Anti-Aging Psychologist, Dr. Michael BrickeyAmy Gorman

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

Host: Anti-Aging Psychologist Dr. Michael Brickey

Expert Guest: Amy Gorman

Broadcast: 4-1-08 on webtalkradio.net where the latest shows are broadcast and posted as podcasts

Art keeps us young by lifting our spirits, challenging our minds, and giving us perspective. Today’s guest, Amy Gorman became fascinated with artists in their nineties and hundreds. That inspired her to profile twelve artists in her book, Aging Artfully and the documentary film about the artists titled Still Kicking. She is a sculptress, an historian, and a storyteller. Her career has spanned all age groups from developing and being Executive Director of Kidshows for eighteen years to being a medical social worker with dementia patients. In the first part of the show, we’ll learn about artists she has studied. In the second part of the show, we’ll focus on how you can pursue art to help keep you youthful and fulfilled. Her website is http://www.agingartfully.com/

TRANSCRIPT ©Michael Brickey–excerpts permitted with attribution

MB: This is Dr. Michael Brickey with Ageless Lifestyles Radio, cutting-edge thinking for being youthful at every age. On each show I interview experts on what it takes to live longer, healthier, and happier. Our program takes a holistic approach in addressing anti-aging psychology, medicine, alternative medicine, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Our emphasis is on innovative thinking and practices that have solid data and results.Perhaps Ponce DeLeon never found the fountain of youth because he was looking for magic water. Judging from how many people in their hundreds are artists, the fountain of youth may well be art. Art in its many forms lifts our spirits, challenges our minds, and gives us perspective.Today’s guest, Amy Gorman, became fascinated with artists in their nineties and hundreds. That inspired her to profile twelve artists in her book, Aging Artfully, and the documentary film about the artists titled Still Kicking. Amy Gorman’s career has spanned all ages. She developed and for eighteen years was the executive director of Kidshows, a nonprofit organization that introduces children to the arts. She’s been a medical social worker with dementia patients. She’s a sculptress, a historian, and a storyteller. In the first part of the show, we’ll learn about the artists she studied. And in the second part of the show, we’ll focus on how you can pursue art to help keep you youthful, creative, and fulfilled. Amy, how did you get from working with children to working with seniors?

AG: Well, I think when my son was in nursery school, I heard a psychologist come to the school and talk to the parents. And she was addressing, of course, parents – all the kids were three and four. And she said that – she was taking care of her older parent at the time – and she said, “You know, I’ve been thinking, if I didn’t work with children, I would work with older people.” And that always stuck with me. And then I was producing shows, introducing very young children to the arts, because that’s where my passion was. And I’m also a social worker and I worked for many years with older people as a social worker. So I saw the downside; I saw a lot of older people ill with dementia, with Alzheimer’s Disease. And I loved it. I loved working with the older people. So I always had a voice in the back of my mind and I said, “Okay, I’m doing it.” And then this project was, oh, a combination of things. It satisfied something I wanted to do from the story I just told you, but also it was because I was a sculptor, and as many artists confront, I was stuck in my sculpture, as I like to think of it. And I really wanted to speak with older people as role models. I wanted to get some guidance from them. And here I was, 62 when I began the project. So I went looking for the next generation.

MB: When you say “stuck,” you mean you hit an artistic block?

AG: Yes, I kept thinking I was on a plateau. That’s something, I think, that all artists go through.

MB: So did the older artists get you unstuck?

AG: They certainly got me thinking and doing something different creatively. And yes, that absolutely got me unstuck. At first I went off on the other tangent, interviewing and writing about them. And all the while, I was doing my sculpture.

MB: So how has your sculpting changed as a result of working with them?

AG: Oh, I suppose I’m just happier with it. I’m happier with the process. I think that’s it more than anything. The process doesn’t get me so upset anymore.

MB: So some of it maybe was, “If they can do it, I can do it?”

AG: Well, I think – yeah, maybe so. Maybe that’s it. Or maybe I had this creative burst with the writing of the book and working with the film. So I saw that creativity comes when you least expect it. And of course, I was in my sixties, and it’s never too late to start something new. It was a whole new experience for me.

MB: Well, sixties is just a kid.

AG: Yeah, exactly, exactly. It certainly felt like that, talking to nineties and hundreds.

MB: So how did you find these women?

AG: That’s a very curious question. It’s really word of mouth. I woke up one morning – I say this in the book – I work up one morning and age was on my mind. And that’s exactly what happened. So the whole thing was very organic. I mentioned my interest to a friend who was a composer and a pianist. And she asked me if I knew Lily Hearst. Lily was over 100 and playing the piano every day at the senior center in Berkeley, California, where I live. So I said, “I don’t know Lily but I’d love to meet her,” because when I talk about art, I’m talking about all the arts, not just the visual arts.

MB: Right.

AG: So we went to meet Lily and it was her 105th birthday. And truly, Michael, I just fell in love with her. She was completely with us in the room and you could have a conversation with her about anything. She was just wonderful. Of course, it was hard getting a meeting with her. She was busy. And I said, “I need more Lilys in my life.” I wanted more Lilys in my life. I wanted to surround myself with Lilys – very, very active, wonderful people in their hundreds. There she was. We had just listened to her play the piano. She played every day before the lunch hour. It was wonderful. And then I started mentioning it to other people, and they said, “Oh, do you know so-and-so? She’s over 90 and she’s a writer.” Or, “Do you know Frances? She’s a painter and she’s in her nineties.” And so on, and on and on. People – when they heard this, they thought of somebody and said, “Go speak with her,” “Go see her,” “Go see her.” It just unfolded that way.

MB: And the word of mouth probably contributed to getting such a wide variety of artists, I mean different types of art.

AG: Exactly. And once I realized that this was something I wanted to write, I wanted to bring it out to the world, I started making sure and rounding out the people whom I was seeing – I wanted a variety of art forms, I wanted a variety of personalities, and all kinds of diversity.

MB: Did you see anything in common with the artists that you studied?

AG: Yeah, I like that question. I did. I think one of the important factors in the women I interviewed is that they do not think about the negative very long. As it is said in some of the literature, they can shed stress. They don’t focus on the negative. They move on. They’re very busy – that’s another factor. They’re busy all day. They’re living right here, in the here and now, and they want to live that way. They don’t ruminate about past ambivalences or conflicts. They’ve passed that. And they’re really content to explore the here and now. And it is great to be in their presence. So that’s another common trait. They’ve also got a sense of humor, every one of them, and want to do their art every day. They have schedules. They’re quite disciplined people in their own way. They have schedules. They have a lot to do. And their art is part of their lives – very, very definitely. The people I interviewed all wanted to work at their particular art form. And it’s part of their regular schedule.

MB: The characteristics you’re talking about are common in vital centenarians, whether they’re artists or not.

AG: Exactly.

MB: I wonder if there’s a chicken and egg thing that the art helps them live longer, or does taking up art do that for people?

AG: Well, it is – we don’t know, do we? It is a kind of chicken and egg question. But we can only speculate that the art certainly helps give a purpose – I think purpose is very important in one’s life in general, all kinds of purpose. It does not have to be art. But with these women, it was art as one of their purposes. They had – they were interested in many different things. Many of them were writing letters to their congress people.

MB: What do they want from the congress people?

AG: Oh, various things. It would range from putting elevators in the metro, in the BART stations in the San Francisco Bay area. You know, political candidates that they were supporting, the war – we started this right around the time of the Iraq War, so they had their opinions, one way or the other. They’re busy.

MB: And some of them were on one side of the war and some of them on the other, or…?

AG: No, I would say that they were all on one side of the war, at least the ones that talked about it. One of the women in the book, Dorothy Toy, has a fascinating history. She’s still teaching dance. I went to her 90th party a few months ago. And she has students coming to her house, so she keeps busy that way. Another of the women who was a dance teacher and still had a dance studio but was in a wheelchair, and so she started teaching piano in her nineties. And she had – when I was interviewing her, she had seven students plus another teacher in the studio in back of her house taking care of all the dance students, but Ann was teaching piano, so that’s part of her routine.

