Attention all who experience a monthly menstrual cycle (And indeed any people identifying as men who want to know more to help support the women in their lives)!
This is a post I have wanted to write for a while, from two angles – both the attitude we have as a society towards our periods, and period health. From personal experience, I am hugely passionate about the topic in terms of honoring our period, not fearing it and looking after our health. With this post today, I hope to help get rid of the view that our periods are disgusting, gross and an inconvenience (I’m not even sure where this view came from..) and to help give some tips to keep your period health as ship shape and shiny as you can!
I used to DREAD my time of the month. I used to have incredibly painful and irregular periods. On the first day of my menstruation I would experience crippling pain which would mean I couldn’t do anything that day. I’d literally be laying face down on the bathroom floor, writhing in pain, head in the toilet. This first started from the age of 14, came and went throughout my teenage years but the pain was persistent from the age of 18. When I was 19, I finally decided that this wasn’t normal and after 6 months of investigating what was going on with me I got an appointment at the hospital for an ultrasound scan. I have history of endometriosis in my family, however the scan found nothing and the only solution I was given was to go on the pill and take heavy dose painkillers that I was prescribed each month to get me through. I dread to think of the chemical and synthetic hormone cocktail I was pumping into my body to cover up the problem, not deal with the root cause. And I know so many women that struggle with similar problems each month. These issues are way more common than they should be considering that menstruating is something that we were always intended to do. I decided that there had to be another way.
So, lets delve a little into the history and banish the stigma of our period being disgusting, before I give the above story a happy ending.
In Sanskrit, the word ‘Yoni’ refers to the womb. It can also be known as ‘The Sacred Portal’. I think that says it all really. Our womb is the sacred portal between two worlds that brings life into this physical plane. As women we are the bringers of LIFE and our womb and EVERYTHING that comes with it helps to facilitate that. What a gift, to have been incarnated on this planet in this lifetime as someone that can provide this. The life in your period alone is immense – what is released from your body each month is so nutrient dense that you could give it to your plants as a natural fertiliser. In fact, it is a spiritual practice to bleed onto the Earth when on your period to give back to the soil. When I first heard this, a little thought popped into my head that said ‘That’s disgusting’. It just goes to show the societal conditioning from the patriarchy that we go through that makes us think that a practice like this, that honours both body and Earth, is disgusting.
In many ancient cultures and tribes, periods were honoured. A young girls first period would be celebrated. If you compare that to now, most of us get little recognition of our period beginning, or we get told that ‘the painters are now in’ and to get on with it, as it goes downhill from here. Very few treat it as the amazing coming of age that it should be. I think this summed up perfectly in a quote by Judith Duerk:
‘How might it have been different for you if on your first menstrual day, your mother had given you a bouquet of flowers and taken you to lunch, and then the two of you had gone to meet your father in the jeweller, where your ears were pierced, and your father bought you your first pair of earrings, and then you went with a few of your friends and your mother’s friends to get your first lip colouring; then you went, for the very first time, to the Women’s lodge, to learn the wisdom of women? How might your life be different?’
Just think about that quote for a minute..
Our period connects us. You may have found that if you live with other females, your cycles begin to sync up. This would be so in these ancient tribes, too. Women would come together during their period of menstruation (which more often than not would align with the New Moon) to sit in the ‘red tent’, support each other and go within – having moments of quiet, peaceful reflection and listening to the wisdom coming from themselves and their bodies. Whilst this was going on, the men of the tribe would come to the women with questions about where the tribe would move to next or any other questions they may have, as they knew women had deep insight at this time. Which I think is pretty beautiful really. Our female body mirrors the cyclical nature of life – just like the moon, the planets, the seasons – it truly intertwines us with nature. I think it’s time we honour our periods for the truth of what they are as opposed to seeing them as a nuisance.
Now, back to the health story. I have always had a relatively natural and healthy lifestyle thanks to my mum’s ongoing research as a child, but this year I have completely committed myself to living my life in the most natural and intentional way I can so I can have the most positive impact on myself and the planet. And in the process I have managed my painful periods. I very rarely have pain anymore during my time of the month, and if I do, I take it as a chance to listen to what my body needs (more on this below).
