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Your body is your temple

Ever heard the expression, ‘your body is your temple’?

 

I didn’t really get this concept until the last couple of years when I started female yoga & qi gong practices that helped me connect to my body in a way I hadn’t before.

Up until then I’d spent most of my life living in my head – and hadn’t even realised it! My mind was constantly in overdrive, running the show, whereas my body was more of a love-hate relationship – I loved to hate her. Since puberty I hadn’t felt good about my body.

It wasn’t until I took up practices that tuned me into my body – particularly the feminine aspect of my body – that I discovered the well of womanly wisdom that lives inside me…as it lives inside YOU.

Ok, it may have been a little weird at first to have a conversation with my womb or breathe into my ovaries, but in doing so I’ve gained an embodied understanding of the gifts of the goddess.

La Diosa!

What a blessing it is to be living life in a woman’s body!

Yet, if you’re anything like most women, I bet you’ve spent most of your life hating or otherwise rejecting your body rather then worshipping her as a temple. 

I know I have.

 

Unfortunately, women have been taught since puberty that their body is the enemy. She’s too fat, too thin, her thighs too dimply, her teeth too crooked, her breasts to small, her breasts too large, her belly too round, her skin too pale, her skin too dark, her legs too hairy, her flesh too soft, her bum too big…and so on. And lets not mention the fact that she bleeds every month. I’m sure you get my point. In so many ways our culture sends women the message that the female body is flawed or must be controlled.

 

As a result, women are literally programmed to think negatively about their body and to wage a constant war against their body – from hormonal control to complete eradication of body hair, to constant dieting to bootcamps aimed at transforming female curves into hard masculine physiques.

The average woman has a negative thought about her body at least once per hour, and up to 50-100 times per day!

 

In fact, it’s such an accepted norm to put your body down that women bond by negative self-talk – when women get together it’s socially acceptable to insult their body rather then praise it.

As a health practitioner I notice this all the time. I even wrote a blog on the subject: Have you ever noticed how often women apologise?

When you’re so busy fighting yourself, you don’t have power.

You might find it interesting to consider how it serves society to keep sending media messages to women that fuel body insecurity; and how this insecurity and lack of body love might flow on to disempowered birth experiences…

(…thoughtful pause)

 

Women’s bodies are powerful.

A woman’s body is so powerful political campaigns are won or lost over the topic of controlling women’s bodies.

A woman’s body holds the gift of life. In ancient times, goddess temples were built to celebrate the life giving, abundant power of a woman’s body and this helped remind women of their creative potential, strength and innate capacity to birth.

It’s no coincidence that fear and mistrust of birth has coincided with the disappearance of the Goddess for the last few thousand years – replaced by a patriarchal mindset that’s taught women that, as punishment for the sin of their female body, they must suffer during childbirth.

I’m telling you this now, not to challenge your religious or spiritual beliefs, but to invite you to open your mind to possibilities you might not have considered before:

Women are not meant to suffer during childbirth. It’s not meant to be painful or traumatic or frightening. A woman’s body was built for birth. The truth is birth is meant to be ecstatic. 



 

Here’s what I invite you to know:

Your relationship to your physical body is integral to your power as a woman; therefore the relationship women have with their body is integral to their birth experience. 

 

Thinking negatively about your body is a habit that keeps you disempowered.

Don’t you think its time for change?

Neuroscience reveals that whatever you focus on shapes your brain. If you’re constantly thinking negative thoughts about your body, those negative neural pathways become stronger and those thoughts become habituated.

The good news is habit is just that…habit.

You can break negative thought patterns by consciously choosing to focus on positive thoughts about your self and your body.

By choosing to deliberately seek thoughts of appreciation and gratitude toward your body you start developing new neural pathways – pathways that lead to a healthier, more connected and empowered ‘Goddess’ you. Your honour her wisdom.

Body love is not something that only happens to other women. It’s a choice available to you everyday to say f**k it and bring more woman (power) to you. 

Your body is your temple, home to the goddess that is YOU.

When was the last time you looked in the mirror and viewed your body through the eyes of love and approval?

 

Contact me if you would like more information about Ecstatic Birth Preparation.


Body Love Action Step

Rather then focusing on how your body looks start appreciating your body for what she does.

Start a Body Love Journal and commit to the practice of writing daily about your body in a positive way, starting with appreciating what she does for you and how she serves you. Every day choose three things about your body that you’re grateful for and write about them.

The secret to your success is simple: small practices done regularly produce BIG results. Be consistent.

