance when we are having stressful thoughts all day long, whether or not those thoughts represent actual danger in our lives.
The most important question a woman can ask is “Am I feeling true to myself?” If the answer to this question is a yes, then Welch insists that the challenges that are inherent to being a human on this planet do not feel so stressful. When we are not living the life we are called to live, this creates an undercurrent of stress.
Ayurveda looks at whether a problem is physical, mental/emotional or spiritual. Spiritual, in this sense has to do with an idea of possession. Welch says that in her practice, she sees many women who are possessed with an idea of what success is, that has nothing to do with what they truly want for themselves. She sees women who are consistently putting the needs and desires of others above their own, living in a realm of what they “should” do.
Welch teaches women to slow down and take the time to consider what they truly want. She says “even asking the question ‘what do I want?’ is nourishing, and it’s scary. It often tells us that we are not living the life we want, that we are overcommitted in areas we don’t even want to be.” Welch encourages women to have the courage to live in integrity with their lives. She offers this practice as a first step to living your dharma, or being in integrity with your life:
In the morning, take time to develop a relationship with your inner voice, to ask the question, “Is this right for me to be doing?” and listen for the answer.
- If the answer is yes, then do you have the courage to do that thing?
- If the answer is no, do you have the courage to not do that thing?
- If there’s no answer, do you have the courage to do nothing until the answer becomes clear?
In our society today, Welch insists it takes more courage to not do something or to wait until the right action shows itself, than to take action for action’s sake. The question becomes, can you slow down enough to be able to hear your inner voice. When you can stop needing to run the show, you can allow yourself to relax into that space of knowing what is right for you.
“When I’m in integrity, what does it feel like? I hear the yes, I hear the no, and I hear the quiet nothing, I’m prepared to cooperate with that. I can be with what shows up moment to moment.” This is a restful place to be once we relax into it, and when we can not worry about what other people might think about us.
Welch encourages a ‘medicine of subtraction’ approach. Begin to take small steps. Let go of little things that you don’t want to do. Erase some of those to-do’s off your list that don’t align with who you want to be. Notice the space that opens up, and don’t rush to fill it. Our hormones will change in response to our thoughts and our emotions. This will happen when we begin to live into our integrity.
As I take these ideas into my life, I notice where I’ve overcommitted myself unnecessarily, and I can begin to let things go. I’ve also looked at my own striving, and how my thoughts have such a huge affect on my physiology. It’s a process of bringing myself back to myself, and I’ve borrowed a tool from Welch that offers guidance through my day, “Let it be Enough”, and it is.