Source: Web exclusive: April 2009
Helen Loshny, a 48-year-old mother of two and health researcher in New Westminster, British Columbia, suffered physical and psychological premenstrual symptoms most of her life. As a teenager, cramps and nausea would frequently keep her from school and athletics. ‘The psychological symptoms began to register as I grew older,’ she says. In the seven to 10 days leading up to her period, Loshny often experienced intense anxiety and sadness bordering on depression. ‘It would seem everything was catastrophic and paralyzing.’ The moodiness and emotional turmoil was often a strain on her 25-year marriage, as well.
Over the years, she had tried a whack of remedies, including increased exercise; supplements such as evening primrose oil, B vitamins and calcium; chi energy healing; and acupuncture. She wonders if these might have worked all together, but says, ‘I was self-guided and would try one, then give it up and then try another.’
The breaking point
About two years ago, Loshny had what she describes as a ‘short-lived breakdown.’ ‘At the time, I really didn’t have any moorings anymore.’ Her doubts were amplified during her cycle, and she found herself checking the weather many times a day in a misguided effort to control things. ‘I couldn’t get out of bed, and I had one very scared husband. I knew I needed to find tools and techniques to deal with my emotions.’
After trying so many other remedies, Loshny was worried that nothing would stick. But she decided to try meditation after further research. She was intrigued by the notion that a daily meditation practice helps one cope with powerful emotions through quiet observation. The fact that insight into those emotions might come with time was also very appealing.
To incorporate meditation for one hour daily. Loshny also joined a meditation group to learn techniques and validate her experiences.
The biggest obstacle
‘I had a lack of confidence that I could do it, that it was going to work. But I just stopped framing it that way after a while. I came to stop questioning my motivation and my confidence.’
Loshny says she noticed a change in the way she coped with her menstrual cycle almost right away. Her anxiety and sadness are less intense, but she is also simply able to cope better. ‘It’s because I’ve learned that feelings come and go," she says. "I used to count myself as someone on the verge of craziness. I would say that my PMS was pathological, that it wasn’t me but someone else.’
Now, Loshny is able to experience the emotions without letting them control her. And meditation has helped Loshny improve her relationships with her husband and daughters. ‘I am much less likely to snap or overreact to things," she says. "It’s not as though I don’t have feelings of anger, irritation and desperation toward things,’ but Loshny adds that by taking a few deep breaths, she can let the emotions move through her body. ‘Over time I have become increasingly clear about the source of my feelings and am much less likely to take things ‘personally,” she adds.
‘ Do your own research
Loshny read as much as she could to find an approach that worked for her. She found the teachings on meditation of Pema Chodron very insightful and has recently become involved in programs offered by the Dharma Ocean Foundation.
‘ Just start
While Loshny decided to meditate for an hour daily, she says even 10 minutes a day can make a difference. She recommends beginners try Chodron’s book Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living (Shambhala Classics, 2001).
‘ Drop expectations
You’ll find meditation a lot more difficult if you go into it hoping it will work for you, or that you’ve got to make it work for you, says Loshny. ‘Just try it, and keep on trying it. It will work for you with time.’
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