Remaining Zen Amongst Torrential Hormones
Okay ladies, this blog is mostly for you, although men might learn something too.
I have realized that the hormonal changes I experience around menstruation have become the largest ongoing challenge in my spiritual path, and it does not seem to be getting any better with age. Is this a problem for anyone else?
As a Yogini, I try to stay engaged in self-observation all the time. Remaining and establishing my awareness as the witness; dispassionate, detached, and nonreactive. I have noticed that not only am I a more effective teacher when I am in this state, but a better friend, partner, pet owner, and I am much happier. Yet, we fall from Grace from time to time. This is just being human.
As time and years of steady yoga practice have begun to take hold, this becomes more possible, except for a certain time of the month...
I find the quest to remain steady and nonreactive more challenging when my hormones become unbalanced. This has led me to do constant research to try and calm this state of mind to one containing more equanimity. I cannot say I have been very successful, but I will keep trying and share the little discoveries I have made in my research in case it helps someone else on their path...
The truth be known when a woman approaches menstruation, there is a depletion of estrogen in her body. This causes a chemical imbalance. The imbalance is difficult to manage.
Every woman reacts differently. If a woman is on birth control pills, this imbalance is managed, but for those of us who are not, look out! Our emotions tend to become exaggerated, perceptions colored, toleration shorter, and vulnerabilities are increased. Does anyone feel like they are tiptoeing around their partner at this time? I bet you do, no doubt! Kali in her state of bloodthirsty madness is capable of coming out at any possible moment!
On my last trip to Encinitas to practice with my teacher Tim Miller, he told me, "If you want to keep evolving spiritually, Michelle, you need to stop reacting so much." This is very wise advice I have taken to heart.
Being a woman in general, and a highly emotional one at that, this is very difficult. I have been working on it in several ways throughout the years. Maybe I have even gotten a handle on it, but when the estrogen starts to go, I can feel it. All the awareness in the world cannot seem to help me tame this wind. It is especially challenging.
So, I have spent the past year heavily reading and researching. I will take some time to write a sum of what I have found.
Starting on the physical level...
One of my first steps was to make sure my thyroid was healthy. My matrilineal genes have some issues in this area. My mother and my grandmother both had thyroid problems, so I went to get a blood test. That was not it.
If you have thyroid issues, I have found Kelp to be a helpful herb. Kelp is known for its high iodine content which helps the functioning of the thyroid gland. Iodine is essential for the formation of thyroid hormones. Kelp is also packed with other necessary nutrients such as iron, calcium, and potassium which are lost during your cycle.
Lately, I have been taking Passion Flower around this time. It was suggested to me by a friend, and I have had great progress with it. I experience increased anxiety around the time of my cycle, and Passion Flower is known to reduce anxiety and help aid in sleep.
If there is any way to put more estrogen back into your body, that would be helpful. For example, research foods that are high in estrogen. Shatavri Ghee is something I bought from the Ayurvedic Institute. Shatavri is an estrogen pre-curser and addresses hormonal imbalances of estrogen deficiency.
Avoid too much caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugar in your diet. Also, being in environments that expose you to chemicals should be avoided. Let yourself rest more. It is not a good time to push through work. I read an article which I also posted on Facebook coming from a female shaman that suggested PMS to be a new problem. The author claims that PMS did not exist in ancient times. It is a byproduct of our current lifestyle. Women use to remove themselves from the world and take a break. This is not the case anymore. This combined with the chemicals we are exposed to is what she is suggesting is the problem.
Obviously, it may not be realistic to take a break from work for a week every month, but what we can do is be aware we are entering this time and try to relax and focus more on self-nurturance. Slow down a bit.
On a mental level...
Meditation, gentle mindful breathing, and practicing R.E.M can be helpful. Anything that can help slow your mind down for a moment to avoid that devastating reaction. R.E.M. refers to rapid eye movement. It is a technique that is popular among therapists right now. My understanding of it is that if you do the R.E.M. while bringing a thought to your mind, the emotional reaction can be removed. Without the presence of the emotional reaction, you are more able to receive information in a logical way.
On a spiritual level...
Our cycle is a deeply spiritual time for us as women. It is time to go inward and reflect. There is an opportunity to release and purge. This is who we are and it puts us in touch with the vibration of life on a very deep level. Take advantage of it.
Go inward. Spend some time alone or with girlfriends. Personally, I gravitate towards the company of women because there is more understanding. Journal, read, meditate, listen to spiritual teachings, etc...Whatever you need to nurture yourself; body, mind, and Soul.
There is a reason women of the ancient world gravitated to the Moon Lodge or the Red Tent. Don't push against your Nature. Embrace it. Awareness is heightened in ways that can be valuable. Take refuge in the Sisterhood.
If anyone is interested in more specific suggestions about how to practice Ashtanga Yoga around your menstrual cycle, read my Blog We Are the Moon. Click here.
Remember, yoga does not end when we step off the mat. This awareness should be carried with us throughout our daily lives. This is what it is all about! Establishing ourselves firmly in this state. As Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutras, chapter 1.13, "Tatra sthitau yatno bhyasah." This translates to, "Practice is the continuous struggle to become firmly established in the stable state of the True Self."
In summary, to all the female practitioners out there, we have an enormous challenge when our chemicals start to change. Awareness is key, implement skillful means, and celebrate your femininity!
Owner, Director, Teacher – Ashtanga Yoga Center, Outer Banks, NC