If you stick to this practice everyday for 30 days, you’ll notice a profound difference in how you feel about your body.

 

Body Love Journal

Today’s Date:                                                             

I’m so happy and grateful that my body:

 

 

Need Inspiration?

  • How does you body allow you to experience the world? How does she bring you feelings of pleasure?
  • What about your senses do you appreciate? Think about touch, taste, smell, sight & sound.
  • Imagine you were your own lover. How might a lover appreciate your body?
  • Take a tour around your body and consider each part and the important role they play in your day-to-day life: your eyes, your feet, your hands, your mouth, your stomach, your breasts, your vital organs, etc. What are you grateful for?
  • What parts of your body do you like? Can you spend more time focusing on these aspects and letting those good feelings grow?
  • If you’re pregnant, think about your baby’s experience of your body. What attributes does your body provide for your baby, now during pregnancy and after your baby is born? How might your body feel to your baby?
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Post Partum Restorative Chicken Broth

One of the things I love about Traditional Chinese Medicine is that it is rich in practical self help practices that have been handed down for centuries because they are grounded in common sense. One of my favourite of these is the practice of prescribing Chicken Broth to women in the post partum period, which is what I want to share with you here.

According to TCM, the process of labor and birth strongly depletes a woman’s Qi (energy) and Blood; birth involves tremendous physical, mental and emotional effort and after birth women are considered to be relatively ’empty’.  This is even more so for women who have had caesarean section or post partum haemorrhage.

It is this Qi and Blood emptiness that leaves women vulnerable to post partum disorders such as low milk supply, post natal depression, insomnia, exhaustion and mastitis. According to TCM, the key focus for women in the post partum should be to replenish what is lost.  Aside from emphasising the importance of plentiful bed rest for at least one month after birth, TCM Diet Therapy recommends Chicken Broth as a powerful way to nourish Qi and Blood reserves.

I’ve been making Chicken Broth according to the following recipe for well over a decade and it is one of the most nurturing and nourishing health practices I know. There is a nutritive quality to the broth that feels so restorative and life enhancing. It is good medicine and your body will thank you for the foresight of freezing a few batches in the later stages of pregnancy.

vegetables for soup

Vegetables for Soup Stock

Delivering a new mama with a big pot of Chicken Soup made from the following broth is one of the most thoughtful post natal gestures I know (right up there with with Post Natal Sitz Bath herbs).


Post Partum Restorative Chicken Broth

The first 3 ingredients are key but the rest of the recipe can be modified according to your own tastes and preferences and what you have available in the fridge or garden.

Organic Free-Range Chicken*

3-4 slices fresh ginger*

splash of Apple Cider Vinegar*

Next add…

6 spring onions, green tips included

1 leek

2 stalks celery

1-2 carrots

3 bay leaves

1tblspn black peppercorns

Then add…

Fresh herbs: choose from any or all of the following

1 large sprig rosemary

Half a bunch of parsley

1 large sprig sage

2 large sprigs of thyme 

Finally add…

½ tspn sea salt 

Directions

Rinse chicken and place in a large stock pot and add enough water to cover (about 3-4 litres). Add fresh ginger and a splash of vinegar. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer. Roughly chop vegetables and add to the pot with bay leaf and peppercorn. You can also add a whole onion, unpeeled (but some find onion disagrees with baby’s digestion). Simmer for a minimum of 3 hours, at least 6 hours is best. Add fresh herbs in the final 30 minutes of cooking time.

Finally, add salt. Do not add salt earlier as it will prevent proper extraction of nutrients.

Allow stock to cool and then strain through a sieve.  The broth can be drunk as is as a daily bowl of goodness, or can be used as the stock to make Chicken Soup. It is not necessary to skim the fat and this adds to flavour. You can pick the flesh off the chicken and use for soup, or for sandwiches, or add to pies or risotto.  The broth can be added to stews, risottos and congee etc, and can be frozen for convenience.

The vinegar helps pull minerals from the bones. Much of the benefits of the broth are to be gained by slow cooking the chicken for at least 6 hours so that the minerals and nutrients are extracted from the bone level. In TCM this is considered the level of the Essence, or Jing, which corresponds to the deepest levels of our life force.  Because of this it is important to choose an organic chicken.


Chicken Broth is powerful medicine and a wonderful source of nutrition when the body is run down or recovering from illness. I’ve found it can be a blessing for women suffering from severe morning sickness who are unable to tolerate most food but are able to drink the nutritive broth.  It is also an excellent food choice for digestive weakness and auto immune disorders. Severely Blood deficient vegetarians will benefit from the occasional Chicken Broth with the understanding that food is medicine. For all women, the Blood nourishing properties of Chicken Broth are beneficial not just post partum but as a regular tonic at the end of menstruation.

