In case you haven’t noticed, Energy Matters publishes our newsletters seasonally. That’s because in Chinese Medicine, living in harmony with the seasons is an important part of cultivating health. Another key tenet is that what’s in the macrocosm (the universe) is reflected in the microcosm (our bodies).
In this way, our bodies have seasons too – whatever our age, gender, or other categories. While we are all affected by the cycles of the sun, people who menstruate also have internal seasons that correspond with the cycles of the moon. Before artificial lights and a lifestyle that is quite removed from the natural world, women tended to bleed with the new moon, and ovulate during the full moon.
The phases of the menstrual cycle are quite comparable to the seasons in the outer world. The part of the cycle that corresponds to the winter season is menstruation. And health promoting practices around menstruation are similar to the recommended practices in winter. Namely, going inward, resting, and reflecting.
In a modern culture that’s based on fear of nature and fear of the feminine, we expect everyone to do the same, be the same, perform the same all the time, with no regard to natural cycles whether internal or external. This causes of a lot of disharmony, both personally and collectively.
I have to really work against that cultural bias and expectation when I talk with my patients about trying to give themselves way more rest and leeway during their menses. In a world more in harmony with nature, we would have the opportunity to rest, replenish, and nourish ourselves, while our bodies do the not-so-trivial work of shedding our uterine lining (this is a major feat!). Those who are menstruating would be waited upon by those who are not, fed nourishing food, perhaps apply healing oils to their bellies, legs, and feet (where many acupuncture points to help the uterus are located), and kept warm and cozy.
As we know, this is not the reality that we currently live in. I struggled with terrible periods in my teens and 20’s. Chinese Medicine has done so much to ease the difficulty associated with menses – for myself, and for so many of my patients. A not-insignificant part of that is working with lifestyle choices as well as attitude around the period.
I, like most modern women, still have to work during my period. But I tell myself “I can only do what I can do” and let go of anything beyond what minimally needs to be done. I rely on spirit working through me even more than usual (I know this works because even if I am feeling lousy, my patients still report excellent results!). If I’m feeling a lot emotionally, I remind myself that the barriers and walls fall away during this time, and the things we normally try to keep under the surface have a chance to come up and speak with us – and it’s important to listen! (Of course we should also remember to keep perspective and revisit those feelings once we’re in the ‘spring’ part of our cycle as well.)
There are basic practices such as keeping warm, especially the feet, belly, and low back (which requires particular attention in these times of low-cut jeans). Moxa packs and belts, applied over a belly rubbed with Tranquil Palace healing oil, are a great way of having a ‘hot water bottle’ even as you’re moving out and about, worn under your clothes. Even though cravings can be intense during this time, staying away from sugar, caffeine (including chocolate), alcohol, and dairy can significantly reduce menstrual discomfort for many. Nourishing and warm foods such as stews are encouraged. Activities like swimming and vaginal intercourse during the menses are said to lead to cold and stagnation in the uterus, which can cause pain, clotting, and masses.
As a general rule, I have observed that what is good for the Earth tends to be best for our bodies, and vice versa. Things that send toxins into the Earth, for example, often cause cancer and other disease in living beings. I believe this to be true about the disposable “feminine hygiene products” industry as well. Think of the landfill created by just one menstruating individual throughout their lifespan. And, besides the harmful effects of bleaches and other chemicals in these products on women’s bodies – I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys these products.
There has been quite a resurgence in non-disposable menstrual accoutrements, such as cloth pads, menstrual sponges, and cups(1). I have found that switching to these kind of Earth-friendly products actually makes women happier with their cycles as well! Not only because of the environmental benefit, but people often find them to be more comfortable and less dehumanizing.
It is a very counter-cultural message to encourage people to slow down, get more rest, and go inward, whatever the season. But whether because of the winter season or the menstrual season – I think you will find increased health, happiness, and well-being if you do.
Photo Credit: “Red tent” by Osvaldo Gago – https://flic.kr/p/ez4hn