Mindfulness & Neuroplasticity : How You Can Remap Your Brain For Positivity

Mindfulness is magnificently powerful; as undoubtedly the thoughts that cross the mind are. We even see how influential thought can be in medical research: the placebo effect’s ability to measurably improve symptoms has been demonstrated in clinical trials.[i] But what does this mean for us when worry or sadness crosses our mind? And if we’re caught in a negative thought pattern, what can we do about it?

Thoughts Shape Our Reality

We have an estimated 60,000 thoughts per day, with about 95% of them being habitual. Because caution and fear helped keep our ancestors alive, about 80% of these habitual thoughts tend to be more negative than positive – even though in modern society, these anxieties don’t serve the pivotal purpose they once did. [ii]

But this doesn’t mean we have to be victim to these mental habits. Our brains aren’t so hard-wired as we used to think they were: the discovery of neuroplasticity revealed to us that the brain is continually adjusting and reorganizing. Our thought patterns are not set in stone, but rather the brain forms and alters neural connections throughout life, based on environmental conditions. [iii]

This is particularly wonderful because, while we may not be able to control much of what happens in our lives, our thoughts about and approach to what happens absolutely has the capacity to change our experience of life. If you wake up and think, “Today is going to be awful” it probably will be. Conversely, if you start focusing your attention on pleasant experiences throughout your day – the softness of your sweater, the brilliance of the leaves outside – chances are you’re going to feel a bit more content.

The logic then goes that if attitude informs reality, and reality informs neural pathways, then our attitude can re-wire our brain. In other words, if we bring our attention to our positive thoughts, gradually, our brain will remap it’s thought patterns to align with this newfound positivity. It’s like our mind can pave a new positive road and the more we take it, the old negative one to becomes overgrown. The natural question that follows is how we can break negative thought patters and create a more positive mindset.

You Are Not Your Thoughts

It’s pretty empowering to realize that we can shape a life of enjoyment – but where we get into trouble is when we mistake the power of our thoughts as being one with them. Mindfulness is meditative philosophy introduced to the western medical community primarily by biomedical scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn, and its steadfastly garnering support from medical research.[iv] Simply put, it encourages focusing on the present in the moment and becoming aware of our thoughts. It teaches us to view thoughts from a position of non-judgmental observation, which helps us to realize that we have thoughts, but we – our innate being, core self, spirit, soul, whatever you want to call it – are not synonymous with these thoughts.

Mindfulness shows us that thoughts are simply experiences that come and go, and we can play an active role in how we engage with them. We can choose to entertain one that comes our way, even obsess over it, or we can choose to let it float on by and make way for the next one to come along. If a thought is negative, we don’t have to try to stuff it down: we can simply observe the experience until it passes (and it will – the mind is great at coming up with new thoughts.) Or even if a thought is pleasant, we can learn to view it in a non-grasping, healthfully unattached way. For even nice thoughts eventually pass.

It is in this way that we can utilize our thoughts to have a positive experience of life – one in which we are content and healthy and fulfilled – by letting go of the thoughts that don’t serve us and appreciating those that do. Over time, fostering this attitude of non-judgment and awareness will encourage psychological flourishing.

Not Everything You Think Is True

One more point worth bringing up as we think about thinking is that our thoughts are not facts, although we may falsely believe they are sometimes. And thank goodness, right? Imagine if every time some terrible self-narrative emerges in your mind (I’m not good enough; I can’t do this; and so on) it was true. Sure some thoughts are truthful, but certainly not all.

This is especially pertinent to those who face mental illness. Imagine, for a moment, someone with anxiety or depression, caught in a spiral of rumination. If thoughts equal truth, then – watch out! – all those fears will happen, just because they popped into their head. Now this person has to feel bad about feeling bad. What nonsense.