MB: Are there ways in which they were different?
AG: Oh, I think, like any sample of people, you’ll see their personalities, of course, are all very different. And their history – they’d all had tremendous suffering in their lives of one sort or another. They are not women who had easy lives.

MB: Yeah, a lot of people have the assumption that people are living longer because we’re just lucky and had it easy, and it’s often quite to the contrary – they’re very tested people.

AG: Exactly. You learn to cope with – in fact, one of the women said – I’m remembering now – she said once you’ve had a serious tragedy really in your life and you’ve gone through it, you can manage with anything, because you learn coping skills.

MB: Can you describe some of the women? Maybe some of your favorites?

AG: Oh, sure. I couldn’t pick favorites, but I’ll mention a couple who actually were not in the film. In the film, all the women are between 90 to 106, the film Still Kicking. One of them who is not in the film has a great quote. This is Isabelle Ferguson, who was a painter and an illustrator, and at the age of 86 had always wanted to be an actor. There is a senior theater company, Stagebridge, in Oakland, California, fortunately, for people over 55. And these theater companies are spreading around the company, so if you’re interested in theater, anybody in the audience listening, you probably can find something in your community. But Isabelle, at the age of 86, had decided she wanted – she had always wanted to be an actress, so she joined. And she just had the best time. She’s a very funny person – I mean, humorous. She comes up with jokes all the time. She says, “Old age is hot right now. They don’t know what to do with us.” So she understands what all the talk is about and what you and I are interested in. She was fortunate to be part of this theater company when – they actually went to Las Vegas in her first show she was in, was called to Las Vegas. There was a convention of senior theater companies from around the country. So she just had a great time.

MB: Now you’ve got me really curious about these theater groups. What kind of repertoire do they do?

AG: You know, it will depend, from what I know. I mean, there’ll be scripts – the directors of the companies will find scripts, and oftentimes – in this theater company – people write their own stories, which is very therapeutic, and people love to hear about them. In this particular group, they go out to the schools and tell their stories to school kids. So it’s not a real theater company where you’re doing serious drama and people come. They may be doing children’s theater, for example, children’s plays, and they’ll mix the older – the seniors with some kids, so you have a family audience coming. There is a whole variety. I think it would depend on the bent of the director and what the director wants to do and what the people want to do who are taking the classes or joining the company.

MB: I’m delighted to hear that they’re creating their own things and telling their stories, as opposed to trying to do “12 Angry Men” and having people say, “Well, that’s not bad for somebody in their nineties but it’s not quite as good as if Tom Cruise had done it.”

AG: Exactly. I think the goals are very different – at least in this local theater company. I love the idea of seniors telling their own stories, especially to school kids. And then, you know, they have a lot of fun with costumes, because that is so much a part of theater. And some people are interested in making the sets, so they work behind the scenes.

MB: Well, there are a lot of shy seniors, sure.

AG: Yeah, yeah, to want to a join a theater company, you have to feel that you want to be in front of an audience – that’s often a stumbling block to a lot of seniors.

MB: Well, at any age.

AG: Yeah, exactly.

MB: How do the school children respond to these stories?

AG: Oh, I think the numbers of kids, at least in this area, who have heard the stories is vast – I mean, thousands. They do dozens, hundreds of shows in schools. They’re marvelous. They love it. I mean, you know, you’re not going to get every kid loving every performance, and each of the seniors has a different story to tell. But there are some classes that want them back, and there are some classes that have a kind of grandparent – they pair up the school kids with the seniors; that’s another idea. They’ve done many shows with kids, where they rehearse together and they perform together. Isabelle did that and she absolutely loved it, especially that her picture got in the local paper.

MB: So this led to a number of ongoing relationships between the seniors and the school children.

AG: Exactly, exactly.

MB: Wow.

AG: Yeah, and sometimes year after year.

MB: One of the people you studied was a storyteller, which people don’t usually think of as the arts. Can you tell us about storytelling?

AG: There are many professional storytellers, and there are these great storytelling conventions. You get marvelous storytellers. Remember, of course, Native Americans – we have a long tradition of storytelling and oral history being passed down. And many of the storytellers I have met over the years are very sad about the loss of that oral tradition. So one of their goals is to reinvigorate it. And you can imagine – just picture sitting in the library, even on, you know, Halloween, when you get the scary stories, and the kids are just mesmerized. And it’s starting out with library story time when you have librarians, and then this tradition has grown and blossomed. You have some really amazing storytellers who are actors truly or they’re – you know, which comes first, the actor or the storyteller? And often music is involved. You can have an accompanist with a drum, very quietly, or a flute – I’ve heard that, too. I just happened to meet a storyteller who used to run a local radio program, and she used to read stories to the kids and tell the stories, as well. And she had the kids on the radio – it was absolutely marvelous. And she died at 90, but up until the day she died, she was going to the schools, telling stories.

MB: Wow.

AG: She was not a performance artist. There are many storytellers who are truly performance artists, and they’re marvelous – if you ever have a chance to see one or if something comes to your neck of the woods. There are two storytellers in the book, out of the twelve women. And the other storyteller, she does go to festivals. And she’s a real character, eccentric person who talks to people in the street and tells them stories – short stories – from her stack of wise stories.

MB: You know, there was some fascinating research where they had listeners here – young adults telling stories and seniors telling stories, and they couldn’t tell which was which, but they rated the seniors as better storytellers because they had more emotion, more passion, they told more interesting stories. And I think that comes at a time in life where you step up to being the patriarch or the matriarch of the family to pass on the family stories and traditions.

AG: That’s right. That’s very well said. I think that goes along with telling your own life story and the life of you, which is such an important part of living and such an opportunity we all have to go through our life review. And so you integrate different parts of your life psychologically – it’s so healthy, and why I think it’s encouraged now, certainly in assisted living and nursing homes. We can do that before – we don’t have to wait until we’re 80 or 90 or 100.

MB: Well, it should be a lifelong process.

AG: Exactly. That’s true, too. That’s right. We certainly start in school, writing the stories about me – you know, when you’re three or six years old, “My Story,” and then we lose that somehow as we get into upper grades in college, it’s not so much personal-

MB: We lose it when we start calling it a resume.

AG: There you go.

MB: Tell me about some of the other women that you worked with?

AG: Faith Patrick is a folk singer. She’s still jetsetting at 92 now. She’s going across the country. She sings at folk festivals. She’s the only person I communicate with by email. The others don’t do email. But Faith writes a column every two weeks, I believe, for one of the national folk song magazines, Sing Out. And she’s very well-known within the folk community, and she’s a wonderful character. She lives in a great old San Francisco Victorian house. Currently her granddaughter is living with her, but otherwise she’s been living there alone, and they still meet on Friday nights and sing – the whole community sings, plays instruments. Oh, many marriages have come out of that house, apparently – people meeting each other at the folks sings.

MB: See, she should’ve been a minister, too, and could’ve earned some extra money that way.

AG: Yeah, well, that’s true. That’s an idea. Maybe she’ll start that now, Michael.

MB: There you go. Does she have a special role in the community?

AG: Oh, she has. Oh, yes. She certainly does in her folk singing community. She started a San Francisco folk club. And oh, you know, there are just hundreds of people who have gone through that, because this is many decades back. And importantly, Faith – as many of the people I wrote about – did not start until retirement. That’s an important message that I’d like to get across: It’s never too late. She started singing and touring really after she retired. Frances Catlett started painting after she retired; Frances will be 100 this July. In fact, you’ll see a photo, if you get AARP Magazine, in the March-April issue, page 75.

MB: Okay.

AG: And it mentions the Still Kicking film.

MB: Oh, wonderful.

AG: So there’s a photo of Frances.

MB: Well, that’s only going to publicize it to, what, about 20 million people? Or is it a lot more than that?

