Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle, and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Brunswick, Maine. Show summaries are available at lovemaineradio.com. Here are some highlights from this week’s program.
Julie Wright: Today, more and more people are seeking that out. The acupuncture, they’re seeking out naturopathic care certainly, and then even as I said, the polarity work or energy work, people are a lot more attuned to, which I think is wonderful because there’s this whole other spectrum of how to take care of yourself versus heading straight to your primary care.
Carrie Levine: I’ll never forget walking into his office and making my plea, “You have to have the residence labor sit an entire labor. They don’t understand what’s going on when they walk in for just five minutes. You have to have them sit through at least one entire labor so they get the whole picture.” He listened well.
Lisa Belisle: This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, Show #278, Body Balance, airing for the first time on Sunday, January 15, 2017. Do you need to bring your body into balance? We ask a lot of our physical selves through our work and play. Today we speak with two healing practitioners who help their clients find balance through modalities such as massage, energy work, and dietary change. Julie Wright is the owner and director of Soma Massage & Wellness in South Portland, and Carrie Levine is a certified nurse midwife, functional medicine specialist, and founder of Whole Woman Health in Newcastle. Thank you for joining us.
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Lisa Belisle: Today in the studio with me I have Julie Wright, who is the owner and director of Soma Massage and Wellness in South Portland. She has been practicing massage since 2003. She specializes in therapeutic and nurturing massage, stress reduction, grief recovery, healing, and balancing work and lives with her partner and daughter in Bar Mills. Thanks for coming in today.
Julie Wright: Thank you for having me.
Lisa Belisle: You have such an interesting background. I don’t hear all the time that people who choose to go into massage, and you also have reiki training. Is that….
Julie Wright: Yes, I do.
Lisa Belisle: You have reiki training, but you have also worked for the Youth Resiliency Project…
Julie Wright: Yes.
Lisa Belisle: Which is a branch of the People’s Regional Opportunity Program, and you also did work with Outward Bound and you just… such a broad range of things.
Julie Wright: Yeah. You know, I had the wonderful opportunity to stumble upon Outward Bound when I was a high school student in South Portland. I went for a 12 day sailing course and just fell in love with it. It really spoke to me, being out on the water. The team building exercises, all of it, was really just a pretty wonderful experience, and so I found out how to become a volunteer and go back. That summer, I returned as a volunteer and then from there, went through their staff training and became a member of, you know, one of the instructors teaching in Maine and down in Baltimore as well. I did that through college and really loved the work, the dynamics of being outdoors, working with people, helping them really get connected to who they are and see their own resiliency, to see their own gifts; it really spoke to me. Yeah, that’s how it kind of started and continued and still remains a strong passion of mine even though I’m not teaching anymore.
Lisa Belisle: It’s interesting that the work that you do now is also about connecting people to themselves in a slightly different way, but it’s still helping people bridge whatever gaps they need to.
Julie Wright: Exactly. I think that’s one of the things that I love and feel so honored about being a massage therapist and a body worker is the opportunity to work with people, and there’s certainly the clients that come in for pain management or discomfort and that’s very sort of physical and concrete, and then there’s a whole spectrum who are really looking just to find more comfort within themselves. Those particular clients just, I enjoy so much supporting them and helping them feel that comfort and balance, and it does weave through, the work of educating and then being a body worker, I see as an extension of that. We are helping people to become more aware of themselves and empowering them, and it’s a wonderful blessing to be doing that. I feel blessed each day that this what I get to call work.
Lisa Belisle: What was the turning point for you that caused you to decide, “Okay, I think I’d like to do massage now”?
Julie Wright: Yeah. So to back up when I was at USM, there was a non-credit class that came up and it was Introductory to Massage Therapy. I was pretty excited about that. It just spoke to me for some reason. I hadn’t even at that point had a professional massage. It was just… I knew there was an interest. I signed up for the class. It was, you know, just like a six-week, once a week class, and I went through the program and just loved it. It lit up something in me that I was like, “Wow, this is pretty great.” I was already at USM in the social behavioral sciences, so working with people was something I knew I wanted to do. This just sort of opened a different door that I hadn’t considered, and after the class, I went to the instructor and actually had my first massage with her, and as I said, I fell in love with it, I loved it, and then from there, it was just a pursuit to sort of figure out how I would get to school while I was already in school and make that all work.
About ten years after having taken that class at USM, I was working for PROP in Portland in the youth resiliency program, and there were a few budget cuts that needed to happen and one was reconstructing what my position was. When I saw that, I could kind of see the writing on the wall and where things were going and I said, “You know, this is really the time for me to go follow something that actually continued to speak to me for those ten years.” I found myself back in school. I decided upon Spa Tech, that is in Portland. I went through their holistic massage program and never turned back. I finally felt like I was on the right path, and from there I worked for a chiropractor for a while and learned a lot from working at his office, and I always knew, I think, going back to my time with Outward Bound and in experiential education settings, working with other instructors and creating community and holding space for people just was something that felt natural to me and that I wanted to continue. Building Soma I think has roots in that, and that’s what I set out to do about a year or two after completing my massage certification.
