Category Archives: Emotions

PMS: G-Y-N Post #1

PMS or Premenstrual Syndrome is just that, a syndrome. A compilation of ailments joined together because of similar circumstances. We all know the list:

  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Weight Gain/Fluid Retention/Bloating
  • Emotional Disturbances/Irritability/Weepiness/Anger
  • Low Back Ache
  • Cramping
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Nightsweats

What does it all mean and should we be having it at all?

What is normal?

Elimination: The body is ridding itself of blood and tissue. This is a significant drain on the body. It is normal for the body to start showing signs the day or two before. Drier stools or softer stools the day of or the day before may happen. These are still both signs that the body is a little warn down and can’t handle bleeding effortlessly, but they are a vast improvement over days of constipation or numerous bouts of diarrhea which lots of women experience.

Emotions: The night before bleeding weepiness or feelings of vulnerability are understandable and I believe evolutionary. We shouldn’t be lifting heavy objects, staying up all night studying or running marathons right before or during bleeding. All activity (mental or physical) should be gentle and allow for periods of rest. Listen and appreciate the body’s wisdom and take some quiet time or ask for more affection from a partner if necessary. These are little things that go a long way.

Sleep: Night hours, or yin time, is quieted by ample fluids within the body. When you bleed there are less fluids available and the sleep can be affected. Slightly lighter sleep or more dreams is understandable, full blown insomnia or disturbing nightmares are suggestive of a deficiency of fluids and would benefit from treatment.

Important PMS Questions

When does it start? PMS that starts hours before the cycle is significantly better than the PMS that starts at ovulation. Mood swings, weight gain or pain that begins anytime before the day before the cycle is not only treatable it is not worth the strain on your life. Western Medicine utilizes the birth control pill as the exclusive means for altering PMS, but the pill doesn’t solve the problems it masks the problems until you are ready to come off the pill. PMS that begins early in the month is a suggestion of stagnant blood in the uterus or stagnant qi within the reproductive organs. This could be caused by internal cold, internal heat, strong emotions not being properly released or simply stress.

What is the intensity? Again if someone is home sick from work before the period starts, we have an issue. Migraines, flash anger or brutal cramping before the blood is a serious sign that the body is out of balance. These are remarkably easy things to treat with Chinese Herbs and Acupuncture. Sometimes I think we should be marketing to bosses, partners or family members asking for sponsors for a woman’s treatment. Would you like to see her as an active member of the world more days of the month? There is actually research out there now suggesting that Sylvia Plath’s emotional disturbances may have been related to very painful periods and extreme emotional changes due to her cycle. This is not a part of a woman’s health that deserves covering up. High intensity PMS that even slightly affects your life (regardless of your ironwoman pain threshold) is dangerous. Start talking about it and start seeing it as a problem.

Does it immediately end when you start bleeding? This is the telltale sign practitioners are looking for as a marker of how easy a gyn issue is to treat. If it goes away as soon as the blood comes it is probably due to stagnant qi in the body and is the easiest scenario to treat. If this is you, come in for a couple of months of treatment and get on with your life. If things stay dicey after the bleeding starts there is a deeper level of stagnation and though it may take longer to heal, will still show steady improvements from month to month in overall intensity.

PMS Warning Signs

  • Your friends know all your PMS symptoms
  • PMS starts with ovulation or soon after
  • Your personality changes, not just your mood
  • You are in pain that requires more than one regular dose of NSAIDS at any point during the month

Charting Your Cycle

I started charting my cycle this spring and I’m loving it. Charting allows you to see where in the month you have less energy, when headaches begin or if you have a nightmare on the 27th day of the month. Things you wouldn’t be able to remember from month to month. Charting is also very helpful to see how you can affect the cycle. One thing I’ve noticed for me personally is if I get run down my basal temperatures drop and stay down until I take a day or rest. Now when I see the movement downward I know I have to be proactive about rest to help my cycle stay healthy. Charting is also a way to actually see how many days of the month you are miserable and act as a motivator to make change in the body.

In Chinese Medicine there is a 3 month rule. Most GYN issues are significantly improved or completely fixed in three cycles. Can you imagine having easier cycles for the rest of your menstruating life?

Image credit: tashatuvango / 123RF Stock Photo

Observation: Practice Lesson #4

As this is the last post in the Practice series I’ve been thinking an awful lot about what makes people stick to a routine. I’ve already talked about how I don’t think that discipline builds a practice or keeps it going, I’ve talked about lighting a spark to keep the fire alive in your practice and I’ve helped brainstorm ideas for the actually composition of a practice. Now what is going to keep you showing up every morning, every Thursday at 6:30 or Sundays at 3, whatever your chosen time slot.

This is what led me to the fundamental question: what do you gain from a practice?