AG: Oh, it’s tiny, you know, it’s an inch square, whatever. But there’s a big retrospective of her paintings now in the city and they’re going to have a big gala, 100, for her. And I guess that’s why AARP – but it isn’t because she’s going to be 100. And she bowls twice a week. She drives to her bowling. So she also fits in with the remarkable centenarians, except – well, she’s one of the 6% of the centenarians who have had cancer. She survived cancer 20 years ago – stomach cancer, I believe.

MB: Oh, wow. Who else did you interview?

AG: Did we talk enough about Lily? Lily, who broke both legs at 88 as a skier. Lily was the 106-year-old pianist.

MB: Oh, geez.

AG: But Lily was – well, she was a mountaineer. She was the first woman, with her sister, to wear pants like the men. All the women then were wearing skirts when she skied. She’s Austrian. She escaped when the Germans came in, in 1938. She was very fortunate to escape. Lily was a Viennese Jew, when she came in 1938, and spent the rest of her time in this country. And well, really, a marvelous skier, mountaineer, hiker. But when she broke both her legs at 88, she turned to hiking because she could no longer ski. She broke them in a car accident. But she played – until three weeks before she died, she played the piano. She was a remarkable role model. Dorothy Toy I mentioned earlier, had a fabulous career as a tap dancer. She was born Japanese, and because of the war, passed as Chinese with the Toy. As she says, it was shorter and fit on the marquee. But she and her Chinese partner toured the world, and during the war had to stay away from California because of the Japanese internment. So she had quite a history. And she is still teaching dance, ballet – mostly ballet and modern. And she teaches the Chinese – she’s had two Chinese husbands, which is very unusual. And she did speak Japanese – her mother lived with her for a while. And she’s just a small person, beautiful, trim, a pleasure to be with.

MB: Does she still dance herself?

AG: She doesn’t perform. She choreographs for groups. She does fundraisers for local community groups, for the church, or for some local groups supporting seniors, who are helping seniors. And they do fundraisers and she choreographs their shows. That’s how she likes to spend her time.

MB: So she’s up on her feet showing a dance step and-

AG: Yeah, oh definitely, because she’s got these students coming to her house, both adults and young adults.

MB: Why did you choose to focus just on women?

AG: Oh, Michael, I suppose I was looking for role models. That’s the truth. I can’t tell you how many men asked me to write a book like this about men. I was speaking recently and this very poignant moment – most of the audience was female but there were a handful of men. And one of them really said, “You know, women have an easier time talking about aging. You’ve got to do this for men. Men have got to talk about this.” And another man said, at another presentation, afterwards said, you know, he was so moved by the movie and the talk, he said, “I’ll never look at an old woman the same way again. You never know what’s behind that face!”

MB: So you’re creating more romance again.

AG: Yeah, that’s true. A lot of close-ups in the film, so you see the women up close. We don’t get a lot of positive images of aging.

MB: Right.

AG: You know, the old adage, women are invisible after they’re at 55 or so.

MB: Well, they used to be. They’re not standing for it anymore.

AG: You’re absolutely right. Well, the Boomers are speaking out and giving the older folks a little bit of space, a little bit of show, like they don’t see too many really older people in the movies or on TV, except when we look at disease, we look at the downside of aging. And it’s real – I don’t want to deny it. It’s very real.

MB: There have been a number of movies – Driving Miss Daisy and Cocoon and the Art Carney movie and so we’re starting to see more of them with the seniors taking a role that has some meat to it and some message to it.

AG: Yes, and notice that we can count them on one hand or maybe two, so we can remember them because they’re outstanding and we notice that, “Oh, here’s one with older people,” and it’s so unusual. I agree, it is happening more and more.

MB: Now, if I wanted to see Still Kicking, where would I find it?

AG: You can find it on Amazon. You can find it on – Greg Young is the filmmaker and his website is GoldenBearCasting.com, GoldenBearCasting.com.

MB: And how did you get hooked up with a movie?

AG: Oh, that’s a great story. Orunamamu, which is the Nigerian name for Mary Beth Washington – I was interviewing her and she invited me to a screening of the film – Greg Young had just completed a film of her. He followed her around for two years, watching her every move and trying to clear out her house, which is overcrowded, shall we say, overstuffed, and she wanted to make it into a storytelling museum. Anyway, she invited me to the screening along with Frances Kandl, the composer, and there was Greg. He was ready for his next project. And he asked me if he could be the fly on the wall and come to my interviews. So I said, “Sure.” We didn’t know it was going to be a film at the time. We didn’t know it was going to be a book. But Greg got excited about filming the women that I was interviewing. Frances Kandl was completely inspired after meeting Lily, the pianist, and went home and wrote a song about her life. And then she wrote songs about many of the women. And there’s a CD in the back of my book, “Seven Songs of Women’s Lives.” The songs are stories about the lives. And the purpose is simply to celebrate our elders. It’s been a wonderful project. See, her music is also part of the film, and we had many concerts – you will see some of that in the film – honoring the women and singing their songs, singing their lives in song. So it’s been a lot of fun.

MB: Sounds like it.

AG: Yeah. And Frances – oh, I guess she was about 70 when she wrote the music so she has another, what, 30 or 40 years to go.

MB: Great.

AG: A lot more music.

MB: We’re talking with Amy Gorman, author of the award-winning book, Aging Artfully, and subject of the documentary film Still Kicking. Her website is – not surprisingly – http://www.agingartfully.com/. It has pictures and excerpts from the book and more about Amy in the film. Amy lives in Berkeley, California, and speaks and gives presentations on her work. If you’re interested in anti-aging psychology, sign up for my free Defy Aging Newsletter at NotAging.com. If your company or association would like to cure grumpy old men syndrome in the workplace and have more optimistic, upbeat, youthful employees who are more productive and need less sick leave and less health insurance benefits. Information on that is at Anti-Aging-Speaker.com. Amy, for all the Boomers and seniors who say, “Oh, this is great stuff but I don’t have any talent, so it doesn’t really apply to me,” what would you say?

AG: The good news, Michael, is that as age, we seem to lose the negative piece in our life, the negative emotions, and the little voice that says, “You can’t do it.” That seems to disappear, and the positive emotion remains. There is a lot of research now that Roberto Cabeso, I believe, at Duke University, has been doing research that talks about the two sides of the brain. We think about the intuitive right side and the literal left side, the analytical left side. But as we age, they come together and they work together. So it actually makes creativity easier as we age, which is a fascinating concept. When you’ve got the intuitive and the analytic working together, they don’t have to struggle or fight each other so much. It’s more natural. And that, coupled with the fact that we maintain our positive emotions more easily as we age and the negative ones seem to disappear, you can try anything, because it becomes easier. You’re not so hard on yourself. I think that’s really what a lot of people have said, apart from the neurological research. So I would say, “Try it. You never know what’s going to happen.” And the classes are increasing, because there’s research coming out now indicating that people are truly healthier when they’re involved in creative activities. They visit doctors less frequently, they take less medications – it’s not surprising.

MB: So one of the easiest ways to get started is to just take a class.

AG: Yes, take a class, socialize with other people, go to the senior center. I mean, this is for seniors. There are other ways to do it when you’re younger. But when you’re a senior and you’re looking for things to do, the best resources usually are the senior centers or the recreation centers in your community. Often the libraries have a lot of good ideas. I love libraries. Depending on your community – you know, there may be an art center. Or dance – dance is wonderful when you’re older. You’ve got to do the movements as well as using your brain and you get exercise. There are all kinds of wonderful dance programs. Guess which one, Michael – guess which form of dance is supposed to be the best for your health?

MB: I have no idea.

AG: Well, there’s even research on that, and it’s the tango.

MB: Oh!

AG: Yeah, because it requires a lot of thought, a lot of movement, and involves different parts of your being. Not everybody’s going to start to tango, but it’s something fun to think about.

MB: And for the men, if they’re willing to dance, they’ve got the choice of the women.

AG: There you go, there you go, right. In any form of dance, isn’t that true?