Lisa Belisle: I went to Soma, as you know, a few weeks ago for a massage, and I was really struck by how… it’s in South Portland, but it’s in this interesting neighborhood that has continued to evolve since the new bridge went in. It’s a neighborhood that I think people have a lot of affection for.
Julie Wright: Absolutely. We’ve been there, this will be starting our twelfth year in 2017, and we’ve seen businesses come and go, but at the same time there’s been traction and it’s been growing and growing. There’s a great love and affinity for that little downtown area. If you go around the corner a little bit to the Willard Beach where Scratch Bakery is and the other, 158, I think people have been looking for more small boutique style stores or cafes to go to. Portland has a wonderful selection of things, but for the folks living in South Portland, it’s nice to, I think… everyone was sort of rooting for and excited to see that growth start to happen. So yeah, there is a lovely, vibrant, really artistic community that’s growing over there.
Lisa Belisle: It has a very welcoming sense to it. That neighborhood but also Soma in particular. I think when you first walk in the door, I was struck by the diversity of the clientele that was there, but everybody was welcome. The front office was more than happy to have whatever conversation was needed. I think somebody was there who never had a massage before or I’ve had a few massages, and it was just that wanting to connect from the beginning when somebody walks through the door. It seems as though you have a variety of different practitioners who work there.
Julie Wright: We do, we do. Right now, there’s about 20 massage therapists on staff, you know, with varying degrees of experience and passion. We have folks that have recently graduated from school, and so we’re sort of their first spa to practice, and then we have seasoned practitioners who’ve been practicing for 13, 14, 15 years. I think that spectrum really lends itself to that sense of welcoming. Everyone’s excited about what they’re doing, whether it’s new and fresh or something that they’ve been doing for a while and the opportunity to work with a network within the team that we’ve created, I think, is quite special as well.
Beyond the massage aspect, we also work with Heather Kingsley who is an acupuncturist, and she’s been with us since the day we opened, and Sangita Pedro is a naturopathic doctor that has been with us for a couple years, and then we’ve recently started working with a gentleman named Sada who is an ayurvedic health counselor. Beyond massage, we have this other spectrum of health care offered as well which I think is exciting.
Lisa Belisle: I completely agree, and I’ve seen that the interest in this type of healing work has really just grown by leaps and bounds.
Julie Wright: Absolutely. I’d say in the years that I’ve been practicing, in the beginning, I had to explain a little bit more about what I was doing and in particular when you start to add in pieces like reiki or other energy work. Today, more and more people are seeking that out, the acupuncture, they’re seeking out naturopathic care certainly, and then even as I said, the polarity work or energy work, people are a lot more attuned to, which I think is wonderful, because there’s this whole other spectrum of how to take care of yourself versus heading straight to your primary care.
Lisa Belisle: Tell us about reiki. For someone who’s listening who’s never really experienced this before, what is reiki? What does it do, and what can it be good for?
Julie Wright: I can probably lump that into polarity work as well because that’s a little bit more of my stronger training, but certainly it’s all about energy, energy that we have within or that we find in nature and around us and, I guess, harnessing that and using it to help center ourselves mentally and spiritually. The work itself is very gentle, and more often than not a client is, which does make it a nice option for people who might be new to bodywork, that you don’t need to undress. You just come in, lie on the table. Obviously you’re doing an intake form and discussing with your practitioner about what’s going on, but generally speaking, it’s light hand holds and pressure points and really wonderful for stress reduction and relaxation. Some people infuse other things, use of crystals or chanting or sound therapy. Again, those services are offered at Soma as well. It’s a lovely experience certainly if you’ve not had it before and you’re looking for something more gentle and relaxing.
Lisa Belisle: Is there a difference between polarity work and reiki?
Julie Wright: The difference probably boils down to intention and the tools that you use. Polarity was created many years ago by a chiropractor and naturopath and sort of looking, infusing Chinese meridian points as well. Reiki traditionally came from Japan as a healing practice. The difference was, the intention or the result is very much the same, but how you go about getting there and the tools that you use are different.
Lisa Belisle: It’s an interesting description because I’ve been doing acupuncture now for about 11 years, and in my training as a doctor who does acupuncture rather than someone who has a Masters in acupuncture and what they call oriental medicine. You can do Japanese acupuncture, you can do scalp acupuncture, you could do Chinese acupuncture, but you’re right, it’s different sorts of roads that bring you to the same place, and it’s all about energy. It’s just that some people seem to resonate more with a specific technique than others.
Julie Wright: Exactly. Exactly. I think that’s true in all work, which is nice that there is a spectrum to choose from because not one single thing speaks to everybody. It’s nice to have that variety, certainly.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah, I think that’s an important point too because a lot of people just think, “Okay, massage. Massage is where somebody puts their hands on your shoulders and helps you relax,” but that’s not really…. That’s a very simple way of looking at it. I’ve had sports massage and deep tissue massage and relaxation massage and hot stone massage, and the massages that I’ve had are as different as the people who are giving them.
