For the past few years, hormone replacement therapy has become a well-publicized and highly debated topic, and many women are looking for natural alternatives to “standard” hormone therapy. In the reproductive years, varying cycles of estrogen and progesterone, as well as their effects on neurotransmitters, lead many women to experience mood swings, painful cramps, bloating, and more than 100 other less-than-pleasant symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome). For perimenopausal women, fluctuations in these same hormones can contribute to hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, and weight gain.

These hormonal fluctuations may go on for years before finally dipping down to post-menopausal levels.
With conventional treatment, women with PMS may end up taking a multitude of medicines, one for each symptom, often with incomplete relief. Women going through menopause might also take the symptom management approach or decide to restore their estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone levels through hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

While HRT can be highly effective in treating symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, recent research, including a major 2002 study by the Women’s Health Initiative, has led many to conclude that the risks of HRT exceed the benefits for certain groups of women. Read more about the WHI study here. Much of this research was done using a standard FDA-approved hormone therapy called PremPro, a combination of Premarin (conjugated equine estrogen) and Provera (medroxyprogesterone acetate). Since that time, a lot of debate has arisen regarding the use of so-called “natural” or “bio-identical” hormones over these conventional hormone therapies:

What Are Bio-identical Hormones?
Bio-identical hormones are those which are identical in molecular structure to the hormones that women make in their bodies. Other than in a woman’s body, these hormones are not found in nature and therefore must be synthesized in a laboratory, typically from extracts of soy or yams. FDA-approved bio-identical hormones are available; however, these preparations may also be compounded individually.

In contrast, although standard or conventional hormones such as Premarin come from a natural source (the urine of a pregnant mare), they are not bio-identical and are metabolized into various forms of estrogen other than estradiol, the predominant form of estrogen that declines in menopause. So far, scientific studies have not found that using bio-identical HRT offers any health advantages over standard HRT.

An Alternative to Hormone Replacement
While I believe that HRT using bio-identical hormones and other medications may be extremely useful for women whose lives are deeply disrupted by menopausal symptoms or PMS, I have found that taking an Ayurvedic approach aimed at restoring balance in the whole body eliminates, or at least greatly reduces, the need for a pharmaceutical approach. Symptoms of discomfort are our body’s way of communicating to us. Instead of simply masking the symptoms with hormonal treatment or medication, it’s important to listen to what the underlying message may be and address any underlying imbalances. The time of perimenopause and menopause is not only a transition from the physiology of the reproductive years, but also an opening to address the deeper meaning of life and spirit.

Many of my patients have found that certain lifestyle changes and simple techniques such as the ones below have allowed them to balance their hormones and reclaim health.

1. Eat your broccoli. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kohlrabi contain a substance called indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which is metabolized in the body to produce diindolylmethane (DIM). Both of these substances help modulate estrogens and have been shown to have some anti-cancer effects, particularly for breast cancer.

2. Maintain a healthy weight. Excessive adipose (fat) tissue can act as an endocrine organ, producing more estrogen in the body. By maintaining a healthy weight, your body is not stimulated to overproduce certain hormones.

3. Include phytoestrogens in your diet. Found in soy foods, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, bean sprouts, and legumes such as garbanzo beans and peas, phytoestrogens are plant-based substances that can help balance your hormones naturally.

Although there has been some controversy in the media over the consumption of soy, I do not know of any scientific studies showing that eating soy-containing foods is harmful. My view is that consuming small amounts of soy in the diet can be beneficial. However, I would advise against taking phytoestrogens such as soy as supplements as we do not know enough about the effects of taking these compounds in high doses. Also, I caution against eating processed soy products and soy additives in many foods, but instead encourage the use of traditional soy foods such as tofu, edamame, tempeh, miso, and soy sauce. Make sure they are organic and non-GMO. If you have known thyroid disease, I would also cautionagainst eating foods that contain phytoestrogens raw as goitrogens in these foods may interfere with thyroid function. Cooking does neutralize this effect, but avoid consumption within two hours of taking any thyroid medication.

4. Consider the use of herbal remedies. In my practice, the Ayurvedic herb shatavari has been useful for both menopausal hot flashes and PMS associated with irritability and mood swings. Other herbal remedies have also proven helpful for both physical and psychological symptoms. As each individual is different, always speak with a trained practitioner before using herbal remedies.

5. Breathe deeply. Doing fifteen minutes of deep belly breathing twice daily has been shown in several clinical trials to decrease hot flashes and night sweats as well as improve a woman’s sense of well-being. In addition, I encourage women (and men) to learn a mind-quieting technique such as Primordial Sound Meditation, which helps decrease stress hormones and allows the body to function more efficiently.