MB: With your art background, if somebody, say, 65 years old, said, “Well, I’ve retired. I want to try this art thing.” How do I decide whether to take a class, maybe at the university or a community program or to go to the senior center? Are there certain personalities or styles that would fit better with different programs?

AG: Try one and see if you like it. Usually when people think about what it is they want to do, they say, “Oh, I don’t want to do that, don’t want to do that, but maybe I’ll try that.” You know, maybe you’re interested in photography, maybe you want to get your hands in clay, maybe you want to learn a new instrument. Many people, if they have played an instrument in the past, they may pick it up again in retirement and join a local community orchestra. There are wonderful extended learning programs now in almost every community, where – some people like to work alone, let’s not forget that, or with a group of friends at home. I mean, look at the old quilting bees.

MB: It’s probably a matter of what are you most comfortable with and who do you most enjoy being with, and how large of a group do you enjoy being with?

AG: I think those are good questions. Cost often enters into it, as well, and scheduling – if you like to work in the morning or if you prefer going out in the evening – all of those factor into it. I like to look at community bulletins and see really what’s available when I’m ready to do something. And I hope that your listeners take this to heart and nudge each other to get out there and try something new. So much of the research these days indicates that challenging yourself to do something new is one of the secrets to good health and longevity. It’s got to be new. The old stuff is not going to challenge us enough.

MB: You’ve organized a lot of things. Any tips for people who want to get something going in their community, not sure where to start?

AG: They certainly can email me and I’ll try to help.

MB: Oh, how nice.

AG: Yeah. See, I love to help people do that. But there’s a wonderful organization, the National Center for Creative Aging, NCCA.org, if you use a computer. National Center for Creative Aging just moved to Washington, DC from New York. They have satellite groups around the country and they are expanding. That’s one place to start if you want information about where there may be programs, art programs.

MB: So if their community has one of these satellite programs, what would happen if they went to a meeting?

AG: That would depend on what the program is. It may be bringing dance to dementia patients. It may be working in a senior center with a painting class. They really vary across the country in the different programs. It depends on the teacher, it depends on the personnel in that city.

MB: You brought up dementia. Have you seen art help people with dementia?

AG: Definitely, definitely. People have done amazing things with dementia and art, with dementia and music, and with dementia and dance. There are people around the country who are creating these programs. As soon as we get more research really pulling together the value of creativity and arts activities with health, more and more programs can be funded. That’s the goal of many professionals working in the arts and aging area, trying to get more and more programs funded because they see that people are healthier when they are engaged in these activities. So starting when you’re healthy, before you hit dementia – you know, it’s amazing how many people do have dementia over 85, it’s about half – that’s a big statistic. But many won’t. And even with dementia, the art programs have brought amazing results. First of all, it makes people happier doing the art, whether they have dementia or not. That increases morale, generally, and overall health.

MB: I have to admit a bias. I’m so turned off by things like Bingo. And I love the idea of art, really using your mind rather than babysitting people.

AG: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Well, you know, Bingo does use the mind in ways – I mean, you have to think about the numbers. But there are so many other things to introduce. And of course, it’s a job training professionals to teach these programs. You know, you have to be willing to bring in professionals who can bring these programs to people in the senior centers as well as in places where dementia patients are located, or adult daycare centers. Senior centers and recreation programs – many, many communities have programs that are just wonderful. So definitely I would encourage people – and write to me, check my website and write to me at AgingArtfully.com. I’ll see if I can help if you need some help.

MB: That’s wonderful of you. Thank you. I’m also interested in the storytelling. I think that’s such a wonderful art form. How do you get started in that?

AG: Again, some people, some professionals are teaching oral history methods. They’re gathering people in groups. And I think finding the resources is not as easy as for visual arts. I don’t think there are storytellers in every community as there are visual artists. But of course, one has to just try and be ingenious with resources. If somebody wants to work on their own, they can just start reading books out loud and develop their own style of storytelling. Now that we have recorders easily accessible and easily usable, that’s good practice. I would also say, encourage anybody to go to the library and ask the librarian.

MB: Yeah, they’re usually very up on it. It would make your librarian very happy.

AG: That’s true. The librarian might want to start a group if there’s enough interest. Lots of librarians love to do storytelling.

MB: I’m also a big Toastmasters fan, and Toastmasters usually focuses on giving speeches, but there’s no reason that people can’t use it for storytelling.

AG: That’s true. Yeah, that’s something – you can join a Toastmasters Club and say you want to do storytelling and everybody bring in a story next week or next month.

MB: Anything else you’d like to share with us?

AG: I think we’ve covered the gamut. I’d like to encourage people to take care of themselves, get involved in some art form, do something new. Look at my website, look at the book, and get inspired.

MB: Amy, I think you’re doing just wonderful, wonderful work. I thank you so much for being with us.

AG: Thank you very much.

MB: We’ve been talking with Amy Gorman, author of the award-winning book, Aging Artfully. The women she interviewed were also subjects of a documentary film, Still Kicking, which is at many film festivals. Amy lives in Berkeley, California, and speaks and gives presentations on her work. She also does personal oral histories. If you’re interested in anti-aging psychology, sign up for my free Defy Aging Newsletter at NotAging.com. I also love working with companies and associations to cure grumpy old men syndrome, working with workshops and consulting to help employees feel more youthful and upbeat, more productive, and the employers love it because they need less sick leave and use fewer health insurance benefits. We’ve been talking with Amy Gorman, author of Aging Artfully, which profiles women artists in their nineties and hundreds. It’s also the subject of a film, Still Kicking, which is available on DVD on her website, http://www.agingartfully.com/. If you’d like for your fellow employees to overcome grumpy old men syndrome, I can help. I love giving keynotes, workshops, and doing consulting with businesses on how to help employees think, feel, look, and be more youthful. When that happens, they’re more productive, turnover rates drop, and the employers are delighted to see less need for sick leave and less utilization of healthcare insurance benefits. Information on my speaking services is at Anti-Aging-Speaker.com. If you’d like information on anti-aging psychology, subscribe to my free email newsletter, the Defy Aging Newsletter, at NotAging.com. I’d like to leave listeners with a baby step for how to live longer, healthier, and happier. Amy has shared with us role models for how people in their nineties and hundreds are nourished by art and how it helps them. She shared how it’s never too late to get started, and how to get started. When we were kids, we had heroes – Superman, cowboys, and sports heroes and Nancy Drew. As adults, we need heroes just as much as children. What I’d like you to do as a baby step is, whether you are very involved in arts or not involved in arts at all, is to think about a way that you could become a little more involved. What aspect of art could you become more involved in? Visual arts? Would it be music? Storytelling? Maybe even studying architecture, getting involved in the theater. Would it be directly producing the arts or maybe behind the scenes? Would it be taking a course in art appreciation or music appreciation, or maybe trying opera for the first time? Whatever it is, see yourself doing that some time in the future and notice what you see yourself doing, what you hear, and especially notice how that makes you feel, how that lifts your spirits, how that gives you energy, how that adds to your sense of purpose and fulfillment. See yourself at 100 years old, a snap in your step, a glint in your eye, still involved in the arts, and how it lifts your spirits and how it gives you more of a sense of purpose. Perhaps you’ll want to take a step that direction today or tomorrow, or perhaps you’ll want to have it as a dream, waiting for the opportunity to present itself.

This is Dr. Michael Brickey with Ageless Lifestyles Radio on Webtalkradio.net.  I’d love to get your feedback and comments. Just sent them to radio@drbrickey.com. Information on anti-aging psychology and the Defy Aging Newsletter, which is free, is at DrBrickey.com. Thank you for listening on our quest to live longer, healthier, happier lives. 