Julie Wright: Absolutely. Absolutely. To weave Soma in there a little bit with that, you know, that was one of the things that I was really excited about. When we created Soma and the intention behind it was to create options for people, and we looked at the menu and what we could provide because, certainly at that point in time, as I said earlier, massage therapy was massage therapy and it was still… I had to still explain what that was. In that, as you said, there are many different styles. There’s sports and there’s muscular, deep tissue. What I wanted to do with Soma was again, with the idea of kind of building that community and really sense of trust within our center was to create a menu that our clients could decide for themselves what style they wanted versus coming in and getting maybe everything all mixed into one, but creating the options that they could choose, a really relaxing session, because all they wanted was just to reduce their stress and feel cozy and comforted. Or we have a lot of athletes that come in that need more deep tissue focus work. We try to break that out so we could create, again, those options for our clients and honestly, I feel like doing that lended itself to help create that sense of community that is felt at Soma.
Lisa Belisle: The massage that I had at Soma was a Maine-themed massage. It started with a footbath that included… I think there was some balsam there.
Julie Wright: There was, yeah. Some beech rose and seaweed.
Lisa Belisle: I believe you have something to do with this.
Julie Wright: Yeah. Just a life passion, interest, hobby, has been making essential oil blends and lip balms and oils and bath products. Over the progression of Soma becoming what it is, I realized, “Wow, there is something here. I can maybe make some things and use them in these sessions,” and started doing that and got a really lovely response from our clients. Yes, now when I’m home on our farm, I’m spending more time creating those blends and growing what I can and using what’s coming from our farm as much as possible in those and then sharing them with our guests at Soma and, in particular around the holidays selling some of those things too. Yeah, so it’s fun.
Lisa Belisle: Well, it was really interesting because it did kind of bring in the connection to the outdoors. It was very Maine. This idea that we have things around us that we can use to stay healthy. We just have to connect back to the place that we live in.
Julie Wright: That’s right. Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: How does a person that grew up in South Portland end up with an interest in being on a farm and growing things and making stuff and where…. How did that happen?
Julie Wright: Yeah. I think it does lend itself to my years working for Outward Bound out on Hurricane Island. I learned a lot about being self-sufficient and homesteading, and that certainly sparked an interest. I have to give credit to my partner who’s very much the motivator behind leaving South Portland even though we love…. I was born and raised in this area and I love South Portland, but moving, 20 minutes, a half hour out of town gave us this space and land to do a little more of growing for ourselves and dabbling in farming. We have American guinea hogs, which are on the endangered list, and they’re a wonderful animal, and we have goats and chickens and lots of gardens. It was a passion of mine, too, or an interest I should say, but it was really my partner’s passion that said, “Let’s go and do this,” and that’s what, we’re sort of in the midst of it right now, just seeing where it’s going to go. Not sure yet, but it’s exciting.
Lisa Belisle: I love the scents that you’ve created. Those are the ones that I have smelled. You were kind enough to provide me with…. I think one was a room spray and a travel spray. There was really something, it wasn’t too sweet. It’s gentle and it’s a little spicy. I really could get a little bit of a sense of who you were by the scent that you gave to me.
Julie Wright: That’s great. Thank you.
Lisa Belisle: Also, you gave me this lovely mug that says Soma on it, and I must tell you that my 20, almost 21 year old, loves that mug.
Julie Wright: That’s great.
Lisa Belisle: You have some sort of interesting artistic temperament, I believe, that’s going on here as well.
Julie Wright: Yeah. Thank you, first off. I’m glad that you enjoyed those things. Shannon Wong is one of our massage therapists, and she’s a potter. She created the mug and other mugs that we sell at Soma as well. I think being in bodywork, working with our hands is really about expressing something inside of us and so I think there are a lot of…. Certainly at Soma, there’s some artists and I think in this field, people who want to express themselves with their hands, I think it’s a natural extension to be interested in doing other things as well that do that. In particular, in the field of art, whether it’s painting or potter… for me, blending essential oils and natural products.
Lisa Belisle: How does this all balance for you with raising your 9-year-old daughter?
Julie Wright: Some days it doesn’t, quite honestly. I’m the one that needs to remind myself I need to go get a massage. I think there’s… I don’t know, a sense of joy and excitement in the chaos of life. Certainly there’s some days that we’re running around and it feels a little nutty, but it all comes back to center because we’re creating the life we want, and that feels really special and like a gift, really. Subsequently, I can’t complain about the nuttiness too much.
Lisa Belisle: You raise an important point and that is that not everyone feels as if they are creating the lives that they want. Many people feel as if they somehow made decisions and then they ended up somewhere, and now they’re just kind of slogging through.
