In India, the menstrual cycle is a highly respected cycle that is an expression of the female connectedness to the cycles of the moon. This cycle regulates the tides, migrations, mating times, and, of course, the twenty-eight day cycle of menstruation. Menses is seen as a natural time of cleansing and rejuvenation, traditionally accompanied by a time of rest or light duty, and some Ayurvedic doctors even comment that our menstrual cycle and monthly cleansing is one of the factors that lead to our generally longer life span (compared to men that is). But ignoring this cycle will often lead to a great number of premenstrual and menstrual complaints. (1)
Taoists tradition believe that a woman's energy loss is at its apex when she is releasing blood. As we all know, during our menstruation, we tend to get tired much quicker, feel moody, exhausted, and can become a little short tempered. Women in past traditions knew all this in listening to their bodies, and would gather during their monthly cycles and have time to rest and meditate together.
Women in our modern world today however, work all through the month, no matter what. Single successful young women, double-income families, high costs of living, multi-tasking – modern women have learned to ignore their natural rhythms - be it conscious learning or not. Personally, this is what I believe has led to the high instances in womens hormonal problems and all that is associated with them.
The crankiness, impatience or annoyance so infamously called Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), that we may experience in the last two weeks of our cycle, is really more about the feelings we have because we are not flowing with what our body really wants us to do - that is slow down, withdraw from the busyness of the outside world and look after our self, not everybody else.
A great website I stumbled across this weekend says -
"In your premenstrual week you feel less interested in the outside world and desire quiet time to yourself. If this doesn't happen or isn't possible because of your living arrangements, you may become very edgy, easily upset and in a 'bad mood', this serves its purpose and usually drives others away from you anyway.
Often times, the bad moods, so to speak, associated with the end of the cycle are due to the woman knowing that even though she'll be bleeding next week, and would really rather be having sometime to herself to do that, she will have to carry on regardless, looking after everybody else and not herself. If she knew at this time, that next week she was going to have 3 days to herself, to rest, read, write, draw, whatever, her moonlodge, red tent time she wouldn't be cranky, she'd be looking forward to it." (2)
What we need to learn to do now is follow our energy. Make listening to our body (and what it wants) a priority, and we'll get much better at following our energy. The problem in our society though is that most women do the absolute opposite - numbing their body's wisdom and trying to fit around everyone else, working long hours, running around the shops, getting up early for boot-camp everyday, and pushing against the exhaustion, hoping to feel like a super hero for "getting it all done". But forever (and likely habitually/unconsciously) going against what our body needs every month only results in more pain, irritability, discomfort, manic moods, and so on. And what most women do not realize is that years of ignoring the natural inward pull of the body during menstruation weakens the libido over time.
Once we know the timing of our cycle, the next thing is to make a conscious choice to rest more when our energy is at its lowest ebb. When your body naturally wants to rest, do everything in your power to rest. We are bleeding after all. If you were bleeding from your leg, or had a gash across your back, would you still be forcing yourself to run around, do the groceries, get to work, netball training, and do those extra 100 crunches for those abs you're working towards? Hell no! We are pouring out, releasing toxins, and blood: this is a big deal and it all takes a lot of energy. It's not the time to be giving it all out to others. Its time to go inward and rest. Meghan Goodman and Sara Avant Stover, both yoga instructors, say during the first few days of your monthly period (48-72 hours) we should aim for complete rest. Amen to that!
If we feel a desire to rest during menstruation and we don't allow ourselves to do so, this is exactly when all the symptoms of PMS, PMT, and related disorders begin to appear. I mentioned it in this post HERE, that the few days I was at Vipassana meditation before my period, meditating all day everyday, I was surprised (and then not) to have very little period pain in comparison to previous months. So don't think resting is a sign of weakness as it couldn't be further from the truth: it is a time of pulling back, and recharging the batteries, so we can jump back into the flowing river of life later on - and keep our heads above the water without feeling like we're drowning!
YouTube clip - The Yoga Pose Every Woman Should Know for the First Day of Her Period - Sara Avant Stover
"But I can't rest when I have my period - there are things I have to do!!"
There is always a way to change how we do something if we can't actually lie down and rest all day. For example, tell your personal trainer that you want to do gentle restorative exercises next session. Make your training more relaxed, follow your energy and listen to your body. If you're in a workplace where you can do less physical work (like unpacking orders) and get into something else that's not as exhausting (like tidying shelves), mention this to your boss. Ever since I made the decision to do absolutely nothing on the first day of my period, it just so happens I've never been rostered on to work since. And never had any plans I've had to change. I've always had the day free to lie in bed.
But there are loads of other things we can do to nurture ourselves if we can't drop everything ~ taking regular brisk walks, seeing uplifting movies, reading books we love, creating art or practicing a gentle martial art, are excellent ways to follow your energy and go with the more restful states your body wants.
Resting does not always mean taking a nap, or taking the day off, although, if your life allows, by all means, go ahead girl! Cultivate the attitude that rest is what your body wants, and rest is what it's going to get!
Our energy is not only going inward during menstruation, but we are much more sensitive to everything around us - I'm going to assume you know what I mean - so it goes without saying that it's best to avoid crowds of people or ball-busting jerky activities (a big sweaty pack of Body Combatter's at the gym... um might give it a miss). Additionally, don't be swayed or pressured into doing things that you know will bring you stress or conflict while you are menstruating (like hosting a dinner party). For me, I love a weekend market shamble of people, fresh produce, music, munching and more. But if I'm menstruating or close too, I'm useless there. Nothing gets bought, I stress and shake, fall to pieces, need peace and quiet, and leave with B wondering what the hell's wrong with me.
We've got to deliberately place ourselves in inspiring situations, not stressful ones. Try to be more contemplative and put our inward energy to good use. I jump in bed with my laptop for inspiring youtube clips, my journal and pencils, the latest health mag, a pot of tea, some choccie, and any self development goodies I'm working on and I feel the best ever. Most importantly, allow yourself to do the things you most enjoy. (3)
What do you do when you first get your period each month? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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