 

 

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Anti-Aging Psychologist, Dr. Michael BrickeyDr. Christiane Northrup

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

Host: Anti-Aging Psychologist Dr. Michael Brickey

Expert Guest: Dr. Christiane Northrup

Broadcast: 3-1-08 on webtalkradio.net where the latest shows are broadcast and posted as podcasts

Dr. Christiane Northrup is one of America’s most trusted medical advisors. She sees menopause as a life affirming –if a woman listens to her body and the wisdom it offers. She is an OBGYN physician who takes a holistic, mind-body-spirit approach to menopause, PMS, and women’s health. Dr. Northrup founded the trailblazing Women to Women health care center. She is author of The Wisdom of Menopause and Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. She has appeared on Oprah, The View, Good Morning America, Rachel Ray, and hosted six PBS specials. Her website is http://www.drnorthrup.com/

TRANSCRIPT ©Michael Brickey–excerpts permitted with attribution

MB: This is Dr. Michael Brickey with Ageless Lifestyles Radio, cutting-edge thinking for being youthful at every age. On each program I interview experts on what it takes to live longer, healthier, and happier. Our program takes a holistic approach in addressing anti-aging psychology, medicine, alternative medicine, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Our emphasis is on innovative thinking and practices that have solid data and results.

First a caveat: Men, if you think today’s show is only for women, think again. The more you understand about menopause and women’s health, the better your relationships will be with the women in your life. And women, you might want to encourage your husbands or boyfriends to listen to the program, as well, because our guest today, Dr. Christiane Northrup, is one of America’s most trusted medical advisors. She has a very unique take on menopause as life-affirming, that is, if a woman listens to her body and the wisdom it offers. She is an OB/GYN physician who takes a holistic, mind-body-spirit approach to menopause, PMS, and women’s health.

Dr. Northrup founded the trailblazing Women to Women Health Care Center. She is the author of two books, The Wisdom of Menopause and Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. She’s appeared on Oprah, The View, Good Morning America, Rachael Ray, and hosted six PBS specials. In the first part of the program I want to emphasize Dr. Northrup’s unique holistic approach to menopause, and then in the second we’ll look at more specific things about problems such as PMS symptoms and health problems. Dr. Northrup, when I started reading your book, The Wisdom of Menopause, I was expecting a rather dry tome or manual, and I was delighted and just got sucked into the gripping drama of “What happens to her next?” and “What happens to this patient?” Have you always been so tuned in to listening to your body and intuition, or was this a revelation in your life?

CN: No, I started out that way. My Dad was what we would call today a holistic dentist, and he used to say that the mouth was the center of the personality, and that’s why people didn’t want you messing around in there, and also why dentists had the second highest suicide rate, second to psychiatrists.

MB: Oh my goodness.

CN: So there was a bit of mind-body integration going on in my childhood. And then when I got to medical school, I was completely enthralled with everything that modern medicine could do. And it wasn’t really until I got finished with my residency and met my cousin at a macrobiotic restaurant and she told me she was healing her fibroid tumors with a macrobiotic diet. Now, I had just finished a four-year surgical residency and my approach was surgery, so-

MB: Two different worlds.

CN: I began to meet with Michio Kushi of the macrobiotic community – he brought that to the United States back in the ‘50s – and I sat with him as he went over the diet and also the lifestyle of patients who had been given up on by standard medicine. And sitting there for months, looking at the medical records of people and seeing that they’d already been through everything I was trained to offer was a revelation, as I found many of them get better. And after that, I realized there was also a limitation to diet. And ultimately, when people understood the unity of their mind, their body, their emotions, particularly the influence of the subconscious, what they don’t know that they know, then you’ve got the keys to the ignition, your own ignition, and you can get somewhere. Otherwise, you’re at the whim of the culture which really believes that people are meant to disintegrate at the age of 50, that it’s all downhill from there, that your sex life goes away – all kinds of things that are simply beliefs and not grounded in fact or science at all.

MB: So you see menopause as a wake-up call. Can you tell us what you mean by that?

CN: Yes. It’s as though everything in your life converges to get your attention so that you will do what it takes to get healthy in the second half of your life, or you know, maybe – a friend of mine the other day, Gay Hendricks, said, “Why don’t we call it the second third of your life? Because maybe we can live to 150.” But what happens in a woman’s brain – and I know that this is happening in a man’s brain, as well, to some extent, is that as your ovaries are changing and not producing an egg every single month, you actually get an excess of estrogen relative to progesterone. Now, progesterone is a very calming hormone. It also increases heat and it’s very high during pregnancy, so women feel, usually, very calm during their pregnancies and unflappable. But when you don’t have as much progesterone and you have estrogen, that begins to work on certain areas of your brain, the amygdala and the basal forebrain, which is where old memories from childhood and so on are stored, and unfinished business from the past comes up. It’s as though the hormonal change uncovers things that have always been there. So in my experience, women at perimenopause, which is a six to thirteen year process, remember – menopause just means the final menstrual period – so perimenopause is when all the drama and the action takes place. You haven’t actually stopped your periods; you’ve just started the brain and body changes. So during that time, a woman may remember childhood abuse. She may have no tolerance for the kind of injustice that she’s put up with at her job or perhaps in her family. It may be as simple as saying, “I’m sick of being the one who always starts dinner. I’m surrounded by a houseful of teenagers, all of whom can boil water. I’ve had it!” And what that is, is it’s labor pains of birthing your true self. And the thing that’s so wonderful about midlife is you’ve been out in the workforce usually, you know how to drive a car, you know how to run a bank account, you have enough ego strength, you have enough skills finally to have created a container where your true self can finally thrive. You’re not proving to the world that you can do it. It’s not like being in school – although many women go back to school at this time and enjoy it more than they ever did. So I call it break down to break through. There is no question that the incidence of chronic degenerative diseases increases in the second half of life. This is not inevitable. It has to do with lifestyle choices. And what I believe happens is that, at this turning point, the body will not let you get away with the stuff you’ve been doing for the past 50 years that wasn’t a good idea in the first place.

MB: Before we elaborate on that, it’s only in the last couple of years I’ve heard much about estrogen dominance. How did we end up with this impression that everything was just a lack of estrogen?

CN: No kidding! Yeah, how did we? Well, you know, we could do a brief romp through the history of Premarin. Premarin was the first oral estrogen that was available and made from the urine of pregnant horses, back in 1949, 1950. Before that, estrogen was available only as an injectible. Now, when you have your ovaries removed with a hysterectomy, then you have the rug pulled out from under you in terms of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. And so clearly, we have needed a supplement to replace a woman’s missing hormones. And so we thought of the menopause actually, culturally, as a deficiency disease, you see – doctors were thinking about it as you were lacking something. And the truth is that you’re not lacking anything when the body is healthy, when the adrenals are healthy and the ovaries are healthy. But remember, one in three women has a hysterectomy in this country, and so she’s changed the blood supply to her ovaries. And in those women, clearly estrogen, which is considered the most important hormone, but progesterone is left out in the cold and testosterone has gotten short shrift, as well. So it’s all such an interesting thing because science takes place within the context of a culture, and so we look for what we expect to find. If we’re looking at menopause as a deficiency disease and if we have managed to create a pill from the urine of pregnant horses, then if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

MB: And we got to pregnant horses so that we could have a patentable medicine that would profitable, as opposed to a generic that wouldn’t earn much money.

CN: Exactly. That’s the whole thing about the term “bioidentical” hormones. Bioidentical simply means hormones that match exactly what your body produces, and those can be made from wild Mexican yams or soybeans, and that gives you the basic hormonal moiety, and then you make changes in the lab, but you end up with a hormone that matches the molecular structure of your own hormones. And if you know the way hormones work in the body, it’s a lock and key, but it’s more than that, because the charges around the molecule of a hormone, the positive and negative charges, cause it to fold in a unique three-dimensional structure that your body recognizes because it has evolved over millions of years to recognize, for instance, 17-beta estradiol. It hasn’t evolved over millions of years to recognize the urine of a pregnant horse. But as you say-

MB: See, as you said, our bodies are smart.