Julie Wright: Absolutely. I hear that, and I see that with people who are coming in to get work. Again, doing this kind of work, I love supporting people to kind of help them find that passion and to step out. Whether you are working within your passion and that helps to feed your life financially, or if you have a job that you do, you still have a role to play, and there’s something wonderful in finding your joy, getting out there. Maine is a wonderful place to live and certainly raise a family. Getting outdoors is a way to connect to yourself and find that spark. Certainly getting bodywork helps that. I feel blessed that my work aligns with what I get to do every day and I love it, but certainly if it wasn’t the case, there’s lots to do to find that balance and that passion and help you feel more connected in your life and what you’re doing each day.
Lisa Belisle: Now that we’re in a new year, I’m sure that people are going to be interested in pursuing wellness paths, and massage is probably one of them. If you have clients who are coming to you that are trying to connect, what types of things besides the bodywork that we talked about or polarity, energy work, what types of conversations do you have with your clients that might help them with that, finding their passion?
Julie Wright: You know, I think journaling is a wonderful way to see through the clutter. Certainly finding a meditation class or taking a yoga class, walks in nature, and then coming back with a pen and piece of paper and kind of writing out your thoughts, I think we can find themes if we do it long enough, and that’s certainly something that I do talk with people about. There’s wonderful books out there. I’m a big fan of Louise Hay. I’m not sure if you’ve read any of her things or not, but I really enjoy her work, in particular the book You Can Heal Your Life, because of the insight that she shares about her own life and then how she sort of turned things around. She had cancer and was able to….
For her, it worked to make some changes in her life that helped her. She feeds into that book, in the very back there’s affirmations about different ailments or different parts of your body that might be blocked or whatever, and I love that. I feel like it’s a great tool that I use for myself and share with my clients as well. I guess to answer that, I think finding something that speaks to you or speaks to the client or person and giving permission to get out and do that. As was said before, Maine is a beautiful place, lots of mountains and oceans and beautiful scenery to get out and push yourself a little bit and find the grit and see what’s there.
Lisa Belisle: What would you like to do in 2017? What is your intention?
Julie Wright: This year, my daughter’s getting older, and she’s 9 and feels like she’s going on 14. My intention, really, as a mother and a partner is to stay centered and grounded in being a mother and partner. The years of building a business, there’s a lot of stress that’s involved with that. A lot of energy and output that is output. While I feel blessed and as I said excited to be able to do this work and having created something, I also made some decisions that put a lot of more focus on out. Now this year, I really am looking forward to being super present with all the activities that my daughter’s in. She’s in drama and is a singer and loves karate, so I’m really excited about helping to support her and nurture the things that she loves, and also continue with the projects. Working on the farm, and we have these ideas of expanding Soma, but we’ll see where that goes. Right now, I’m pretty focused on being a mom.
Lisa Belisle: Well, I hope that people who are listening will find it within themselves to schedule a massage over at Soma or maybe an ayurvedic consult or some acupuncture because it really is a lovely spot that you’ve created. A very homey, relaxing, quiet…. It would be a gift to yourself to make that call or even actually schedule online which I found very convenient because you have a menu of things to choose from, and it’s nice to be able to go in and just know, “All right, this is what I’m going to be doing and have it all done.” I think it’s important in the new year to be able to spend that time on yourself. During the holidays, we get a little bit outside of ourselves.
Julie Wright: Absolutely.
Lisa Belisle: The new year is a time to focus back in. Julie, I appreciate all the work that you have done to bring Soma to life.
Julie Wright: Thank you.
Lisa Belisle: I guess you have essentially what a… almost 12 year old child in Soma.
Julie Wright: Yes, very feels like that.
Lisa Belisle: I encourage people to reach out to you and really learn how it is that you’ve kind of figured out this path for yourself because it seems like this idea of creating one’s life is something that you’ve worked on.
Julie Wright: Yeah. Absolutely. Thank you so much.
Lisa Belisle: We’ve been speaking with Julie Wright who is the owner and director of Soma Massage and Wellness in South Portland. She’s been practicing since 2003 and specializes in therapeutic and nurturing massage, stress reduction, grief recovery, healing, and balancing work. I appreciate your coming in.
Julie Wright: Thank you, Lisa.
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Lisa Belisle: In the studio with me today I have Carrie Levine who is the founder of Whole Woman Health, a holistic health care practice in New Castle that serves women in the midcoast. Carrie is also a certified nurse midwife, and you and I have known each other for quite a while so thanks for coming in today.
Carrie Levine: I think back to the days on Maine Med.
Lisa Belisle: Yes.
Carrie Levine: Walking around.
Lisa Belisle: Yes, waiting for those babies to be born.
Carrie Levine: Waiting for the babies to be born.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah, it’s strange to think because I believe it was probably 20 years ago, plus, at this point.
Carrie Levine: Yeah, for sure, because I’ve been practicing for 17. That actually sounds about right if I was in school for three years, and I was doing some nursing at Maine Med. That was my crash course in high risk obstetrics. Here’s everything you need to know about high risk obstetrics. Bam.
Lisa Belisle: Maine Med was really good for that.
Carrie Levine: It was awesome for that, and the nurses were fantastic.