Before you read the below, I must state: I am not a doctor. I am just someone with a deep interest in holistic living and I want to give love to myself, to others and the world. Please consult your healthcare professional and look into changes to your diet properly before making them. Everybody is different, and what works for me may not work for you. I have updated this blog post after beginning to read the book ‘Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom’ by Christiane Northrup M.D. and learning from other sources, such as podcasts, teachers and mentors. I highly recommend the above mentioned book. It is a BIBLE of women’ health and delves into the menstrual cycle in an interesting and insightful way (I intend to hand down my highlighted copy to my future daughter). So, without further ado, here is what I have done to improve my period health.
- I stopped taking the pill. A lot of issues in women’s menstrual health are due to an imbalance of hormones, and taking the pill just pumps your system with more synthetic hormones. I am particularly wary around pills that don’t allow a break for a bleed. We were born with the ability to have periods for a reason, we shouldn’t be blocking our body’s natural responses. I take Macca tablets, which is a plant that is fantastic for hormonal imbalance. Ashwagandha is great for this too.
- I started using Organic Rose Geranium essential oil on my tummy and a good old hot water bottle for period pains, and ditched conventional pain killers. I haven’t taken pain killers for at least a year anyway, but instead of turning back to them, I turned to the wisdom of nature (which is where most pharmaceuticals have been derived from anyway… This soothing and warming essential oil works a treat!
- I stopped drinking cows milk & decreased my dairy consumption. We are the only mammal on the planet that drinks another mammals milk. And a cow should only be lactating when in calf. Do you know how they get a cow to lactate all year round? By pumping them full of hormones to increase their milk production. Not only is this horrific for the animal (quite often they get infections and have to be treated with antibiotics too), but the hormones and antibiotics go into the milk we drink and then is ingested into our bodies. Antibiotics change the way hormones are metabolised in the bowel and thus can change hormonal levels. There is also research to suggest that lactose (milk sugar) may have a toxic effect on the ovaries. I now drink oat milk instead, which is super creamy and I don’t miss cows milk one bit. If you are partial to dairy, organic, raw dairy (raw milks and cheeses) are great as they are complete foods. Always buy your raw dairy products from a responsible source.
- I became a vegetarian. Before we get into this, I would just like to mention that I believe in a diet of bio individuality. Not every person should be a vegetarian. Some people thrive when eating meat. But I do believe that eating meat should be limited to a couple of times a week and should be grass fed and organic if you are going to eat it at all. Meat isn’t a problem if good quality and part of a diet full of fruit, vegetables (leafy green) and whole grains. I do believe everyone should have a PLANT BASED diet. I gave up meat mainly for ethical reasons, but I have loved how my diet now makes me feel as well. Just like the dairy industry, many animals are given growth hormones and different drugs to help with their weight and to combat disease. This increases inflammation within the human body once ingested. You aren’t just ingesting meat when you eat it. My diet is a balanced vegetarian diet. The eggs I eat are organic and come from my own chickens. I have small quantities of good quality cheese and I eat a lot of whole foods, natural spices and supplements to ensure I am getting what I need in my body. The following passage, taken from Dr Christiane Northrups book states ‘Vegetarians with a whole food, high fibre diet are known to excrete two to three times more estrogen in their feces than non-vegetarians. They also have 50 percent lower blood plasma levels of unconjugated estrogens (a type of metabolised estrogen) than women who eat the standard American diet, and as a result, they have decreased incidence of PMS’. I also eat organic where I can. I could write a whole separate post on the importance of organic, not just for our bodies but for our wildlife too. And I believe it is everyone’s birth right to have good quality, organic food from the Earth. It significantly reduces your exposure to toxins. Pesticides that are sprayed on plants are then absorbed by the plant and ingested by us at the other end.
- I switched the majority of my conventional beauty products to natural alternatives. So many of our conventional beauty products contain toxic ingredients that we shouldn’t be putting into our bodies. You only have to turn over the back of a bottle of conventional shampoo to see that, among a multitude of other ingredients it contains Sodium Laureth Sulfate, which is used to remove grease from car engines! Ayurvedic medicine says that you shouldn’t be putting anything onto your skin that you wouldn’t put onto your tongue. Your skin absorbs EVERYTHING you put on it. Which then affects all of the systems in your body.