Addressing lifestyle including diet, physical activity and stress management as well as gaining support from practitioners and loved ones is an excellent start. In addition to helping with hormonal balance, these mind-body techniques to bring about balance create a greater sense of wellbeing and ultimately optimum health.

by Valencia Porter, M.D., M.P.H.

Dr. Valencia Porter is the Chopra Center’s Integrative Medicine Director and a Vedic Master. Board-certified in both General Preventive Medicine and Integrative Holistic Medicine.

by Deepak Chopra, M.D.

When I talk to people struggling with excess weight, the same themes repeat themselves, often for decades. Does any of this sound familiar?

• “I’ve tried everything, but nothing has worked. I might as well give up.”

• “I must be genetically programmed to be overweight.”

• “I’m too old to start all over again.”

• “I know I should exercise, but I can’t stay motivated.”

• “I know the right foods to eat, but I give in to temptations and cravings.”

• “It’s all just too hard.”

When most doctors hear such remarks, they aren’t paying attention to the psychological implications – the doctor is trying to isolate a physical complaint. Beyond that, the vast majority of physicians, including myself, received no training in nutrition in medical school, which generally covers only the most basic training about weight (in lectures on endocrinology), and devotes almost zero hours to the effects of dieting. As for emotions, those require a psychiatrist or other therapist. They aren’t part of a typical physician’s job description.

It’s incomplete medicine when the mind-body connection is being ignored. In anyone’s story, the main themes aren’t incidental or irrelevant. When you feed negative input into the brain, it changes, shaping itself to conform to the messaging it receives. The brain has no mind of its own. It cannot choose which instructions to obey and which to ignore. You’re the one who possesses a mind, and you’re the author writing your story. This means that you have the most control. You can feed negative messages to your brain or positive messages – the choice is yours.

I realize that neuroscience treats the brain and the mind as one and the same. That’s because the mind is invisible while the brain is a semi-solid object that can be touched and measured. My position is different and I think closer to real life. The brain is like a radio receiving what the mind has to say. When you hear a concert broadcast, you don’t mistake the radio for Mozart. If someone whispers “I love you” into your ear, you’re the one who falls in love, not your limbic system. The mind comes first because the person comes first.

The Freedom to Choose Something Different
Your body is the physical record of your life story as you’ve lived it until today. Every pound represents a choice to eat a certain way, and each bite is silently influenced by a set of habits, a list of likes and dislikes, and how others around you are eating. If you’re unhappy with your weight, those extra pounds are likely to represent some unhappy experiences: moments of frustration, high levels of stress, anxiety over a job or a relationship. If your body represents your story so far, the natural way to change your body is to change your story.

In my experience, when someone is overweight, they say negative things to themselves over and over. Remember, when you change your internal messages, you aren’t just talking to yourself. You’re writing new pages in the book of your life. The key is to change the negative messages so that instead of reinforcing bad behaviors, you begin to reinforce good ones.

Here are a few of the common negative stories that people struggling with their weight tell themselves – and their positive antidotes. Keep in mind that the positive messages are just suggestions. Feel free to invent your own new stories, for that is the best way to really take control of the input your brain is receiving.

1. Old Story: I’ve tried so many diets and nothing has worked. I might as well give up. 
New Story: Today’s a new day. Whatever happened in the past doesn’t count. There’s always possibility and a solution in the present.

2. Old Story: My genes must be programmed to make me fat. 
New Story: I can’t change my genes but I can trigger other genes that regulate normal appetite. I know people who have lost huge amounts of weight. Their genes didn’t hold them back, and mine won’t either.

3. Old Story: I’m too old to start all over again. 
New Story: Age doesn’t matter because when I lose weight, I’m going back in time. I’m reversing the aging process to get back to where my body used to be – and wants to be.

4. Old Story: I know I should exercise, but I can’t keep myself motivated. 
New Story: I can shift my perspective on exercise and find ways to move my body that are fun, such as dancing, walking in nature, or simple yoga. Once I remember how good it feels to move around, motivation won’t be a problem.

5. Old Story: It’s all just too hard. 
New Story: The hard part was deprivation, rigid discipline, and struggling against hunger. I’m not going to do any of those things anymore. Finding satisfaction is easy, and it’s my new path.

Whenever the familiar, negative themes run through your mind, stop and notice what you’re thinking. Then substitute a counter-thought, a positive message. In this way, you jump-start the process of rewriting your story and changing your body as you do.

