At the age of twenty-one, Sara Avant Stover was diagnosed with cervical dysplasia, precursor of cervical cancer. It was, she screamed inwardly, not fair—she was a runner, she practices yoga, she was vegan. How could this happen? Yet she knew that she was unhappy—sad, lonely confused. She was bulemic, anorexic, and dominated by an inner tyrant who demanded she do more, do it better. When she asked the doctor what she could do, his answer was to wait three months.
Through a series of fortunate happenings, Stover was offered a teaching position in Thailand where she learned to face herself. Her Type A personality slowed down, and she was introduced to healing wisdom from several sources—traditional Chinese medicine, Buddhist medication, Ayurveda (traditional Indian medical system), massage, and natural detoxification programs. These Asian approaches to health dominate much of this book.
Ten years later, Stover is fully recovered from dysplasia, irregular menstruation, anorexia, bulimia, an exercise addiction, and anxiety. She has learned, she tells us, to reconnect to her body, her femininity, and nature. This is a book about every woman being able to make similar dramatic changes in her life, a book about taking care of yourself through meditation, yoga, prayer, and diet. Women, Stover reminds us, are traditional nurturers. We must learn to care for ourselves, just as we care for others.
In the introductory section of her book, Stover lays out some basics and gives specific suggestions, ranging from keeping a journal to learning your body's daily cycles, staying off the Internet, exercise, regular sleep habits. None of this is remarkably new, but Stover makes it palatable with illustrations, sidebars, and simple reminders such as keeping charts—how did you feel six months ago and how do you feel now? Rather than recommending a diet, she advocates a system of conscious eating.
The book itself is divided into four sections, one for each season of the year: Spring is for beginnings, summer for rejoicing, autumn for harvesting, and winter for listening. Each section contains extensive yoga poses and sequences, some philosophical suggestions, and lots of recipes which incorporated ingredients such as quinoa, hummus, cucumber water, split pea soup. In autumn, there is a concentration on root vegetables. Her diet suggestions reminded me of friends who are both gluten- and dairy-free. For most of us, these diet changes would require a dramatic change in the way we eat. Yet many would find, as my friends have, that such change makes a world of difference in well-being. And that's what this book is about.
The way of the happy woman will not be achieved easily by many of us. Following Stover's exercise, dietary, and charting suggestions would require devising an organized approach, committing seriously to it, and investing a lot of hard, disciplined work. This change in lifestyle will strike the right chord with some, with its specific directions and suggestions, and it will turn others off. This book belongs in the libraries of readers who are seriously committed to alternative approaches to wellness.
Another note of caution: before undertaking such a dramatic change in health habits, most of us would do well to consult with our family physician.
Sara Avant Stover is a motivational speaker and founder and director of The Way of the Happy Woman. She has studied with many spiritual masters and has taught 3,000 students in more than a dozen different countries. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, when not traveling. Visit her website.
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