With practices like mindfulness (perhaps in conjunction with medicine and therapy, depending on personal needs), we can learn to distinguish fact from fiction, and chose the positive over the negative.[v] We can tame the “monkey mind” as it’s called in Buddhism – named for the notion that thoughts come and go like a monkey swinging wildly through the trees – and have better control over how we think. We can find peace and acceptance, developing a new relationship to our self, our feelings, our experiences, and our life that is filled with positivity and compassion.

 

 

[i]http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/treatmenttypes/placebo-effect
[ii]http://www.clevelandclinicwellness.com/programs/NewSFN/pages/default.aspx?Lesson=3&Topic=2&UserId=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000705
[iii] http://web.stanford.edu/group/hopes/cgi-bin/hopes_test/neuroplasticity/
[iv] http://www.mindful.org/jon-kabat-zinn-defining-mindfulness/
[v] https://www.anxiety.org/mindfulness-meditation-how-it-works-anxiety-depression

Foods That Support Naturally Gorgeous, Glowing Skin

As the cycle of the seasons change, so does our skincare routine. Autumn’s dryer air, cooler temperatures, and whirling gusts of wind calls for seriously upping our moisturizing and exfoliation game. And just as what we put on our bodies affects skin health, what we put in our bodies can make a difference in our complexions as well.

That’s right: instead of getting a chemical peel or collagen injection, you may just need to stop by the farmer’s market. As you read on and find out the science-backed ways we can use food to transform our skin from the inside and out, you might want to grab a notebook and start making your grocery list now.

Skincare Culprits

In many ways, the question of if or how diet affects skin is one that has left dermatologists a little stumped. Some studies are inconclusive, calling for more research to fully understand the surprisingly complex relationship before making conclusions. However, the good news is that we aren’t left completely empty-handed, because recent studies are finding more reason to support the link than oppose it.

You may suspect that it’s chocolate that’s the offender identified in these latest studies, but don’t fear – your daily dark indulgence (for heart health of course!) is safe. Lately, it’s dairy and carbs that are drawing the negative dermatological press. [i] More specifically, researchers suspect that the hormones in dairy, especially non-fat milk, may contribute to skincare woes. (Scientists believe the lowered fat content leads to higher relative hormonal content, which is why skim milk is especially exacerbating.)

And as for carbohydrates: the high glycemic impact of certain carbs (think: white bread, instant oatmeal, pretzels, etc.) is being increasingly associated with acne flare-ups. Glycemic impact may sound familiar because of the “low GI” diet plan that has garnered some weight-loss buzz as of late. Nutritionists are quick to point out the complexity of GI ratings and the uncertainty of their role in losing weight,[ii] but the evidence linking them to acne is much more compelling.

Healthy Skin Helpers

Okay, so we can skip the skim and eschew the oats. But using nutrition to promote healthy skin is as much about what we do eat as what we don’t. For example, vitamin A plays an essential role in skin health; particularly it’s moisture balance and integrity.[iii] Additionally, nutrients such as omega- 3 and -6 fatty acids, as well as vitamins D and E are known to be integral to the activities of skin cells, including hydration, inflammation, and metabolism.

Direct evidence linking supplements to improved skin is a bit lacking, so it’s best to get these nutrients straight from the source (i.e. via the foods you eat). To get more omega-3 and -6 you can sprinkle a handful of flax, chia, and sunflower seeds on salads or sandwiches. The sunflower seeds pack a double-skincare-punch because they’re also high in vitamin E. And if you want to eat something that is basically a skincare powerhouse, salmon provides not only omega-3 and -6, but also vitamin D.

Foods That Work Beyond the Plate

Some food is so skin-friendly that in addition to eating it, you can slather it right on your skin to reap the benefits. For example, in Ayurveda (the healthcare system often called the “sister science of yoga”) using plant oils to nourish and moisturize skin is part of a regular skincare routine.[iv] Coconut oil, with its seemingly endless list of health miracles it can perform, is a popular choice for many modern adopters of this practice. So are other natural oils like hemp seed or sunflower oil – which contain skin-loving vitamins and fatty acids to help keep skin youthful and hydrated.