I tried to think of the people in my life who have practices that don’t involve yoga, because I know all the benefits of doing yoga on a regular basis. I wanted to see the benefits of their non-exercise based practices. Two immediately came to mind. First would be my parents’ practice of drinking coffee together every morning in their living room. They don’t down their coffee over breakfast, they instead take about half an hour (sometimes more) and just drink their coffee and chat. They use it as a time to catch up, make plans for the day and to de-stress if the day is going to be hectic. I know it lowers both of their stress levels and I know it is the secret to their marriage. The other practice would be that of my father-in-law’s writing on Saturday mornings. In the midst of raising four boys and maintaining a very full career, he devoted each Saturday morning throughout his life to writing. It helped him keep the mindset of a writer, allowed for alone time in a busy household and energized him for the week.

These are two successful, long-term practices that are very simple, but additions to a busy lifestyle. So why when things get crazy did they keep them? Why is it worth showing up on your mat again and again?

Observation. Think of all the people in our lives we pay to observe us: doctors, therapists, supervisors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, etc. We want someone else to see the patterns, to notice the thing we’ve missed. And don’t get me wrong—that is a necessary skill set. Every time my acupuncturist treats me she sheds new light on this body of mine that I try to figure out 24 hours a day. We need that outside advice, but we also need to make sure that when we see these caregivers we know what is normal.

Even if normal isn’t healthy, it is worth knowing about. A practice lets you compare every single day to every other day that you do the same thing. Yoga students can attest to that first down dog in a practice when you first check in with the body. Think of the first down dog after vacation or after you’ve been for a long hike. The body is entirely different than the last time. We need to be able to compare.

You owe it to yourself to know what the body is capable of, what it is learning to do and when it has achieved something it didn’t expect. This isn’t just about injury and illness, though aren’t those two reasons enough? This is also about improving and the ability to be proud of yourself. With equal positive awareness it is also about aging and noticing what may be harder than it used to be.

The better we are able to say, hmmm, this is new, when something catches us off guard—the better equipped we are to walk into a doctor’s office and say this is new and I’m worried. Knowledge is power, but it requires regular observation.

When you show up to your next practice, be mindful. Do your day’s work. See what there is to see. Make a list of all the things you want to observe from this perspective. My parents are not just drinking coffee; they are monitoring their marriage, making sure it is healthy every morning. My father-in-law isn’t just writing, he is taking time to be an artist and see how his artist-self is after a week.

What observations are out there for the viewing in your practice?

Experiencing the Pleasure of Joy

This week we went to see the Young@Heart chorus sing. It was joyful. There is really no other word to describe it. I smiled so hard for the entire duration of the concert that I was a little sore the next day. I am a content person. I am very happy about the start of my business, but I don’t do silly and I almost never do joyful.

My students at the YMCA have the option of studying with lots of different types of yoga teachers. Some of the teachers have loud voices and big personalities, others are cute and playful, others are sweet and serene. I am serious and intense. My devoted students think that we are having fun when we are exploring the Large Intestine or softening the Heart, not when I crack a joke. I’m okay with that.

But seeing all those old people dance around stage is not your typical level of joy. Seeing the house stand for a full standing ovation at the end of the first set is not your usual level of joy. The concert made me determined to be a little bit lighter and to laugh deeply more often.

One of my favorite characteristics in fiction is the description of someone with a quick smile. I don’t have a quick smile. My smile requires warming up and usually starts out kind of stiff and awkward. There are a handful of people in my life who can make me laugh so hard I lose control and actually start trembling a little because my body isn’t used to it. I keep them around with a fierceness.

In the midst of the days getting shorter and everyone starting to lose their minds over the presidential campaign I invite you to take time to find joy. Remember that game when you lay your head on someone’s stomach and someone else lays their head on your stomach and then everyone laughs as hard as possible. Why do we stop doing stuff like that? I want to do that at our next dinner party, though I’ll probably be too embarrassed to ask people to get down on the ground. We have to make sure we instead look for different, adult ways of being silly and joyful. I find being around children, especially babies, is the easiest technique. They are our best teachers of joy.

I’m including this picture because it is only picture I have of me really laughing as an adult. It was taken moments after one of my closest friends made me laugh hard enough that I couldn’t be camera shy or sensor myself. That is why I keep her around. Keep a picture like this of yourself around as another great reminder of joy!

Sensuality: Why It Isn’t Sex and Why We Desperately Need More Of It

In our society, even this word is loaded. This is one of the many fights of my life. I am a sensual person. If anyone has ever seen me sick or with an injury they know that I have a very low pain threshold. I experience all the sensations of the body in a rather heightened way. I’m talking about sensing. Noticing with the senses. Sensuality would be the enjoyment of this noticing. Sensuality is not by nature sexual. Sexuality isn’t always in practice sensual—though it should be, everything should be.

Society’s inability to separate sensuality from sexuality is where a lot of our problems begin. If people were comfortable finding pleasure with the senses (smell, taste, touch, sound, sight) they might not find the same drive towards an excessive sexual appetite or a food-based appetite.

