Don't age: become an Alpha Goddess
Women can transcend chronological age and its effects on the body by seeking out unbridled joy and self-nurturing experiences, according to bestselling author Dr Christiane Northrup.
Dr Christiane Northrup doesn't share her age. It's not that she's coy or determined to look younger. On the contrary, it's because she's outspoken about the societal limitations we put on those who are older.
"One of my rules, as it were, is don't state your age," she explains. "When you step out of that paradigm, you see the truth, which is that your soul is ageless."
The bestselling author believes that we put ourselves into the "age cage" when we dwell on the date on our passports. Google says she's 65 - if that's the case, her approach is most definitely working.
Christiane is a board-certified obstetrician-gynaecologist. She says she spent the first half of her career "studying everything that can go wrong with a woman's body and figuring out how to fix it". These days she wants to teach women everything that can go right.
She's the author of countless books, including two New York Times bestsellers: Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause. In 2013, she was named one of Reader's Digest's '100 Most Trusted People in America'.
Her latest offering, Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Wellbeing, combines science with spirituality and cutting-edge research with ancient wisdom. It's a compelling manifesto - one of those books that you'd buy for a friend.
Christiane says we're in the era of the 'Alpha Goddess' - "the perimenopausal or postmenopausal woman who has come into her own". Alpha Goddesses transcend chronological age; they celebrate the joys of getting older rather than desperately try to look younger.
Alpha Goddess poster women, according to Christiane, are Tina Turner, Diane Keaton, Dame Judi Dench, the late Maya Angelou and Georgia O'Keeffe, to name just a few.
"Generally, what's happening is that the creative flow becomes so much more pronounced in the second half of life," she says. "These women have tapped into their creativity."
It's a welcome counterbalance to Invisible Woman Syndrome, a phenomenon that some women report after the age of 50.
In Christiane's world, you become invisible the moment you consider invisibility as an inevitability.
"Chronological age and biological age are two very different things," she explains. "Unfortunately, we often forget this in the onslaught of ageist cultural messages. But what if you had no notion of what you're supposed to look like on any milestone birthday?
"In medical school, we learnt the developmental landmarks for a child. They should be sitting up by six months. They should be speaking by... Because of these timelines and milestones that our culture puts in front of us, women at 29 maybe begin to panic if they haven't found the right man. Our entire culture lives with the time Sword of Damocles dangling over our heads - the message that we're running out of time."
She cites the work of Dr Mario E Martinez, the founder of the Biocognitive Science Institute, who says the cultural milestones or "biocultural portals" we embrace - such as turning 30, 40 or 50 - influence our state of health.
"Dr Martinez says you should never take the senior discount," she adds. "And pay attention to the words you use when you speak about growing older and the meaning you give those words. We say things like 'she should dress appropriately' and 'at my age…'"
Christiane also refuses to use the term "senior moment", preferring to think of them as "goddess moments".
"Recently, I was watching Love Actually on a plane and, for a minute, I couldn't remember Colin Firth's name! But I knew that I was just spending more time in the right hemisphere (creative side) of my brain.
"Don't think of yourself as an age," she continues. "The heart itself is governed by timing, so when you are anxious about the passage of time, it begins to produce inflammatory chemicals into your bloodstream and these have an adverse effect on your body.
"We forget that the beliefs of the culture are far more potent than our genes. Most people actually believe that it is natural to deteriorate as we get older."
Others anticipate specific deterioration at certain milestones. She recalls a recent car journey with an old friend.
"We were on the way home from the movies and she said to me 'how is your night driving?' I said 'fine'. It had never even occurred to me that it wouldn't be fine!
"Many women, after their husband dies, don't drive at night. Before I got divorced, my husband had done most of the driving into cities and all the rest. And there was a part of me that would have - would have - toned right down so that I would be living mostly in my house.
"So I forced myself to go into the nearest city at night and learn tango because I noticed the tendency to become afraid."
Dance is a major part of her ageless philosophy these days. She says it reconnects the pelvic bowl (uterus, ovaries, bladder, urethra, female erotic anatomy, pelvic floor muscles and large bowel), which is the place in the body where "all creative energy arises".
"Just dance," she says. "Dance as you're running around the house. Women are so naturally drawn to this kind of movement but we're talked out of it at a very young age. Society shuts it down to protect the girl from what society does with erotic energy."
