In order to alleviate premenstrual syndrome, it's important to understand its physical and emotional causes. On a physical level, most physicians agree that an imbalance of hormones and a sluggish liver contribute to our symptoms. If we feel anxious and moody, chances are we have an overabundance of estrogen in our bodies or we're not producing enough progesterone to balance it. If we are depressed, confused, can't sleep, and can't remember a thing, too much progesterone may be the culprit. Regardless of which hormone predominates, it could be a sign that our endocrine systems are not doing their jobs efficiently and have failed to produce the correct amount of the hormones we need. If we experience bloating, breast tenderness, and weight gain, the pituitary gland and adrenals may be to blame.
The liver also plays a role in alleviating our PMS symptoms. If we keep the liver healthy through proper diet, exercise, and stress relief, it has no problem breaking down excess hormones and passing them along to the kidneys, which excrete them from the system.
Svoboda calls PMS our "monthly dysfunction syndrome," and believes it is a result of the disharmony created during the early part of our cycles. In other words, if you eat junk food, drink lots of caffeinated beverages, function with very little sleep, shelve your exercise routine, and fail to deal with feelings (especially anger and hurt) that crop up, you can count on problems later in the month.
My favorite definition of PMS comes from Joan Borysenko, who deems it "emotional housecleaning," the time during our cycles in which we are more apt to confront what is bothering us and release it. As we enter the luteinizing, progesterone-dominant phase of our cycle, we often turn inward, becoming more in touch with our deepest, even darkest emotions. Suddenly something we've repressed all month long seems overwhelming and we need to express it, get it out, deal with it. Unfortunately, society in general—and often our families in particular—aren't really thrilled to see that side of us and quickly label our behavior as bitchy and out of character. Women who listen to their feelings and needs during this time, however, often discover many of their physical PMS complaints subside.
Yoga helps alleviate PMS in a number of ways. On a physical level, yoga relaxes the nervous system, balances the endocrine system, increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the reproductive organs, and strengthens the muscles surrounding those organs. Psychologically, yoga works to ease stress and promote relaxation so that the hypothalamus can regulate the hormones more efficiently. It offers a woman the time—and often the permission—she needs to go inside, to listen to her body, and to respond to what she hears.
Keep Healthy All Month
The most important thing you can do to minimize menstrual problems is to take care of your body, to honor yourself, all month long. If you know, for example, that drinking coffee or Coke brings on premenstrual headaches, find a noncaffeinated substitute. I love raspberry leaf herb tea on ice and know if that's in the refrigerator, I'm less inclined to grab a Coke when I'm craving a sweet drink. Those tasty Italian sodas (sweet syrup and fizzy water) offer a little more sinful treat without doing much harm. In general, if you avoid greasy foods and sugary desserts, cut down on alcohol and caffeinated beverages, and substitute home-cooked meals for processed foods, you may find much of your physical and emotional discomfort alleviated. Here are some other suggestions many women have found helpful.