I try to do a lot of partner work in my classes to encourage people to touch each other in a sensual, non-sexual way. Intimacy of touch is very reassuring to the nervous system and very satisfying for our need to connect with others, but it also is a skill set that some people don’t have. Whether it is touching the low back to feel your partner breathe into their kidneys in child pose or sitting back to back to experience the movements of the ribcage, it is obvious that these are not loaded postures. These are safe, easy postures that are very calming.

One of the ways I teach people how to stretch or strengthen is to encourage them to follow sensation. When my students actually follow sensation the atmosphere in the room changes and everyone’s postures are softer, easier and so much more beautiful. I know they’ve felt it because they walk out of class smiling.

I think it is important to have a list of favorite sensual experiences that can be turned to when you are feeling down or even stressed. So today I’m going to share my current favorite sensual experiences.

Recent Feasts for My Senses

  • Bright green ground cover on all the farms in Western Mass
  • Crunching of dry maple leaves on my walk to the office
  • My fully recovered sitz bones that now don’t mind my bike seat
  • New squishy handlebar covers that I can feel even through my mittens
  • Wearing a scarf all the time again
  • Pesto we made last week with all the basil before the frost hit Friday night
  • How much faster and brighter a child’s pulse is than an adult pulse
  • Twig tea with milk in the mornings
  • Mt. Tom almost fully yellow
  • Sleeping beneath my down comforter

If you need more inspiration check out this amazing article on why five senses is just not the whole truth.

Please share your recent favorite sensual experiences. It encourages people to go out and try them so the enjoyment spreads!

The Power of Speaking With Kindness

Last night while trying to pay off my new credit card I discovered an aspect of the fine print that wasn’t as beneficial as I had originally understood. Immediately I was furious at myself, at the credit card company that I’ve used for nearly 10 years and at the whole concept of coercion. This morning with just as hot of a head as last night I called the credit card and let it rip.

I was furious that I spent so much time shopping for that specific credit card and for those specific benefits. I pride myself on being a good shopper and I was embarrassed.

The customer service representative with his easy drawl let me fume at him. He didn’t interrupt and he waited until the whole story was out. Then he asked very straight-forward questions and amazingly enough solved the problem.

He didn’t break any rules, he didn’t change the conditions of the card, but he taught me about another option that helped me get the money back I had expected. It was like a balloon suddenly popped and all the anger leaked out of me.

Then he said that he needed to put me on hold for a moment but before he did that he wanted to hear about the weather in Massachusetts today. He actually said that.

Tell me about the weather in Massachusetts.

Ahhh, the power of language. I actually smiled. I don’t care if he went to a workshop on one liners to say to angry people. With that one line he reminded me that he was not only a fellow human and deserved to be treated well, but that he honestly wanted me to feel better about the greater world.

The beauty of language is how little is required to drastically change the moment. It takes a lot of guts to say something silly to diffuse a situation or say something loving in the middle of an argument. The right language of the moment is very often difficult to say. Today I am thankful for all brave people out there willing to say what needs saying.

As for the weather in Massachusetts, well, we are fully blessed today. It is gorgeous.

The Practice

One of the reasons I love my Friday morning class is that my students let me talk about “The Practice” off the mat. I dabble with little bits in my other classes, but I get the sense that the Friday regulars are hungry for it. Maybe it is just the Friday time slot because they come in wearied from the week, or maybe the students are just in the routine of thinking beyond asana, or posture.

Last night I read Heather Church’s recent post Eleven Steps to a Happy Life; My Joy Practice. I like that she takes her yoga and her practice to so many different places. She titles it her Joy Practice, but what she conveys is her full practice, the life practice. Which is very suggestive of how she wants to live her life—with a focus on joy. What I want to talk about today is the current practice, perhaps even a finite practice.

You may think that my practice right now is starting a wildly successful heart-centered acupuncture and yoga business. Let me assure you it is not. My practice right now is recovering from grad school. Starting a business that feeds me spiritually, physically, and intellectually is a key component to that practice, but only one part. Recovery in the short term and sustained health is a necessary practice if I want to help people heal for a living.

For the month of October I’ve decided to really contemplate the word “practice” and make a list of what I want my health practice to include and what I want my health to look like. In doing this I’ve decided to invite you along and offer four weeks worth of practice-oriented guidance and conversation.

To begin this process I want to start by discussing the idea of this moment’s practice. This moment in your life that is, not just in your day. What is your focal point? What is most important to you? Maybe it is the biggest struggle. Maybe it is your greatest joy. It may not even be that obvious to you until you stop and think about it.

Start with the number one thing. It may be one thing that is culminating in a month or three months like planning a wedding or having a baby. Or it might be something with no end in sight like raising a teenager or loving a partner. Whatever it is I invite you to name it this weekend. Own it. Maybe even write it down on a piece of paper and put it someplace special where you can see. Be proud of your current practice. Give it the weight it deserves.

Please comment on facebook or on my website and share your practice. If you are one of my students catch me after class and tell me your practice if you like. Tell other people in your life. It is your life’s work at the moment.