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Natural Awakenings National

Finding More Pleasure in Life: A Conversation with Dr. Christiane Northrup

May 01, 2010 03:00AM ● By Ellen Mahoney

Christiane Northrup, a respected obstetrician/gynecologist and visionary in women’s health and wellness, is renowned for the practical medical and emotional counsel she generously shares in her many bestselling books. Among her best known are Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and Mother-Daughter Wisdom. Now Northrup is focused on another aspect of women’s health in The Secret Pleasures of Menopause. The idea is to help women of all ages achieve vibrant health by tapping into their inner wisdom in order to experience joy and fulfillment throughout life. 

Why do you believe the pursuit of pleasure is just as vital for a vibrant life as a healthy diet and exercise?

You will not stick to a healthy diet and exercise plan unless you find pleasure in the pursuit of it. You must come to this by yourself and discover that the moment-to-moment way you live your life has to be pleasurable, because there’s not a happy ending to an unhappy journey.

For years, I’ve watched people foregoing various foods to look a certain way; I see people who have perfect bodies, but absolutely no joy or life force shining behind their eyes. The joy and pleasure have to come first; then the lifestyle supports this.

We consider a narrow waist beautiful because it is generally healthy. Too much belly fat is unhealthy, because it produces an abnormal hormonal milieu and can lead to an earlier death from cancer, heart disease and/or diabetes. You have to exercise your body and eat well on a sustainable basis to look healthy—there’s just no way around it. The more you take care of yourself, the more pleasure you experience.

How do we enhance our pleasure in life at any age?

One of the biggest keys to enhancing your pleasure is to pay attention to what feels good. This is your vital guiding factor. Simple things, like enjoying a bouquet of flowers, are important. Pleasure begins with awakening the senses.

I also recommend that you start to appreciate your skin, as well as the other parts of your body that serve you well. One of my older patients told me, “I’m no longer concerned with how my legs look. What I love is that when I get up in the morning, my knees work.” I hold the position that pleasure and happiness are actually the only things that work for us and are sustainable.

What is the relationship of pleasure to the health-enhancing effects of nitric oxide?

Nitric oxide is an odorless, colorless gas that’s produced by the lining of every blood vessel in the body. It passes through cell walls instantaneously and can simultaneously boost circulation. 

It’s also the über neurotransmitter that signals all body cells to balance out levels of serotonin, dopamine and beta-endorphins, which produce feelings of well-being. Nitric oxide is not stored in the body, so exercise, especially aerobics, helps raise its levels in the body at any age. When someone wins an Olympic gold medal, you can be sure he or she is at the height of a nitric oxide burst.

Why do you believe that “life has just begun” after menopause?

When you are in midlife, you obviously have the same soul as when you were 12. However, if you have negotiated midlife skillfully by getting rid of excess baggage, thinking positively, moving into relationships that support you and making peace with those that haven’t—then you have access to the dictates of your soul.

Menopause is a wakeup call. We’re waking up to who we are and to what we love. You find that you don’t care what other people think nearly as much as you used to, and yet you are able to better appreciate others because you appreciate yourself.

Now that I’m over 50, everything I’m drawn to and everything my body wants to do brings me more pleasure. This goes against everything we’ve been taught—that we’re designed to disintegrate with age, get osteoporosis and decline into chronic degenerative diseases.

As of midlife, I feel like I’ve come home to myself. For example, I’ve been dancing Argentine tango for a year and loving it. I’m also happy to report that my daughters have come home to themselves more quickly than I have. I would like to egg all women on with this concluding thought: A woman’s body is designed for pleasure, and when we invite it into our own lives, we are a gift to the world. 


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Ellen Mahoney teaches writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Email  [email protected].

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