Menstrual Magic: Love for the Bleeding Body
The modern woman’s relationship to her cycle is incredibly complex. For some the blood is dreaded, while for others it is welcomed as a sign of health. Culturally, menstruation has become taboo and many women find themselves feeling embrassed of their cycle.
In the past bleeding women have gathered together during menstruation for a time of quiet introspection. Unfortunately centuries of patriarchy have drastically shifted this traditional view across the world. In some cultures menstruating women are still considered to be dirty. What if we aren’t meant to plug, drug and go about business as usual? What if we were to tune in and listen to the intrinsic wisdom of the bleeding body?
Women’s bodies mirror the cyclical nature of the earth, with the follicular phase as the spring, ovulation being peak summer, the luteal phase as the winding down of the fall and menstruation as the deep winter. Just as you wouldn’t expect to be planting a garden in the snow, women need to cut themselves some slack for what they’re up for while bleeding. Menstruation is the time to step away from the pull of the outside world and tend the internal fire. It’s a time for rest, replenishment and reflection.
The Menstrual Epidemic
A menstrual epidemic is in our midst. It is becoming increasingly common for the cycle to be so painful that women are unable to function in their daily life. Considering that the average woman bleeds for a quarter of her fertile years, this is a big deal. Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women, while 50% of women experience otherwise painful periods. Another condition, known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder, impacts approximately 3-8% of women during their reproductive years and causes severe psychological distress leading up to menstruation. Could slowing down and honouring our cyclical nature be part of the solution?
In a sense, the answer is yes. The average woman is wildly under rested and over stressed. Stress is a trigger for inflammation which in turn leads to more painful periods. Surely there is more to discuss though. The pervasiveness of endocrine disrupting chemicals poses a huge threat to women’s health and is thought to be a contributing factor to menstrual disorders. Switching to green cleaning and body care products, along with avoiding food packaged in plastics is the first step. The hygiene products a woman uses for her cycle make a big difference as well. The tissue of the yoni is incredibly absorbent! Opting for a menstrual cup, cloth pads or organic, unbleached and fragrance free products can dramatically reduce period pain.
Tending Menstrual Health
Menstruating women simply need more rest. Ever wondered why you feel so exhausted when your period begins? The body is hard at work, navigating blood loss and hormonal fluctuations! The uterus expands during menstruation, becoming heavier and putting additional strain on the ligaments, so high impact activities may not be ideal at this time. On the other hand, opting for light walks and gentle stretching helps to keep the lymphatic system flowing. Listen to your body. Ultimately only you know what you need. Above all, give yourself the permission to rest- free of guilt! It’s worth it.
Changing up the diet around menstruation can ease cramping and digestive symptoms. Hormones called prostaglandins trigger the uterus to contract, but they may also cause contraction in intestines and bowels which can lead to loose stools and impaired water absorption. Keeping foods soft, soupy and rich in fibre is easy on digestion while replenishing lost fluids. Omega 3 fatty acids help to curb the inflammatory response so don’t forget to dig into the chia, hemp, flax, blue-green algae, free-range eggs and cold water fish! Foods rich in potassium and magnesium like dates, dark chocolate and dark leafy greens can help make cramping less painful and more efficient.
With blood loss, iron levels drop which can lead to low energy. My favourite iron tonic is a strong infusion of stinging nettle with yellow dock tincture to improve absorption.
Add roughly 1 cup or ½ ounce of dried Urtica dioica (nettle) leaf to a litre jar, pour hot (but not boiling) water over the herb and use a butter knife to dislodge air bubbles. Cover and allow to steep for 4 hours or overnight. Strain and add 2-3 mls Rumex crispus (yellow dock) root tincture. Add miso if desired. Drink throughout the day.
Many women reach for NSAIDs each month to cope with menstrual pain. While this may be a quick fix, the impacts from regular use of these drugs shouldn’t be understated. Studies have shown them to have effects ranging from inhibition of ovulation to cardiovascular disease. I prefer using a simple tincture blend of 75% Viburnum opulus (crampbark) and 25% Zingiber officinalis (ginger), taking 1-2 mls as needed with a maximum dose of 15 mls in 24hrs. These herbs work synergistically to ease pain and spasm, reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to the pelvis.
I’ll leave you with this, the ultimate soul soothing menstrual tea! Raspberry leaf is a well loved uterine tonic, rich in potassium and magnesium. Roses calm the nervous system and act as a pelvic decongestant while linden promotes relaxation and reduces spasm. Cardamom supports digestion and balances this recipe out as a nice warming herb.
2 parts Rubus idaeus (raspberry leaf)
1 part Rosa spp. (rose)
1 part Tilia spp. (linden)
½ part Elettaria cardamomum (cardamom)
Steep 2 tsp/cup (covered) for 15-20 minutes. Drink 2-3 cups a day.