The Magical Menses
Our earth is 87% water. Our bodies are the same. The moon pulls at the tides of the Earth’s water and the tides in women’s bodies. Most women bleed and ovulate in relation to the moon. Currently many men and women do not understand nor feel connected to themselves, their bodily rhythms nor the mother earth. The menstrual cycle is seen as a nuisance and an obstruction to sex, work, “normal” life and something women have to “put up with”. Women suffer with PMS, menstrual pain and irregularities, fatigue, stress, infertility and their intimates suffer along with them. Perhaps with some more education, information and a change in perspective we might have an opportunity to “go with the flow” a bit more and quit feeling like we are “swimming upstream” so much of the time.
The Monthly Cycle
A normal menstrual cycle is approximately 28 days long and has two primary phases. The first phase is the “yin/estrogenic” phase. The second phase is the “yang/progesterone” phase. It is also called the leutal phase.
The Yin Phase
Day one of the cycle is the first day of a woman’s menstrual period. A normal period lasts from 3-7 days. Usually the flow is heavier during the first 2 days and this is when a woman will experience cramps, headaches, fatigue and a great desire to be quiet and to be alone. During the bleeding phase of the cycle it is helpful if women can be in warm, quiet places, not work if possible, get extra rest and eat warm, nourishing foods. Animal protein, beets, bitter greens and whole grains are all advised. Nettles, red raspberry leaf and oat straw are all good herbs to use as well. It is crucial that bleeding women stay away from cold and icy foods. These will stagnate the blood and stops its free flow. The menses is a time when women are more earth based and connected to spirit. Quiet meditative activities such as art projects, gentle walking, yoga, altar building, writing, prayer and meditation will give women a chance to feel more connected. Women can reflect on their past month and decide what to let go of and what to call in using their inner guidance and wisdom. If the family can help support her “checking out” a bit to “check in”, everyone benefits in the long run. Intimates can provide support by doing the cooking, cleaning, childcare and massaging their partner. It is important to give her space and not expect her to be sexually available. This will result in having a woman in the household who feels seen, loved and respected and will lead to a much more harmonious relationship in the long run. If there are children in the household that observe this dynamic, it will set the stage for them to have a positive relationship to themselves, women, and menses, which in turn may positively effect the culture at large.
The second half of the “yin” phase is the week after menses. Unless a woman has bled too much during her period, this is often a really good week for women and those around them. Their bodies are gearing up for ovulation and there is a sense of anticipation in the cells. This is a good time for women to start new projects, exercise more intensely and put into motion the agreements they made with themselves while bleeding. Women with 28-day cycles usually ovulate on day 14; therefore, beginning on day 8 they are fertile. Now is the time to start using birth control or make love to make babies depending on your circumstances. A women’s vaginal mucus will change from dry to watery, then slippery at this time. Women in the fertile phase of their cycles are often more social, more outgoing, wear more vibrant colors, sexier clothes, party more. They are biologically attracting a mate to themselves for procreation. This is a great time to conceive projects, as well as babies, and to make connections and network with others.
If a women likes to eat raw foods, yogurt, ice cream and cold liquids, this is a safer week for her to eat/drink them, although they are never advised in Traditional Chinese Medicine. They should be used sparingly and preferably mixed with warm cooked food and drink to promote healthy ovulation and nourish her eggs. Whether a woman wants to be pregnant or not it is advisable to eat foods that hold the potential to create new life. These foods include: nuts, seeds, eggs and roe.
The Yang Phase
The second half of the cycle begins with ovulation. This is the day the egg breaks through the corpus leuteum (or “yellow body”) and moves in to the fallopian tube. If sperm is waiting there, conception may occur. This is approximately day 14 of a 28-day cycle. A woman needs to make sure to be using birth control at this time unless she wants to conceive. The egg lives for 24-72 hours. If it is not a child she would like to conceive, what is it? This can be a very creative time of the month. Perhaps it is a good time to sew seeds, plant plants, and do artwork and other projects that are both work and non-work related. The premenstrual week will be arriving soon. What can be done to make that week easier?
Week 3: The Premenstrual Week
Liver qi congestion is the primary organ imbalance that leads to the classic symptoms of PMS-headaches, breast tenderness, irritability and rage. Emotional irritability, insecurity, food cravings, fatigue, bloating and insomnia are other common symptoms. Any type of exercise that causes the diaphragm to rhythmically massage the liver will help with liver qi congestion. Yoga, twisting postures, aerobic exercise, walking and climbing will all help. Eating sour foods such as lemons, bitter greens, tempeh, sauerkraut, and using bitters-such as Swedish digestive bitters will help as well. Acupuncture and herbs are extraordinarily helpful for PMS. A regular meditation practice will help calm the spirit and mind. For women and their partners who suffer from PMS it is crucial to develop working strategies for this week. A highly developed sense of humor can help immensely. Orgasms help a lot. If a woman can’t connect with her partner or is single, then she can connect with her self. A bit of chocolate will help; the whole box will hinder. Staying hydrated and eating to build herself up for the bleeding that is around the corner is important. Use the same foods as menses week foods and throw in a few fun foods as well. It helps! Getting some time alone so that she can be gracious when she is with others is extremely helpful. The yang phase is coming to a close and the yin phase is about to begin again with menses. And so goes a month in a woman’s life. It’s a beautiful, simple and complex rhythm. The Iroquois grandmothers believe that the earth used to be in better balance because the women bled onto the earth for a week of every month for 40 years of their lives. The unfertilized egg and blood was a gift to the mother earth, nourishing her and making her fertile. Now that most women no longer give this offering to the mother she is malnourished and suffers deeply. However if we can all find our own ways to become more harmonious and connected with our partners, our people, our great mother and ourselves, perhaps we can undo some of the damage done thru disconnection and help bring healing thru re-connection.
Tips for A Healthy Menstrual Cycle:
- It is important to keep your feet and midriff warm and covered. This will prevent your womb from being chilled leading to blood stagnation and painful periods with clots and cramps.
- Keep food and drink warm for the same reason.
- Eat a diet that is primarily made of organic whole foods. This includes: whole grains, fruit, vegetable, nuts, seeds, eggs, herbs and animal protein. Stay away from processed foods and chemicals since they place a higher burden on the body and are not good for our health or the environment.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Don’t smoke tobacco.
- Get regular exercise.
- Stay hydrated.
- Maintain an active sex life even if it is with your self. It is a use it or lose it proposition when it comes to vaginal atrophy!
- Allow yourself at least a portion of your life when your birth control doesn’t interfere with a normal menstrual cycle so you can connect with yourself, your power, your intuition and your body.
- Acupuncture and herbs are extremely helpful for normal hormonal regulation.
- Plan your food and activities according to your cycle and enjoy going with the flow.
- Try and get a least a few hours alone to rest and connect with your self while your are on your period.
- Don’t have penetrative sex during your period. It can cause blood to get pushed backwards into the fallopian tubes and out the ovaries into the pelvis. This can cause Endometriosis. Right now the proper flow of blood is out and down. Not up and inward. This is especially important when the flow is heavy.
May you enjoy living in this female body with all its subtlety, complexity and power.
Peace and love,
Laurel Brody, L.Ac.