CN: Yeah, and those things are not patentable. The delivery system, however, can be patentable, and that’s why we have some very good choices with the patches, the transdermal patches, Climara, Estraderm. Those are bioidentical hormones that match what is in your body. But it is the delivery system that the pharmaceutical company was able to patent, and therefore they can make money on them.

MB: You see menopause as a gift and a metaphor. What do you mean by that?

CN: The gift of menopause is that you are now your own person and you must source your life from your own spirit, your own higher power, who you really are uniquely. So I often say to women, “Remember what you liked at 11, when you were 11, before your hormones started in.” And the gift is you live from the inside out, instead of the outside in. What happens is women then, because they are operating from who they really are, not from who the world expects them to be, they often find themselves doing the best art they’ve ever done, having the best sex of their lives, being healthier than they’ve ever been, being happier than they’ve ever been. This is the big secret, that life gets better in your 50s and 60s. And this is a secret because our culture believes just the opposite. We are such a youth-focused culture that people who hit 30 suddenly begin to think something is wrong. Can you imagine anything that’s more death-affirming than that, that at 30 it’s all over? This is simply insane. And it creates a great deal of pain and suffering that is needless, because the truth is you’re really at your best starting at about 50. And I think that maybe 65 is when we hit our stride in a big way.

MB: And there’s wonderful research that shows as we get older, a higher and higher proportion of Americans say they’re very happy, and it goes from 28% in your 20s all the way up to 38% in your 70s.

CN: Isn’t that wonderful?

MB: You talk a lot about women being in a subservient role. Do you think there’s something about puberty that brings that on, at a hormonal level?

CN: I do. I absolutely do. I believe that what it is, is that females are the bodies in which new life is formed. And in order to nurture new life successfully, you need support. And therefore you will do whatever it takes to get that support. We are mammals, after all. And so I believe that the women’s movement had to happen, where women said, “Wait a minute. I’m not going to be subservient anymore. I can do this on my own.” So then what we’ve had, what the Baby Boomers have been the pioneers in, is women going out and having sperm donors, or just deciding to have a baby on their own. As you know, in the ‘50s, you would’ve been so ostracized. You couldn’t have done that and stayed healthy, given that we all need community and we need support and social support to stay healthy. So we’ve changed all the rules. The Baby Boom generation has changed all the rules. Now we’re at a point where we can have true partnerships with men, because when you understand your own strengths and you understand yourself as a woman, as the source of life itself, when you see how important that is to the planet and you begin to own your own gifts, you also understand – and this is really new information for me and my daughters in about the past three years, in a way that we live it – you understand that it is this life force that you know how to support, that you actually support men with. Men don’t do well without the support of either their inner feminine or a woman in their life. We know that from psychology studies. The men who are the happiest and healthiest are the ones who have women in their lives. And when you know this as a woman and you don’t see him as more than, you see yourself as equals, but you have specific gifts, and when you can uplift a man and reflect to him his heroic status, when it’s warranted, then you can improve all of life on earth. It has taken me so long to get it that men are much simpler than women. They don’t get complicated like women do. Haven’t you found this? I mean-

MB: Yes.

CN: Yeah.

MB: Very much so.

CN: You have no idea where women go in their minds. I mean, it is like some kind of a maze in there where we make things so complicated. We hold on to old baggage. A man will have forgotten that, whatever you’re bringing up – you know, the fact that he left you standing at the street corner and didn’t know you were going to be there. You’ll be hanging on to that ten years later and you’ll haul it out of your purse and land it on him when something like that happens again, and a guy is kind of defenseless because he doesn’t even remember. Men are in the moment, and when a woman understands that her mind is multi-modal and she can remember forward and backward in time, and she can remember the birthdays and the needs of her whole family, that’s a tremendous gift that we cannot expect men to share that gift with us. They have different gifts and talents. So the anger that comes up at midlife needs to be addressed, but then it needs to be released or you will have a very unhappy second half of your life if you continue with your anger at men in particular.

MB: As my wife says, “Well, it’s all connected!”

CN: Right. And you know, this is why, in medical school, on my boards and all the multiple choice tests, I could figure out a way in which every choice was correct at least once. That’s a woman’s brain. A guys says, “It’s obvious what the answer is.” To a woman, it is not obvious because it’s all connected.

MB: You describe women as wired for intuition. Are they more wired than men are?

CN: I believe that they are wired differently than men are. Men call it a hunch, and the way you see the intuition playing out in men – if I may be stereotypical – would be on the sports field, where they sort of intuitively know where the ball is going to be tossed. Or the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky was able to tell what someone was doing behind his back – and if that isn’t intuition, I don’t know what is, because the definition of intuition is knowing something with insufficient data. I believe that all of us are intuitive, but we are taught to shut that down as children. The energy medicine teacher, Donna Eden, points out that when you say to children – when you acknowledge an energy field around people and places and plants and so on and you acknowledge that it’s there, the child will not lose his or her ability to see energy around things. And in fact, she has many young people that she trained in Ashland, Oregon, who have always been able to see auras, for instance. And that’s part of intuition. Clearly when you walk into a room, your gut knows who’s safe and who isn’t, and we train that out of kids by saying things like, “Don’t talk to strangers.” That’s really a wrong thing to teach anybody, you know; “Just don’t talk to people who seem strange” would be better.

MB: You pointed out that women are more prone to depression until menopause, and then after menopause their rates of depression are equal to rates for men. Does menopause cause women to become more like men?

CN: You know, I think that it does, actually. There’s a role reversal that happens at midlife, sort of kicks in their vocational arousal, as it were. So they want to go out in the world and get it. Many want to start new businesses, and so on. And in fact, the inner part of the ovaries, the stroma, does get bigger, so many women produce more testosterone around the menopausal transition, physically. But metaphorically, there is this huge drive to go out and get something done. Many men have already been out there fighting in the workplace for years, and so many come to the home and want to get more into cooking or gardening. And what works beautifully in a relationship is when they can trade off a bit and start doing what the other has been doing. I believe that women develop their more masculine side and men develop their more feminine side. So for the first half of life, men lead with the low heart and women lead with the high heart – and the low heart, I mean the genitals and so on. But at midlife these things switch around because we really need to come to balance so that it isn’t one or the other. And depression is interesting because it’s often been called anger turned inward. And what happens with many midlife women – it certainly happened with me – is that the anger comes out and gets expressed and you find that it’s simply energy, it’s just jet fuel. Anger means that you have been shortchanged in some way or you feel that you have been, or things haven’t turned out the way you wanted them to. And so it’s your job to address how to change the circumstances of your life. And I’d much rather deal with a woman who is angry than a woman who is depressed, but there isn’t a question – the female brain is more prone to depression, and I think it’s related to the fact that we have the ability to remember every thing bad that ever happened to us.

MB: You talk a lot about accepting responsibility as opposed to being a victim. What do you mean by that?

CN: Yes, this is the most bracing message I have, and that is that you must be responsible for your life, which simply means the ability to respond. It doesn’t mean that you are to blame for what happened. It doesn’t mean that if you were raped as a child or beaten in a marriage or passed over in a job that that is right or just. It simply means you are responsible for your response. So I was recently at the Books For a Better Life Award, and a woman who wrote a book called The 51% Minority – she was a lawyer who was working in a law firm and had been there a long time, was a senior litigator, I believe. And she found that someone who was ten years her junior, who didn’t have half the workload, was earning more money than she was. So she took it to the authorities in the business, and I believe that her boss said, “I will match your salary with his, as long as you don’t tell anyone” – like, don’t let this get out. And she was so outraged by that, that she wrote a book simply to help women stand up for themselves in a way that is reasonable. I believe that there are ways in which you can use your energy that is life-affirming, and then there are ways that you can just run around screaming that, “It ain’t fair and ain’t it awful?” It doesn’t take any time at all to find injustices in the world when it comes to women. I like to say I have footnoted women’s pain; I understand it very, very well from the bone marrow on out. But we’re now at a time when, if anything is going to change, we need to step out of the victim role, because whenever you’re in the victim role – you know that classic triangle, I think it’s called the Rossberg triangle – there’s the victim and then there’s the rescuer and then there’s the persecutor. And usually what happens is the victim becomes the persecutor to someone else, and then someone else has to come in and rescue. And there’s no health in any of those roles, if you’re in those roles chronically. The only health is when you step above all of that and see that you have different choices. You can leave a workplace that is chronically wrong for you. That’s one of the beauties of midlife is you actually get to the point where physiologically you can’t put up with it anymore. You’ve compromised and you’ve compromised and you’ve changed yourself and you’ve done everything in your power to fit in, and it just isn’t working anymore. And finally you say, “Hey, maybe it’s time to do something else.”

