Ever hear of Oxytocin? No, not the painkiller, oxycontin, but the hormone that is released in childbirth and assists in the bonding experience between mother and child. Well, more and more research is demonstrating that oxytocin is also the female prosperity hormone, and responsible for not only feelings of love and well being, but of increased collaboration and altruism in women - and in men. Interesting, don’t you think?

In November 2011, I went to a four-day, women’s conference in Los Angeles. Picture six hundred women of all ages, from all over the world, in a gigantic ballroom with incredible amounts of female energy filling the room. The event was sponsored by the Brave Heart Women organization, founded by the gifted and inspirational Ellie Drake, whose mission is to promote the personal, professional, and global empowerment of women. I don’t even remember how I began receiving the e-mails from the Brave Heart community but the messages resonated deeply with me. So much of my work with women is about assisting them/ us with finding our truth and using our voices to speak that truth – in all areas of our lives. Ellie’s message is similar.

If you lived through the women’s movement of the 1960’s, you saw many of us women operating in a male model, which required that we go out into the world and compete with men and our own gender. And many of us soon realized that operating like a man, and even looking like one, in business suits and tailored pants, did not feel comfortable or right for us. Tapping into the oxytocin hormone, that we naturally produce more than men, can help us change that model from competition (male) to collaboration (female). This is one of the underlying principles of Brave Heart Women.

Did you know that up until eight weeks old, the brain of a fetus is unisex? At eight weeks, however, in utero, the brain of a boy baby receives a rush of testosterone, which infuses the male with aggressive and procreating drives. And this will come as no surprise to many of us - the influx of testosterone shrinks the communication center in the male brain. For girl babies and the women we grow into, however, that communication center remains wide open! Ever wonder why we women pick up on subtle cues and men, well not so much? Now you know.

Baby girls, soon out of the womb, with wide open communication centers, scan their environment looking for cues from mom, through eye contact, body language, tone of voice, and the way we’re held, that say, “I’m glad you’re here. I want you in my life. I love you.” That nonverbal communication releases oxytocin to both mother and baby. (Ever notice that when we give or get a really great hug, how our bodies seem to melt into that of the other and we feel a positive change in both brain and body chemistry? That’s the oxytocin effect!)

However, if we didn’t get enough, as we say in my world, of “unconditional, positive regard” from our caretaker(s), we learn to seek their approval by trying on different behaviors that will get us what we want and make us feel loved. Ellie would say that our need for approval is biologically ingrained in each of us and was necessary when our female ancestors lived in caves and trees and needed to trust that their men would come “home” with food and protection. However, she would also say that our need for approval is the number one, evolutionary obsolete behavior that we still engage in!

Every time we do not listen to the little voice in our wisdom place and every time we behave in ways that are contrary to what we know is right and true for us, in order to gain approval, we kill off a part of ourselves. We sell our souls bit by bit. In our personal relationships, we develop a false self. In our business ones, we avoid taking risks.

So circling back to oxytocin… Unlike adrenalin that revs us up and puts us in fight, flight, or freeze mode (and stores fat in our bellies because of surges of cortisol), oxytocin allows us to embrace our fear and to take appropriate risks, which potentially enhances our prosperity, while we remain calm. So take an oxybreath with me now and you’ll see what I mean. Inhale deeply. Hold it. And then on the exhale, with a feminine sound that starts at a higher tonal range, emit “haaaaaaaaaa”, until you have no more breath. And if you really want to feel better, repeat that breath two more times.

And if you really, really want to feel better, oxybreathe eight times a day, and couple each breath with an oxyhug, a fifteen second hug that matches left side to left side – or heart to heart. That’s expert advice from Dr. Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist and oxytocin researcher at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California, nicknamed Dr. Love by his employees, for giving oxyhugs regularly.

So yet again, we learn that women are different from men, with science backing up our intuitive knowing. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, if the world is going to change, it is Western women who will propel that change. Ellie Drake and Paul Zak would add that a catalyst for women changing the world and ourselves will be oxytocin.

Author's Bio: 

Ilene Leshinsky is a licensed clinical social worker with over 16 years of counseling experience. In her Plattsburgh-based private practice, she works with women who desire more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Ilene’s BodySense program is open to women of all ages who want freedom from food and body obsessions and who want to develop a peaceful relationship with themselves. Ilene can be reached at 518-570-6164, ilene@primelink1.net; or www.ileneleshinsky.com.