Lisa Belisle: I absolutely agree. I think they still are. I haven’t had any babies in quite a while myself, but from what I understand from other people, I think that they do a great job over there.
Carrie Levine: Yeah. I haven’t been up there in a long time. It amazes me to hear Hector’s name, that he’s still up there and around.
Lisa Belisle: Yes. Dr. Hector Tarazza, we actually had him as a Maine Live speaker, I think, this past September.
Carrie Levine: That’s awesome.
Lisa Belisle: He’s still out in the world, still doing good stuff.
Carrie Levine: That’s what I hear. I’ll never forget walking into his office and making my plea, “You have to have the residence labor sit an entire labor. They don’t understand what’s going on when they walk in for just five minutes. You have to have them sit through at least one entire labor so they get the whole picture.” He listened well.
Lisa Belisle: Did that change?
Carrie Levine: I don’t know. I don’t know if it did. I didn’t stay too long after that once I started school. I don’t know where that is.
Lisa Belisle: Why did you first become interested in midwifery?
Carrie Levine: I knew I wanted to work in women’s health. I knew that for a super long time. When I started as an undergrad at Orono, I was a peer counselor at the women’s center there. The woman who ran that program at the time in ’88 is Ruth Lockhart. Do you know Ruth?
Lisa Belisle: Yes I do.
Carrie Levine: Yeah. She started Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center. I loved doing the peer counselor work. I loved the learning, that was all super fantastic. I ended up transferring schools a couple of times, but when I finished my undergrad, I went back to Ruth, and I said, “You know, I’m thinking about health care. I’m not sure if I want to be a yoga teacher or a naturopath or a physician,” or what I want to do, and she very practically in her Ruth way said, “Well, how long do you want to go to school for and how much debt do you want to have?” We talked that through, and I always felt like I wanted to be a part of the health care system as opposed to existing outside of it as a yoga teacher or a naturopath. I felt like the most change could happen from within the system. We sort of landed on women’s health nurse practitioner, and when I went back to school after I did my undergrad and had to take science classes that I had avoided through my entire undergraduate and then was applying to programs, I ended up at Case Western Reserve with a group of women who were all going to be midwives.
I had done a lot of work in outdoor education, actually, with Outward Bound and leading women’s outdoor experiences, rock-climbing and mountaineering and stuff, and got talked into doing a doula training course, so to be a trained labor assistant and went into the birthing room, and it was a total transference of skills for me. It was just women doing physically challenging things, and I was like, “Oh, well, I know how to do this. I can do this. This is easy, and this is really fun.” I decided to be a midwife.
I think the other piece of it that was super appealing was that it’s multidisciplinary in its roots. It draws from midwifery, it draws from nursing, it draws from medicine, public health, social work, and all of those disciplines, and that sort of knowledge base is so rich and I feel like creates such rich practitioners who can relate to a variety of people in a variety of different scenarios.
Lisa Belisle: As I was listening to you talk, I was thinking about your decision tree as far as yoga, naturopathic medicine, midwifery. Back 17 years ago, that kind of tree didn’t exist. When I was in training, because this is when you and I knew each other, I was a family practice resident, there weren’t, like, all the people doing yoga teacher training.
Carrie Levine: No. It was totally new.
Lisa Belisle: Naturopathic medicine is only in our state a couple decades, maybe fifteen years old. How was it that you were able to kind of sit outside of the mainstream and yet know that you wanted to be in the mainstream?
Carrie Levine: Yeah, that’s such a funny question. You’re very good at the questions you ask. I sort of like to tell the story that I’ve been weird since a really, really, really young age. I can remember being 11 years old and having horrible insomnia and reading The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson. I took a class in high school at Brookline High outside of Boston for gym credit because I hated gym called Body Mind Science, and the teacher, Marilyn Howell, introduced us to all of these alternative modalities. She brought in Feldenkrais healers and she brought in crystal healers and she brought in actors and actresses and dancers and yoga and all of this stuff, and she had these mandatory Sunday evening sessions at her house where she would teach yoga and meditation, and I loved it. I totally, totally loved it and just sort of grabbed on to particularly yoga from when I was a teenager. I had that exposure, and I guess I just knew enough that… It just always felt to me like it would be super easy to exist outside the system and do my thing, but that that wouldn’t change mainstream thoughts about health and healing, and that was what I felt like really and continue to feel like really needs to happen.
Lisa Belisle: From a timing standpoint, you’re a little off shift, because although we’ve had good women’s health practitioners for a long, long time, I think about kind of this peak in the 70’s with our bodies and our selves, and now it’s kind of coming back again. Now women’s health has really had this resurgence, but you were kind of in between those two generations. You still felt strongly enough that you kind of just moved forward on this path.
Carrie Levine: I guess I did. I think when I was at U Maine Orono I was an undergrad working with Ruth Lockhart. They used to put on conferences called Health In Our Hands, and they were women’s health conferences really mostly about empowering women, hence the title. The keynote speakers that year were Deb Soule, founder of Avena Botanicals, and Dr. Chris Northrup. They spoke together on the stage, and I can get teary just remembering that moment. That was like my a-ha moment. I was like, “It’s not an either or scenario.” It’s not one’s good and one’s bad. I never ever felt that way. I always felt like it was a continuum, and it really depended on the woman, her situation, and her intuition as to what the right answers are.
