Without women and their infamous hormones, we would live on a planet empty of humans. Our hormones are a critical part of human existence, yet we really don’t hear much about them. I am nearly 35 years old, somewhere between my first period and my last. The past two years, I have taken a deeper look into hormones, menstruation, and menopause and what that means to me.
I recently attended a “Women’s Hormone Balancing” workshop led by experienced yoga therapist Tina Nance. Lets just say it was a life-changer. Tina opened the workshop by explaining that, ”Women are not meant to suffer every month. Our menstrual cycle is an organic & potent stress sensitive feedback system. When our hormones are understood & consciously nurtured, it fosters a natural, highly charged state of heightened intuition, insight, psychic skill & creativity.” Throughout the next few hours I learned that hormones are a blessing, not a curse. There are things we can do to minimize our pain & suffering. With a little awareness we can actually use this “time of the month” (menstruation) or even “time of our lives” (menopause) as an opportunity for transformation.
Here are 5 tips that every woman should be aware of, especially if you think your hormones might be a little out of balance:
1. Know The Triggers
If PMS is a monthly ordeal for you, chances are there is a hormonal imbalance. When our hormones are out of balance, our periods become difficult. This is your bodies way of communicating to you. So listen.
The 5 main triggers that affect our hormones are:
1) Stress: By limiting stress, you can eliminate or at least minimize the difficulties & discomfort that accompany your menstrual cycle. The most widespread and common trigger we see in our everyday lives is without a doubt stress. The remedy is to relax more (i.e bubble baths, naps, meditation, and time for yourself).
2) Excess sugar: Experiment with sugar and your period. Generally you will find that more sugar typically leads to more cramps, headaches, fatigue and frustration. Sugar has an inflammatory reaction in our bodies and the blood sugar rollercoaster tends to makes us more tired. Trade in glutenous cakes for a delicious banana, maca root, peanut butter smoothie.
3) Toxicity: Make a whole-hearted effort to limit toxins from your diet and lifestyle as these too can amplifies hormonal imbalances. Pay special attention to Xenoestroegens, Heavy Metals, Chemicals, Pesticides & Preservatives.
4) Over masculinization of a feminine body: By over doing & under being, we put additional stress on our hormones. By balance the yang (more active) activities with a yin-based (relaxed and passive) activity such as yin, restorative and yoga nidra we are finding a healthy balance that allows the muscles and the mind to relax, refresh and restore our hormones to a more balanced state.
5) Sexual & emotional trauma stored in the pelvic bowl: Unfortunately there are no quick fixes here. The body is a highly intelligent bio feedback system that constantly communicates to us. Mindfulness is the art of listening to these messages being sent by the body. From what we learn through mindfulness, we respond. Using meditation, counseling, relaxation, letting go, or/and any method of emotional healing we are responding, transforming, and growing into stronger and healthier women.
We must embrace the discomfort in the body, and learn from it. It is virtually impossible to eliminate all these triggers in our lives, but a little effort goes a long way. Take long bubble baths, work less, refrain from sugary sweets and replace as many stressors with relaxants as you possibly can.
2. Be Aware of Your Body’s Natural Cycle
Ever noticed that your period tends to fall on the full or new moon? A woman’s natural cycle is often times in sync with the moon’s movements. In todays modern world of hormone-altering birth controls and high stress jobs, many females’ cycles no longer naturally align with specific phases of the moon. Yet we all still have our own individual cycle occurring in our own time.
We must get in touch with our own personal cycle. For a few months, record how you feel on a daily basis. You will become aware you own natural patterns and phases. Make a chart tracking your energy levels, food cravings, tiredness, confidence, sleep patterns, and feelings during yoga practice. Month to month, moon to moon, and season to season, there are times when we are more inclined to rest, reflect, be creative, and be grumpy. There are moments of heightened clarity, increased energy and productivity. You can actually make your life a lot easier by figuring this out and flowing with it.
Here are the 4 phases of a menstrual cycle:
New moon: When a woman’s cycle is in sync with the moon, the new moon is the time for menstruation. This is a time for going inward, slowing down, letting go, retreating and relaxing. During this time, anxieties, memories, and experiences may rise up.
Waxing Moon: A time of new beginnings and growth. As our energy increases, new ideas are being planted and new processes are coming into play. This is a time when we are motivated to work harder and faster with a heightened creativity.
Full moon: Ovulation comes with a feeling of coming down, analyzing, and emotionally feeling full of pride or failure. During this time we tend to be hard on ourselves, lacking compassion for ourselves and those around us. We feel the need to make drastic changes. It is a time for transformation.
Waning Moon: A time for making reality out of the visions and impulses that came during the full moon. A time for distillation and clarity.
The purpose of recording your own patterns is to discover, honor & harmonize your own body’s rhythm without expecting to be one way all the time. Therefore, if we come across as 4 different women each month, in essence we are!