Women need to become pleasure-seekers, she adds. She recommends that they partake in experiences that bring them unbridled joy, just as they should make time for self-nurturing experiences that help them unwind.
Food is another one of her passions. However, it took her many years to break free from the guilt cycle, and treat food as a source of nourishment rather than chastisement.
"Trust your body to do what it needs to do with the food you eat," she writes. "And take pleasure in preparing and eating good food fit for a Goddess.
"A Goddess has to let go of the ingrained belief that her body is unclean, ugly or flawed," she continues. "It's through the body that we discover our divine nature. We should marvel at how beautifully designed our bodies and their systems are, and to enjoy the gift of having an inner healer - the ability to boost our immunity, cleanse toxins and repair our cells."
The author doesn't like the word exercise. Instead, she advises women to discover the physical activities that they find truly satisfying.
"Too many women spend decades feeling guilty that they aren't 'exercising' and unaware that there are forms of movement that feel natural to them."
By the same token, she's aware of the need for weight-bearing physical activity after the menopause. She quotes the work of Dr John Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.
"It's a case of as above, so below. John Ratey wrote that as you lose muscle mass, the parts of the brain associated with that muscle mass also begin to deteriorate. And the more fit you are throughout your body, the more it shows on your face," she continues.
Her other beauty recommendations include the three-day nutritional facelift by Dr Nicholas Perricone of The Wrinkle Cure ("eat nothing but wild-caught salmon, watercress, blueberries and cantaloupe for three days") and IPL ('intense pulsed light', which works on sun damage and spider veins). She books in for a treatment every six months.
She also has her own beauty line, A-ma-ta, which is designed specifically for menopausal women. However, she adds that "there is no substitute for moving the body." Likewise, all the lotions and potions in the world can't compare to a woman who radiates joy.
Sex and sensuality is another essential part of her beauty routine.
"In the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, we have the figure that 50pc of women between the ages of 50-74 have FSD [female sexual dysfunction]. I believe that is a complete and utter myth!
"What they have is the wrong kind of sex: they don't know their bodies. After about four decades of that kind of shame, this particular function doesn't happen."
She quotes a landmark sex study by researcher Gina Ogden. "She found women in their 60s and 70s were having the best sex of their lives, and having the most transcendent experiences, because they finally brought spirituality and sexuality together.
"But notice in the media how we make so much fun of that. Look at the character that Shelley Long played in Modern Family. She talked about her sex life all the time and made love with the limo driver. In the mainstream media, we always make a sexual woman over 50 some kind of pariah.
"The culture doesn't act through some government agent coming through your door. It acts through your own children. And that's why when this happens, you need to understand what it is and do it anyway without guilt or shame. And then your children will be so relieved that they don't have to shut down their life force at the age of 50. And they will be grateful for it."
Well-meaning family members can often quell an older woman's flame, she says. "They say 'Mom, you can't go there alone' or 'You're too old to drive'.
"My mother climbed to Mount Everest base camp at the age of 84 and people said to us - her children - 'aren't you worried that she'll get high altitude pulmonary edema?'. And we all said, 'If she dies, she dies'. It's something she has wanted to do her whole life. What's your end-point? It all comes down to the fear of death - so we don't live."
According to Christiane, it is this very fear that makes older women become overly involved in the lives of their children. "We tend to collapse our lives into those of our children's. The awful part is that the child is expected to live for you.
"My daughter is expecting my first grandchild next month. I don't even have a place for that in my thought process. People say to me 'you must be so excited!', and I am excited, but it's not a real change of life for me. I know from everything I've heard that it opens your heart beyond anything you can imagine.
"On the other hand, I have this fantastic sense that my life is just beginning. I've paid my karma with those books. I've taught women things they need to learn. Now it's my turn to have a life and have fun. I can tell you for sure that I will love caring for the baby, but becoming the default babysitter? That's never going to happen."
Christiane isn't winding down. In many ways, she's only getting warmed up. "We need to celebrate women's wisdom," she says. "If we told older women that they will become more intuitive and connected to source energy in a way that they never knew before, they would be astounded at how rich their inner and outer life becomes."
* Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Wellbeing (Hay House) is in bookshops now.
Health & Living