For post partum medicine, traditionally Chinese herbs that nourish Qi and Blood are added to the cooking process, in particular  the herb Dang Gui Angelica sinensis which has a well deserved reputation as a herb for women’s health. Most Asian supermarkets will have these kind of soup stock herbs, or you can contact a Chinese Herbalist for better quality herbs.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Chinese Herbs for Soup Stock

If you would like to add extra potency to your broth, I have available for purchase (complete with recipes) the Post Partum Restorative Blend to nourish Yin and Blood. Contact me for more information.

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Give your perineum some love!

Ok, reality check. Giving birth vaginally is gonna take your perineum outside its usual comfort zone. It can help to prepare with perineal massage and Vitamin E oil during pregnancy, just like it can help to labor in water and to have a skilled midwife guide you during second stage so your perineum has time to stretch. But birth is not predictable and reality is your perineal tissue may tear. This is especially so with the use of forceps or ventouse. There is nothing like the discomfort of a swollen, tender, stitched perineum to make you feel miserable at a time when your newborn is demanding all your attention and the thought of your next wee makes you cry.

Like I said, reality check.

Good news is there is something you can do to speed up your healing and provide welcome relief as soon as you feel ready after giving birth. The answer is Herbal Baths and/or Sitz Baths.  

‘The way to health is to have an aromatic bath and scented massage every day’ Hippocrates

I’ve long been a fan of the ‘art of bath’. People have used the therapeutic powers of steaming and bathing in herbal waters for centuries. You can too. Post natal herbal baths and sitz baths are a simple, effective and heavenly way to heal the body following childbirth. Best of all, it’s easy to make your own and doesn’t require a lot of special ingredients. I’m going to tell you how.

What is a sitz bath?

A sitz bath is a strong herbal brew that is used to steam and bathe the perineum after birth to promote healing. The hot herbal water is poured into a shallow basin or sturdy bucket that can be squatted over or sat upon. The herbal steam increases blood circulation, repairs tissue trauma, soothes and reduces inflammation. As the herbal waters cool you then sit in the basin or pour it into a bath to soak. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners commonly prescribe sitz baths to assist with complaints such as thrush, cervicitis, perineal tears and haemorrhoids.

Post natal sitz baths are best enjoyed from the first week after birth, therefore you’ll want to have gathered what you need beforehand. Next to Chicken Soup, this is the most thoughtful postnatal present for your pregnant friends: if she has had tearing or an episiotomy she’s gonna love it!

How to make a post natal sitz bath

Sitz Bath Herbs

Sitz Bath Herbs

Make your herbal blend from any one or a combination of the following fresh or dried herbs and allow about 1-2 cups herbal blend per bath.  These are common herbs you may already have in your kitchen or garden. If not you’ll find them easily enough at your local wholefood or health shop.

Chamomile flowers : Calendula flowers : Lavender flowers : Rosemary leaves : Sage leaves : Rose Petals

You’re also going to need sea salt of any kind. I like to use a mix of Himalayan sea salt, Celtic sea salt and Epsom salts but plain ole’ sea salt from the pantry will do fine.

Instructions

Use a square of muslin and pile your herbs in the centre then tie with twine. Or you could use an old stocking to stuff herbs into, tying off to create a bolus. Don’t pack too tightly so that the herbs have room to expand and release their goodness.

Place in a large saucepan with 2 litres boiling water.

Cover and let sit for 4 hours or overnight.

Pour the herbal brew into a shallow basin or sturdy plastic bucket (boil proof plastic). Squeeze bolus to release all the active ingredients. Add 1 litre of boiling water and 1 litre of tap water.

If you are using a shallow basin you’ll need to be a little inventive finding a way to squat over the basin. It helps to put the basin in the bath so you can use the bath tub for support and then it’s not as strenuous as it sounds, especially after having a baby. It’s easier if you lean forward a little bit, much more comfy then a deep squat. Give a dry run a try if you’re not sure. If you use a plastic bucket as long as it is sturdy you can sit on the bucket creating a seal with your bottom. Again try doing this in the bath tub. Take care as the water is hot!

Allow the steam to rise and fumigate your perineum for 10-15 minutes.

After steaming pour herbal brew into a warm bath along with 1 handful of sea salt.