This exercise was developed by Dr. Dan Seagull who is a psychiatrist at UCLA and it’s based on the Buddhist awareness mediation. Where you bring your awareness to your individual self through your senses then gradually your body – what’s around you – your relationships – and bringing awareness to everything that we can bring awareness to. It’s a really good practice in present moment awareness. I am just going to focus on using the senses in this exercise.

I teach this meditation practice in my weekly yoga classes. It is really effective for pain management but it is also very beneficial during those times of greatest anguish – when fear is steering your thoughts, shuttling them back and forth between past and future – between sorrow and dread. Staying in the moment, even for minutes at a time, you rediscover your personal power and build self-reliance.

Staying in the moment provides an alternative to drowning your feelings in alcohol, abusing drugs, or acting out in self-destructive ways. It allows you to stay with your feelings, to let them wash over you like waves. You will emerge from the storm!

You can bear the very worst of these feelings because you know that they are normal and temporary, part of life’s unpredictability and impermanence. As you continue practicing this exercise, you learn to take refuge in life around you. When fear and grief are so intense that thinking about how you will get through a whole day is often overwhelming. One day is too big a chunk of time to grapple with all at once. So your task is to get into this very moment. Focus upon sensory information coming through your eyes and ears and nose and skin right now.

Step by step instructions for staying in the moment

Preparing yourself for the Moment: Begin right where you are. Just stop whatever you are doing and take in your immediate surroundings.

Is there natural light or lamplight? Is the room sparse or cluttered with many things? Take it all in: the sights, the sounds, the feeling of the room.

Use Your Sense of Sound to Bring you into the Moment

Listening for faint background noises is one of the most effective ways to get into the moment.

Listening to Background Noises: Is it quiet, or do you hear the blaring noise of a radio or television? If you can, turn them off.

• Close your eyes and focus your attention on the sounds you hear. At first, the loudest noises command your attention. You may hear someone’s voice in the background or people moving around in the other rooms or truck driving by.
• Try to identify all of the sounds you hear.
• Now listen more closely. Can you hear the distant sounds of birds? Can you hear cars on faraway streets? Can you hear the hum of an appliance in another room – the refrigerator or a ceiling fan?
• Keep going, listening for the faintest of sounds, as long as you can.

You have used your sense of hearing to momentarily come out of your thoughts and enter the peace and calm of the moment. Your task is as simple as this.

Use Your Sense of Touch to Bring in the Moment

Use your sense of touch in a deliberate, self disciplined way.

• Close your eyes. Is there any movement of air in the room? Can you feel it against your face, neck, or hands? It may require deep concentration to tune in to this sensation.
• What else do you feel? How do your clothes feel in contact with your skin? Can you feel their weight on your shoulders or their texture against your legs? Can you feel the weight of a watch or bracelet on your wrist, the weight of the shoes on your feet?
• Think about everything in contact with your skin, beginning with your feet. Do you feel a breeze against bare skin? Pressure of warm socks? Are they too tight? Or do you feel only the pressure of sheets across your bare feet?
• Next, think about the skin on your legs, then your torso and arms, as you slowly move up your body.
• Pay attention to your hands. They are very sensitive and can pick up the slightest movements of air. Reach out your hands and feel the texture of things around you. What does the chair you’re sitting on feel like? The sheets on your bed?
• Your face is also sensitive to air currents and temperature. What do you feel?
• The weight of your hair across your scalp? Tingling?

As you take in these sensations, you have entered the moment. You are delivered from your painful thoughts.

Use your sense of taste and smell

I don’t mean for you to practice this exercise at meals. In fact, you will gain the most benefit by trying to discern very subtle tastes and smells.

• Concentrate on what the inside of your mouth tastes like. Is it a neutral taste? Minty? Smoky?
• As you inhale, do you notice any changes? Upon inhaling, can you detect the scent of wood? Of dirt? Of cleaning agents? Of Fruit?

Use your senses of taste and smell to bring you out of your thoughts and into the moment.


Choose Happiness

Each day we have countless opportunities to choose. We make choices about what activities to pursue, how we spend our time and money, and where we focus the precious resource of our attention. What kinds of choices make us happy? Researchers in the field of positive psychology, in particular professors Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ed Diener, and Martin Seligman, have investigated this question in depth, and their findings may surprise you. The first kind of choice they looked at was the pursuit of personal pleasures – such as eating a good meal, having a glass of wine, going to a movie, having sex, and shopping. These pleasures do increase our happiness but only temporarily, for a few hours orshutterstock_115871620 a day or two at most.

