PMS: it’s been derogatorily called “the curse of womanhood”, and for those of us regularly plagued with premenstrual symptoms the term is apropos. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, over85% of women who menstruate experience at least one Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) symptom each month but don’t require treatment since their symptoms are mild. I, however, fell into a subset of women (3-8 percent) who experienced a more severe and disabling form of PMS, termed premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
Ever since I started menstruating I had not one, but a whole gamut of PMS symptoms that appeared a week before my period and lasted until the bleeding started. Each month I suffered through my obligations: meetings, travel, and teaching with little-to-no sleep, low energy, headaches, apathy, muscle pain, mood swings, bloat, binge eating, anxiety, hot flashes, and nonstop cramping. This was, I thought, normal.
It wasn’t until my 200-hour yoga teacher training with A.G. and Indra Mohan (and their son Dr. Ganesh Mohan, who is both an eastern and western physician) that I learned that Ayurveda, India’s 5,000 year-old holistic medical system, viewed PMS as an imbalance of the doshas, the bodily humors that make up one’s constitution: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Women in India Supported during Menses
In India, a woman’s menses is a highly respected cycle of interconnectedness with nature, and specifically, the moon. Women are encouraged and supported by those in their household to rest and take on a lighter load during their monthly cycle. Hearing this was music to my ears! Imagine an ideology that lies in direct contrast to how Western culture views a woman’s needs at her time of natural cleansing. Certainly my soldiering on in spite of my monthly discomfort was one of the reasons why my symptoms endured.
Xeno-estrogens Exacerbate PMS
Another potential reason for PMS that Western women should be concerned about is exposure to environmental toxins: food additives, pollutants, birth control pills, and pesticides. Once these “xeno-estrogens” enter the body, they create a hormonal imbalance, imitating estrogen and leading to a slew of symptoms and conditions. Besides lifestyle and dietary changes, Ayurveda recommends Panchakarma, the detoxification and rejuvenation process used for thousands of years to treat disease and bring the body back into balance.
Earlier this year I traveled to India to see the Mohans and decided that while there I would to treat myself to a couple weeks of Panchakarma. One of my companions, Liz Kruger, an Ayurvedic practitioner from Pahrump, Nevada, inquired with an instructor from the Ayurvedic Institute of America as to where we might find authentic and traditional Ayurveda. This led us to Vaidyagrama, an authentic Ayurvedic village on the outskirts of Coimbatore in Southern India.
Vaidyagrama means “a true healing village.” It is both a hospital and a learning center, but to call it either would be limiting since it is much more. It is an ashram and a temple of healing—a community in harmony with nature and its neighbors; a green and eco-friendly space built upon the principles of Vastu Shastra—India’s version of feng shui. Vaidyagrama is a coalition of doctors, therapists, staff, and local villagers who have come together to share their gifts with patients from all over the world so that healing, learning, and transformation can take place. It was one of the best ways I have ever spent a vacation.
Not only did a four-week upper respiratory infection that I picked up in Mamallapuram disappear in the process of surrendering to my detoxification plan, it seemed as if my potential as a person—my reason for waking up each day—heightened. I grew lighter in mind and body. My attitude softened. My heart opened. Sleep deepened. Muscular aches and joint pain dissolved. I felt as though my nervous system both rested as well as purged years worth of waste.
Because my period arrived during my treatment plan, I was given castor oil purgation as part of my overall therapy. I was also sent home with a three-month supply of herbal medicine, and one additional castor oil purgation to be taken on the first day of my next period. I am elated to report that for the past four months, since returning home from India, my PMS symptoms have abated. To my surprise, my period now simply arrives, quietly, and without warning—for the first time in twenty years! Although it would be easy, it’s not worth lamenting over the lost years spent suffering from PMS. Instead I hope to encourage women to seek out this ancient tradition for help recover a healthy menstrual cycle.
If you go…
At Vaidyagrama each patient has her own private apartment and verandah overlooking a garden. Ninety percent of the materials used to build the facility are natural—from stone floors and mud walls to water-based paint and bio mass briquettes for cooking. The center started with three barren acres—no water and no plants. They have since grown to twenty acres, planted more than 8,000 trees, including soap nut from which they produce natural cleanser for washing clothes and floors. Over 150 of the 5,000 herbs used at Vaidyagrama are now grown on the property. And it has only been three years since they opened their doors.
Every day consists of morning and evening prayers; herbal medicines; three delicious vegetarian meals based on the six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent; two daily doctor consultations; one external body treatment; yoga nidra—a “sleep-like” guided meditation, and evening satsung where patients can ask questions about Ayurveda. Because doctors and staff are actively involved with each patient’s experience, the atmosphere at Vaidyagrama feels like a home away from home.
Twice daily my physician, Dr. Hari Krishnan, ended our consultations by placing his hand on his heart as a gesture of the spirit of humanity. If only all healthcare professionals did this, not only would it improve allopathic medicine’s bad rap for poor bedside manners, patients might also be more inspired to heal.
I plan on returning to Vaidyagrama with a group next year so that I can share the wisdom of authentic Ayurveda with others.
Monique Parker is the director of Svastha Yoga Institute, the US-affiliate school of Svastha Yoga and Ayurveda in Chennai, India. A yoga practitioner for 17 years, she also co-founded and directs the Yoga Teacher Certification Program at the University of New Mexico-Taos. Recently Monique was named one of the “Remarkable Women of Taos”, a year-long celebration honoring outstanding historic and contemporary women of Taos, NM, where she lives and teaches. Her blog, “Meditate on This”, regularly appears in the Taos News. Visit her website:www.svasthayogainstitute.com or email her at: [email protected]
Editor: Ryan Pinkard