Honey, too, is often touted to have topical benefits for your complexion, due to its antioxidants and natural antibacterial properties.[v] Honey is also classified as a humectant – meaning it traps and locks in moisture – making it a wonderful moisturizer. And did you know that avocado isn’t just healthy and delicious on toast, but also makes a great moisturizing mask? Because of its antioxidant and skin-penetrating oil content,[vi] it promotes smooth, soft skin that may cause you to spread it on your face as much as a slice of whole grain.

The skin is the largest organ we have, protecting the whole rest of our body and weathering the elements for us. It deserves some extra TLC, so why not thank it with a little honey mask or salmon dinner every once in a while?

 

[i]https://www.aad.org/media/news-releases/growing-evidence-suggests-possible-link-between-diet-and-acne
[ii]http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/glycemic-index-diet/art-20048478
[iii] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2836431/
[iv] http://www.wellandgood.com/good-looks/ayurvedic-beauty-tips-for-great-skin/
[v] http://www.livestrong.com/article/112833-benefits-honey-skin-care/
[vi] http://www.livestrong.com/article/407893-are-avocados-good-for-your-skin/

Domestic Abuse Is Not Just Physical

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence [i], nearly 10 million men and women are physically abused by an intimate, domestic partner in the span of one year. That boils down to 20 people per minute. This month is dedicated to National Domestic Violence Awareness and we want to help spread the word on signs you or a loved one may be suffering from abuse, and how to help those who are being abused.

We have all seen the news headlines, Woman killed by husband had been planning to leave him [ii] or, Celebrity accused of assaulting his girlfriend [iii], and it happens all of the time, even when it’s not being reported. Some abuse can be physically violent, but some can be more subtle, either with emotional or psychological abuse. Domestic abuse doesn’t look the same in every relationship, and not all relationships start out with abuse. The Hotline.org defines abuse as a “repetitive pattern of behaviors to maintain power and control over an intimate partner. These are behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want. Abuse includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation. Many of these different forms of abuse can be going on at any one time.” [iv]

Here are some of the signs of abuse in a relationship:

  • Jealousy: this may begin at the start of a relationship. It could mean that a boyfriend is constantly calling to check on where you are and what you’re doing. It could be a girlfriend accusing you of flirting with another or spending too much time without her. [v]
  • Isolation: a partner who tries to isolate you from your friends, family, and coworkers so you have to rely on them. The abusive partner may try to prevent access to a vehicle or from leaving the house. [v]
  • A partner who tries to belittle or control you, verbally berating you or judging your actions. [v]
  • A partner who has a hot-and-cold personality and may fly off the handle and then become apologetic. [v]
  • Talks of punishing or threats of violence. [v]
  • Physical harm no matter how mild or “accidental” it may seem [v]
  • Economic or Financial intervention: preventing you from holding a job, taking or withholding your money, controlling your finances or restricting you to an allowance. [vi]

The most telling sign is if you fear your partner. If you feel that you are constantly walking on eggshells to avoid upsetting your partner, or if you’re constantly worried that your partner’s demeanor may change at any moment and you’re afraid of what may happen, you may be experiencing abuse. [vi]

So what can you do to help a loved one or to help yourself?

If your loved one is showing signs of being in an abusive relationship, show that you are available to talk, that you love and support them, and you want them to be happy and healthy [vii]. Speaking about domestic violence helps end the stigma surrounding those who may have been abused, and helps spread awareness to those in need. There are organizations where you can volunteer, every town, county, and state have shelter for women and children escaping abuse, and there are communities online devoted to ending domestic abuse. For more information about getting involved, visit the National Network to End Domestic Violence. [vii]

If you think you may be in an abusive relationship, seek help. If you don’t have a trusted family member or friend to turn to, you can call an anonymous helpline. In the U.S, thehotline.org is a website and helpline available 24/7, and a guide to anonymous helplines available worldwide can be found here [vi].