Now for the good bit! Lie back and relax and allow the healing waters to work their magic. If you don’t have a bath use the shallow basin to create a sitz bath and add less sea salt.

Enjoy 1 Sitz bath per day and give your perineum some love.

Further info & suggestions…

Calendula excels at wound healing. Lavender and Chamomile promote healing and also soothe and calm. Rosemary regenerates cells and helps to improve the blood circulation to the area whilst Sage cleanses, astringes and is antiseptic. Rose is nurturing and mends the emotional wounds. But it really doesn’t take a lot of special ingredients. At the very least if you have nothing else available make up a super strong brew using about 5-6 Chamomile tea bags and use to soak your tush.

The herbal infusion can also be used as a wash or compress. A great suggestion is to combine equal parts herbal infusion with water in a plastic spray bottle and use to spray onto the perineum. This is THE BEST TIP for relieving the stinging of urination and helps keep the area clean.

You can also soak a clean cloth in heated herbal infusion and squeeze over the perineum, or use cotton gauze to make a warm compress that can applied externally to the perineum. Do not use cold or as an ice pack. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Cold slows the blood circulation and creates Blood Stasis, preventing proper healing and is a big No No!

Finally, the herbal bath promotes postnatal recovery for all women, including caesarean. The herbs that heal the perineum will also help heal your caesarean scar and your baby’s umbilical cord. If you have had a c-section just skip the sitz bath and go straight to good bit, lying back and allowing the healing waters of a herbal bath to work their magic.

Not all of us like to make our own. If you would rather someone else put in the love I have available for purchase the Kuan Yin Blend, named after the great mother goddess of compassion and healing, is for postnatal recovery and contains herbs based on the above suggestions plus additional Chinese Herbals.  


 Post Natal Sitz-BathAbout the author…

Peta Elmer is a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and Doula with a passion for promoting trust and respect for the wisdom of women’s bodies. She helps women learn to work with their body’s natural rhythms for maximum health, vitality, fertility, creativity and feminine power. She has a deep calling to birth work and her special mission is the message birth is meant to be a pleasurable and ecstatic experience. She believes a holistic Mind Body Spirit approach is key to preparing for the unfamiliar opening sensations of birth.
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Essential Oils for labor: Birth with scentual awareness

Have you ever had that experience where you catch a brief smell of something and suddenly found yourself transported back to some childhood memory? 

Did you know that smell has the special ability to not only trigger memory but also to affect your body chemistry and your emotions? 

I’m going to tell you how you can use this unique power of smell to your advantage by using essential oils during labor and birth.

Our sense of smell is like a super power that can link you to another place and time.  This is because inside your nose there are receptors called olfactory bulbs that detect smell and connect to the part of your brain that accesses MEMORY and EMOTION. Without getting all technical the olfactory bulbs connect directly to the hypothalamus– the master gland at the center of what’s known as the LIMBIC SYSTEM, which in turn is part of the primal brain. When we smell our olfactory bulbs are detecting chemical molecules in the environment. Some of these molecules can create physiological changes in the body and, via the Limbic System, influence behavior, memory and emotions.

Smell MemoryYou can use this power of smell to create a memory association that will help trigger a relaxed state during labor. Whilst you can do this with any fragrance, choosing essential oils to create your Smell Memory can have additional benefits such as positively influencing your birthing hormones, promoting calm and relieving pain.

How to create a Smell Memory

STEP 1: Choose an essential oil or blend that smells good to you.

Essential oils contain plant-derived chemical compounds that have the ability to create physiological changes. This could be that they have a hormone-like effect or analgesic (pain relieving) properties due to their chemical structure. So they don’t just smell good, they are therapeutic**.

There are certain oils recommended because of the various effect they have on labor. But unless you’re a doula or midwife or have a particular interest in aromatherapy you don’t need to complicate things by going into a great deal of depth here. If it smells good to you then you’re more likely to keep using it then if you don’t like the smell but think you should be using it because it stimulates contractions. This is especially so during labor when your sense of smell is going to be enhanced.

Choose your essential oil according to what smells good to you

Each of the following essential oils has a known positive effect during birth. These are my favorites and, because of their effect on female hormones and for promoting calm, are also wonderful postnatal and for a smooth menstrual cycle.

You can blend up to three different oils.

HORMONAL LIKE EFFECT

  • Clary Sage*: My favorite. Stimulates uterus to contract. Euphoric.
  • Geranium: Really good for emotional extremes. Perineum care.
  • Rose*: The Queen of oils, very feminine. Expensive!
  • Jasmine*: Particularly good for second stage.

