Monday, April 2, 2012

Meditation and Menopause

I think what has truly been most helpful to ease my approach toward menopause has been, believe it or not, meditation. This has been the single most effective method toward aiding my ability to cope with the extreme swings of hormones that ebb and flow so rapidly through the brain and body. Meditation first came into my life close to 20 years a go. At that time, I was going through some extremely high stress conditions on both the career and personal front. All of these external events collided causing me to experience, what I soon would learn were panic attacks. I recall only too well how shocked I was to learn that stress could indeed cause one to have body symptoms that mimicked a heart attack. (Keep in mind, this was the mid 80' to early 90's when the public's understanding of "stress" induced symptoms was in its infancy. We have thankfully learned much since that time.)

To back track a bit, I was in my mid 20's to early 30's and very much "married" to my career. I was the quintessential career woman: driven, strong, and tireless. I was the employee who gave up her vacations for the "good" of the company, attended many "power" breakfasts at the Harvard Club or  Parker House, dined out routinely and spent hundreds of dollars on drink filled nights with both coworkers and clients, was considered the "best" at what I did, and in general, lost sight of who I was in the process. I mean, the company came first, right? Or so I thought.

A very enlightened and most helpful career counselor who worked with female graduate students at Boston University helped me to put my life back on track. It was she who introduced me to the world of meditation, and in it I found a respite from the churning thoughts that raced through my mind at break neck pace. Not long after this discovery of meditation, I bid a hasty departure from the coming storm of a merger at my work place and relocated to New Jersey, place of my birth, to lick my wounds and decide what path lay ahead for me in life.

I soon found myself following a love I had long ago given up, and that was to pursue a fine art degree. Along the way I met a most inspirational teacher, Marianne Matlock-Hinkle who jump-started my love of abstract art, ( a la Hans Hoffman, Mark Rothko. Louise Nevelson, and so many more) and Tibetan Buddhist Meditation. She was/is a Buddhist inspired artist whose work was/is quite lovely to contemplate.  I started to routinely attend classes and meditation nights at the Tibetan Buddhist Center in Philadelphia, led by a wonderful monk Lobsang Samtem. Always smiling and always engaging, this man was my teacher and guide. I was captivated by the beauty and simplicity of mantra and chant, and knew this was indeed an answer to the constant barrage of noise from one's daily life.

My love of meditation also led me me to seek out a yoga practice that has stayed with me to this day. While my body cannot move in quite the same it once did, the breath work and and meditative qualities are an additional aid to daily life in this fast paced, got to have it now, cell phone manic, 24/7/365 email accessible, world in which we dwell.

Yoga and meditation literally gave me the strength and determination needed to face my cancer diagnosis almost 10 years a go.  I am not exaggerating when I say that period of my life went by with a graceful sense of purpose that made it all seem to flow naturally onward. And it got me through much more: the death of my sister-in-law at age 38 to breast cancer, the Non Hodgkins Lymphoma diagnosis of my sister at age 39 and recurrence in her mid-forties.,  the death of my grandmother at age 90, the adoption of my wonderful and laughter-filled son from Korea 7 or so years ago, the breast cancer diagnosis of my mother at age 75,  my foray into the art world, my sadness at leaving all my friends and family when we relocated, the day after Christmas, to a cold and friendless New England, the recent down turn in my mothers health with her COPD and Congestive Heart Failure diagnosis and my ever increased  inability to handle stress as well as I had with my approaching menopause. The subsequent shift in hormones make me feel like the same erratic and unpredictable teenager I once was so very long a go.

In the last two years or so I found a renewed sense of purpose to my meditation practice and a much more profound understanding of all this talk of mindfulness in my daily life. I have rediscovered the benefits of a daily meditation practice and owe this, in large part,  to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn whose 8 week mindfulness program I underwent, on my own, a year or so ago in the hopes that it would reignite my stalled and somewhat haphazard meditation practice that had once been a daily routine for me. (Motherhood has a way of shifting priorities, and rather then focusing on my daily practice I let it become far too erratic in my life.) Not so anymore! The MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program) brought such insight and calm to my raging hormones that I was convinced this was indeed a practice that must continue daily.

In the words of an often quoted phrase: Meditation: its not what you think. Indeed, it is not. Something that sounds so simple can truly have such far reaching positive effects while providing the ability to face the diatribe of life, is indeed a "keeper' in my mind.

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