There is hope and there is help. We can break the cycle of domestic abuse and help those who need it. For more information, take a look at some of the resources below, and please share your thoughts with us!

Resources:

[i] http://ncadv.org/learn-more/statistics
[ii] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/slain-family-mass-shooting-domestic-violence_us_57a8c63ce4b0aae2a5a0a8f7?utm_hp_ref=domestic-violence
[iii] http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/269279/chris-brown-charged-with-assault-on-rihanna
[iv] http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/
[v] http://www.newhopeforwomen.org/abuser-tricks
[vi ]http://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/domestic-violence-and-abuse.htm
[vii]http://nnedv.org/getinvolved/dvam.html

 

Will High Cholesterol Cause Erectile Dysfunction (ED)?

High cholesterol alone is not thought to cause erectile dysfunction, but plaque-clogged arteries can, because blood flow is essential to an erection, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

“High cholesterol is atherogenic [causes atherosclerosis] and can cause erectile dysfunction on that basis,” says Seth J. Baum, MD, president of the American Society for Preventive Cardiology and director of women’s preventive cardiology at the Boca Raton Regional Hospital in Florida. “When we see patients with ED, we have to consider not only cholesterol disorders, but also that other parts of the body might be afflicted with atherosclerotic plaque. The heart, lower extremities, and brain are the areas we typically examine to look for such disease.”

For the full article click here.

6 Women Saving Lives Through Their Work With Viruses

All too often, women in science are not properly recognized for their discoveries, instead having their work attributed to male colleagues, supervisors, or even husbands.[i] History has routinely divorced them from their accomplishments, excluding their names from textbooks and overlooking them as accolades for the work are bestowed upon men. (Perhaps the most famous example of this is Rosalind Franklin, who used x-ray crystallography to prove the double-helical structure of DNA, only to unwittingly have her work stolen by two male colleagues who were then awarded the Nobel Prize.[ii])

August is National Immunization Awareness month, so we’ve decided to honor the occasion by pushing back against the bias and acknowledging a few of the incredible women – past and present – who are rocking the field of immunology. Vaccinations save an estimated 2.5 million lives globally each year. It is because of immunization that smallpox is a plague of the past, polio is nearly eradiated, and measles kills fewer children than ever.[iii] Through their work, these women have contributed to millions of saved lives, and we think that’s something worth celebrating!

Dorothy Horstmann and Isabel Morgan[iv]

Despite the lack of press reporting it, each of these women played a pivotal role in the process of discovery for the Polio vaccine. Horstmann identified the pathogenesis of polio, showing that the virus circulated in the blood before entering the central nervous system. (This directed scientists to work on an intervention that targeted the virus in the bloodstream, aiming to neutralize it before serious harm occurred.) Morgan conducted experiments to successfully immunize monkeys against the disease – a precursor to human vaccination.

Polly Matzinger[v]

This scientist proposed a new model of the body’s immune response that has implications for the way we treat cancer, sustain transplants, and immunize newborns. Her so-named Danger Model argues that our immune system mounts a response when it receives signals from injured tissue, rather than responding “blindly” when it detects foreign invaders. Of her discover, she notes, “A few scientists still aren’t listening, but I’m not going to do the work to make them. The evidence is there.”

Margaret Liu[vi]

Liu earned the nickname “The Mother of DNA Vaccines” from her students. By injecting DNA to initiate an immune response to HIV, she is researching how to provoke the body into producing protective proteins against the virus. This could lead to more stable vaccines that can be produced quickly enough to keep up with the rapid mutations HIV undergoes (mutations that render other vaccine forms ineffective).

Flossie Wong-Staal

The first scientist to clone and map the genes of HIV, Wong-Staal made a crucial step forward in allowing scientists to develop a diagnostic test for the virus. Her work also helped prove that HIV is the cause of AIDS. She continues her work looking for new ways to treat AIDS and other diseases.