That’s how I practice today because I think the proclivity for people to sort of shun medicine, particularly in the “alternative community,” is rampant and I don’t agree with that either. I see plenty of women now who come into the office and they say, “I’m depressed. I don’t want antidepressants,” and other women will walk in and say, “I’m depressed. I want antidepressants.” To me, and this feels so much like the midwife in me, when I used to talk about pain management, but there’s this huge continuum from doing nothing to an epidural. There’s all this other stuff in between that’s available to us. I feel the same way when someone comes in now with depression. There’s an entire continuum of options available to you. How do you want to do it? What works for you? What’s realistic for you, for your time, your money, your energy, your life, because it’s different for each of us. Some of us don’t have the resources to go to acupuncture and meditate and yada yada yada, and some people feel super desperate and want a quick fix, and other people want to really work on their lifestyle stuff, and there is no judgment in where anybody is at, it’s only in trying to help support them with whatever is going on.
Lisa Belisle: It is true that integrative medicine, when it was called… I think it was initially called complementary medicine.
Carrie Levine: Yeah. It’s still called that. I just saw something come through on that.
Lisa Belisle: Or alternative medicine, actually that was, I think it was alternative and then complementary and then now we’re finally to integrative. That’s weird. It’s like there has to be an either/or. You have to choose this or the other. I feel so much more comfortable with the both/and approach. It’s because we have so many different types of people in the world and their learning styles and their health styles and how much they want to work at stuff.
Carrie Levine: Totally, and what’s actually going to work for someone. What works for one isn’t necessarily going to work for all. I see a fair number of those people who have tried the whatever, and it didn’t work. It’s not working. I saw a woman this week on three blood pressure medications, and I took her blood pressure and it was still evaluated. I’m like, “Okay. Why take the medication if it’s not working?” We need to find a different way. We can’t just keep giving you a snowball of medications and hope that it’s ultimately going to work. Like, in the meantime, what are you eating, what are you drinking, how are you managing your stress, how are you sleeping, all of those things because maybe if those pieces are in order, the medication isn’t needed or one will actually kick in and take effect. Yeah, no, not an either/or scenario.
Lisa Belisle: I love that you brought up the idea of blood pressure because what often happens with women’s health is that we are thought of as ovaries and the parts below the ovaries.
Carrie Levine: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: Which I don’t mind saying the word vagina, it doesn’t bother me at all, so people, if you’re sensitive, I’m sorry, that’s just what it’s called. I don’t think that most women want to be thought of as breasts, ovaries and vaginas and uteri. None of us, we don’t, any of us, want to be reduced to that, and you’re bringing up this solid point. Like, okay, here’s a woman on three different blood pressure medications. She’s got a heart issue. I think it’s great now that we’re actually treating women like full people and men like full people.
Carrie Levine: Yeah. What a concept.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah.
Carrie Levine: That’s where functional medicine really changed my practice for sure because I wasn’t well versed in a fair amount of that. I mean, midwives, nurse midwives in the state of Maine can be primary care practitioners from an insurance and reimbursement perspective, but… man, when I think about this stuff that nobody ever taught me when I was in school that our primary care-ish… Yyu know, thyroid is the classic example. I mean, the number of women who come in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or a thyroid issue or they think it’s a thyroid issue, they want it to be a thyroid issue. I never got trained in that, and that was really what drove me to work toward functional medicine certification was I was like, “I need a little bit more information.”
Dan Spratt, who’s the chief of reproductive endocrinology at Maine Med is a gracious consultant and teacher, but I was still uncomfortable. When people come in and they say, “Well, can you be my primary care?” The answer is no, I cannot, because essentially, other than Maine Care, I am an OB/GYN, a specialist, but my scope of practice is so broad because I’m not just looking at breasts and pelvic. I can’t, I can’t, you can’t tease that stuff out. You can’t tease out a hormone issue as being solely hormonally driven from thyroid or adrenal in the same way you can’t tease it out from stress management and nutrition. It’s all connected. That’s the beauty of what I do, but it really makes my scope of practice quite broad.
Lisa Belisle: For people who don’t have a familiarity with functional medicine, give us a little background.
Carrie Levine: I always think of my husband who’s like, “Nobody knows what you mean when you say that.” Functional medicine is a systems biology approach. What that means is that instead of looking at each system in isolation, you look at the interconnectedness of the systems. You basically look at what seem to be maybe an unrelated constellation of systems, and you’re sort of drilling down through the biochemistry to try and understand where the root of it is stemming from. That is profound.