- Meditation and Yoga. Our womb space and reproductive organs hold trauma just as much as the mind and other tissues in the body. Meditation and Yoga has changed my life in many ways, but it has also helped me begin to work through my shadow side, as well as giving me immense mind and body awareness. There are also a few yoga poses (restorative ones specifically Supta Baddha Konasana or reclined bound angle pose, which creates more space around the abdominal area) that help to ease period cramps.
- I changed my attitude towards my period. Another huge topic touched on in Dr Christiane’s book is attitude towards women’s health, in particular the menstrual cycle, and the way it affects energy flow through the body. There is a huge connection between undealt with emotions and detrimental beliefs and the health of our reproductive organs. Our womb space links with our Sacral chakra, the second energy centre in the body that deals with emotions to do with relationship dynamics, sex, sexuality, creativity, money and power. As an Ob-Gyn physician with a wealth of experience, Christiane writes a lot in the book about how she noticed with her patients that many health issues surrounding the reproductive area arose if they had undealt with or unseen issues, such as history of sexual abuse, incest and negativity or shame surrounding their sexuality and negative beliefs about what it means to be a woman. The physical issue wouldn’t go until the emotional and energetic issue was acknowledged. The way that the patriarchal society has taught us to view our bodies and our periods is SO NEGATIVE. And then we as women (I too have been guilty of this) fuel the fire by creating a negative relationship with it ourselves. And whose to blame us when that is the attitude that has been passed down and presented to us. I mean, how many times when talking about period pain have you been told to suck it up? To plough through a day of work when quite frankly you’re in bits? This time of the month is a source of great wisdom, strength and power for us. I now am grateful for and thank my period when she comes each month. She reminds me of the circle of life that I am connected to. She reminds me that I am blessed to give birth, both creatively and literally. And on the months where I have a more painful period, I ask ‘what is this trying to tell me’. Maybe I need to rest a little more, honour my body a little more. Maybe I am holding onto something that needs acknowledging, releasing or exploring. I recently started belly and oriental dance, and holding space for my sensuality, sexuality, creativity and the way my body moves has helped IMMENSELY. I now dance every morning as part of my routine. Something I am also working on is syncing up my cycle with my work life and the moon. As women, we are cyclical beings and we are not meant to be so go go go all the time. We ebb and flow. Our body knows what we need. Even just taking note of the phase of the moon and gazing at it helps. Another fantastic book to supplement the above is ‘The Body Keeps The Score’ by Bessel Van Der Kolk M.D, which goes into mind body connection and how trauma manifests in the body.
- I started using Organic tampons and reusable sanitary towels. This one may seem pretty petty, but your tampon is what’s going INSIDE your body. Many commercial products use irritating materials with chemicals that can leach into the body as you use them, as well as being incredibly wasteful for the planet. I started using TOTM sanitary products. They are organic and all packaging is cardboard, so totally recyclable. They also support Endometriosis UK (it’s crazy how little is still known about this and areas of women’s health in general, probably because it’s women’s health, but lets save that discussion for another day. Change begins when we empower ourselves with our own health). The small things really do add up, especially when it comes to your health and the health of the planet.
Now, there may be things in the above that don’t serve you with the way you want to live your life. And as I said, I am not a doctor. But these are the largest changes I have made in my life which I truly believe has helped my cycle. I couldn’t not share my experiences because I want to help as many women with this as possible. And if you don’t have periods anymore, there is no reason why this couldn’t work for you as you go through the menopause also. And if you have read this identifying and you don’t have periods, GOOD FOR YOU AND THANK YOU. We need to educate our brothers, our fathers, our partners and male friends just as much as we need to educate our sisters. Normalise periods as being beautiful. BECAUSE THEY ARE.
So, periods unite! Talk about this topic with whomever you can. I truly believe honouring and caring for our bodies in a natural way could help heal the vast majority of hormonal issues women have. I send you love and blessings for however you choose to move forward from here.
With Love, Light & Best Wishes,