 Melinda Gates[vii]

Gates is the co-founder and co-chair of the Bill and Melina Gates Foundation. A key effort of this organization is to support and advocate for global health interventions, particularly immunization. The organization did not always appropriately acknowledge her role, originally calling itself the William H. Gates Foundation before adopting its current moniker. This foundation has given billions of dollars to the fight to eradicate diseases treatable via vaccination.

There are countless other women in science who deserve recognition for their lifesaving work. Who would you like to give a shout-out to? Tell us in the comments section!

[i] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130519-women-scientists-overlooked-dna-history-science/
[ii] http://www.biography.com/news/famous-female-scientists
[iii] http://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do/Global-Development/Vaccine-Delivery
[iv] http://articles.latimes.com/2005/apr/10/opinion/oe-oshinsky10
[v] http://discovermagazine.com/2002/nov/feat50/
[vi] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/mar/14/durango-native-margaret-liu-is-the-mother-of-dna-v/
[vii] http://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do

Your Chromosomes Want You to Chill Out (and Other Healthy Aging Tips)

Pretty much as soon as humans figured out that aging was a thing; they started trying to avoid it. Over the years, we’ve employed some scary tactics, from lead, arsenic, and mercury to x-rays and radiation.[i] However, it would be a little easier to laugh at the silliness of youth-seekers-past if we didn’t still find some of these ingredients in our cosmetics,[ii] not to mention our penchant for using the likes of formaldehyde and neurotoxin to address our currently aging concerns.

Questionable quests for the fountain of youth aside; we’ve made incredible scientific advances to form a better understanding of the aging process on a genomic and cellular level. Read on to learn more about the how’s and why’s of aging, and what you can do to keep yourself aging healthfully.

What Aging Looks Like on a Micro Scale

A complex combination of factors contributes to aging and age-related diseases. For example, a key component includes the accumulation over time of damaged cells and misshapen proteins in the body; which can occur as a result of natural mistakes in the cell-making process, as well as from environmental factors like UV ray damage. This is magnified by the age-induced breakdown of DNA repair machinery and protein chaperones that the body uses to fix such malfunctions.[iii]

An especially influential element of aging comes in a surprisingly small package: in the tiny caps on the tips of chromosomes called telomeres. Telomeres shrink over time, as they lose a little bit of their length with each chromosomal division. Studies show that levels of telomerase – the enzyme that replenishes telomeres – along with telomere damage is associated with the speed and health of aging.[iv]

What This Means For Us As We Age & What We Can Do About It

This all may seem very distant, because we can’t see this aging process occurring in our cells and genes, but we certainly feel its effects. While there are still many questions left unanswered when it comes to understanding aging, the process itself and its link to certain diseases are undeniable. Among the top health concerns women in particular face as they age include osteoporosis, urinary problems (also related to vaginal atrophy), and cardiovascular disease.[v]

So if we don’t want to inadvertently poison ourselves in our attempts at slowing down the clock like our ancestors did, what can we do? For starters, we can relax: something cool about telomeres is that they are very sensitive to external stress: it can damage them, leading to more rapid aging.[vi] Now, this may sound like bad news, but remember that the reverse is also true, so I think it’s a perfect excuse – no matter where you fall on the relaxation spectrum – to begin integrating a de-stressing (and therefore anti-aging) ritual into your life today. Do a little exploring a find out what that means to you: maybe you start practicing more self care, begin a meditation practice, begin jogging, or saying “no” to activities when you’re feeling overextended.

Other lifestyle choices related to health and longevity are almost annoyingly simple: lack of smoking, moderate alcohol use, physical activity, healthy body weight, and diets rich in plant foods and healthy fats have been proven in multiplicity. [vii] It kind of seems like the more we study and learn the details about what it means to age, the more we realize the answer to doing it gracefully is right there in front of us. This is not the whole answer, as illness – especially serious illness that crops up as we get older – often needs further medical attention, but it is quite frequently the primary answer.