What I’ve actually heard is that medical schools are beginning to change in that regard. I’ve heard, and I don’t know this for sure, but I’ve heard that Harvard is moving towards a system biology approach. It just makes sense. I feel like when I explain it to women, you know that, so okay, your ovaries are your primary sex hormone production site, but you also get some secondary production from your adrenals, so if you have a lot of stress where there’s a lot of cortisol upset, that’s the primary job of the adrenals, then it stands to reason that your sex hormone production’s going to be compromised, and the thyroid, ovaries, and adrenals are all on the same hormone loop. You can’t separate that stuff out. If you intervene at any level of the system you’ll see symptoms related to the other systems alleviated. In that way, you can really shift a lot. There’s that.
The other thing about functional medicine is that the primary intervention is lifestyle for sure. That’s the other piece that I love. I spend a lot of time talking to people about food and healthy living, and that’s the best. It’s time intensive care, which midwives, that’s the hallmark of what we do is spend time with people, and it’s really trying to help them fine tune their lifestyle so that they have the health and the longevity that they want. I think about a woman I saw recently with a blood pressure issue who was drinking… I don’t remember, on a daily basis. We had a conversation about that, and of course her doctor wants her to take medication, and she wasn’t exercising, so I said, “All right, let’s try this, if you’re up for it,” because some women are like, “I’m not doing that. That’s my line. I’m not cutting out the whatever, the coffee, the alcohol, the sweet every day, whatever it is, and that’s fine.” I’m like, we all live a very short life, and there has to be pleasure. If that’s your line, that’s your line. You get to decide where your line is. It’s not about being perfect.
So I proposed to her, I said, “What if you stop drinking for 30 days, and let’s see what happens to your sleep,” which was altered, “And your blood pressure and let’s try and get you moving a little bit aerobically,” like, beyond her normal exercise, and, “Get a blood pressure cup and take your blood pressure in the mornings and bring them in and let me take a look.” I just saw her recently, and she did it. I saw her 30 days, she did it. I said, “Have you noticed anything else?” She said, “I sleep so much better, and I feel so much better.” She said, “Well, I cheated three or four times,” and I’m like, it’s not cheating. I said it’s about the exception as opposed to the norm. In a body that’s balanced, small deviations like that, you can still feel well.
In a body that’s not balanced with that amount of consumption, you might not feel well every day. Her blood pressure isn’t exactly where she wanted it to be, where we want it to be, so we layered in some supplementation so that’s sort of like the next rung on the functional medicine ladder for another 30 days, and we’ll see what happens at the end of 30 days, and if we can’t get it down, then that’s the indication for medication in my book. If it’s not coming down with lifestyle, nutrition, supplementation, then, okay, you did your part, and whatever is driving it is driving it. It’s not a horrible application for medication if you want to do it that way. She was game for another 30 days.
Lisa Belisle: I completely subscribe to your way of practicing. I think it’s great, and it also is really nice in that it doesn’t feel as judgmental. In fact, it doesn’t feel judgmental at all, which is really the way that I think we need to be approaching medicine. I think we need to be able to say to people, “Here’s a fact. Alcohol can cause insomnia, it can impact your blood pressure, it can make you feel not so good. It’s not judging you for drinking alcohol. Here’s the fact, what do you want to do with it?”
Carrie Levine: Totally. There’s no judgment. The strive for the perfection is like, that’s a whole other illness, and I know you know what I mean. It’s just those people who feel like they can’t live because they’re so trying to do it so right, and we all know you can do it right and you can still end up with the short end of the stick in terms of your own health. I think about that in terms of labor. Right? You can take the Buddha incarnate, right? The marathon runner, the yogic breather, the yada yada yada, and still, she ends up with a really, really, really rough labor. You can live really, really, really, really well, and you can still end up with a major health issue. This idea of being so constrained and confined of trying to do it right that you’re sort of afraid to live is problematic on the other end of the continuum in my opinion.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. I completely agree, and I sometimes wonder if the stress of that actually causes problems with your health, whatever those may be.
Carrie Levine: Totally. I totally, totally… I see that all the time. I do a fair amount of food sensitivity testing, which requires food elimination, and food is a sensitive issue for women. If there’s a hot spot for women, I would say that’s it. Food and the correlate weight issue is huge. I can be working with someone around food elimination, and if she just is consumed with it, beyond being able to function, then sometimes I say, “Forget it. Forget it, this is not helpful to you.” It’s like the Internet, right? It’s just like, it’s great if you can go and get a little bit of information, it’s disabling if you’re completely sucked in by it. The same thing with the food elimination. It’s a tool that helps many, not all, and if it’s helpful, awesome, and if it becomes this source of profound stress, forget it. There has to be another way because there’s nothing that will make us sicker than stress. Nothing. Nothing at all, including trying to get well. That’s my line right there.
Lisa Belisle: There is also genetics. Even if you are keeping yourself completely well and are doing everything and you don’t feel stressed about it, but you just feel like you have a pretty good lifestyle, sometimes there’s not only genetics, there’s stuff that might be going on in the environment around you, and there are things, we are raised in this interesting time where we have been given more control and we have more information, so we think that we might have ultimate control. We don’t have control. There’s just not as much control as we think that there is. All we can really do is control what we can and then deal with whatever is left.
