Cyclical Living: Women and an embodied definition of Power
Alisa Vitti, Integrative Nutritionist
Founder of FLOLiving.com and author of WomanCode
Women—and their bodies—are at a point of inflection. We have made huge progress in attaining autonomy over our reproductive health, but that very health is under siege from a hormonal standpoint.
More than 30 million women in the United States suffer from reproductive health issues, ranging from premenstrual syndrome and adrenal burnout to polycystic ovary syndrome and infertility. The BioCycle study (NIH 2009) showed that untreated, hormonal imbalances increase dramatically a woman's vulnerability to diseases of inflammation - heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and premature aging, not to mention a perpetual state of body suffering before these diseases even show up.
In my practice at FLO Living, for the past 10 years, I have seen women struggling with not only the quality of their hormonal balance, but also the quality of their lives – the two are inextricably linked. Their periods, fertility, moods, energy levels, and sex drives are out of whack. They are in pain, fatigued, and often feel powerless in their own bodies. They want their bodies to let them live the lives they know they are meant to lead. They want the vitality that they know is inside them somewhere. Hormones affect everything and it's time for women to have a user-friendly and natural solution to this issue. As an integrative nutritionist, my research shows that food, by treating the underlying causes of our conditions, rather than masking their symptoms, is the most powerful drug at our disposal.
In addition, most women expect their bodies to feel and perform the same day in and day out. They don't and shouldn't. But once the women in my practice understand their bodies, hormones, and cycles—and achieve balance through functional nutrition—they can actually plan for creativity, collaboration, and communication. They use their time and abilities to the fullest to achieve more than they had ever thought possible. They achieve more in all of their spheres of influence, be it their work, family, or community.
In my book, WomanCode: Perfect your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source, I explain how women can find that vitality. What I have found in working with thousands of women in 6 continents is that it's not all about the food and manipulating hormone levels, though that is a huge part. It's also about connecting with a practical concept of feminine energy. From my world view (that would be that of the ovary) feminine energy is hugely influence by our cyclical biochemistry. In fact, we could say that feminine energy is the energy of continuous change, making women natural change agents. As women, these constantly shifting ratios of hormones and neurochemicals influence everything we think and do. From puberty to menopause, and every 28-day cycle in between, we change. But when our hormones are unbalanced, our ability to tap in to this powerful internal force and our ability to step in to leadership in our lives as change agents becomes compromised. I want to see a world where women are hormonally balanced so that they can use their bodies as tools to master their lives and influence the world around us.
Learning about the inner workings of and the proper care and feeding of our hormones is the fastest way I have seen personally and professionally to help women tap in to their embodied power. They observe, often for the first time, that everything from their hormonal cycles to their ability to move from symptomatic to healthy is rooted in their biochemical nature to change. By connecting to this energy, they become empowered to take that nature of change into all of their spheres of influence. To embrace this nature of change, we must first get reacquainted with these bodies of ours—not how much they weigh or what they looks like naked—but how they work and how we work with them to gain leverage in our own lives.
In today's culture, power is defined as the ability to incite change. Likewise, the definition of feminine energy is change. Because we are able to change, so are we able to be agents of change. In my experience in bearing witness to so many women's health transformations, I have seen that women's power comes through their bodies. And all of the changes that they create in their world are actually an outpouring of that power, that feminine energy.
In her book Lean In, Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to stop downplaying their own accomplishments and become more assertive, ambitious, and confident in the workplace. I believe that leaning in to our bodies—to stop downplaying the chemical and biological markers that make us click—can help us accomplish that goal. Working against the tide of our hormones just keeps us in the same place. But by moving in partnership with our bodies, we can move forward with more grace and less strain on our health.
Chapter 9 of my book (excerpt below) is called "Commit to the Feminine Force Within". I outline what it looks like to live in partnership with our dynamic cyclical biochemistry and our feminine energy. I want women to be in a position to use their bodies as a tool to create maximum success and to end the belief that we are victims to our mutable nature. For centuries, men have used their bodies to master their environment and change the course of history. As women, I believe - and the science shows – that our bodies are more inherently capable of influencing the world around us. We just need to access the code and harness this energy.
To buy WomanCode and for more information about hormones, your health, and your power: http://floliving.com/womancode.html.
WomanCode – Chapter 9
Commit to the Feminine Force Within
I came to embrace Dr. Christiane Northrup's message from Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, that the collective unconscious beliefs we carry within us about being women can, over time, influence our bodies. And if you've ever experienced a state of hormonal breakdown like the one I had, these beliefs may have taken even deeper root within you because of a sense of betrayal by your female body. When I finally connected these dots, I asked myself, Do I really want to continue thinking this way? Do I want to see my body as a liability? I came to see that in order for me to stick with the first four steps of the protocol and truly live in partnership with my body for the rest of my life, I had to make peace with the fact that my body is female on a very fundamental level. It wasn't enough for me to try to convince myself of this. I had to see what it was about the feminine dimension that I could embrace, embody, and celebrate.