What healthy choices do you make today, to help yourself age more gracefully tomorrow? Let us know in the comments.

 

[i] http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/12/most-dangerous-beauty-through-the-ages.html
[ii] http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm294849.htm , http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productsingredients/products/ucm137224.htm , http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2009/02/09/Groups_want_lead_out_of_lipstick/UPI-12721234224388/
[iii] http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/42280/title/How-We-Age/
[iv] http://embomolmed.embopress.org/content/4/8/691.long , http://www.jci.org/articles/view/66370
[v] https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/menopause-time-change/postmenopausal-health-concerns
[vi] http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v3/n2/full/ncomms1708.html
[vii] http://www.bmj.com/content/345/bmj.e5568.short , http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=199485

Summer Workout Tips for the Hot and Sweaty

Ah the Summer Olympics: the triumph, the drama, the glory…the heat. With average August temperatures in Rio de Janeiro hovering in the high 70’s, athletes from around the world will come together this week and begin competing not only against one other, but also against Mother Nature. These fiercely fit phenoms know how to keep themselves at peak performance regardless of weather conditions; meanwhile I’m over here wondering how anyone manages to wear light grey in August and if I should start bringing a second towel to yoga class.

Sadly, most of us mere mortals are only Olympians in our mid-workout daydreams. Still, we need to take extra care of our bodies when exercising in these hot and humid summer months. Notwithstanding the fact that overheating is dangerous, working out in the dead heat of summer can be downright discouraging. It’s hard enough to find the inspiration some days to get yourself moving, and now you have to do it with sweat pouring down your face before you even get started. To help you out, we’ve put together some workout tips to keep you safe, motivated, and maybe even feeling a little more Gold this summer.

Drink (and Eat) to Maintain Hydration

More heat, more sweat, more dehydration. Dehydration can put you at risk for heat stroke, or just make you feel drained and lose the enthusiasm to workout. But believe it or not, chugging too much water and becoming over-hydrated is just as (if not more) dangerous.[i] To prevent this, use your thirst as a guide to know when you need to rev up your fluid intake. It also helps to consume fluids before, during, and after you workout.[ii] Alcohol doesn’t count, so you may need to rethink that post-gym glass of wine (or at least pair it with plenty of water!)

What does count towards rehydrating your body is water, tea, coffee, juices, soups, and even fruits and vegetables. Water is the most obvious choice for a reason: it’s the best one. But these other sources will all help contribute to hydration. Fresh fruit and veggies will also help you get the nutrients you need – especially potassium – to stay healthfully fueled. One option you may want to pass up? Sugary sports drinks: the excessive calories and refined sugar essentially cancel out whatever gains you made in your workout. You’re better off eating mineral-rich foods to replenish the electrolytes you sweated out. Your waistline will thank you for it, and real food tastes better than those neon liquids anyway.

Mix it Up and Keep It Cool

Unlike Olympians, we pedestrians – thankfully – have options when it comes to how we get our exercise. Changing up your routine can be an easy and effective way to pull yourself out of a heat-induced workout slump. It can also keep you safe on days that are really scorching hot. Not looking forward to your usual 5-mile outdoor run when then heat index hovers near triple digits? Then don’t do it. Instead, opt for cooler activities like taking an indoor fitness class, working out in the air-conditioned gym, going swimming, or trying a new water sport. You’ll beat the heat and may just find a new fitness favorite by trying something different. If you really have your heart set on an outdoor activity, try to avoid the peak heat of midday, keep to the shade when possible, and follow the other tips in this article to stay safe.