CALMING EFFECT

  • Sandalwood/Frankincense: Meditative
  • Lavender: Good for early first stage fear. Pain relief.
  • Neroli: Fear & Anxiety
  • German Chamomile:  Hormone-like effect.

*Because of the hormonal effect on the uterus there is controversy regarding the use of these essential oils during pregnancy.  When essential oils are used correctly the risks are very slight because of the low dosage involved. If you prefer to err on the side of caution start introducing these from 32 weeks.

**Quality is pretty important when choosing your essential oil; higher-grade oils have greater therapeutic properties. However, for the beginner as long as the Botanical name is listed with the common name (eg. Lavender, Lavendula officinalis) it should be ok.

STEP TWO: Use your special blend consistently throughout your pregnancy during times of RELAXATION.

For example you could add your essential oil to an oil burner whilst listening to Birth Hypnosis or other meditation track, or add a few drops of your chosen oil to a bath and drift away for 20 minutes. Or you could make a massage oil blend and create a weekly, intimate massage time with your partner.

The more you use your signature scent at times of deep relaxation, the more your limbic system will develop the brain pathways that associate that smell with being deeply relaxed on a physiological and psychological level.

Then when you use your signature scent during labor, via the super power of the limbic system to trigger memory and emotion, your body will automatically respond to this smell with the physiological reaction of deep relaxation.

And deep relaxation is the best way for birth to proceed efficiently, safely and naturally.

 STEP THREE: Practice relaxation at least 20 minutes per day.

To get the most out of this memory association technique you should aim for 20 minutes relaxation time every day. I know that might seem unachievable for some but if you can’t manage 20 minutes down time every day, or at least every other day, especially in late pregnancy then you are definitely running on too much stress and adrenaline and this can create problems shifting gears into the hormones needed to birth.

STEP FOUR: Use your special blend during labor.

The final step is to use your special smell during labor. Because of the relationship between smell and memory your brain will have developed pathways that associate your chosen smell with deep relaxation. During labor your body will automatically respond to this smell with the physiological and psychological reaction of deep relaxation.

Introducing essential oils into your daily routine and birth space is easy. Here are some suggestions:

  • Massage: Add 5 drops per 10ml of base oil. Massage into feet, lower abdomen and lower back.
  • Bath: Use 4-6 drops in the bath.
  • Shower:  Sprinkle 2-4 drops on shower wall and allow the steam will create an aromatic
  • Inhalation: Place 1-2 drops on a tissue or pillow. Tuck tissue into bra and the aroma will waft
  • Vaporiser: Add 6-8 drops in water in an oil burner or electric vaporiser.
  • Warm Compress: 1-2 drops in hot or cold water and use to soak a face cloth.
  • Room spritzer: Add about 1 drop of essential oil per 2ml of water (50ml: 20 drops). Use as a room spray or face mist. A great way to quickly change the sterile atmosphere of a hospital

Did you know that your body detects other peoples’ hormones via smell and because of this other peoples’ hormones can have a direct effect on you and your labor? This is important if you plan to birth in an adrenalized hospital environment: you can use smell to not only create a trigger for deep relaxation but to also minimize the effect of environmental stress hormones.

SUMMARY

  • Your sense of smell is linked to the part of your brain associated with memory and emotion.
  • You can use smell to create a memory association linking the physical and psychological experience of deep relaxation with your chosen smell.
  •  Using this same smell during labor will then act on your brain pathways to trigger the physical and psychological reaction of deep relaxation.
  • Deep relaxation is the best way for labor to proceed efficiently, naturally and safely.

This is a powerful technique. I used smell memory association whilst I was studying with ‘memory-enhancing’ essential oils such as Rosemary and Basil and my recall of information in exams was brilliant. What a delicious way to enhance your birth experience!

Enjoy! x Peta

Goethe is reported to have peeked into the poet Schiller’s desk drawer only to find it filled with rotten apples.  Daring to inquire, Goethe learned that whenever Schiller was blocked, he simply opened the drawer, smelled its contents, and the flow of words returned.

-Naomi Epel, The Observation Deck


Peta-ElmerAbout the author…

Peta Elmer is a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and Birth Educator with a passion for promoting trust and respect for the wisdom of women’s bodies.  She helps women learn to work with their body’s natural rhythms for maximum health, vitality, fertility, creativity and feminine power. She has a deep calling to birth work and her special mission is the message birth is meant to be a pleasurable and ecstatic experience. She believes a holistic Mind Body Spirit approach is key to preparing for the unfamiliar opening sensations of birth.