MB: So it’s a question of doing something about the anger, doing something about the wrongs in your life. Are there other things involved in listening to your body?

CN: Yes, resting when you’re tired is kind of huge. The average woman is not getting even eight hours of sleep a night, and sleep is the best way to metabolize stress hormones that we know of. It will gobble up excess cortisol and epinephrine. And by the way, excess cortisol and epinephrine are the things that create cellular inflammation, and cellular inflammation is at the root cause of all chronic degenerative diseases – diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease. So getting enough sleep is important, resting when you’re tired. The other thing you must do is you must tune in to know what you’re really, really feeling, and that means slowing down. And when I say slowing down, I mean in the moment you pay attention to your body. You make sure you’re breathing fully all the way down to the bottom of your lungs. You have to exercise. And all of these things – you begin to know that your body responds also to choices that are empowering, thoughts that are happy and uplifting, and so little by little you monitor your thoughts. You start your day, let’s say, with a meditation or simply with some breathing, and you see the difference it makes when you change a thought, and you see the difference it makes in your body. But I will say this about the body. If you have a condition that is bothering you, you must understand it did not leap out of the closet to torture you. It’s related to your life. And that’s one of the things I share throughout the book, The Wisdom of Menopause. My own story of a fibroid, a big fibroid in my uterus, creativity that hasn’t been birthed yet, or creative energy being shoved into a dead-end job or relationship. In my case, it was a marriage that wasn’t working. You won’t know what the message was, usually, until after the thing is over. But I would say to everybody, you could so benefit by understanding that everything that happens to your body is a metaphor for something that’s going on in your life. And then you will not feel like a victim of your body. If you want to use standard conventional medicine as an approach, go right ahead. But understand that simply cutting an organ out or taking a pill to squash symptoms is not going to get you to the promised land. Only taking full responsibility for what this might be and working consciously with your body, mind, and spirit – that’s what works.

MB: So we have dealing with the anger, we have taking care of yourself, and really just realigning with “What’s my sense of purpose?” and “What do I need to do with my life?” Let me take a break here. You’re listening to Ageless Lifestyles Radio on Webtalkradio.net. We’re talking with Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of two books, The Wisdom of Menopause, and Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. Her website, http://www.drnorthrup.com/ has information about women’s health, her books, her newsletter, and speaking engagements, many of which are open to the public. Information on anti-aging psychology and my free Defy Aging Newsletter is at DrBrickey.com. Dr. Northrup, I’d like to shift to some of the practical things that women can do. I hear a lot about eating more soy. Is that helpful or not helpful?

CN: It depends on the woman. Soy has sort of gone – the pendulum has swung, I think, too far with soy, so that women are eating only soy protein. I believe that soy is an important part of the diet, and particularly in those women who are not on hormone replacement or who are having problems with hot flashes, vaginal dryness, anything of that nature, then trying soy is very, very effective in many, and I’ve certainly had – I’ve had women come up to me in airports to say thank you so much, you know, for recommending certain soy products. But there are other women who find that they don’t do well on it. So what I would do is I would try some soy nuts, some soy milk. There’s a product called Revival Soy that is particularly potent for menopausal symptoms, and give it a try. I would also say it’s important to take enough Omega-3 fats. These are what’s found in fish oil. And in an analysis of 70 studies, it was found that fish oil decreases all cause mortality, and is more effective at keeping cholesterol and heart disease at bay than all of the statin drugs. So fish oil is very, very important. If you’re a vegetarian, then you can bet Omega-3 fat in flaxseed or also in algae. So there’s no excuse, is what I’m saying here. You also need to take enough Vitamin D. We find that those women who are most at risk for hip fracture or spinal fracture from osteoporosis are the ones who have the lowest serum levels of Vitamin D. This is the one blood test I believe that every woman should have – not only a lipid profile, you should find out what your total cholesterol is, what the good cholesterol is, the LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, triglyceride level. Don’t let someone put you on statins simply because your cholesterol is above 200, if it’s in the 200-250, 230 range. If your HDL cholesterol is good and high, like 60 or so, then you do not need statin drugs. Statin drugs decrease coenzyme Q10 in the blood. This is an absolutely essential nutrient for energy production in the cell. And where you need energy production in the cell is in your heart, and the statins are being prescribed far too much. Vitamin D levels should be 50 or above. You can have your healthcare practitioner draw that level. And then you should be taking at least 1000 IUs of Vitamin D every day, or going to a tanning booth – I would recommend the stand-up booths with sunscreen on your face and your hands, and about six minutes will boost up Vitamin D very nicely. It also boosts your mood because it increases serotonin in the brain. Light is a nutrient. So those two things are important. Enough calcium and magnesium. We hear all about calcium; we never hear enough about magnesium. Magnesium and calcium have to balance each other. Women who are depressed often have low magnesium levels. Magnesium is what’s necessary for sparking the nerve – from nerve cell to nerve cell requires magnesium to make that connection, and it’s also very relaxing. A very good way to get magnesium is with an Epsom salt bath. One half to one cup of Epsom salt in the bath, soak in there for 30 minutes, read a good novel – that’s a good prescription for a good night’s sleep.

MB: Are these the same things that would help with hot flashes, or are there additional things that would help?

CN: Actually, those could help. Soy will definitely help with hot flashes in many women, not all. The gold standard for hot flashes is estrogen replacement – although if a woman has estrogen dominance, then progesterone is what will help with hot flashes. And you can use as little as one-quarter teaspoon of transdermal progesterone on your skin – and this is available over the counter at health food stores. One of the good brands is Progest or Emerita. And many women have been helped by that. Also, that can help with premenstrual migraines, because those are triggered by too much estrogen. Now, the other things you can do for hot flashes, you can change your diet and get rid of the white foods. So that would be white flour products, mashed potatoes, white sugar products; also wine and coffee can trigger hot flashes, but not in everybody. So what you do is you say, “Okay, let me give myself a one-week period of time where I stay away from these foods, particularly the wine, and see what happens.” And if you notice that your hot flashes are far less, then you know what triggers them. Then you can decide whether you’re going to have the wine and get a little hot or not. You know, it’s at your fingertips. The other thing that helps hot flashes, believe it or not, is meditation. And Herbert Benson at Harvard did studies showing a 90% reduction in hot flashes with two 20-minute periods of meditation per day, using what he called his relaxation response, which is where you simply sit and repeat a word in your mind like “peace” or “rose.” There are various mantras that you can do. And the reason that this works is that it decreases stress hormones. And stress hormones in the body actually change the way hormones are metabolized. So it all goes back to what we call stress. And my definition of stress is anything in your life that you don’t like the way it’s turning out, and so therefore you’re railing against it. That’s emotional stress. Of course, there’s physical stress of being too cold or too hot or too hungry, that sort of thing. But it goes back to a balanced lifestyle.

MB: One of women’s biggest concerns, and men’s biggest concerns, is about the effect on the sex life. What can a woman do to maintain a good sex life during menopause and after menopause?