When you do decide to sweat it out outside, don’t forget about sun protection. Sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen will help prevent sunburn – which affects your body’s ability to cool itself. And remember to reapply sunscreen as you sweat and wipe it off. I’m also going to give you an excuse to go shopping: proper active wear can help keep you cool, too. Look for clothing made of lightweight, moisture-wicking fabric and choose lighter colors over dark. (I know, I know: we all love our black spandex, but it’s basically a magnet for the sun.)

Know When to Take a Break

Pushing yourself is an important part of achieving fitness goals, but it’s equally important to know when you need to back off. Listening to your body and having a good understanding of your limits is invaluable and can help prevent heat-related illness. Signs you may have pushed your fitness boundaries too far include: muscle cramps, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, and fatigue.[iii] Recognizing these signs and taking action to lower your body temperature will help prevent them from progressing into heat stroke – a dangerous condition that requires immediate medical attention.

How do you battle the sweat deluge during summer workout sessions? And how many towels do you have to bring to yoga? Share your sweaty secrets in the comment below!

[i] http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/trade-sports-drinks-for-water-201207305079
[ii] http://www.livescience.com/38553-staying-hydrated-in-the-heat.html
[iii] http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048167?pg=2

How is Public Breastfeeding Even A Point of Discussion?

Looking through photos to accompany this article, I ran into an image of a woman sitting on a bench, breastfeeding an infant that was flagged with an “Adult Content Warning.” My jaw dropped. How could this sweet, simple picture warrant a warning? But then I realized: this bizarre occurrence is a perfect example of the conversation around breastfeeding in public that’s taking place right now. Should women (who choose to breastfeed versus use formula) be “allowed” to feed their children in public, or is it “too inappropriate”?

The problem is: this argument, at its crux, is ridiculous. The thought that the discomfort of some adults should in any way affect the nourishment of all newborn children within their line of sight is, quite frankly, preposterous. In case there’s any confusion, babies cannot feed themselves. They’re completely reliant on their mothers for life and nourishment. On average, newborns feed 8-12 times per day, taking up to 20 minutes per breast. That’s an average of up to 8 hours a day new moms can spend breastfeeding.[i]

Are we meant to say that new mothers should live in isolation in a nursery-cave, hidden away as to not offend the delicate sensitivities of a few strangers, doing nothing but function as human udders? Or, if they do dare venture out, they must be sure to pack enough pre-pumped breast milk for their little one, not to mention the pump itself in case they need to express? Or, or! Must they employ the ever-appealing option of feeding their child under a tarp, regardless of the baby’s temperature or comfort? Honestly, not even the baby will stand for that one most of the time.[ii]

This isn’t even a matter of breastfeeding rights, or boobie rights, or whatever other cute name you may hear it called: it’s basic women’s rights.

Policing how and when women feed their offspring is an act of oppression.[iii] It’s not the kind of oppression that is as obvious as child brides or unequal wages, but it’s the kind of subtle, insidious oppression that helps keep women marginalized. Shackled by obligatory nursing covers, breast pumps, or the need to run for shelter every 90 minutes or so, nursing women are not free to walk the world on equal footing as men.

Relatedly, telling women what to wear, how much to wear, and when to wear it is a tactic of control.[iv] This is seen again and again in cultures and religions across the globe. And it goes both ways: women are told to wear both less and more to be appealing. The incongruity of the messages is irrelevant; what matters is the way in which they control the recipients. (To be clear, I’m not condemning women who choose to wear certain coverings to honor their religion. I’m standing up for those who are made to wear things without choice.)

If you, as a mother, feel more comfortable covering up while breastfeeding or using bottles then please, do so. If you feel more comfortable breastfeeding in the privacy of your own home, do so. But you should never be confined to these rules or locations. The point is that women should be free to choose whichever solution best cares for themselves and their babies. Let’s end the judgment, the oppression, and the absurd regulations.

 

If you feel differently, by all means, let us know in the comments.