As the researchers discovered, the choices that really make us happy are those that allow us to express our creativity or promote the happiness of another person. It turns out that making other people is the fast track to happiness, and its effect is long lasting. If you want instant happiness, the secret is to open your heart and give freely and without any expectations. The intention behind your giving is the most important thing, for when you give unconditionally and from the heart, the energy and joy in the act of giving increases many times over. While material gifts are wonderful, keep in mind that what really brings people happiness is these four intangibles:

Attention is deep listening. When we give our attention, we are completely present and open as we focus on understanding another person’s perspective – even when we don’t agree with it. We don’t give advice (unless the other person directly asks for it) and we don’t interrupt or try to get someone to hurry up and “get to the point.”
According to neuroscientists, when we practice deep listening, the person who is being heard experiences a “cooling down” or slowing of activity in the amygdala – the “primitive” part of our brain that processes fear and anxiety and produces the “fight-or-flight” response when we feel threatened. Simply by listening attentively to someone, we are actually helping to calm their brain and reduce their stress, which has many benefits for physical and emotional wellbeing.

Appreciation is letting someone know that you value them and are grateful they are in your life. You notice the qualities you love about a person and share your appreciation for who they are, their unique gifts, and the ways in which their presence and actions creates more peace, joy, and fun in your life.

 Affection is deep caring. We express our affection through our words, physical touch, and other actions, letting someone know that we are there for them. Loving touch is particularly vital to health and happiness. It releases a shower of natural pain-relieving and mood-elevating chemicals throughout the body, calming the mind’s busy chatter and promoting feelings of safety, comfort, and relaxation. While technology allows us to see and hear each other from a distance, it can’t create the true connection and fulfillment that comes from loving touch.

One of the deepest human needs is acceptance . . . that feeling of being completely seen and accepted, even with all of our weaknesses, inconsistencies, and shortcomings. According to the ancient Vedic sages, one of the greatest attribute of an enlightened being is the ability to embrace life’s inherent ambiguity. Though most of us haven’t attained enlightenment, we can still cultivate this ability to embrace paradox and accept both ourselves and others exactly as they are.

Focus on opening your heart. Focus each day on giving the gifts of attention, appreciation, affection, and acceptance. Keep a journal of your experiences and how you feel when you open your heart just a little bit wider each day.


The Joy of Giving

by Deepak Chopra, M.D.

It has become a truism that to receive love we must give it. Giving engenders receiving, and receiving engenders giving. The reciprocal action keeps the flow of love alive. Without it, love would stagnate. For so many of us, however, learning to give is extremely difficult. It runs counter to some deep conditioning that we all carry around inside. We may fear that if we give, we will have less. We have all been taught to hold on to a good thing.

It is the ego that has a hard time letting go of something precious because at bottom, ego isn’t guided by love but by the struggle to survive. It wants predictable outcomes, security, the prerogative to be right, and continuity. Anyone who has ever been trapped in a possessive relationship knows ego’s smothering effect.

While the ego’s primitive nature wants to hold on and control, spirit has no such concerns. It wants being, love, freedom, and creative opportunities. Spirit isn’t afraid to give because it knows that its essential nature is pure love, unbounded in time and space. The question naturally arises, how then do we free ourselves to love and give freely?

The first step is to recognize your true spiritual nature. In truth, you are pure spirit, pure love, . . . created from the same spirit that in infinite form is known as God. Realize that the ego often acts like a scared bully trying to protect its tiny fiefdom, not knowing that it is part of an infinite field of pure potentiality and infinite possibilities.

The Intention Behind Giving

As the spiritual Law of Giving and Receiving states, everything in the universe is in constant, dynamic exchange. The more we give, the more we will receive, because giving keeps the abundance of the universe circulating in our lives. The most important thing is the intention behind your giving and receiving. If, through the act of giving, you feel you have lost something, then the gift is not truly given and will not cause increase.

On the other hand, when giving results in an experience of love, joy, peace, community, caring, and self-worth, the process of expansion has begun. In truly giving, you open a conduit for the kind of happiness that no one could ever steal from you. You move beyond limited thought-patterns and fears and you get a glimpse of ecstasy, the state of standing outside yourself in the infinite field of Being.

As we celebrate the holiday season, realize that you are already inherently affluent, no matter how much or how little money you have, because the source of all abundance is the field of pure potentiality – it is consciousness that knows how to fulfill every need, including joy, love, laughter, peace, harmony, and knowledge. If you seek these things first – not only for yourself, but for others – all else will come to you spontaneously.



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