Carrie Levine: Have you read the book The Gene? By Siddhartha … I can’t remember his last name. He’s the same guy who wrote The Emperor… The Emperor of Last Maladies?
Lisa Belisle: Oh, it’s Lumpare, I think.
Carrie Levine: I think that’s right, yes. Whatever his name is.
Lisa Belisle: Yes, yes.
Carrie Levine: It’s so fascinating. It’s essentially the history of the gene all the way back to Mendel, Mendelian times. The hilarity of what was considered to be scientific truth through the course of history really elucidates how much we really don’t know, that we like to think we know. History has proven what we thought we knew, we really didn’t know. There is so much in that of what we think we know to be truth now. The gene thing is fascinating. The emerging of genomics to me is completely changing my practice for sure and changing health for women. I’ve taken care of a handful of women now with lifetime histories of hormone imbalances. Maybe horrible PMS and then fibroids and then endometriosis and then maybe difficulties getting pregnant or difficulties with pregnancy or difficult postpartum and then post, like, perimenopausal bleeding, abnormalities, like this whole, this pattern that is really recognizable that people haven’t necessarily made sense of and now we can look at some of the genes that regulate the hormone detoxification process and say, “This is why. This is why despite eating mostly vegetarian and being a super active woman and taking the supplements and not eating too much refined processed food, this maybe is a part of the reason why your hormones still didn’t balance. Look, here are things that we can do to support that genetic variation so that you get optimal function through detoxification.”
It’s so vindicating for women who’ve done everything, everything. Those women that we allude to did acupuncture, did the energy healing, did the whole gamut of things, had the ablations and the surgeries all across the continuum and still ended up with a pretty significant undesirable health outcome. Did she weep when she understood that her genes played a significant part, had to have played a significant part because it wasn’t anything that she did. Maybe that’s sort of the value and the freedom for women is we’re so hard on ourselves so often and we try to do the right thing and take good care of ourselves, and when it doesn’t work out, we can be really hard on ourselves, and we forget the wild card, the genes and all of the other pieces we can’t control in the environment and whatnot. Yeah. It’s huge.
There’s a researcher actually in Tallahassee where I guess they have the highest infant mortality rate in the country. They’re super committed to keeping family practice doctors growing strong. I guess not a lot of people are choosing that specialty because it’s not financially lucrative, so family practitioners, I guess, are a dying breed. Thank you for being a family practitioner.
Lisa Belisle: I will definitely attest to the fact that although my employer is very generous, I definitely am fairly low on the totem pole as far as the salary spectrum.
Carrie Levine: Right, and when you live in a rural place like most of the country does, it’s hard to get health care to these places. This woman whose name is Ruth, I can’t remember her last name, she’s one of the founding mothers of Functional Medicine, she’s a geneticist. She worked with a woman who has a PhD in mindfulness, I think. They’re piloting a 10 month prenatal program called Grow Me with a focus being on the prenatal aspect and positively affecting the epigenetics of the baby. Beginning to look at how can we as women set up our children genetically for a healthy life. It’ll be interesting to see as that research is forthcoming how that…. Does it work?
Lisa Belisle: Carrie, you see patients in your home office which is right up the coast in…
Carrie Levine: Newcastle.
Lisa Belisle: Newcastle. You also lease space from Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness here in Portland, so you do consults down here. You also do a fair amount of public speaking and outreach. We are going to put a link to your website on our show notes page.
Carrie Levine: Great.
Lisa Belisle: I really encourage anyone who’s been… I’ve been trying to send patients your direction because I know that you have a lot to offer the people that I see. I really encourage anyone who’s listening who has had questions about her health that really haven’t been answered sufficiently to consider having a conversation with you because, I think, that you’re offering information that really integrates a lot of really important ideas that not everybody has access to.
Carrie Levine: Thank you. Yeah, hoping to increase access so that women know that there is another way.
Lisa Belisle: I appreciate the work that you’re doing. I’ve been speaking with my friend Carrie Levine who is the founder of Whole Woman Health, a holistic health care practice in Newcastle that serves women in the midcoast. Carrie is also a certified nurse midwife. Thanks for coming in today.
Carrie Levine: Thanks for having me.
Lisa Belisle: You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, Show #278, Body Balance. Our guests have included Julie Wright and Carrie Levine. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit lovemaineradio.com. Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see my running, travel, food, and wellness photos as bountiful1 on Instagram. We love to hear from you, so please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are privileged that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. I hope that you have enjoyed our body balance show. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your day. May you have a bountiful life.
Speaker 1: Love Maine Radio is made possible with the support of Berlin City Honda, The Rooms by Harding Lee Smith, Maine Magazine, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music have been provided by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producer is Paul Koenig. Our assistant producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Lisa Belisle. For more information on our host production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at lovemaineradio.com.
Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle, and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Brunswick, Maine. Show summaries are available at lovemaineradio.com. Here are some highlights from this week’s program.