 

[i] http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/breastfeed-often.html#

[ii] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katharine-mckinney/breastfeeding-in-public_b_2814004.html

[iii] http://www.phdinparenting.com/blog/2010/5/14/50-reasons-for-breastfeeding-anytime-anywhere.html

[iv] http://www.phdinparenting.com/blog/2010/1/27/covering-up-is-a-feminist-issue.html

Self Care: The Me Time Revolution

Let me begin by stating the obvious: we face a lot of negative pressure these days. We’re supposed to do more, achieve more, have more, work harder, work faster…and for many, this leaves us feeling burnt-out, overwhelmed, unsatisfied, and exhausted. We learn to ignore our needs and come to feel that we are not enough, never enough.

But now let me remind you that this is utterly untrue: you are absolutely and completely enough, and there is a quiet resistance rising against this culture of speed and excess that makes us feel otherwise. It goes by the name of self care, perhaps more aptly titled self compassion. Lately this phrase has been buzzing around magazines and online, and the din only seems to be growing louder as it strikes a chord in the core of our overextended population.

Let’s Talk About What Self Care Is NOT

Before we delve in to the details of this little revolution, I want to clear something up. Sometimes you’ll see self care distilled down to some variation of “use a mud mask to fight depression!” (I’m exaggerating, but honestly not much.) That is not self care. Self care isn’t smiling through pain to trick yourself into feeling better; it’s seeking proper help and support when you need it. It’s not trying to buy happiness; it’s seeking out things or experiences that make you genuinely feel good and releasing those that make you feel bad. And it’s certainly not burying your head in the sand doing yoga on the beach while ignoring all your responsibilities. It’s the notion that, in order to be of service to anyone or anything, you must first be in a healthy state of mind and body.

So Then, What Exactly Is Self Care and How Do We Do It?

In the simplest terms, self care is an act of self compassion. It is you doing something for yourself that fosters loving kindness towards yourself, encourages tuning into your physical and emotional needs, and promotes your overall health and wellbeing. It can take many forms and means different things to different people, so get to know yourself and how to respond to your needs to nurture yourself. (Note: this can be incredibly challenging at first.) A loving, caring act could be anything from luxuriating in your morning makeup application to dedicating time to relax or exercise. It could mean taking three deep breaths at your desk at work or keeping a note on your phone listing every compliment anyone ever gives you so you can read it when you catch yourself being your own worst critic.

There really are so many ways to bring self care into your life. (For more ideas, check out this lovely list from Tiny Buddha.) Another point worth mentioning is that self care is a regular practice – it’s something you need to incorporate into your life consistently. Think about it: you don’t shower once and think, “Okay now I’m clean for the rest of my life!” It’s something you do over and over again, year after year. Self care is like showering. (And sometimes it can be – literally – taking a nice shower.)

If There’s One Final Thing You Take Away From This Article, Let It Be This

Repeat after me: it is not selfish, lazy, or self-indulgent to stop ignoring your needs. I will go so far as to say honoring your needs through acts of self care is pivotal to mental and physical health, and will ultimately make you a more giving, productive person. Many of us are familiar with Gandhi’s advice on how to change the world: first, we have to change ourselves. I don’t mention this to be trite, but I bring it up because for all the ways we contribute to the world – big or small, mundane or groundbreaking – it really does start with us at an individual level. Imagine how much more positive these contributions could be if, instead of feeling frayed and frazzled, we felt lovingly and wholly cared for? Our little, intimate acts reverberate outward into the world infinitely.

Think of it like this: you shouldn’t run around trying to put out fires if your own hair is flaming. You’re not going to do anyone any favors by this “selfless” act; you’re just spreading the blaze to them, too (and fanning your own). Before you go out into the world, you need to dump some water on your head (you can even make it rosewater, if you really feel like revving up the TLC). I promise you will feel better and be in better shape to take on all that life has to offer. Feeling good also makes treating others with kindness and compassion much more effortless, making self care ultimately sound pretty selfless if you ask me.

What are your favorite ways to show yourself love and care? Share them with us in the comments!