I launched into what became two years' worth of investigating the distinction between masculine and feminine energetics. I researched all that gender psychology had to teach me on the subject and learned about Tantra—an Eastern philosophy that believes the universe is created by and made up of masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Shakti) energies that infuse all things. I then took this information and put together an understanding of masculine and feminine energy that was more practical for me and that I could share with others. The first thing I realized was that being a man or a woman doesn't give a person more or less access to masculine or feminine energy. Both energies exist within each of us in varying amounts. Learning how to engage both fully is what ends up making a person psychologically, emotionally, and physically well. Just as you wouldn't operate a remote control with only one battery, you need both of these energies as your power sources. They're necessary tools for shaping your life. Here's what masculine and feminine energy look like in action.
• Tenaciously pursuing what you want
• Deciding when/where/how a project grows
• Focusing on the end result, less on process
• Focusing on one thing at a time
• Relying on only yourself and your individual achievements
• Setting boundaries around emotions and body in order to accomplish goals
• Relating through camaraderie, entertainment, and problem solving
• Magnetically attracting what you want
• Holding the space for projects to develop at their natural pace
• Enjoying the process of creation independent of the end result
• Seeing the big picture; multitasking on many aspects of life
• Working with others; effortlessly creating community
• Connecting to emotional and physical life as a catalyst for change and development
• Relating to others by listening, sharing, and nurturing
Many of us get out of balance by focusing on or valuing one type of energy over the other. In most instances, I've found that women—especially those who've experienced hormonal breakdown—overly rely on our masculine energy and underutilize our feminine energy. Here's what I notice in women who've lost touch with their feminine energy.
Signs of Excess Masculine Energy in Women
• Feeling significant disconnection from your emotions and sensations
• Locating a sense of self-worth outside of yourself—based on material success in the world and the opinions of others
• Finding it difficult to give and receive nurturing and intimacy, including pleasure during sex
• Having fewer verbal skills for building deep relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners
• Being unable to fully get projects up and running the way you envision them
• Feeling isolated and unsupported
Once I observed that I had an energetic imbalance in my life, I examined every aspect of my day to see which energy source I was operating from at that moment. It came as no surprise that I was in my masculine mode all day long: at work, in my friendships, in my relationships with my family, in my self-care routine, and in the romantic relationship I was in at the time. When I saw the value of engaging my feminine energy and creating opportunities in my life to do so, I began working on the balance I exerted in all areas of my life. I actually ended the romantic relationship because my partner was unwilling to work with me to improve our dynamic—that is, our respective exchange of masculine and feminine energy. Yes, I ended a relationship because of masculine/feminine imbalance— that's how important it is! Our dynamic was never going to shift and so I had to get out for my own health and well-being, because the existing dynamic was taking a toll on my ability to thrive in every area of my life.
In fact, my team and I operate our business leveraging the intrinsic multitasking afforded us by following a pattern of cyclicality and the harmony created with embodied feminine energy. We do this
on two levels. On the company-wide level, we all agree on a monthly work plan that has us starting out in the first week of the month with initiating new projects (follicular phase inspired). The second week of the month we make sure to build ample collaboration, brainstorming time (ovulatory phase inspired) in to give each project the best chance possible to get completed by the end of the month. During the third week of the month, we check in on relevant reporting, systems, customer service, and operations (luteal phase inspired) to make sure everything is going well or to bring our focused energy to things that need our attention. And in the fourth week, we have a monthly wrap-up and monthly plan-ahead meeting (menstrual phase inspired) to evaluate our progress against our planning and to affirm the best next steps.
The second way we engage this practice is on an individual level. We each engage the WomanCode protocol and are committed to living in our respective FLO, so we manage our individual menstrual cycles and energy shifts as we construct and manage our individual project execution against the company's collective plan. This practice may sound dramatic or contrived; however, in my experience of running a business for a decade, it not only helps me and the FLO Living team to stay on top of things that need our attention, to execute, and to engage our creativity without too much overwhelm. It also supports our collective desire to leverage our bodies for success. This is not to say that we don't use our masculine energy, because we most definitely do—everyone and every company must find its own best balance. I would say, for example, that Zappo's provides a most notable example of feminine-based business in action. With their extremely intimate and nurturing customer service and their collaborative and pleasure-oriented corporate culture, they are very directed in engaging as much feminine energy as possible, and what wonderful success they have created as a result.
We don't want to work from the neck up, as we believe that would be like trying to turn a TV on with a remote that has only one battery. If you had two great sources of power—your mind and your body— it seems more ridiculous to try to leave your body behind as you go through your day at work. An exclusively masculine approach would be exclusively focused on outcomes and not on the experience of customers. Employees would be multitasking at high levels, which, especially for a small business, doesn't leave much room for creativity and collaboration. Embracing this feminine energy model while growing FLO Living has shown me just how powerful and expansive feminine energy can be.
To buy WomanCode and for more information about hormones, your health, and your power: http://floliving.com/womancode.html.
Alisa Vitti, HHC
Alisa is the best-selling author of WomanCode and the founder of FLOLiving.com, a virtual health center that supports women's hormonal and reproductive health. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, she is the creator of the WomanCode System, a one-of-a-kind online learning and support program for women in the 20s, 30s, and 40s based on her revolutionary functional nutritional protocol. Alisa is a popular media guest and has been featured on The Dr. Oz Show, CBS, Fox, Fitness.com, Huffington Post, and many more.