Think about how often have you encountered the attitudes and jokes about "being on the rag" or having “a monthly curse”. Perhaps you’ve even had (or have?) them yourself.
Generations of women have been taught that we are weak, vulnerable, and "not ourselves" during our periods. They’re inconvenient. They’re messy. They’re painful. Emotional. Exhausting. Non-productive. Unclean. Frustrating… and finally… inevitable. From this perspective our menstrual cycles feel akin to monthly punishment simply for being a woman. In impoverished and developing countries, young girls are required to miss a full week of school every month, because they are having their “week of shame”. In short, we've been taught that the natural functioning of our bodies is dirty, something to be hidden, and of course, ashamed of.
Premenstrual syndrome is an epidemic. Some preliminary estimates are as high as 1 out of every 2 women worldwide! Sadly, despite the high prevalence menstrual complaints and premenstrual syndrome, it also remains poorly understood and often, not prioritized by medical treatment. (If only they could patent a drug for it! They’d make billions! lol.) It’s not just academia, medicine, or big pharma. Even we ourselves tend to ignore and suppress our symptoms until our bodies scream for our attention by telling ourselves “I’m not the type to let myself stay at home”.
Multiple causes of PMS have been proposed: hormonal factors, electrolyte imbalance, heredity, inflammation, psychological factors, etc. Again… research has yet to clarify this point for the world… but in the meantime…
Conventional treatment focuses on symptomatic relief and coping strategies, usually a combo of pain management (ibuprofen) and hormone regulation via oral contraceptive pill.
Naturopathic treatment focuses on the restoration of a normal menstrual cycle by identifying and treating the root cause of the imbalance using a gentle and supportive approach. Typically, this is diet, lifestyle, and a selection of natural medicines as appropriate.
The mental-emotional dynamic (underlying attitudes and beliefs) of this illness is just as much a part of the experience of illness as is the physical pain. In my experience, I have found it next to impossible to restore healthy and pain-free menstrual cycles without addressing these underlying attitudes.
I admit that these negative attitudes used to be my thinking too; I could not have been more wrong.
A woman's cycle has traditionally been, and still is, honoured by many cultures as sacred. Not because they are "primitive" or "hokey" in their thinking, but are actually, quite the opposite. At the core, they simply value the experience of womanhood. It is true, that there are also many unkind practices suffered worldwide by women during their periods. Unkind is putting it mildly. But focusing on what we don't want, without knowing what we want, will only serve to create more of the same, I believe. It is in that spirit, I offer the following...
Coming of age ceremonies for girls are often celebrated when a girl experiences her first menstrual period. Imagine how different the experience would be if on your first menstrual day, your mother had given you flowers and took you out for lunch. Later, she brought you to meet with your father at the jeweller, who proudly bought you your first piece of fine (read: adult) jewellery. Imagine being taken to a women's retreat, with your friends and your mother's friends to be accepted into young womanhood, with a girls night. Native American coming of age rituals look something like this in the present day. How might it be different if your initiation into womanhood was celebrated like this?
From another angle, what if your period was considered a built-in monthly time of rest and relaxation? In many cultures it is traditional for women to slow down during their periods, and take on less responsibility. Dr. Christiane Northrup reports "The Yurok people of Northern California, for example, believe that a menstruating woman should isolate herself from mundane duties during her period because she is at the height of her spiritual power at this time. So instead of wasting these precious days, she is supposed to devote herself to meditation, purification, and turning inward to address her life's purpose and to gather spiritual energy." Imagine, being able to rest and day-dream for a few days per month! I bet you'd start looking forward to 'that time of the month'.
It may surprise you to know that women naturally cycle with the lunar calendar. The role of environmental cues such as light, the moon, and the tides play a documented role in regulating women's menstrual cycles and fertility. Consider that:
Consider that women's cycles are the basic biological model for the creative process. What if you were taught that your menstrual cycle was a cycle of of insight and renewal? A pathway to deepen your connection with your own heart and life’s work? Many women find that they are at their peak of expression in the outer world from the onset of their menstrual cycle until ovulation. Their energy is outgoing and upbeat during that time. Sexual desire is often reported to peak at mid-cycle, concurrent with ovulation, and we secrete pheromones into the air; making us more attractive (and receptive) to others. During the time following ovulation and leading up to the menses is a quiet and reflective time for many women. When they feel predisposed to looking back upon the negative or difficult aspects of our lives that need to be changed or adjusted. A time to let go of the unnecessary and make space for the new. The beauty and truth of a woman's cycle is that it is a model for the creative process - it fits for creating babies just as well as ideas, art, or work projects. It can be a reminder that, in a creating our lives and the world around us, output is not the only step.
Thinking and feeling differently about our periods is a part of learning to value and honour womanhood. The menstrual attitudes we have been taught to date are simply not good enough; and they certainly do nothing to nurture or support strong and healthy menstrual cycles in our girls. Unless we do something, the former negative attitudes will continue to be re-sown in the hearts of ourselves, our daughters, sons, and husbands. Ask yourself what kind of experience you would prefer for yourself? For your daughter?
Curing menstrual complaints requires that we change our attitudes and beliefs around our periods and learn to view this as a special time, a time of release, reflection, and softness toward ourselves. Give yourself time to tune into, value and accept this aspect yourself. I am not suggesting we all take a 4-5 day vacation next month (although it would be nice!), we have to start small. Why not celebrate softness during our next time of the month by booking ourselves a little girl time, shall we? Perhaps a mani-pedi? Or a massage? Bring your daughter too.
Did this article shake up your thinking a bit? Did you like it? What is your reaction to thinking about your period this way? Let me know in the comments below! Or use the like and share buttons to send this info to your girls.
Thank your for your readership and for learning along with me. As always, you have my love and appreciation.
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