CN: Well, this is about my favorite topic. I just written my fourth book on that and it’ll be out in October, called The Secret Pleasures of Menopause. It’s interesting that you can have pleasure or you can have anger, but you can’t have them at the same time. And I’ll tell you why this is so – it’s really key. Stress hormones like norepinephrine, adrenaline shut down not only blood supply, but they also shunt your nervous system in the direction of fight or flight, so you’re preparing for battle. Entirely different from what’s necessary to shunt the blood flow to the clitoris and to the genitals and to the breast and to the erogenous areas of the bodies. For that, you must be very relaxed and receptive to receiving pleasure. So what happens during the midlife transition is all of the stuff in a relationship that’s been shoved under the rug comes up and hits women between the eyes, and the first thing that goes is their sex life. Now, data from the OB/GYN literature shows that the number one predictor of a great sex life during the menopausal transition and beyond is a new partner.

MB: Uh-oh.

CN: Now, the reason I say that is not because I want women to dump their partners, I want them to become that new partner. This is really important. Many times men don’t know what’s going on, and it is the woman’s job to find out, maybe for the first time in her life, what pleases her, what does she really, really want? And I would say for your listeners, write down five to ten things that you really, really want, and then ask for them. Ask your mate to provide them. But you must do it in a way that is very fun and very flirtatious. Now, that’s what you do in a relationship. But many women, for a while there, for a year or two, feel the need to go into a cocoon and reinvent themselves. So I feel as though the sex juice, as it were, the libido, goes underground like the sap in a tree route in the winter. It doesn’t mean it’s gone. It will come back. It will rise again. But a woman sometimes needs a little time alone in a cave as a she reinvents herself. So that’s very important for a woman to know. Then let’s say that she has her time alone or she goes away to a spa or she somehow changes her job or does something. Then it is her job to learn what turns her on. And you actually can learn this and do it with self-pleasuring or what the Daoist masters call self-cultivation. Another word for that, which I don’t like, is masturbation. Women need to learn what their wiring diagram is, and this is work that you do with yourself, for yourself, because you cannot tell another person what you like if you don’t know yourself. And this is the other thing. At midlife, many women develop thyroid problems. Thyroid is in the fifth chakra. It’s about having your say. It’s saying what you need to say. And it’s time that you learned to ask for what you want. This is a huge risk for most women because they’re afraid of being rejected, and many of them are so surprised and delighted to find out that their mate has been waiting for instructions. See, this is what women think. Women are brought up to believe that if a man is a good guy, he will know – he should know what to do to please them. He will know what to get them for Valentine’s Day. He will know what to get them for their birthday. He should do this big romantic thing like you see in the movies. Well, men want to be romantic. They don’t know how to do it. It is a woman’s job to decide what she wants her mate to do for her, and then set the stage to help him meet her expectations. This goes back to women as the bodies that create life. She can help him do that for her. But if she simply clams up and is angry without saying what would please her, then it’s a stalemate. And if you’ve got 25 years of that going on in a relationship, it is little wonder that sex drive goes away.

MB: So the biggest key on sex life is really getting to know your body and your needs and effectively communicating that?

CN: That’s right. And also understanding that menopause per se does not decrease libido, ease of reaching orgasm, or desire for sex. It doesn’t. And I believe that that is a big cultural myth that many women are up against, because they believe this is the end, when in fact it’s just the beginning. You have the ability, through your attention and focus, and to rewire your body for more pleasure. But to do that, you need to work through your resistance to pleasure. And we all have a ceiling on our pleasure that we’ve usually learned in our families of origin. But I’m here to tell you that the way the body was designed, sex gets better. And that is in fact the latest research: The women having the best sex of their lives are in their 60s and 70s.

MB: And also contributing to that is you’re not worrying about the children knocking at the door or interrupting, or so exhausted from childrearing, and you have more time and less worry about pregnancy.

CN: That’s exactly right. Now, for many women, there is the lack of a partner. So I want to cover that for a moment. And for many – let’s say that they’ve gone through a divorce like myself, or are widowed, or simply don’t have a man, of if they’re a lesbian, a woman in their life. Your job, ladies, is to begin to become the person that you yourself would fall in love with. You can use this time to reinvent yourself and become the person that you yourself can fall in love with. I did that for seven years. I’m now with a wonderful man. But I had to go through all of the stuff that all women go through, thinking it’s over, they’re too old. All of that is simply cultural baggage. I also read a book that I would like to recommend to all of you called Mama Gena’s Owner’s and Operator’s Guide to Men. Let me repeat that: Mama Gena’s Owner’s and Operator’s Guide to Men. It’s by Regena Thomashauer. And she runs Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts in New York City. I read the book to see if she was crazy or not, and she turned out to be not crazy at all, and in fact helped hundreds of women reinvent themselves and also find far more happiness with themselves and with the men in their lives.

MB: Sounds like a fascinating book. One more question. You talk about how women, or probably men as well, attract the unhealed parts of ourselves, and that brings on a lot of chronic disease. Can you explain that?

CN: Well, I believe that in childhood we make certain decisions about ourselves – I’m too fat, I’m not good enough, I’m whatever. And then the parent that we had the most conflict with, we tend to marry or they become our boss or whatever. And I believe it’s because we’re trying to bring love to an area where we have not experienced love. And then we stay in that relationship until more love needs to be called in than that particular container will hold. And if you fail to leave that relationship or you can’t be in a state of love in that relationship, then you get sick. And-

MB: It’s that simple.

CN: It is that simple. I wish it were more complicated. And I’m not blaming anyone. But let’s look at heart disease. It’s the number one killer of women – and men, for that matter. And it outpaces breast cancer by, you know, about 40 to 1. I mean, it’s the one that – if you’re going to be worried about something, be worried about this, and then do something about it, because heart disease is reversible. But anything that your heart isn’t in will begin to take its toll on your heart. Any time you can’t have your say because whoever you’re with won’t hear it, your thyroid could be adversely affected. Any time you’re not nurturing yourself fully, your breasts will take a hit. It’s that simple.

MB: Dr. Northrup, it’s just so refreshing talking with you and getting this holistic view of menopause and women’s health. I really appreciate you being on the program.

CN: It’s been my pleasure.

MB: I like to wrap up shows with some baby steps to hopefully help you live longer, healthier, and happier. In one of my favorite jokes, a reporter asked a 104-year-old woman, “What’s the best thing about being 104?” And she said, “No peer pressure.” As we get older, this is one of the perks, that we become less and less concerned about peer pressure. And indeed, people in their 80s and 90s says, “I don’t have time for that nonsense!” I think Dr. Northrup was teaching us that if you have problems with peer pressure during menopause, you’ve got one big wakeup call saying it needs to be dealt with now, instead of when you’re 80 or 90. The second baby step principle I’d suggest is what I call the rule of thirds, that unless you’re extremely charismatic or a horrible, horrible curmudgeon, most people have a third of people liking them, a third of the people not liking them or not liking their style, and then a third of people not really caring one way or another. And the moral is to be the person that you really want to be, the person that you really are, so that the third of the people who like you, like you for the real you. You’re listening to Ageless Lifestyles Radio on Webtalkradio.net. We’re talking with Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of The Wisdom of Menopause, and Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. Her website, http://www.drnorthrup.com/ has information about women’s health, her books, her newsletter and speaking engagements. Information on anti-aging psychology and the Defy Aging Newsletter, which is free, is at DrBrickey.com. This is Dr. Michael Brickey with Ageless Lifestyles Radio on Webtalkradio.net. Thank you for listening on our quest to live longer, healthier, happier lives.
 

 

 

Publicist/Stylist Anne HavelockAnti-Aging Psychologist, Dr. Michael Brickey

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

Host: Anti-Aging Psychologist Dr. Michael Brickey

Expert Guest: ATLAST Publisher Anne Havelock

Broadcast: 1-11-08 on webtalkradio.net where the latest shows are broadcast and posted as podcasts

Ann Havelock knows a lot of the secrets for how to look great at every age and have sex appeal to boot. A hair stylist and salon owner, she found herself showing older clients how to look fabulous at 50 and sexy at 60. She is the publisher of ATLAST magazine, a hairstyle/personal image magazine for men and women over 45. She also is a professional speaker. Her website is http://www.atlast.org

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