3. Yoga for Your Hormones
Yoga is a tool used to strengthen our body/mind connection. As far as yoga asana goes, when menstruating, it is a great to come to the yoga mat. If it feels appropriate to practice, then do. By practicing slowly and gently in a yin or restorative style, we nurture the body with relaxing, calming, and healing poses.
By concentrating our breath and awareness on relaxing certain parts of the body, we minimize pain, stress and irritation that might accompany hormonal imbalances. A yoga sequence used to support your hormones should focus on the kidneys, adrenals, liver, ovaries, hypothalamus, pituitary and pineal glands.
Here are 5 therapeutic asanas that can be practiced throughout your menstrual cycle and the part of your body to focus your awareness on:
1. Cat & Cow pose (Adrenals and Thyroid) While practice cat and cow, bring your attention to your adrenal glands located just above the kidneys. Your kidneys are located on the lower part of the back just below your ribs. Adrenals are the endocrine glands responsible for producing your hormones. In addition to stimulating your adrenals in this pose with the arching of your back, you are compressing and extending your neck stimulating the thyroid gland and the four parathyroid glands, all of which secrete hormones into the body.
2. Paschimotanasana/ Forward Bending Pose (Kidneys and Nervous System) Practice this pose in a restorative way. Use three bolsters between your legs and your upper body. Relax your arms and allow the head to stay long and open while rotating it to the right, resting it gently on the bolsters. Focus your breath to your kidneys, as they are elongated while in this pose. Inhale into that openness and feel the fresh prana, blood and energy refreshing your kidneys. Practicing this pose in a restorative way with bolsters has a calming effect on the nervous system.
3. Prasarita Padottanasa/ Wide Legged Forward Bend (Liver & the Hypothalamus, Pituitary, and Pineal Glands) Place a block on the floor and press the crown of your head into the block, stimulating three glands in the brain, the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and pineal glands. The idea here is to keep the pelvis facing upright, while at the same time allowing fresh blood to flow to the glands in the head by lowering the head towards the floor.
4. Restorative Butterfly (Ovaries) Bring the soles of your feet together. You can use a strap to really enhance this. Placing the middle of the strap on your sacrum, bringing the sides of the strap around on top of your legs and then under tthe pinkie side of your foot. Tighten the strap. Then lay back on on a bolster or two. This will open your entire reproductive area and chest. The ovaries are responsible for producing estrogen and estrogen levels rise through the early part of the menstrual cycle. This pose balances estrogen produced in the ovaries giving relief from cramps at the same time. Breathe into the lower belly, the pelvis area and more specifically the ovaries where you feel the stretch.
5. Childs Pose (Adrenals and Nervous System) Bring your focus to the adrenal glands. In child’s pose your adrenal glands (which are located in the lower back just below your ribs) are stretched open. Breath into this area and make a deep effort to relax on the exhale. This is one of the best poses to relax the nervous system.
4. Supplemental Support
Sometimes we still need a little extra support. Luckily, there are some wonderful natural nutritional supplements that can help. In all the major medical sciences of the world, there are supplements renowned for female related issues. In Ayurveda, Shatavari is commonly recommended as a reproductive tonic. In western herbalism, Vitex Agnu Castus is used as a tonic herb for both the male and female reproductive systems. In Traditional Chinese Medicine a supplement called Don Quai, otherwise known as female ginseng is prescribed for menstruation difficulties. Don Quai balances estrogen levels and is an antispasmodic used for cramping. Sepia is a homeopathic remedy used for all sorts of menstruation irregularities. And don’t underestimate the power of a little Magnesium (especially the ones with a little 5 HTP) to help with inflammation and mood swings.
Here are a few suggestions of foods known to benefit hormonal imbalances. Broccoli is known to break up excess estrogen. Milk thistle, globe artichokes, shizandra and dandelion root support liver performance, helping your body to detoxify. Make sure you are getting plenty of Omegas by eating flaxseed, olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. Finally, sprinkle some maca root in your smoothies for a little extra hormone balancing help.
5. Gab with Your Girls
Lets be honest, women like to talk. We talk about everything. Well, everything besides balancing hormones.
Until now! When we stop and think how many days of the month, year, and our entire lives are spent menstruating, we realize that we should be talking about this subject a lot more. By the number of women that attend Tina’s workshops every month, it is obvious that women of all ages and backgrounds are eager to find out more. Her passion to educate women on their hormones has fired my passion to spread what I have learned from her.
By initiating “women’s talks” in your local community as well as online blog and publications, women are learning about more sustainable and healthier alternatives to tampons, such as the“diva cup” or “moon cups.” Discussions on other women’s experiences using less known forms of birth control such as hormone- free copper IUDs. With a wide field of subjects that only affect women, such as endometriosis and menopause, we should be support system for each other and talk about what works for each other. Supporting each other makes us more empowered, more educated, and better prepared for things that can afflict us in the future.
Kori Hahn is a Yoga Alliance Certified yoga instructor and Government of India certified Ayurvedic massage therapist. Her two greatest loves are travel and yoga. She guides surf and yoga trips around the world with Santosha Society.